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Fought over the shifting sands of Egypt, the barren land of the Sinai, and the rolling mountainsides of the Judean Hills, the Palestine Campaign of the First World War produced a markedly different war experience for over a half million British combatants. Despite the allure that the Palestine Campaign seemed to possess – Christian British troops engaged in, as many had labeled it, a “new Crusade” against the Ottoman Empire in the Holy Land – public attention and support for the campaign at home was initially minimal and frequently negative. Guided by the misconception that the Turk was an inferior soldier and that a satisfactory conclusion to the war could only be realized through the maximum concentration of the Empire’s resources in Europe, British politicians and the public pushed the Palestine campaign deep into the nation’s psychological background. It was not until the arrival of General Edmund Allenby in June 1917, and the capture of Jerusalem later that year that the home front started receiving regular press coverage of the Palestine Campaign. Fighting in a peripheral theatre of war with minimal press coverage, how then, did British soldiers justify their war experience and feel about their contribution to the British war effort? What was the perceptive meaning of the Western Front as a ‘different type of war’? How was the Palestine Campaign’s public profile communicated to soldiers and subsequently, what did they think the British public knew of the campaign? By separating the wartime writings of British soldiers serving in the Egyptian Expeditionary Force from postwar recollections and published diaries, a creative reconstruction of the campaign’s activeness and importance emerges. Whereas contemporary soldiers’ writing stressed an intense desire for greater home leave and stronger contact with their friends and loved ones in Britain, postwar literature focuses on the military successes of the campaign and the soldiers’ association with their ‘heroic’ leader, General Allenby. The answers to these important questions may very well come out of the sands of Palestine.

This talk is part of the Violence and Conflict Graduate Workshop, Faculty of History series.

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