First World War Poetry Digital Archive

Letter from Jack Tait sent from Palestine (1)

Palestine Ap 5th 1918

I received your letter of March 12th today. The weather here is very like our winter, plenty of rain and hailstones but I think the snow is finished now. You would hardly think there could be snow in Jerusalem, but it is right as I was there at the time and it was very cold, it sits so high up.
At one part of the road there is a fine view of the plains of Palestine stretching right down towards Gaza.

I was in the old city on Easter Monday and was shown round by a guide and saw what is left of Solomon’s temple. It must have been a huge place but now there is only the wall standing and his stables under the courtyard of the Temple. The courtyard is about the size of a football field, all paved with a pure white stone. He must have kept a lot of horses etc. as there are
hundreds of stalls.

It was a great idea making the stables underground and using the roof of them as a floor for the courtyard.

The wall of the Temple which forms the side of a narrow street is the praying place of the Jews and the day we were in there was a big crowd of them lined along the wall praying and kissing the stones of it.

They believe that if they keep on praying that Palestine will be returned to them, and that they will recover their faith, as they lost it in the first instance through want of faith. I told one of them that we had restored this land to them just to see what he would say, but was told that faith was not restored yet. The guide told us to break a piece of stone of the wall to send home but it is very hard so I only got a small piece. The joints between the stones are filled with nails driven in by pilgrims and tourists, you can take one out (provided you replace it with another) and keep it for a souvenir.

The stones of the Temple are a tremendous size and it is a marvel how they got them into position. There can be seen the marks and symbols on some of them. The Mosque of Amar is built on the site of the Temple and is the loveliest building I ever saw. It is all mosaic work, the chief colours being blue and white while the inside is beyond description.

We had to remove our boots before going in so as not to damage the floor and had to do the same when going into the Holy Sepulchre. When we first took the city, we had to hire a pair of slippers at 21/2d per time so the slipper lenders made some piastres but the Military Governor stopped them at that game and only the officers now get them.

There are a lot of beautiful churches in the Old City and each one is built over some sacred relic. The French church of Saint Anna contains the birthplace of the Mother of Christ, a small cave in below the church, and also there is the Pool of Bethseda close by where Christ healed the cripples.

We went down about 20 ft to this pool which is about 30ft long and 12 ft wide and containing about 2ft of water.

The last part of our tour was the most interesting as we went up the famous “Via Dolorosa” or the way of the Cross. There are 15 stages, the last being the Holy Sepulchre.

Mount Calvary is not a “Green hill far away” now, it is all churches and streets, but the site of the Cross is seen. Pontius Pilate’s house is still pointed out also the stone where Jesus laid his hand when he stumbled under the weight of the Cross.

There is a hollow the shape of a hand in the stone and each of us laid our left hand in it just as thousands of pilgrims have done for hundreds of years. Each stage has a church built over it and it is very interesting. I never thought that I would the way that Jesus walked up to Calvary. It seemed all so strange and I could hardly realise it.

There is one thing about Johnny Turk, he never touched any of the buildings, except a British hospital on the outskirts of the city. He used it as an ammunition dump and blew it up when he left in a big hurry. The Turk left the city in a dreadful mess, dirt all over the place and the people were absolutely starving.

I never saw the like of it when we went in first, they crawled in below our lorries to pick up any grains of wheat or millet that had dropped through the cracks in the bottom. They were as thin as lathes and fought for a scrap of bread. It is a bit different now, the city being a lot cleaner and there is plenty of work for them that want it on the roads. The youngsters are quite cocky now, but they were very shy at first, and there are great droves of them sweeping the streets and sidewalks and quite proud of their armlet of green with M.L. (Military Labour) on it. Another thing I saw in the Holy City was the graves of the Crusaders who died in Jerusalem while outside the city could be seen a lot of small white crosses, the graves of the New Crusaders, men of the “West Countree” Somerset, Devon etc.

Trusting this finds you all well,

To view other similar items in the archive click on the hyper-linked words below.