It was curious to see how the news spread not merely among traders but also among villagers. The men who first occupied a place found oranges, vegetables, fresh bread, and eggs cheap. In Ramleh, for example, a market was opened for our troops immediately they got to the town, and the goods were sound and sold at fair rates.
In the midst of it all lies Jaffa the Beautiful, almost virginal in its whiteness, and beyond, in almost incredible harmony of colour, the purple waters of the Mediterranean. Across the southern end of the Plain of Sharon the road leads through cultivated fields, past vineyards and orchards, as far as Ramleh, where the somewhat monotonous beauty of the plain ends abruptly.
I never had the courage again to try the anti-flea contrivance, preferring the friskiness of those animals to the sports of such a greasy grinning wag as my friend at Ramleh. In the morning, and long before sunrise, our little caravan was in marching order again.
What I have just stated proves that he never thought of such a thing. The "little officer of artillery" had a far more splendid dream in his head. We found at Ramleh between two and three hundred Christians in a pitiable state of servitude, misery, and dejection. On conversing with them I could not help admiring how much the hope of future rewards may console men under present ills.
Our three days were, therefore, busy ones. We were issued with serge clothing, greatcoats, socks, and shirts and boots, but not nearly as much as we would have liked. When we had turned east at Ramleh to assist in the downfall of Jerusalem, the cavalry, moving along the coast, had occupied Jaffa.
Further adjustments of the line were made, including the capture of Rantieh on the railway and El Tine and Bornat to the right, which gave commanding views over the forward country and increased elbow room to the troops covering Ludd and Ramleh. As the result of these operations the line ran, at the beginning of March, approximately as follows.
The Palestine G.H.Q. was probably nearer the battle front than any G.H.Q. in other theatres of operations, and when the Army had broken through and chased the enemy beyond the Jaffa-Jerusalem line, G.H.Q. was opened at Bir Salem, near Ramleh, and for several months was actually within reach of the long-range guns which the Turks possessed. The rank and file were not slow to appreciate this.
On the affair being reported to Lord Charles Beresford a party of marines and natives with hand-carts were sent up to the house, and the whole of its contents brought down to an empty house in the town. Here the articles were inspected by many merchants and other owners of villas at Ramleh and near the town, and many of the articles were at once identified by them.
On the 1st of March we slept at Ramleh, in a small convent occupied by two monks, who paid us the greatest attention. They gave us the church for a hospital. These good fathers did not fail to tell us that it was through this place the family of Jesus Christ passed into Egypt, and showed us the wells at which they quenched their thirst. The pure and cool water of these wells delighted us.
And as we quitted Ramleh, the scenery lost that sweet and peaceful look which characterises the pretty plain we had traversed; and the sun, too, rising in the heaven, dissipated all those fresh beautiful tints in which God's world is clothed of early morning, and which city people have so seldom the chance of beholding.