Beware General Allenby’s Wrath!
Edmund Allenby (1861-1936) was one of the best British commanders of the Great War, and the last great cavalryman in British history, who sent the Desert Mounted Corps (the Australian, and the 4th and 5th Indian Mounted Divisions) into action at the culminating of the Battle of Megiddo (September 17-21, 1918), to pursue the Turkish forces for more than a week, insuring that they would never more pose a threat to further Allied operations in the Middle East.
As portrayed by Jack Hawkins in the motion picture Lawrence of Arabia, Allenby comes across as a rather paternal gentleman. In reality, although privately a rather shy, artistically-inclined man, to his troops and even his staff he was a martinet. Allenby was aloof, brusque, almost abrupt with most people, given to occasional outbursts of anger, and would sometimes use abusive language even to his staff officers. These traits were generally softened by an unusual concern for the well-being of the troops compared to most Great War commanders, though they too could feel his wrath.
Unlike some generals, Allenby quickly become an enthusiastic supporter of the use of helmets, once it was clear how much safer troops were when wearing them. Of course in the searing heat of the Middle East, soldiers typically preferred comfort to safety, despite standing orders to wear their helmets at all times.
On one occasion, while visiting the forward trenches, Allenby spotted a soldier peering up over a parapet wearing a soft cap, rather than a helmet.
Approaching the man, Allenby unleashed a blistering tirade. Curiously, the soldier did not respond. This only made Allenby angrier, though just as his ire reached fever pitch, he stopped, realizing that the man was dead
BookNote: For a good recent biography see Lawrence James Imperial Warrior: The Life and Times of Field-Marshal Viscount Allenby 1861-1936
. On the war in Palestine, David R. Woodward’s recent Hell in the Holy Land: World War 1 in the Middle East
includes a good deal on Allenby, while putting the contributions of Lawrence of Arabia and the Australian and New Zealand mounted troops into more reasonable perspective than one might gain from most accounts, especially cinematic ones.
Commodore Dewey Receives a Medal
In the wee hours of May 1, 1898, Commodore George Dewey led a small American squadron past the harbor forts of Manila Bay to engage the Spanish Fleet, winning a complete victory and signaling the emergence of the United States as a world power.
Just weeks later, on June 3rd, Congress decided to honor Dewey and his men with what was America’s first service medal, enacting legislation reading "that the Secretary of the Navy be, and he hereby is, authorized to present a sword of honor to Commodore George Dewey, and cause to be struck bronze medals commemorating the Battle of Manila Bay, and to distribute such medals to the officers and men of the ships of the Asiatic Squadron of the United State under the command of Commodore George Dewey on May 1, 1898."
The medal was designed by Daniel Chester French, a noted sculptor who would later execute the famous statue of Abraham Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial and the "Minuteman Statue" at Concord, Massachusetts. Struck by Tiffany & Company, on the medal’s obverse – front – there is a bust of Commodore Dewey, while the reverse shows a sailor sitting on a gun, with a rammer lying across his lap. The reverse also has space for the name and rank of the recipient and the ship in which he served engraved around the rim, one of only two U.S. service medals to be so individualized.
The medal was awarded to each of the 1,850 or so sailors and marines serving in Dewey's squadron at Manila Bay on May 1, 1898, aboard the protected cruisers Olympia, Baltimore, Raleigh, and Boston, the gunboats Petrel and Concord, the Revenue Cutter McCulloch, and the colliers Nanshan and Zafiro.
Naturally, Commodore Dewey received his own copy of the Manila Bay Medal, inscribed with his name and rank, and the name of his flagship, Olympia, which is today preserved at Philadelphia. But Dewey, who was shortly promoted to the unprecedented -- and never repeated -- rank of “Admiral of the Navy", felt that wearing a medal with his own face on it seemed rather immodest.
As a result, he had Tiffany reverse the pendant, and wore his medal with the resting sailor on the obverse.
Preservation Note: The Olympia is in a very deteriorated state and is long overdue for a refit. Donations can be sent to the Friends of the Cruiser Olympia.