Meet “Jimmy of Jerusalem”

Writen by: Community Writers

This week’s blog is dedicated to Major General Sir John Shea who commanded the 60th Division that led the battle of Jerusalem in 1917.  We were lucky enough to meet his great grandson Mr John Benson, who came especially to Jerusalem with his wife Christina for the celebrations that marked “the changing of the guard” as General Allenby entered Jerusalem 100 years ago ushering in the new era of British rule commemorated in the exhibition “A General and A Gentleman – Allenby at the Gates of Jerusalem”.  John Benson was able to give us a little bit of an insight into his great grandfather, not just his military accolades but how he was respected by his soldiers as well.

Mr John Benson and Christina

Eilat Lieber, Director of the Tower of David Museum (center) with John and Christina Benson

Major General Sir John Shea was born on January 17, 1869.  He was born in Fort St John, Newfoundland, Canada. He attended the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, UK. Maj. Gen Shea commanded the 60th Division that led the battles from Beer Sheva up to the hills of Jerusalem where he led the 60th Division in the Battle of Jerusalem. On 9 December 1917, it was Maj. Gen Shea who received the keys of the city of Jerusalem from Mayor Hussein el-Husseini as an act symbolizing its surrender from Turkish rule.

As well as being a highly regarded military man (Maj Gen. Shea was awarded the KCMG by King George V in recognition of his services), he was also respected and loved by his men. Fondly known in the military, and to family and friends, as “Jimmy of Jerusalem”, Maj. Gen. Shea was regarded by many soldiers as “one of the most humane general officers who ever led British troops”. Frequently sharing the dangers of the front line with his men, he was also remembered for his kindnesses such as handing out cigarettes and oranges to troops on the march. Today in “A General and A Gentleman: Allenby at the Gates of Jerusalem” you can see the sword that Major General Shea received from Ahmed Sharif, Commander of the Jerusalem Police and the ornate ivory walking stick belonging to the Mayor, Hussein el-Husseini.  The stick is even engraved with the inscription marking the surrender date “H. H. El Husseini Mayor of Jerusalem 9 December 1917”

Sword and stick

sword and stick photo credit: private collection

Maj. Gen. J. S. M. Shea photo credit:  PM. December 9, 1917. The English Hospital, British generals who captured Jerusalem, private collection

>> Click for more details about the new exhibition and the guided tours <<

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