Cindy finds hero on family tree

THERE are just two reminders today in Felixstowe of one of its most famous residents - Edmund Allenby.

Richard Cornwell

THERE are just two reminders today in Felixstowe of one of its most famous residents - Edmund Allenby. There is a park which bears his name, and a memorial plaque inside St Peter and St Paul Church, where he worshipped. Evening Star Felixstowe editor RICHARD CORNWELL looks at the life of one of the country's most famous army generals and meets a woman who discovered the Field-Marshall on her family tree.

ALLENBY Park is one of Felixstowe's best-loved open spaces.

The small park, off Constable Road, is circled by homes and provides a lovely play area for children with its mature trees, all-weather pitch and play equipment, and is well-used by families.

A century ago though this land, and some of the surrounding streets, was part of the garden of Felixstowe House, a large detached property which stood just behind the stables of the Hotel Elizabeth Orwell, overlooking fields stretching away to the tiny community of Old Felixstowe.

The house was home to the Allenby family - from which Felixstowe's most illustrious son came, Edmund Allenby, Field-Marshall, General, Sir and later Lord.

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A seasoned battle leader, revered military strategist and fierce and severe commander of men, his greatest victory was in bringing freedom to Jerusalem on December 11, 1917.

Although he was a supreme horseman, he dismounted and walked into the city through the Jaffa Gate out of respect for its status as the Holy City - ordering his men to do the same.

His capture of Jerusalem had been Prime Minister Lloyd George's greatest hope - an event that would cheer war-weary Britain, encourage its allies, and fatally injure Germany.

Within 12 months, Allenby had ejected the Turks from Palestine, Lebanon and Syria, and dealt the Ottoman Empire a blow from which it never recovered.

By the end of the first war, Britain enjoyed a position of unparalleled power in the Middle East.

The victories made Lord Allenby a national hero.

He enjoyed public adulation and was honoured with the title of Viscount Allenby of Megiddo and Felixstowe and in September 1919 he returned to the Suffolk resort to be given the freedom of the town with the biggest parade it has ever seen.

People lined the Felixstowe-Ipswich rail line, cheering and waving flags, just to glimpse the train on which the war hero was travelling.

When he arrived at Felixstowe, he found the town and station bedecked in bunting and an enormous crowd waiting to greet him.

The streets were packed as Allenby was taken by open-top car, the vehicle pulled along by enthusiastic ex-soldiers, proceeding at snail's pace because of the press of people, cheering, waving hats, climbing lamp-posts and buildings to see him.

The Spa Pavilion orchestra played See the Conquering Hero Comes but it was largely unheard because of the noise from the crowd. The cavalcade went down Hamilton Road, Montague Road and Bath Road to his mother's home.

Memories of the campaign of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force have been revived following the discovery of some of Allenby's letters written just after he took Jerusalem 90 years ago.

The letters from Allenby to his mother belong to Cindy Kingham, 65, who found them among papers handed down through the family as she set about tracing her own family tree.

Mrs Kingham's uncle's father and Allenby were cousins.

“The letters are fascinating and an intriguing glimpse into what life was like at the time and of Allenby himself,” said Mrs Kingham, who lives with her husband Ron, 74, in South Wales, and recently visited friends in Felixstowe.

“The letters have been looked at by experts and they may be Allenby's writing but it is thought they are more likely copies, transcribed by his mother and then distributed around the family to let them know his news from Jerusalem.

“They are still wonderful things to have and I am not sure what I will do with them long term.

“A large number of previous documents which we had as a family have been given to Felixstowe and we understand they are probably in the Town Hall archives.”

Mrs Kingham said it was amazing Allenby was so matter of fact about the fighting he and his men were involved in - and yet still found time to immerse himself in the local culture, and to visit Biblical sites in Palestine and those of the Crusades.

“He had huge interests in all sorts of things and was a very religious man as can be seen by many of the references he makes in his letters and the places he goes off to see,” she said.

“They are effectively in the middle of a war zone and Allenby goes off to visit historical sites and relics and then does a bit of fighting. It's quite amazing.”

In one letter he includes some local colour as he writes: “The orange season is in full swing now.

“All the gardens about Jaffa are full of oranges; millions of them. And everyone here is picking, selling, bringing and eating oranges.”

He is also becoming well used to the many accolades he is showered with by governments.

“I have just had a letter from the Belgian offices de liaison telling me the King of Belgium has conferred on me the Croix de Guerre (awarded for bravery in the face of the enemy). I shall be pretty well hung with ribbons soon,” he wrote.

Mrs Kingham has other famous people on her family tree, too - including the naturalist Rev Gilbert White, and Rev William Mompesson, vicar of the plague village Eyam.