Desert training prepares troops
WHILE the decisions about where and when the Anzacs would fight were being made at the highest levels, the soldiers themselves were being put to the test with training in the Egyptian desert.
Since the 1st Australian Division had arrived in Egypt in early December, its troops had spent at least eight hours training every day but Sunday, often having to march several miles in the soft sand wearing full kit packs just to get to their training grounds.
In his Official History of Australia in the War of 1914–18, Charles Bean wrote: “All day long, in every valley of the Sahara for miles around the Pyramids, were groups or lines of men advancing, retiring, drilling, or squatted near their piled arms listening to their officer.”
One thing on the side of the Anzacs – many of whom had come from a history of hard work on farms and in trades – was their physical size.
“Subsequently many visitors from Great Britain and the Western Front declared that the Australians and New Zealanders in Egypt and Gallipoli were the biggest men that they had seen in any force,” Bean wrote.
But it takes more than size to fight a war. The Anzacs had big hearts and had the benefit of six weeks training at home, six weeks on the sea voyage, and up to four months in Egypt.
Bean remarked: “A British officer on (Anzac commander) General Birdwood’s staff said that a better division than the 1st Australian had never gone to battle. (Their training) was one of the finest achievements in the history of the AIF.”
TRAINING: Australian infantry troops in the desert near Mena camp, Egypt.