Letter on the way to war paints a stark picture
The Palace Heliopolis Hospital April 4th 1915
Dear Mr Homer,
I am writing to give you a description of Egypt as I have seen it.
Our first introduction to it was of course at Suez. But we only stayed about two hours there before we started our tedious voyage through the canal which took us two days and a night, having to stop for the night in the lake at Somalia as they thought it unsafe to travel through in the dark, the Turks being pretty close at the time.
The canal was pretty strongly fortified when we came through; I believe they have 100,000 troops posted along its banks.
There were trenches and barbed wire entanglements all along a bank; I don’t think any of us realised quite the seriousness of things till we saw the real thing. About twenty miles from Port Said we saw a bit of a fight between some Sikks (sic) and Turks but they were a great distance off and pretty hard to see.
We arrived at Port Said late that evening and left for Alexandria the next morning, arriving there at daylight the following morning. We went straight into the wharf and started to disembark straight away which took two days and a night of constant going. Of course we had natives galore helping us. If we wanted a motor car or limber wagon onto the trucks they would have a muster and get about twenty natives onto it. They are powerfully strong for their build, being something like a camel, they can carry anything that they can stand up with, which is a pretty heavy load. You never heard such a din as they make when a few of them get together doing anything they kick up a most awful row, every time they lift something they give a sort of a yell. It is most peculiar to see the men all dressed up in long gowns, especially when working. Every man here, of the working class and poorer tradesmen wear the same, and of course, very few of that class wear any boots.
My squadron did not leave the boat until nine o’clock at night. We trucked our horses to Cairo, a distance of eighty miles, which took us three hours. We then untrucked, gave our horses a drink and led them out to our camp at Naa’di; a distance of eight miles, arriving there at daylight. Needless to say, we were fagged out, having very little exercise on the boat, our muscles were stiff and sore for three days afterwards, but we got plenty of walking when we first arrived we used to take the horses for a four-mile walk every day and were not allowed to ride them for three weeks. They are looking splendid now and are full of spirit.
After coming off the boat we had to muzzle them all to prevent them from eating sand and chewing their halters. It was no end of fun on horse picket (sic) at night time before they got the muzzles, you could not stop going the whole time and occasionally a stray horse would come wandering down the lines to meet you. My old horse has got that lively that he has thrown me a couple of times.
This is the dustiest hole you ever saw in your life. When we are leading our horses to water we have to lead three or four each and the dust is that thick that you often can’t see two horse lengths ahead. It plays up frightfully with one’s health and a great number of us have been suffering bronchial and chest troubles since we have been here. We have also lost a few from pneumonia. I have been sick a good deal myself and it has prevented me going about very much but still I have been to see the pyramids & Sphinx. I climbed the biggest pyramid to the summit, of which you can get a splendid view of the Nile and surrounding country. To add to the picturesqueness of it, the Mena camp, where all the Australian Infantry were camped, was right at the foot of it. There is a beautiful avenue coming from Cairo right out to there.