‘The story of Nellie and Phil’ A Wedding Beneath The Pyramids of Giza

I spotted an interesting article on the Australian War Memorial this morning regarding an event which took place at the Giza Plateau in Cairo on the 17th January, 1915. Two men, on separate occasions, had regarded the event as newsworthy enough to record for posterity in their diaries and letters home. An Australian soldier at Mena Camp in Egypt, Private Arthur Adams, noted in his diary on the 17th: ‘Wedding in camp. Private of 10th marries a S.A. girl, who comes via England’. The same event was also recorded by another soldier, Private Frederick Muir, in a letter home to his mother on 2 February ‘There was a marriage in camp here a couple of Sundays back. Quite a romantic affair’.

Photographic negatives of the 10th Battalion, AIF at Mena Camp, Egypt, 1914-1915 / photographed by Victor Cromwell. Call number: ON 585 IE number: IE429351 File number: FL429782. Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales.

Intriguingly, neither man thought to mention the names of the couple involved. It was known that the man was a soldier in the 10th Battalion, Australian Imperial Force (AIF), and that the bride had come out from England. Also, that it was the chaplain of the 3rd Brigade who had presided over the proceedings. And, of course, given the backdrop the event could not be anything but romantic.

But who were the bride and groom?

Private Philip de Quetteville Robin and Miss Nellie Irene Honeywill had known each other in Australia. Phil was an accountant at the Murray Bridge branch of the Union Bank before he enlisted in the AIF and joined the 10th Battalion. He was well known for his Australian Rules football skills, having played with the Norwood Football Club and represented South Australia in interstate games in Sydney and Melbourne.

Nellie was living in London at the time of the First World War, although she had formerly resided in Adelaide. She was the eldest daughter of William Honeywill, also residing in London, and appears to have been working as a volunteer nurse. Their plans of reuniting in England were disrupted when the AIF was diverted to Egypt while en route to Europe. A couple of weeks later, however, Nellie turned up in Cairo, and the two made what seems a spontaneous decision to get married. This had not been their intention,

‘but rumours regarding the movements of the contingent, and the fact that “Phil” might be engaged for many months, if not years, in assisting to fight his country’s enemies, decided the matter for them, and forthwith arrangements for the holding of the wedding were commenced’
“A soldier’s wedding: married in camp”, The Register, 16 February 1915

Special permission was granted for the wedding by the commanding officer of the 10th Battalion, Colonel Stanley Price Weir, and the necessary preparations were quickly made. The officers’ mess tent was handed over for the event, with the mess servants converting it so that it had the appearance of a church. The ceremony began at 11.30 am, with the Anglican chaplain E.H. Richards officiating. Cake, wine, and the obligatory showering of rice were all provided by the officers of the 10th Battalion. The speeches began with Colonel Weir’s toast to the couple:

‘But for the outbreak of the war this wedding would, no doubt, have been celebrated in Adelaide. But our surroundings, although strange, are such as to compensate for all might have been lost. In Adelaide there could not have been the romance and the novelty which attach to this wedding’
“A soldier’s wedding: married in camp”, The Register, 16 February 1915

After a short honeymoon, Nellie returned to England. A few months later Phil was among the men who landed on Gallipoli on 25 April. He is one of two soldiers – the other being Private Arthur Blackburn, who would later win the Victoria Cross in France – believed to have penetrated further inland than any other Australians at Anzac. Phil was killed in action three days after the landing and is commemorated on Panel 32 of the Lone Pine Memorial. A letter by Corporal Dennis Rowden Ward of the 9th Battalion tells of the details of his death: ‘It turned out to be Lance Corporal Robin, of the good old 10th Battalion, he had been shot through the skull, and death must have been instantaneous’. On the day of his death, he had with him a ‘Little Book for Nellie’ a diary he kept for his wife, speaking about their future together and his undying love for her. His obituary, written by his manager at the Bank of Adelaide paid tribute to his genial nature and thoughtfulness:

‘He was one of the most manly men who have ever entered the service, and whence the call for volunteers was made he was among the first to respond. When in time we learn the circumstances of his death I feel sure we shall hear that he died foremost in a charge, helping to make traditions for our army, and fighting for his country. A more noble death it is not possible to conceive’
Chronicle (Adelaide), 19 June 1915, p 17

Sadly, seven months later, in London on 19 November 1915, Nellie and her infant son died soon after she had given birth.

Information Sources:

The Australian War Memorial

State Library of New South Wales

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Veterans, South Australia

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