Sir Ronald Ross’ work on dysentery in Alexandria, Egypt during the Great War

The Ross Collection in the Archives of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine holds material on dysentery during the First World War.
Sir Ronald Ross is famous for being the discoverer of the mosquito transmission of malaria and the first Briton to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine.


Ross and colleagues in Alexandria, 1915

During World War One he was appointed a consultant physician on tropical diseases to Indian troops and was sent to Alexandria for four months to investigate an outbreak of dysentery which was hampering troops in the Dardanelles. In the report he made at the end of his service, he states that on visiting seven large hospitals in Alexandria, nearly all medical cases belonged to five groups of diseases usually prevalent in British troops in warm countries: typhoid, jaundice, malaria, dysentery and mixed cases. Of these, dysentery (an infection of the intestines that causes diarrhoea containing blood and mucus) was the principal cause of sickness in the Mediterranean Expeditionary Forces. Figures from a report show that from 29 August to 9th October 1915 there were 32,528 cases of diarrhoea and dysentery with 231 deaths.


Post mortems on cases showing dysenteric ulceration of colon at 21 General Hospital, Alexandria June 28-October 27 1915 by George Bertram Bartlett

He found that many of the cases were amoebic dysentery which meant prolonged illness and cases of liver abscesses. Ross instructed that all patients showing dysenteric symptoms at the front be given emetine and this resulted in patients reaching Alexandria in a less critical condition.
Ross finished his report with a number of suggestions, including increasing the number of pathologists in each hospital, and that those patients who have been treated successfully for malaria and dysentery be sent home with medical cards outlining their medical notes in case of relapse.

Ross at the Regina Hotel, Alexandria, Egypt

While Ross is remembered for his work on malaria and dysentry, this remarkable man was also a mathematician, epidemiologist, sanitarian, editor, novelist, dramatist, poet, amateur musician, composer, and artist. He died, after a long illness, at the Ross Institute on 16 September 1932.

“…With tears and toiling breath,
I find thy cunning seeds,
O million-murdering Death.”

(fragment of poem by Ronald Ross, written in August 1897, following his discovery of malaria parasites in anopheline mosquitoes fed on malaria-infected patients)

Information Sources:

Library & Archives Service, The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

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A.S.T.E.N.E Conference – University of East Anglia (21 – 24th July 2017)

The Association for the Study of Travel in Egypt and the Near East will hold its twelfth biennial conference at the University of East Anglia and Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery, Norwich, from Friday 21 July to Monday 24 July, 2017.

I’ll be speaking on Sunday 23rd of July during session 10 Tourism and Perceptions of the Other on Soldiering In Egypt. My paper will aim to provide an overview surrounding the shared experiences of soldiers serving in Egypt during the period 1914 – 18 with their apparent and well documented interest in the history and archaeology of Egypt. For many young men and women, most of whom had never travelled beyond their home towns, it must have been an incredible experience to look upon the Pyramids at Giza. Troops arriving in Egypt were amazed by the sights and sounds of Cairo and plenty of spare time enabled the opportunity for sightseeing and travel. Their photographs, letters and souvenirs provide a record of life in Egypt during the Great War, an experience which appeared to have left an indelible mark on all who visited. 

For further information on the conference please visit: http://www.astene.org.uk/

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‘Now, as this place is 450ft high, it took us a good while to reach the top. Of course, steps 2ft and 2ft 6″ apart make the progress fairly easy. However, we reached it somehow. The top is a level of about 20ft by 20ft so there is heaps of room to walk about. The most  beautiful panoramic view imaginable greeted us on arrival. On one side, we got a splendid view of our camp, which if the people of Australia could only see on paper, would be worth thousands. On another side are the remains of an ancient city, and natives are excavating for hidden treasure, also a number of tombs, which were a wonderful sight’ 

Private Jack Colless, A.I.F, Giza, c.1914

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Views of an Antique Land’ Project Conference (20th May 2017)

I was so pleased to be invited to speak at the closing ‘Views of an Antique Land’ project conference which is being held on the 20th May at Cardiff University.

My paper ‘Recollections and Representations of Cairo (1914/18) – The Egyptian Expeditionary Force’ will include a brief overview of the strategic importance of Egypt and the logistical challenge of housing, feeding and caring for the large numbers of Commonwealth troops involved throughout Egypt. I’ll be talking about leisure and recreation in Great War Cairo, Luxor and Alexandria and how this ‘friendly invasion’ affected life in Cairo for the Egyptian people. I find this ‘social history of soldiering’ enormously entertaining, their reminiscences are at times ribald but they display an intense fascination with the culture and history of Egypt.

For further information on the project please visit:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ww1imagesegypt/

Web link: http://sites.cardiff.ac.uk/ww1imagesegypt/

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‘We are camped in the Valley of the Pyramids with two of the big Pyramids in sight. They are an enormous size … a wonderful piece of work … All of the Australian troops except the Light Horse are camped here. The Light Horse are camped on the other side of town. The New Zealanders are with them … The camp is like a huge town. It is laid out in streets and blocks and each battalion has a block. We have been making rifles ranges, building latrines, making roads, building mess rooms and a thousand and one jobs which are required in a camp like this’ 

Sapper Ernest Charles Tubbenhauer, 1st Division Engineers, Mena Camp, Cairo, c.1915

I do love a nice research mystery …

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This week, knowing my research interests, my Dad presented me with a set of postcards which he felt may be of interest.

The first image, taken by S Sarkis, Garrison Photographer from the Kasr-el-Nil Barracks in Cairo is of a funeral procession described as ‘Fusiliers’.  Now I’m going to make some assumptions here with regard to the cemetery. I’m 90% certain that this is the Cairo War Memorial cemetery – from other images I have dating to the Great War period the type of cross assemblage in the background would fit, as would the presence of Mr Sarkis to document the occasion within the environs of central Cairo. The cemetery at Heliopolis in Cairo did not open until 1941 so Its reasonably safe to assume this is indeed Cairo.

The pall bearers are wearing tropical field service dress and two of them appear to have red roses on their helmets which may indicate that they are Lancashire Fusiliers. The Lancashire Fusiliers wore red roses on their helmets to commemorate the Battle of Minden in 1759. Searching the Commonwealth War Graves database for Cairo yields the following results:- 20 graves belonging to the Lancashire Fusiliers dating between the period 1914 -1919, 11 graves belonging to the Royal Fusiliers dating between the period 1915 – 1919 and lastly 12 graves belonging to the Northumberland Fusiliers dating between 1917 – 1919.

The image is undated, however the presence of two female mourners behind the coffin may indicate a post war date and if that were the case it could be a photograph related to a very small number of men. However, thats quite a large leap to make so for now  all I can say is that I have a list of 43 candidates from a register of 2393 men.

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So, more research is required but isnt it amazing which direction a single postcard can lead you?

 

 

 

Military History and Colonialism: The Pigeons of Denshawai

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The Denshawai Incident is the name given to a dispute which occurred in 1906 between British Military officers and the locals villagers of Denshawai, Egypt. Denshawai was one of many small cruelties of colonialism, but the arrogance of the British response gave a new impetus to the growing sense of Egyptian nationalism. Though the incident itself was fairly small in terms of the number of casualties and injuries, the British officers’ response to the incident, and its grave consequences, were what led to its lasting impact.

Like many villagers in the Delta, the villagers of Denshawai raised pigeons in conical pigeon-cotes, primarily for food. A year before, in 1905, British officers had come to the village shooting pigeons, A local man named Hasan Mahfuz had resisted them, and the British Army banned further hunting there. On 13 June 1906  a party of five British officers, with an Egyptian policeman and interpreter,  returned to Denshawai.  The ranking officer in the group was Major John Edward Pine-Coffin, a Boer War veteran and whose son would later serve with the Airborne forces during the Normandy invasion had reportedly hunted at Denshawai before.

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Major John Edward Pine-Coffin (1866 – 1919)

When Mahfuz and other villagers again resisted, the British shooting party agreed to retreat a few hundred yards from the village. The exact distance they moved back is disputed. As they started shooting birds, a threshing floor in the village caught fire. The villagers, already infuriated by the pigeon shooters, attacked the soldiers with stones and sticks. Somehow in the confusion the wife of the prayer leader of the local mosque was shot. In the fight that ensued one British officer, a Captain Bull, was injured. He and another officer escaped, and Bull, running for help, collapsed and died. British troops arriving on the scene found a local peasant who had sought to help Bull, saw that Bull was dead,  quickly assumed the peasant had killed him, and beat the fellah to death.

Concerned about growing Egyptian nationalism, officials responded swiftly and harshly to the Denshawai Incident. The next day, the British army arrived, arresting fifty-two men in the village identified as members of the mob, including Abd-el-Nebi, Hassan Mahfouz, a man called Darweesh, and Zahran. At a summary trial, with both Egyptian and British judges, responsibility for the incident was determined. Hassan, Darweesh, Zahran, and one other man, were convicted of murdering the officer who had died of sunstroke, since their actions had put him in that deadly position. They were sentenced to death. Abd-el-Nebi and another villager were given life sentences of penal servitude; twenty-six villagers were given various terms of hard labour and ordered to be flogged. Giving evidence in court the officers stated that they had been “guests” of the villagers and had done nothing deliberately wrong.

Hassan was hanged in front of his own house, which was uncharacteristic of the usual protocol in capital punishment. This action by the Egyptian and British officials was portrayed by the nationalist press as especially cruel and an outright symbol of dominance over the Egyptians. Darweesh said from the gallows: “May God compensate us well for this world of meanness, for this world of injustice, for this world of cruelty.”

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The Egyptian police official who had accompanied the soldiers to the village did not confirm their story. He testified in court that after Abd-el-Nebi’s wife had been shot, the alarmed officers had fired twice more on the surging mob. For his testimony, he was dismissed, and a court of discipline sentenced him to two years imprisonment and fifty lashes.

George Bernard Shaw gave an assessment of the incident, much criticised in Britain as biased and inflammatory:

“Instead of showing understanding for the peasants’ self-defence against the officer’s tactless blundering, the colonial administrators viewed the natives’ actions as a dangerous popular insurgency that had to be dealt with harshly.”

In the long run, this incident, and the resulting rise in nationalism, led to an anti-colonial struggle in Egypt during the Great War. During the war, the Egyptian Expeditionary Force (E.E.F) was stationed in Egypt. Its presence resulted in the major expenditure of food and resources to fight Turkish forces. Ironically, this had been a long time goal of Egyptian nationalists. As the war continued, the unrest sparked by the Denshawai Incident was further aggravated by inflation and food shortages which led to cases of starvation within Egypt’s borders. By 1919, Egypt was ripe for revolt and the drive for change was gathering pace. While the Allies were attempting to reach a post-war agreement, the Egyptian leaders, known as the Wafd, which later gave its name to the major political party, were denied entrance to France to attend the conference at Versailles. Among other things, the Wafd wanted a greater share in the Sudan,  Egypt’s joint colony with Britain. The Versailles refusal led to most of the Egyptian government resigning, and resulted in mass demonstrations leading to riots. These riots, and the grievances that triggered them, provided nationalists with both a focus for unified action, and a base of support that was wider than any they had attracted in the prewar decades.

 

The Ethics of Collecting Medals – ‘Private James Tilbury’ of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment

Military medals are becoming increasingly valuable, but its the story of courage behind the award that ultimately counts. Whenever I  have seen personal medals for sale either at a dealers or for sale on sites such as eBay I have often wondered about the circumstances that brought them to be for sale.

Over the years many sets are bequeathed to Regimental Museums or Associations however this should always be done with care. In 2015 the Combined Military Services Museum came under fire for selling donated second world war medals. The medals, which belonged to the donor’s father,  were sold on eBay for £32. The Donor  had not given the museum permission to sell the medals and had donated them in the hope they would “be in safe keeping for generations to come”. The Museum had decided that as they had numerous similar items both on display and in storage the donated set would be passed onto a dealer for sale, and the proceeds used for the purchase of other artefacts for display.

We should consider the fact that as people age many tend to get less sentimental about physical objects. It may well be that the person in question had no relatives to leave them to, or that surviving relatives were genuinely not interested or would rather have had a monetary alternative. Perhaps this is where the private collector can play a viable role – if the medal in question is so old that its original owner is sure to be dead, I have less of an ethical issue regarding my purchase. Ive started to collect the medals of soldiers buried in Egypt. To date I have four partial sets which I have started to research and I’m looking forward to uncovering more of their stories. My latest purchase is the Victory Medal belonging to Private James Tilbury of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment. James, an Upholster by profession, enlisted in Oxford and saw service with the Oxford & Bucks Light Infantry before being transferred to the Garrison Battalion with the Royal Warwickshire Regiment at the Abbassia barracks on the outskirts of Cairo. The war diaries record that the regiment has recently been vaccinated against an outbreak of enteric fever (Typhoid) and this may have been how James lost his life, aged 34. James is remembered with honour in the Cairo War Memorial Cemetery, Grave Ref: F. 254.

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Almost all of the collectors I know see themselves as the current custodian and treat the medal with the respect it deserves. The medals remind us of the extraordinary heroism of those who fight for their country and those who lie far from home.