The Roos That Went To War

In the shadow of the great pyramids amid the piles of kitbags and Lee-Enfield rifles, an iconic image held by the Australian War Memorial shows an Australian Imperial Force infantryman encountering a kangaroo.

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Image Credit: The Australian War Memorial

Members of the 9th and 10th Battalions regularly smuggled mascots from home aboard transport ships as reminders of home. The above photo, which was taken by Chaplain Ernest Merrington, shows the regard with which this soldier treated the marsupial. It’s believed it ate the same food as the British force’s horses and donkeys – a hay and chaff mix called ‘tibin’. It’s not known whether the Kangaroo had a name or whether he was allowed to roam around the divisional lines at Giza but he features prominently in a large selection of photographs prior to 1915 when the men left Mena for Gallipoli. The ‘roo was left in the care of the Cairo Zoological Gardens.

Kangaroos and wallabies were a common sight in the Australian camps at Mena, Heliopolis and Ma’adi in 1914/15. There were thought to be at least a dozen and they were frequently mentioned in letters home. Lieutenant Horace George Viney of the 3rd Light Horse Regiment (3LHR), describes “a very amusing incident” that occurred on his troopship, HMAT Port Lincoln, after local pilots came aboard to guide it up the Suez Canal in December 1914.

“The boy who looks after our kangaroos happened to be exercising the large one just at this time,” says Viney’s letter, which was published in the Adelaide Mail on January 23, 1915, “and he brought him along to where this Egyptian was standing and let him stand up against him.

“The Egyptian did not notice the ‘roo at first, but when the animal began sniffing at his feet he looked down and saw him. Just at that moment the kangaroo made a sound between a cough and a bark, and that settled things. The Egyptian gave one bound of about 6ft, knocked over a couple of men who happened to be in his way, and made a bolt for the other end of the ship ….. He swore that the kangaroo had bitten him on the foot where he knocked it, and he was quite satisfied that the animal was going to make a meal off him.”

Adelaide’s Chronicle newspaper of January 23, 1915 reported a similar frenzy when the 10th and 11th Battalion disembarked at Alexandria:

“During the evening large crowds assembled to view the newcomers, and our pet kangaroo created an amusing scene, refusing to budge on being placed on the wharf. For some time he was eyed by the natives with great curiosity, but suddenly he bounded forward. Then, with ear-splitting yells, some hundreds of Alexandrians made record time in seeking safety from the `ferocious’ beast.”

The 3 LHR’s kangaroos bob up again, at Ma’adi Camp in Cairo, in a letter written by Lance-Corporal Leonard Fawcett in late December 1914. He describes the “very funny” reaction of a monkey (the mascot of another regiment) to a 3 LHR kangaroo, and adds:

“The first week we were here crowds of local residents, mostly French and well-to-do English people, visited the camp to see the kangaroos. They seemed to be very taken with them, especially the kiddies.” To feed the kangaroos and other mascots (such as rabbits), the soldiers grew small patches of grass outside their tents.

A February 1915 letter by Lieutenant Albert Leslie Fitzpatrick, of the 1 LHR, confirms there were four 3 LHR kangaroos: “We have hundreds of visitors to the camp every afternoon, and hundreds flock round the enclosure wherein are four kangaroos belonging to the 3rd Light Horse Regiment (SA).

“They also have two kookaburras, which seem to do all right here, as I often hear them laughing. One of the roo’s got away into the desert last week, and it took an Egyptian all day to round him up. He had plenty of room to manoeuvre in out there, and the Egyptian wore his shoes out chasing the animal, and only succeeded in catching him with the aid of three mounted troopers.”

Cairo Zoo, he added, already had “a large collection of Australian birds, and a kangaroo which was presented by a field ambulance with our force”.

Ah yes, THAT kangaroo… The 1st Field Ambulance was a bit naughty there. Corporal Vercoe Paterson wrote on February 2, 1915 that he had just been to Cairo Zoo (a “simply grand” place), where he “saw the grey kangaroo presented by the 1st Field Ambulance and met a couple of South Australian infantry men who had been sent by Col. Weir to see it. It was the one that was presented to Col. Weir by Mr Ware of Ware’s Exchange, Adelaide. The Field Ambulance `pinched’ it and made a present of it to the Zoo. The Col. is going to try to get it back.” There are several newspaper mentions of how Lieutenant-Colonel Stanley Price Weir, commanding officer of the 10th Battalion, had been presented with a regimental mascot by Mr C. Boxer Ware, of the Adelaide watering hole Ware’s Exchange Hotel. Cairo Zoo apparently got to keep the `roo.

Private Hector Louis Marchant, of the Army Veterinary Section, wrote on March 23, 1915: “The Egyptians were highly delighted when some of our soldiers presented them with a kangaroo. They couldn’t make it out for a good while. I went to see the zoo; it is far ahead of the one in Melbourne.” Frank Isaac, of the 1st Field Artillery Brigade, told his mother (in a letter published in the Goulburn Evening Penny in January 1915) that Cairo Zoo had no roos at the time of writing. However, “there are about a dozen pet ones here in camp which have all been given to the Zoo but they stay with us until we leave Egypt. George Wensor is going to take a photo of one of them on the Sphinx and send it to the Sydney Mail. You might happen to see it. I will be in it, of course…” He added: “An enormous number of European residents of Egypt visit the camp, and are all and always very taken up with the pet kangaroos.” One of those visitors was an Egyptian journalist, Tewfik Habib, who saw a soldier at Mena Camp fondling a kangaroo “as we fondle dogs”. Of the several kangaroos  donated to the Cairo Zoo before the Anzacs sailed off in April 1915 to Gallipoli many were still there the following year. They were still there in March, when Corporal Ralph Cracknell wrote to his mother saying he’d just visited the zoo: “I saw the kangaroos given by the Australian Light Horse. Plenty of other Australian native game there, too.”  Well after the Anzacs were evacuated off Gallipoli, where they’d spent eight disastrous months, there were still kangaroos hopping about Cairo – an enduring reminder of when the Australians came to Egypt.

 

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‘To collect or not to collect that is the question’ – The purchase of War Souvenirs

Evidence of looting (private property taken from a combatant or a third party, dead or alive, in war), and trophy taking (anything serving as a token or evidence of victory, valour, or skill) on Egyptian territory can be found today in museums and archives all over Britain and its former dominion territories.

Attitudes to looting and trophy taking in 1882 were as complex as the socio-economic climate in which Britain found itself militarily engaged. In the face of a nationalist insurrection and a perceived threat to the Suez Canal, a British fleet first bombarded then captured Alexandria’s forts. Landing parties then pulled down Egyptian flags, which were taken as trophies. Less significant artefacts were looted by European sailors and soldiers on the ground.

Prior to the establishment of the Australian War Records Section (AWRS) in May 1917, the collection of war trophies and relics by Australian units was carried out in accordance with British War Office (BWO) regulations. In late 1916 BWO established a committee to deal with the disposal of trophies and relics: the best trophies would be selected for a British National War Museum (later to become the Imperial War Museum) and the remaining trophies distributed to the dominion countries. However, the Australian government, along with other dominion countries, resisted the idea, insisting trophies claimed by their troops should be made available to them. The AWRS was initially responsible for the collection, preservation, and classification of all official documents relating to the AIF. This was later expanded to include photographs, trench and regimental magazines, sketches, personal memoirs, relics, and war trophies. By the end of 1917 AWRS controlled the administration of all war trophies captured by Australian units.

In October 1917 Henry Gullett sailed for Egypt, where he established an office of the AWRS to coordinate the collection of trophies. Items were to be clearly labelled, contain the name of the unit that had captured the item, the town or area it was from, the time and place the item was found, and the unit’s wish for its ultimate disposal. The information was transferred to a history sheet or card for each item.

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‘Skull Fragment’ Image Source: The Australian War Memorial REL 33592 refers

This partial skull fragment was picked up by an Australian soldier, Trooper George David Burns* in Egypt during the Second World War. The year ‘1882’ has been carved into the top of the fragment with the place name ‘TEL EL KEBIR’ carved beneath. This indicates the origin of the skull is likely to be from the Battle of Tel el-Kebir. The carving is believed to have been done by an Egyptian and the later date ‘1916’ that is carved beneath the words ‘TEL EL KEBIR’, suggest that it was carved for, sold or passed on to, a British or Australian soldier during the First World War. How the skull fragment came into the possession of Trooper Burns during the Second World War is unknown.

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Acquisitive acts,  such as the taking of the spoils of war, were commonly regarded as an unexceptional aspect of armed conflict.  The different items people brought or sent home influenced the way Egypt and the Egyptian Soudan were perceived and laterly understood in Britain.

Sources & Notes:

Fox, Paul: Taking trophies and collecting loot: Cultures of acquisition on Egyptian territory during nineteenth century armed conflict (2015)

The Australian War Memorial, REL33592 refers

*Burns was born in Wondai, Queensland in 1916. Prior to his military service he worked as a farm labourer, enlisting in the army in November 1939. He embarked for the Middle East in January 1940, serving with 6 Australian Division Calvary Regiment in Egypt and Palestine (including Gaza). Trooper Burns was killed in action during the Battle of Bardia on 3 January 1941, age 25. He is buried in Knightsbridge War Cemetery, Acroma in Libya.

2/1st East Lancashire Field Ambulance 42nd Division

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This week I managed to purchase a wonderful image of the 1st / 2nd East Lancashire Field Ambulance which was taken at Giza, Egypt in October 1914. Assistance to identify the unit shown in the image was generously given by Andrew Mackay, co-Author of Burnley & the Royal Edward Disaster – ‘The Story of Callam’s Own’. 

The 1/1st, 2/1st and 3/1st East Lancashire Field Ambulances which in total consisted of 30 officers and 665 men left with the 42nd Division in September 1914 for Egypt and the defence of the Suez Canal. Disembarkation began at Alexandria on 25 September, and with the exception of the Manchester Brigade concentrated around Cairo, where acclimatisation and further training commenced.

The 1st / 2nd East Lancashire Field Ambulance was the first of three Field Ambulance units belonging to the 42nd Division to be mobilised for action abroad. The East Lancashire Field Ambulance units were staffed by some of the most highly qualified medical men from Manchester and the District. When the call for Imperial service came they, and their men, responded swiftly and were to endure great hardships during the course of their Gallipoli service.

Its a superb image and one Ill be taking with me to the Cardiff ‘Views of an Antique Land’ conference for scanning on the 20th May.

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For further details on the Cardiff project and upcoming conference please see the links listed below.

 

References & Links: 

‘The Lancashire Territorials in Gallipoli – An epic of Heroism’ George Bigwood

‘Burnley & The Royal Edward Disaster – The Story of Callams Own’ edited by Denis Otter & Andrew Mackay

The Official Facebook page for the Cardiff University HLF funded project: https://www.facebook.com/ww1imagesegypt/

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/views-of-an-antique-land-conference-and-keynote-lecture-tickets-33212993959

 

 

 

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

Major Adrian Gilbert Scott and Cairo’s Lost Cathedral

Major Adrian Gilbert Scott M.C (1882 – 1963), Royal Engineers, who served in the first World War at Gallipoli and in Palestine was the grandson of Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811-1878), one of the leading English architects of the Victorian age.

In July 1928 the Egyptian government authorised the sale of a plot of land just to the north of the Kasr al-Nil barracks on the east bank of the Nile to site a new Cathedral. Major Adrian Gilbert Scott was selected as the architect. He reported, ‘The site is a very fine one and by far the best of the various ones considered. Its frontage to the Nile is a very fine asset while gardens should provide a very peaceful atmosphere rarely obtainable in a town site’.

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A foundation stone was laid on Friday 20th November 1936 and just 18 months later, on 25th April 1938 (St Marks Day – an appropriate tribute to the acknowledged founder of Christianity in Egypt), in a ceremony attended by the Architect, the Cathedral was consecrated and dedicated to All Saints.

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The peaceful atmosphere promised by the site did not last long. The Cathedral had been built on the site of a disused lock on the Ismailia Canal, long since filled in but with earth but subject to uneven settlement.

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By the 1950s cracks had started to show in the building. Relations between Britain and Egypt were strained by first Independence then the Suez affair, and no serious steps could be taken by the Church to make the necessary repairs. Meanwhile a new riverside highway, the Corniche, was created between the river and the Cathedral, with all the attendant noise and vibrations. The threat caused by traffic didn’t stop there. Further road-building plans of the Cairo Governorate involved the creation of a Ramses Bridge (since renamed the 6th October Bridge) crossing the Nile at the very site of the Cathedral itself.

The deconsecration of Gilbert Scott’s Cairo Anglican Cathedral took place on 10th February 1978, less than 40 years after the opening ceremony. The Cathedral was demolished in 1970 to make way for the building of the 6th October Bridge.

 

Sources:

http://dioceseofegypt.org/

http://grandhotelsegypt.com/

Sister M.T. Martin and her visit to the Great Pyramid

Sister Mary Theresa Martin (1881 – 1929), an Australian Nurse who served with the 2nd Australian General Hospital in Cairo, Egypt. She sailed from Sydney on the 28th November 1914 on the Kyarra, a steel cargo passenger and luxury liner requisitioned and converted into a hospital ship (HMAT A.55 Kyarra) for the purpose of transporting Australian medical units to Egypt.

Mary Martin’s life was probably no different from numerous others who joined and served in the Commonwealth forces during the Great War. However, through one small incident – a memorable visit to the Great Pyramid , she left her name to posterity as the first lady to explore Campbell’s Chamber.

Whilst in Egypt with thousands of other Australian troops waiting to be deployed, Mary Martin visited the Great Pyramid at Giza and painted her name on the wall inside Campbell’s Chamber, the uppermost of four chambers directly above the Kings Chamber. The graffiti reads “SISTER M. T. MARTIN 6.2.15 – FIRST LADY TO EXPLORE THIS TOMB” indicating that she visited the pyramid on 6 February 1915. This date is consistent with the deployment of Australian troops who trained in Egypt before being sent into action.

After serving in France she returned to Australia in November 1918 and took up employment at the Prince of Wales Hospital, Sydney. She  died suddenly in 1929 at the relatively young age of 48 and was buried in the Roman Catholic section of the Botany Cemetery.

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‘Campbell’s Chamber’, named after Major-General Patrick Campbell (1779 – 1857), Agent and Consul-General of Egypt, 1833 by its discoverer Giovanni Battista Caviglia

 

 

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Sister Martin (seated) at the Gezirah Palace, c.1915, Image Source: The Australian War Memorial, H16403 refers