Postcard Joseph Lebovic collection, National Museum of Australia
In December 1914 our nation was very new to the notion of being at war. Many of those men who enlisted had not yet seen conflict, and they celebrated Christmas in training camps in Australia, on board transport ships, or in desert camps in the shadows of the Pyramids.
Others like the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Forces had been engaged in New Guinea since September 1914. For the British and French forces, they were four months into the long and destructive years, of the First World War.
10th Battalion (South Australia) encamped at Mena, beside the Giza Pyramids with the regimental mascot, December 1914. The kangaroo was given to the Cairo Zoological Gardens before the unit departed for Gallipoli.
Initially Australian troops were to be sent to England for training before embarking for European shores, but last minute orders, saw them disembark in Egypt. Most accounts describe Christmas Day 1914 as passing very quietly, most had been out on a long route march the day before, so were enjoying a rest day.
Boxes of chocolates sent by Princess Mary, the 17 year old daughter of King George and Queen Mary, were distributed to the troops and some Officers supplemented the day’s rations with extras of plum puddings and treats commissioned from local businesses.
Advertisements in December 1914 promoted the purchase of “For Empire”, a patriotic keepsake for those at home, for just “one shilling’. The Northern Miner published in Charters Towers, wrote a gushing tribute on Christmas Day 1914, for those who were serving:
“Today we can toast those gallant boys of our own, in far Egypt, our kinsmen in the trenches of France and Belgium, in the brave warships of England and in every hole and corner of the world where their loyal hearts beat warm and true in love and pride of their country”.
It was from Egypt these men embarked, to fight an unwinnable battle on the Gallipoli Peninsula, just a few months later. More than 8,000 would not live to see the next Christmas, and 18,000 would be wounded.
Marg Powell | QANZAC 100 Content Technician