Life at Cairo

Northern Miner

  The Northern Miner, 20 Jan 1915, p. 4.

In January 1915 the German newspaper ‘Frankfurter Zeitung’ published an extract from a “Cairo diplomatists” letter which depicts Officers of the Canadian and Australian forces, living a “Brilliant Life” of social outings, grand balls, and even regular orgies. An excellent piece of propaganda, but was there some truth in it?
In December 1914 troops began disembarking in Egypt. The Infantry training camp was established at Mena about 10 miles south of Cairo in the shadow of the Pyramids. The Light Horse Regiments were camped at Maadi on the banks of the Nile.

Image: Jane McLennan journal

Pictured are Jane McLennan and three other Australian nurses who took the opportunity during their three week wait in Cairo, to explore the sights. They went on to serve in very difficult conditions with the British General Hospital at Hortiach, Salonika.

When the servicemen and women arrived they would have been amazed by what they saw. Many had never ventured out of their home towns and here there were camels, ancient temples and exotic bazaars.

Off duty the Australian soldier was a civilian tourist keen to take whatever opportunity he could to see the world. Soldiers and officers alike took tours of the pyramids and tombs, and haggled with Egyptian traders for souvenirs to send home.

 Albert James Rooks Photograph Albums

Many soldiers wrote letters and postcards home about their experiences. Major, later Lieut. Colonel George Bourne, encamped at Maadi with the 2nd Light Horse Regiment, wrote to his sister Eleanor – ‘I have met some very nice people here – they are going out of their way to make us comfortable, & offer us hospitality’. He also sent home several parcels of souvenirs ofreal antiquity’ … all part of the experience.

Some families pasted these postcards into treasured albums. The one below features images of two soldiers from the 4th Light Horse Field Ambulance, Lionel Vincent Shaw and Robert John Adams. The images have been pasted into the album with handwritten captions.

W. O. J. Kielly Papers

Just three months later, all this was to change for the troops enjoying life in Cairo. The Infantry joined other allies at the Island of Mudros early April, to await their fate on the Gallipoli Peninsula. The unmounted Light Horse Regiments were soon to follow.


Marg Powell | Q ANZAC 100 Content Technician