A Letter from the Front

Leon Maurice Lyons on his wedding day, National Archives of Australia, A14290, 175

Leon Maurice Lyons on his wedding day, National Archives of Australia, A14290, 175

On this day in 1915, the The Western Champion and General Advertiser for the Central-Western Districts in Barcaldine published a letter from the Front, written by a young station manager, Corporal Leon Maurice Lyons, to his brother, Mr. R. F. Lyons. Leon belonged to the 5th Light Horse Regiment, and wrote from Ma’adi, Egypt, on 25th April as follows:

Many thanks for your letter, also for the “Champion.” Yes, you are right. All those little things are appreciated hereabout ten times more than at home, and I must admit that although there is a little grumbling we are being treated jolly well over our mail. We get one a week, and it is very eagerly looked forward to indeed…… It is pretty rotten to think of the drought out your way on top of the war. But from what I have seen of it one need not give up hope, as June has been a very lucky month the last few years. I am sorry to say that at present I can see no hope of getting away, as the fact of being Light Horse will hold us back I’m afraid, and to make things worse we have lately started to police Cairo. That is, about 100 men with necessary officers and N.C.O.’s go to Cairo and do duty in there for a week at a time, camping at the barracks, &c. It is good, interesting work, for one sees some funny sights in giddy Cairo.

Australians in camp at Mena. The Pyramids. The Pyramids,  John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland Neg. 191321

Australians in camp at Mena. The Pyramids. The Pyramids

We have a good stadium here now. It is run by the Second Brigade, and we have some very good big fights, as there are a lot of good men amongst us -both professional and amateurs. There is boxing every Tuesday and Friday. There are lots of strange sights here. For instance, they drive a cow round and milk it at your door instead of using a cart. And all the kids learn to say “Backsheesh” before they can say “Daddy.” They swarm around you trying to sell every imaginable thing, or clean your boots, &o. Cairo is a good place to see and enjoy life in, but I am sorry to say I am not able to go in much as I am always “on the rocks,” as they keep a lot of our pay back.

Payday for Australian soldiers in Cairo during World War I, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland Neg. 182316

Payday for Australian soldiers in Cairo during World War I, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland Neg. 182316

A funny thing happened here recently on a regimental parade, which is a very stiff, staid affair, when everyone has to be dressed up, in perfect line, &c., with a Sergeant-Major rushing round telling men to “sit still,” “draw up there,” “stop that talking,” and all that rot. Well, just in the height of all this, over the hill came a runaway camel with two baskets dragging behind, making an awful noise. Well, it galloped right in amongst us, and where, oh! where were our straight lines? Gone!   And in less than no time there were horses and men all over the place; and when at last he stuck his head right over my shoulder and squealed it was too much for “Jacko,” and he threw me sky high. There were about a dozen thrown. It was an excellent turn.

Australian soldiers on camels in front of the Sphinx Egypt 1915, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland Neg. 28041

Australian soldiers on camels in front of the Sphinx Egypt 1915, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland Neg. 28041

It’s not much good talking about our doings as our friend, the Censor, will only cut it out, but we are hoping for a shift soon, as the papers announce the Allies have landed at Enos. Well, the sooner the better, as we are all eager for a scrap. This sand-chewing is getting on our nerves. We are off for a three days route march at daylight. We are going to the Barrage, which is one of the biggest dams across the Nile, about 25 miles from here. It will be a good trip. They have started to give the N.C.O.’s week-end leave. It really means about four days holiday, which enables one to go up to Luscor. But the trouble is we are all so “stiff.” Remember me to all inquiring friends.

Leon did proceed to the Dardanelles with the 5th Light Horse in May 1915, and survived his time in the trenches at Gallipoli. Upon return he was promoted to sergeant and attended the School of Instruction at Zeitoun for officer training, then transferred to 49th Battalion as a 2nd Lieutenant. While in Egypt he was tasked with distributing and collecting the voting papers for the Queensland Referendum, and in only one day managed to collect about 600 votes among the soldiers in Cairo.

In France Leon was assigned to the 13th Brigade Light Trench Mortar Battery, but unfortunately sustained multiple injuries during an action in July 1916, which resulted in the amputation of his left leg. After a long recuperation in England he was transferred to the Permanent Supernumery List and posted for duty with No. 3 Command Depot, A.I.F. in England.  Promoted to Captain in early 1918, he eventually headed for home via Canada and the United States.

Leon’s 1915 letter from Cairo shows no insight into the horrors he would soon face at Gallipoli and in France, but rather paints a picture of a cheerful young man enjoying new experiences in a foreign land.

Robyn Hamilton – QANZAC100 Content Curator, State Library of Queensland