3rd Australian Light Horse Regiment

Thursday 22 February 1917 – Egyptian village, first impressions

Visited Egyptian village ~ irrigation canals fed from the Nile ~ people riding donkeys just like Bible stories ~ planes flying overhead ~ local musicians ~ man washing before prayers

 

Egypt
Thursday 22 February 1917

Dear Dorc,

Here is 8 o’clock tonight so I may as well scribble down a few notes re my recent wanderings. First about last Sunday we had dinner on ‘Bully’ and jam etc and soon afterwards Les, Phil, Lance, Jack and I set off toward the railway line, and over towards a small Egyptian town or village about a mile away.

The houses are of typical Eastern type square walls, flat roofs, no verandahs and sometimes 2 storeys just like the pictures I’ve seen of them. There are a few goats and fowls about and plenty of ‘dirty looking n-ggers’. A few certainly do appear to be of a better class – more intelligent. One chap we had quite a yarn to at a station across here. He talks broken English and French and of course plenty of Egyptian. The time tables and notices about the station seem to be printed mostly in duplicate, French on one side and I think Arabic the other. The trains are not too bad, a bit slow and dingy some of them but I’ve seen some pretty decent corridor carriages and big engines.

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We walked over to a freshwater canal. Someone said that it was fed by the waters of the Nile. Anyway it runs away up through and past here and is largely used for irrigation of native gardens and also for drinking supply, both for the people and their donkeys etc and for washing the dirty feet as I’ll tell you later. We have water laid on here in pipes. Pretty good drinking and I have heard that it comes from Cairo. Don’t know if that is correct. This little canal is about 25 to 30 yards wide maybe 10 or 15 feet deep and the water flows quite freely.  Some n-gs soon saw us sitting down on the bank and came up with sweet olanges (oranges) to sell but we were not for buying. You should see the way the people track around both walking and riding. They sit on a little skinny looking donkey and swing their long legs and big feet and dressed in long robes of course, just like old bible story pictures and the way they carry things on their heads is amazing.

We saw a woman and a girl coming along by the bank of the canal (not the canal), with baskets on their heads. The woman’s was evidently pretty heavy filled with fruit and she put up her hand to steady it often, but the girl with the smaller basket walked right ahead, or called out to us or turned this way and that as straight as anything all the time and never once put up her hand to balance her load. They are jolly interesting to watch and you wonder if you are dreaming or looking at some old pictures.

We went along the road into the town, saw a few Light Horse chaps out for a ride and two tommy officers and their orderlies out for a ride and going shooting apparently. Don’t know what they should shoot here. All the wild animals I’ve seen yet have been a few beetles, big black ones and one little lizard and a few flies. There are a few dogs about, not many apparently and the only bird I’ve seen is a lively little thing shaped like a lark and marked like a sparrow. A few of them hop and chirp about every morning.

I did see a big bird I remember flying at some distance. I didn’t know at first whether it was a distant aeroplane or not. One of these latter birds flopped down last Monday evening, caught alight I believe and resulted in the killing of one man and death of the other of hurts received. Then yesterday morning one came down just close by here, landed gently, though something up with the engines for a while. Another chap flew up and came down along side and rendered assistance and they both were soon flying around once more. They do look A-1 I can tell you.

I don’t seem to get far with last Sunday’s walk do I? After a while we walked up through the village to find out the cause of a most unusual row. It was made by a group of musicians (?) with some sort of reed pipes and a big drum. The conductor seemed to need to dance a jig to keep time, waving his arms and all the time through and above the noise another chap was standing around yelling at the encircling crowd of a few men and women with their face half covered and carrying babies in their arms and numerous nippers dressed in any fashion. One boy of about 10 had on a soldier’s tunic and hat. As far as we could gather the kickup was referring to a wedding which was to follow in a day or two. I’d like to see one of their weddings.

We went on past some tommy sentries over a decent bridge, railway and other traffic, which crosses the little canal and on the other side saw a few shops with tomatoes and other stuff on show. Don’t know what was inside. They looked pretty dirty. Some are wonderfully and ‘orribly decorated with pictures of Egyptian figures and animals, the meaning of which we couldn’t even guess at.

At one place which seemed a sort of ‘cafe’ or grog shop, chairs and table were set out in the road in front and at one table two gyps were playing some mixture of a game with dice and draughts. An old lady with a wooden leg brought out drinks for them and when a few of us gathered about she and the man boss wanted us to sit down on the chairs – ‘seet down seet down’ – pointing to the chairs. But we said no. I pointed to the camp and my watch and kidded that we had to come back.

We saw an old guy squat down on the sand outside a place where we reckoned they must be having church. He took off his boots and socks and proceeded to wash his hands and face and feet with water which he carried in a tall teapot looking affair, poured a little at a time out of the spout and slopped it on. Later on we saw another chap bobbing his old cruet on the ground, praying to the sun on his knees of course and hands clasped and another came down close by him and was going to wash himself in the water close by the bridge. I suppose preparatory to praying. But the sentry hunted him and he went away without saying his prayers. They are not allowed to wash within a certain close distance of the bridge. We saw an old looking cemetery just outside the village with strange shaped tombstones heaped up on the graves but hadn’t time to go and inspect it closely. We will do that later on though no doubt.

Away over the sandy flat and low rises about 2 miles we could see a green patch and clump of palms and trees so we made for that – you know the sort of walking, pretty soft and out that way it seems to have drifted more than about here but it didn’t take us long. We came to one of the irrigated gardens I mentioned before where natives were working. Water ran out of pipes and over patches of green fodder like lucerne a bit and used for feeding goats, donks and horses. Also there were tomatoes and peas. We sampled the peas and they tasted A-1. Of course we had a yabber with the n-gs – 2 men and 3 lively looking boys who all spoke very broken and scarcely intelligible English. But we asked a few questions and had our answers after a fashion. They were very delighted with a cigarette each and a few pinches of tobacco which our smokers gave them. It was getting on on the afternoon when we left (there was a house of some sort under the trees) so we came straight back to camp in time for tea. The boys wanted to take us over the sandhills to the big canal but they couldn’t tell us how far away it was. If we’d had horses we might have tried it.

Guess that’s all for now.

Hoo-roo,

Spence

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