3rd Australian Light Horse Regiment

Sunday 20 April 1919 – demobilisation suspended, good horses shot

Y Emma
Esbekich Gardens
Sunday 20 April 1919

Dear Father

Seeing that I wrote my last letter home nearly 6 weeks ago you’ll no doubt be pleased to hear again so soon. Probably news of the Gyppo ‘war’ has reached Australia and if so you’ll know ‘ere this that we’re hung up so to speak. We actually got within 2 days of sailing when all demobilisation was temporarily and indefinitely suspended. Course we liked that I don’t think but ever since we have thought that the embargo would be lifted and that we would go any day, but a second war occurred a fortnight ago so now there’s still nothing any good about getting away.

I gave my last letter (to Sal) to one of the 1 Regiment chaps to post either on the boat or in Aussie and they left on the 13 March so you should have that letter by now. I’m rather a long long week trailing behind it. I’m still hopeful though cos things are pretty quiet everywhere now and the permanent army of occupation is being formed and brought here as quickly as possible. Some troops arrived from England last week I believe. I am still working at Headquarters unfortunately. Work is pretty slack there now. Our hours are from 8 to 12.30 and 5 to 7 daily except Saturdays when we only work in the morning and Sunday work has been cut out altogether.

The Regiment came down to Kantara and were camped right on the canal ready to embark but last week they caught a job. A & B Squadrons are out doing guard etc about the barrage while C Squadron and headquarters are camped just close to Cairo at Gezireh Kit Stores and doing duty as required in and about the town, mostly bridge pickets and guards. I’ve been out there and have seen Les Williams, Jack Hardwicke and some of the other fellows. Also had Lance Neville staying at corner house for 2 days. He was in Cairo on duty and went back to the squadron this morning.

We were saying yesterday as we drove around a bit that it was exactly 2 years by the date since our first flying visit to Cairo. We went to the museum as Lance had never been before and were well entertained by an old dinkum guide for 2 hours as he told us about everything and everybody who roosts there from Moses time up to date.

On Friday being a holiday 3 of us from Corner House decided to walk to the pyramids. We did too except for a 2 mile motor lorry ride. Got there and had dinner at a restaurant then proceeded to climb Cheops – that’s the big feller with a bit knocked off the top. Bill Bunker had his camera and took a few snapshots of us up top. The stones a way up are just as big as those at the bottom – about 3 feet x 3 feet x 4 feet and some even bigger. Some are smaller of course. We decided that to get them up there the old Gyps must have built up sand hill all round the pyramid as it was building and then rolled the boulders into position and then cleared the sand from the sides and left the pyramid standing.

Spencer (above) & friend at the top of the Great Pyramid of Cheops

We felt like a cup of tea by the time we got down to the bottom again so had it with sandwiches and then started out on the 10 miles back to Cairo. By the time we reached Giza, 3 miles from here, we could catch a gharry [horse drawn cart] so we did and arrived home feeling not too bad at all at quarter to 6 just in nice time for a bath and dinner. Usually there’s a tram service to Mena , but that’s an institution that’s still non est since the Gyppo war and that’s why we had to walk. Motors cannot be hired because the petrol is short and we didn’t want a gharry all day. It would have cost us nearly 1 pound and as the weather was just right we reckoned the walk would do us just fine.

It’s just getting on for hay and harvest time here you know. All along the Mena Road there are crops either of vegetable or barley or lucerne. Some jolly good looking patches of barley well out in ear. There are fruit gardens too and vineyards here and there but the summer fruits won’t be in for  couple of months yet. From the top of the pyramid you can look back to Cairo on this edge of the delta while the pyramids are on the other side and looking up and down following the course of the Nile there is the fertile green strip a few miles wide with desert sand on each side stretching away put of sight.

This morning, Easter Sunday, I went to the Presbyterian church. I’ve been there several times lately. They had a communion service at the close set out in real old style. Minister with a deacon at either hand to take around the bread. It’s the first time I’ve seen a service that way since leaving home so it seemed alright.

In the field at our occasional communion services the padre always used to do everything with such conveniences as might be obtained. Two nurses came out just after me from church this morning, one Aussie and one Tommy and we walked up the street yarning. Finished up at their invitation, I went and had dinner with them and a nurses sort-of-club house, and stayed for a bit after.

The Australia sister comes from NSW and knew Grace Thompson and also knows Grace’s hubby. Her name is Moore and she was at the 31st  at the time I was in hospital. She had charge of the ward where Phil Prime was so ill and died. The Tommy sister is called Stokes, born in Kent, home now in Surrey, so since my name was like Kent and my Grandpa came from Surrey she and I are good cobbers and we parted with the hope of meeting again.

It’s quite a treat to speak to a woman though a man feels a bit of a goat in their company. You’d never believe how stupid and awkward I feel a week or 2 ago in Groppi’s [cafe]. A nurse saw my colours and came up and spoke. She wanted to know some news of the Regiment, when we were going home etc. I suppose I answered her, I dunno, but there you are that’s me and I’m pretty much out of from. Still ‘maleesh’ as the Gyppos say – we’ll soon be home again getting told how to talk and behave ourselves generally. Job for Lic as my instructor and corrector.

It’s half past 5 and I’m off for dinner now so will finish this later.

Monday afternoon

Sure I must have known something in writing yesterday. We had been looking for letters for bout 6 weeks more or less and this am they came. I had 9 envelopes. That means about 20 letters from home numbered from 199 to 206 and 2 later ones dated about March 16 without numbers. Also a letter from Donie, Stella Rowe and Miss Ashton. I kind of feel too full for words. It was bonz to have all the news and the latest pretty recent too. When I started about Dorc’s illness I wondered if the rotten flu has paid us a visit. Glad it was nothing as serious as that. Strange too that Lic should follow suit. I hope they are both OK now. Bad luck about old Brownie [horse] dying – I wonder if she had the flu.

You told me about lots of things that I’ve not time to mention now but I’ll post this letter and follow up with one to someone else very shortly. About Uncle Ted being down and calf market meeting and meeting Len Rowe there, Mr & Mrs Rowe’s visit, Lic’s new school, Charlie Teague‘s and Norm Ford‘s return, mother meeting Major Dick and Mrs Hogarth and others. There seems to be plenty to keep you all pretty busy.

It must have been good to get all Mack’s letters after a long wait to say nothing of Miss who was it? Miss Thompson or Barker or somebody who told you all about her arrival in India. I had a letter from Mack a few days ago dated 21 March 1919. She had been out camping, riding bikes and frightening old stodgy bullocks in wagons out of their usual calm and still enjoying things generally.

I expect you’ll be sure to see something of Dr Mead and family when they arrive home. They are much missed in India no doubt. Mack won’t be so very long after me in getting home if I don’t look out a bit. I must come home soon or I’ll scarcely see Dorcie before she clears out – & if I can’t work it any other way (ie the Regiment doesn’t get along soon) I’ll get sick again and come home as a hospital patient. Archie Blue is home by now I suppose. He left he as a malaria patient and lots of others are going that way. I wish now that I hadn’t missed writing all this time. You’ll be looking for letters which won’t come but I didn’t want to start writing again, thought I was coming myself.

This will be a bit late for both your and mother’s birthdays but perhaps just before they occur I’ll send a cable saying coming home and then you’ll be happy. I’m glad those letters of mine and photos and Cooees [magazines] arrived safely and were enjoyed I didn’t expect answers to any letter I’ve written in Cairo at least when I came down.

I’ve not asked Les Williams how my photos on horse back turned out. I’ll see him again though in a few days and find out. I hope it’s alright for old Starlight’s sake. I’d sooner have had one of Jinny that way but still I have another photo with her in it so must be satisfied. It is a photo of the original horses of the Regiment which were still going last December and though Jinny is in the back row there is no mistaking her old head, well up in the air as usual. And little Tommy, Perce Mitchell‘s pony next to her.

I reckon that memorial to war horses is a good idea and I’m glad you sent along something on account of Brownie. She was worth it. Possibly if she hadn’t been killed she would have at length fallen into the hands of some greasy Gyppo to be driven around in a gharry so she’s better off dead. Our old horses were taken away just after I came down here from Raffa and after being kept at Moascar for some time were again issued out to the Brigades who have been remounted on account of this Gyppo trouble so Jinny and Tommy and Ginger and Achmad are probably doing duty once more on the sands of Egypt under a new rider. I hope they are being well treated anyway. All except the real good and sound horses were shot – I reckon the whole lot deserve a decent ending after long and faithful service under all sorts of conditions, good and bad, as you know, and it would be better to shoot them all rather than sell them to the gyppos.

A good number of the Tommy horses are now running in the gharries in Cairo and they certainly look better than the little weedy ponies generally drive, but the Gyps don’t deserve to drive a decent animal. The old army mules are also conspicuous here in the water sprinklers and street cleaning wagons.

Well I’ll continue another day, here for one envelope. It’s great to get  a heap of letters. They are just as much wanted as they used to be. I’ll be wirelessing some Happy Returns for you and mother on the 16th and 20th of next month. That’s the only way to reach you in time or by cable.

Love to all of you from Spence