3rd Australian Light Horse Regiment

Tuesday 26 November 1918 – on leave in Alexandria & Cairo

On leave in Alexandria & Cairo ~ had a few bonzar swims ~ been to see the Catacombs & Pompey’s Pillar ~ been out for a sail in a small boat on the harbour ~ soldiers are provided with 3rd Class dog boxes in which to travel ~ we make ourselves comfortable in 2nd Class ~ took a trip out to the old rotten 31st [hospital] to see my 2 nice nurses ~ place is quite empty compared with when I was there ~ went to see ‘The Gay Parisienne’ at the Kursaal

Tuesday 26 November 1918

Dear Lic,

New brand of writing paper again you see. But it’s not not a new address for me [Alexandria Union Jack Club, 32a Nabi Daniel Street]– I’m going to have dinner here directly so am filling in time in writing part of the letter I owe you. Cliff Jenkin & I are going for a swim this afternoon, my last here. Cos I’ll be off to Cairo by 8.30 train in the morning.

My last letter home was written to Dorc & also a backsheesh one to the same chile both over a week ago when I was staying at the Windsor. I left there on Wednesday last & since have been living at the United Services Welfare Home – or some such title. It’s pretty handy to the sea & city & yet cheap so I’ve still a few ‘bob’ to call my own.

I’ve had a few bonzar swims – go out for a fine tram ride about 7 or 8 miles with the sea on one side & some jolly good houses & public parks on the other. The end of the journey is City Beach – or ‘Sidi Bishi’ as the trams call it, & it’s only 5 minutes walk to the best place going for a swim. I put in a whole day out there once – had a book with me tho but we usually do it in half a day.

I’ve been to see the Catacombs & Pompey’s Pillar (ask Dorc if she has ever seen ’em in those old Greek books), also to the Museum & War trophies exhibition: the latter is interesting – cos it contains lots of rubbish & things captured lately in Palestine – guns, rifles, aeroplanes (fair dinkum old Deutsch ones of course) & I don’t know whatnot. On two occasions I’ve been out for a sail in a small boat on the harbour.

Met an old friend out there too [ship] – name beginning with I – left Port Adelaide on a Saturday in November 1914. I wouldn’t mind risking another trip I know about on the same bus. Don’t get it into your head that I know about this trip either – except as a future event – same as the end of the war used to be. Perhaps by the time this gets home you’ll know that a good many of our men have returned to Aussie the 1914 pioneers. There are quite a number from our Squadron & at least two I think from No 3 Troop. Sergeant Johnson is one – I’ve told you about him before. I wish I’d asked him to go & say ‘Good Day’ to ye.

Another of my exciting adventures here has been a visit to the theatre on Saturday afternoon, when ‘The man who stayed at home’ was played: jolly good too. I’ve been to pictures several times – saw Wattle Day in Adelaide in the Australian Gazette one night – didn’t see Ruth there, but Mrs Galway & her hubby were present in the picture. Also there have been some interesting Palestine budgets & the usual Charlie Chaplins & ordinary old things. Heard a good lecture last night at the Y Emma dealing with the campaign on the Western Front – throughout the whole war.

On Sunday I went to the Presbyterian Church both morning & evening – Jenks accompanied me in the am. They have a good pipe organ & a chap who can play it pretty well. I’m going tonight to an organ recital in the church – ought to be pretty good I reck.

When Jenks came down from Cairo last Friday he brought me two letters from Mack: they were written during the voyage but the 2nd one was finished off after landing at Mr Somebody’s place in Calcutta – so I know the leddy didn’t get mined or torpedoed or shipwrecked. Evidently Mack enjoyed the sea trip & ship’s company very well after her ‘queer’ feeling of the first few days had worn off. No doubt she had given you all particulars of their fun & games. It must have been an early morning start at the Kentor ranch the Sunday morning the Gracchus sailed – guess you’ll be telling me in the letters which I’ll get soon (I hope) about you & Dorcie riding down on the bikes. By what Mack says I think you must have just returned the night before from Port Pirie – I’m not sure but time will tell.

Think I’ll leave this for a while – I want to read your last letters before I finish off & they are ½ mile away – so I’ll say ‘Good Morning Miss’ & go for dinner.

Here we are again! But now it’s Thursday eve & I’m in the YM writing room in Esbekich Gardens – you know what gay city that is. Well we had our swim allright on Tuesday afternoon & the organ recital was fair – not as good as Mr W at NA [North Adelaide] – then early to bed & early to rise. Made a made catch that 8.30 train with ½ hours to spare.

You know dirty common soldiers are specially honored by being provided with 3rd class dog boxes in which to travel (cept when they are just trucks) so we always pay 3rd class fare & as soon as the train trails out of the station & leaves the MPs [Military Police] behind we hop along & make ourselves as comfie as possible in good cushioned 2nd class cars. It’s a 4 hours express trip from Alex to Cairo so we just lobbed in time for dinner.

I drove in a gharry to the Metropole Hotel where I arranged to stay for the two days. I have only till tomorrow morning left & so must go somewhere tonight. Yesterday afternoon I took a trip out to the old rotten 31st to see my 2 nice nurses – specially one little Irish bonzar who used to get a few things a chap could eat whenever she could. I saw them & was told I was looking well – so that may interest the family. I am goodo now. I also saw a few of our ‘black & whites’ who still are in there, but the place is quite empty compared with its numbers of patients when I was there.

Last night I had the best laugh for 2 hours or more, that I’ve had for a long time. I went to see ‘The Gay Parisienne’ at the Kursaal – a good company – English – are there all this week & they are tip top. I may go again tonight to see ‘The Girl in the Taxi’. Last night the music & singing were real good – I’ve not heard a lady sing since I left home I s’pose – but I’ll bet one there last night & her songs would ‘bring down the house’ in many better places than this: she could sing. Then there was acting of course & antics by a runaway husband & a parlour maid – these two kept the whole audience in roars of laughter whenever they were on. I went home feeling much cheered up – you know – I wasn’t in the dumps before.

This morning after Brek I took a walk to our H Qtrs to see if any mail had come for me. I had heard of an Aussie mail being in so in I went – ‘Kentish’. ‘Oh’ ses ’e, ‘Are you the Lance Corporal? I don’t want to see you again for a fortnight’. He handed out – how many letters – I dunno – two different mails & I did score well no doubt. Nos 157 to 168 from home – all there good beside about a dozen others from Aunt Flo, Donie, Coz Flo, Elf, Mrs Aird, Finsbury Park SS Committee, Aunt Annie T & Clara & Mrs Harry, Dot McLennan, Maria Halliday & Miss Ashton. I think that’s about all & what a time I’ve had today reading them. It’s been my best day on leave – cos I’ve been home.

This afternoon I’ve been per gharry to the New Cairo British Cemetery where hundreds of our soldiers are buried. In fact there are very few other graves there as far as I could see. It’s away out away from the dust & noise of dirty Cairo – near the Nile – & is being well looked after. Many graves have marble slabs erected now – & all are marked by a wooden cross. I think this latter is part of the work of the Red Cross Society.

[no sign off]

3rd Australian Light Horse Regiment

Friday 8 November 1918 – at Boulac Convalescent Depot, death of Stow

Posted a parcel with a few things I picked up ~ 4 parcels from home – one from somebody who can make bonzar cake ~ came just as my appetite was reappearing ~ left the rotten hospital & came to Boulac Convalescent Depot ~ never reckoned on things shifting as they have done in France ~ Red Cross trip to Helwan sulphur baths ~ church service-short of pianists so I played for the hymns ~ sleeping between sheets & in beds for 4 weeks ~ most of our chaps were worse than I was & quite a number have died ~ rotten coming home without Stow

Friday 8 November 1918

Dear Everybody

Before I start writing to Dorc I must make a few remarks: so here goes. I wrote from hospital to Father & Ruth beside which I posted a parcel addressed to Licko. Nothing very lovely in the tin – still I thought the thing interesting enough to pick up & carry. The belt came off a big fat Jacko who went to his happy hunting ground on the occasion of the Jacko-Fritz attack in July – see he was wearing the German buckle ‘God with us’: the other buckle with no belt is a Jacko as you can see by the crescent sign etc. Came from the same locality as the other.

The same day too I was out with a small party – with Colonel Bell & Major Dick & between the lot of us we found a good many Turkish notes: those in the tin are what I had left of my share – I’ve given some away – the small one is for 2½ piastres I think – two larger ones are £1 each & the biggest is a £2-10/-. I have been offered small prices for them in Jeroos & elsewhere by Jew dealers, but I reckoned they were worth keeping.

The Turkish sovereign which I found that day I’ve kep cos I didn’t like putting it in a parcel. The clock there is one which I got just after Beersheba scrap: we galloped into a station which the Turks had just left – they had set alight to everything that would burn but we poked about & picked up things including some of their brown bread & figs & all sorts of stuff until shriek – bang – bang & so on – he had fixed his guns a few miles further on & straightaway shelled the place he had left. Made us shift too for a bit – but he also made things very unpleasant for a crowd of his own soldiers who had just been taken prisoners & were being marched away.

Those pieces of glass are lamp hangings – off old lamps in Nebi Musa – or the Tomb of Moses – near which we were camped just before our first trip to the Jordan – the time we bridged it. The two china affairs I picked up just a week or two before I left the Regiment – at a station where we had a lot of cleaning up work to do. I think the round one was used as an inkwell – perhaps by the Jacko station master. I forget if there’s anything else in it. Anyhow I hope you’ll get it.

Don’t think I had had any mail or any such thing for weeks when I wrote to Ruth. Well all of a sudden four parcels came to light – one from home with custard powders, butter, shortbread, dates, raisins etc – must have been the Aunt Eva parcel by what I’ve heard since – velly nice too. I’ve had two custards up to date. Made ’em myself with some sugar & milk that came with dried fruit & other good things from Finsbury Park SS. Then there was one from Mrs Fred Hughes with apples whole & sound – & some cut up dried apple. Bonzar! The 4th was from the Horseshoe – & I’ll tell you later on what is in it – cos I brought it down here & haven’t opened it yet: making good things last.

The next day I was ‘donner’ struck to see 3 more – one from York Girls’ Knitting Club per Mrs Watson, with socks, Xmas pudding, cheese, butterscotch etc in it: one from somebody who can make a bonzar cake but I can’t even guess who sent it. There were some nuts & almonds on the top: good thing about these parcels was that they came just as my appetite was reappearing – so I was able to help eat & enjoy the contents of them. They would have been tip top to get out in the ‘big paddock’ but all the same they were very welcome visitors to the hospital.

I brought another parcel down here too – one that I’ve been looking for & that I thought might have gone astray in its wanderings – the one from home with Lic’s cake in – Hooray it did come & was all right too Licko. I’ve still got a piece for today’s lunch or supper & that will finish it.

Guess the blue & white socks were those Ruth said she was sending – I’ve got ’em on now – goodo – & the knicks also arrived in good condition – just the right size this time, the last were a bit big. So you see I had a desperate rush of parcels – but still no letters came.

On Sunday I left the rotten 31st [General Hospital]. Came here to [Boulac] convalescent depot which is a bit better. There was a bundle of letters waiting for me here – dated about August 25th – & two days ago another lot (September 12th) came back. Both lots had been up to the Regiment & back. I think another must have missed one No 146 – none seem to be missing – & I’ve now had up to 156 – also heard from Dora & Aunt Carrie, Uncle Bert, Uncle Arthur, Jean Gilmour, Mabel Walter, Myrt & Hendie Henderson & Miss Ashton.

Did I ever say that in that big mail I had about 5/6 weeks ago the photo of Sal taken at Henley Beach was duly discovered: it’s bonz I reckon – but goodness gracious – dearie me, what a chile! She has grown miles since that one Jeff took in our garden only 18 months or so ago. And in the last mail was another taken with the calf (with its head in the milk bucket) at Balak[lava] – not bad either – & a bit of Australian cow & country with it. And that just reminds me that I have a bit of a picture taken here the other day in which I’ll leave you to find my doleful countinghouse [countenance]. It’s a brown mug I’m holding in my hand – plate etc in the one you can’t see, just after dinner.

1pm at Boulac Convalescent Camp. Mail time – see the man by the pillar at the top with the bundle of letters – which he will distribute by calling the names & handing out as the owners answer
Detail – Spencer Kentish – top LH of photo

Father said ‘send a photo of self & Jinny’ – well I’ve never had one of the lady in all these years & now it’s possible I won’t see her bonz old face again – I’m a bit of an ass eh. Dorc – wot you tink? Never reckoned on things shifting as they have done lately in France & around that way but there it is. Ruth invited me home for Xmas & some fun & all that – wal I guess I’ll make it Easter & accept – fair dinkum – that’s not from Lloyd George or Kaiser Bill or any other ’edd – only my poor humble opinion.

That was a good yarn about the hockey finals too, Ruth – bad luck varsity’s got so well licked at the last. I dare say you did have a good time too at McLaren Vale amongst the hills & wattle & springtime not to mention people. Found your little sprig of fern & wattle alright.

So they gave Mack some farewells – & other things – did they? Bad luck – I wrote the other day & told her about it – but I forgot to wish her Many Happy Returns which I now do for Ruth. S’pose Ruth will now be elected to the Miss Kentish state.

These pages & pages get you don’t they. But I’m glad I have these pads as no other backsheesh paper is available here & cash is mighty short. They won’t let you draw much until you are discharged as well & fit. I sent a cable from Cairo Telegraph Office on Thursday afternoon stating ‘On leave, well etc’ which was not ’zactly the truth as you’ll read it. Cos although I was on leave for the aftie I’ve not got my dinkum leave yet, but that will come in a few days now most likely & I wanted to get the cable away.

I hope you may get it today if it has decent luck. I’m going in again this afternoon (Saturday now – I started this yesterday) – not very much to do in town – but it’s worth going now & again for a dinkum meal. We went to the YMCA in Esbekich Gardens on Thursday & had a very nice tea. I first put in about an hour & a half at the Museum looking at the old old old statues dug up in all sorts of places & the older mummies of Kings & Queens & witches & such like of millions of years BC. Old Rameses II is there & his wife I think & Dad & Mum – he is the joker that was after Moses & all the other nips about that time – so they tell you – but he slipped on Moses. They used to have better looking noses in those days than present day Gyppos. ’Spect a chap would have to spend a week in there to get an idea of all the musty old stuff & stories pertaining to the ‘antiquities’. I had a very short walk through.

The day before that I went on a Red Cross trip from here, to Hellouan [Helwan], up to Cairo by tram – thence to Hellouan, about 10 miles by train. We had a swim in some sulphur baths out there & then had tea (very nice bread & butter & eggs & tomatoes) at a place nearby.

Last Sunday eve here we had a church service in the large main hall of the building (we all live – or rather sleep in marquees). The parson happened to be a bit short of pianists so I was promoted to the platform & played for the hymns. It was the best service I’ve been to for awhile. I’ve had a couple of good old goes on the piano for my own amusement – find I’m getting more finger stiff then ever – but I can still remember most parts of 4 or 5 old pieces, tho I can’t play one decently. This piano is the best I’ve struck yet in military possession – it’s actually in tune & had quite good tone.

Well Licko – I wonder how the Junior work is going – it must be just about on now. Hope it’s not too bad. I’ll be hearing soon all about your trip to Port Pirie & whether you won your tennis or not – guess you had a bonzar time, And you’ve been trying to be ‘not too good’ have you. I’ve been the same way lately – ‘weak & anaemic’ – that’s me! Strike me fat – that’s a bit of a joke, don’t you reck? Supposed to be a soldier too! Ah well I’ve been sleeping between sheets in beds for 4 weeks now – so there are compensations.

Most of our chaps were a lot worse than I was & quite a number have died. You may have seen the names of Vic Rule & Phil Prime, two of the old 23/3 – rotten luck. Phil was one of our original 8 you know – tho he was not in the cable scheme. Never heard a word about old Stow till my letters came this week. I wrote some sort of a letter to Uncle Bert the other day – but I can’t altogether make head or tail out of it yet. It will be rotten coming home without Stow.

Think this is enough for one envelope so I’ll shut up shop & go for my quinine.


Love from Spence

3rd Australian Light Horse Regiment

Saturday 21 April 1917 – on leave in Cairo

To Cairo by train ~ Mohammed Ali Mosque, Citadel ~ afternoon tea at Groppi’s ~ French musical at Kursaal ~ Pyramids, Sphinx ~ still hoping to go soon

Saturday 21 April 1917

Dear Ruth

I forgot to look but I think it’s your turn to have a letter. First of all this is a rotten nib but my pen is nearly dry so I’m saving it for when I’m in the old tent.

Guess where I’ve been! Only back 3 hours ago – with Lance N – to Cairo. We left here on Thursday at 10 am and our ’48 hours’ brought us to the same time Saturday when we arrived back here. Three hours travelling each way and in a decently fast and comfortable train. We rode 2nd Class although I’m not sure if it’s permissable [sic] for mere soldiers. I know we are barred from travelling 1st Class. Of course an officer may ride where he likes, whether he can afford it or not: however the ‘Gyp’ railway-ites are not very fussy about us, even if the military authorities are. You bet we had a jolly fine and most interesting time and even if it was a rather short and hurried trip, it was well worth while and a decided rest and treat for the eyes after this everlasting sand.

While I’m writing in the YM a chap is playing the goanna a’right, just going ahead without music – I can’t think what he is playing now – but it’s a piece I’ve heard well played a few times. I had a bit of a cut when I came in first. Just a bang as usual. I wish I could play – it’s a treat to hear this class of music (not mine)! compared with the ragtime, however well played, which often prevails.

To get on: we left here about 10am on Thursday and reached the big city at 1.30 – got in a gharry and drove straight to the ANZAC Hospital where we had dinner and arranged to sleep at night. After dinner we got another gharry and told the old chap to drive us round the town, First I had to go the the Exchange Telegraph Coy to send a cable for a chap and then we went ahead – saw the Anglo-Egyptian Bank, the Belgian Bank, the Grand Continental and Sheppeards Hotels, Esbekich Square, lots of big shops and warehouses – bigger than Foy & Gibsons easily – and a decent straight wide clean street.

Then up to the citadel on a hill, a military garrison place and inside is the clink of clinks where it pays a soldier to keep away from: the citadel was once occupied by Napoleon and from its commanding position he bombarded the city below. In the walls of Sultan Hassan Mosque which we went into, you can see the smashes made by the cannon and in once place outside a cannonball still rests. It has struck into the wall high up and lodged there – so says the story!

We went into the citadel grounds and from there had a fine view: out to our left were the pyramids – quite plainly shown up – about 10 miles away: down below was Old Cairo – round to the front and away out stretched Cairo with all its spires, mosques domes, big building and old hovels: out to the right we could see Heliopolis – also on a bit of rising ground and distinguishable by its fine clean appearance and big buildings. Close to us were the tombs of the Kalipha. I think you had better come and have a look at it – hills back in the distance where all the huge stones used for the building of the pyramids was supposed to have been brought.

Also within the citadel walls is the mosque of Mohammed Ali – a most gorgeous and richly furnished place inside. At the entrance we were required to put on canvas slippers over our boots (the Gyps themselves take their boots off altogether) and when we reached the inner part of the mosque the guide removed his turban and asked us to do likewise with our hats. The whole floor is covered with a thick soft carpet – dull rich red in colour – and there is a fine high dome and four quarter domes all done up with carved cedar and cut glass and stones. There are lamps and candles to the number of 2000 hanging in all directions: these are only lighted about 5 times a year, so says our guide – on very special occasions: one immense chandelier with I don’t know how many lights on it, hangs in the very centre. This is said to have been presented to the mosque in honour of M Ali by Philip of France some hundreds of years ago. I’m not well enough up in my history to verify or contradict the possibility of truth in the statement.

There’s a special place right on the centre of east end for the Sultan to pray when he goes to church. We were told one rather possible yarn about 2 half pillars protruding from the wall, one on either side of this small recess for the Sultan; they serve as guides for the blind so they know they are praying towards the east and to keep them from going into the Sultan’s praying place. Our guide explained all about the great Mohammed Ali – whose tomb he showed us – barred in at one side of the mosque together with an enormous amount of gold and precious jewels worth £500,000 he said – which I doubt.

For all the sacredness of the place and the reverence he professed for it he sold us some alabaster cut stones as good luck souvenirs from the ‘Great God and I hope he bring you safe after the war to your homes again’ – they are a mix up these people. Certainly religious most of ’em but not Christian and from what I’ve seen the majority are ‘not to be trusted as far as you could swing a bull by the tail’ as Mr Reiher would say.

We drove back to the city proper, had afternoon tea at Groppi’s, an up-to-date place, tables scattered round in the open air and with palms and trees all growing about: and very nice ice cream too! And we actually saw about 12 English or Australian ladies, perhaps nurses – and sent out and walked about the streets and into Esbekich Gardens in which is the YMCA. They have all sorts – a refreshment, sweets and tea place, a skating rink, library, concert platform, gym bars etc. We had tea at the ANZAC again and when we went to our room we found two Tommies in 2 other beds just down from the front with a prisoner for the citadel clink. They were able to tell us a fair bit of news and later on we went out with them to the Kursaal – a place of amusement, sort of musical comedy was on but the singing was all in French. French people (couldn’t call all of ’em actors) took the parts and it was rather funny – we thought we’d sooner try it than go to the pictures of which shows there are plenty.

At the Sultans Opera House which looks a fine place there are often good plays I believe but there was nothing doing for our special benefit. So we had to be content with a 2nd rate show. By the way the Sultan’s Palace is a bonny looking place and guarded at intervals along the front by well dressed sentries. Two are mounted, one each side of the entrance – and sit up straight holding a lance in their right hands and look very flash on their fine horses. We saw them changing guard once which was interesting – but I’ll have to tell you of lots of these places and ‘seeings’ when I come home.

In case I don’t tell you later, old good boy Jaick has stopped a bullet – our first to get wounded: he is not very badly hurt – though it might have been serious – got him in the side of jaw and didn’t do much damage. He’s in hospital down town here and Lance saw him yesterday for an hour or so. I hope to get in today to see him cos he may be moved away at any time. He was full of talk and news and quite cheerful and not in any pain apparently, has his jaw tied up of course: dare say Mrs H may be glad to know that cos no doubt she’ll soon have some word about him and may be worrying –  though he is sending a cable also to reassure her. Les, Herb and co are in it alright. Perhaps we are well off here but we are still mad enough to hope to go soon. Still our delay gave us the chance to get to Cairo for which I am very glad.

Had letters from Jim Cowan, Les Williams and Stan Prince the other day and one from old ‘Wolf’ Rowe this morning: also a card last week from Wit – must have been posted on the way: they only had a few hours stay in the west and although he got leave for 2 hours he missed his friends. That was tough luck. They were having a real good trip though cold weather and receiving good food and treatment all round.

A bit of a spell there before posting and it’s now Tuesday the 24th and we are off out this afternoon – start in about half an hour. Mail is just in and Joe Bilton is over now getting any of ours that are here: hope I’ll get a few. My parcels will have to be sent on now. Hope they come along safely. Expect so anyway. Saw old ‘Jaick H‘ the other day. He seemed pretty fair and cheerful and full of talk: pretty busy just now out here.  Of course you know they are not doing any fighting in ‘Gyp’ as Mr McN says so it’s alright. For all that a lot are going out. Poor old Lance is still left behind. I don’t know why I’m sure. If I have time I’ll send you an account of our second day on Cairo. We saw pyramids and sphinx – tell Elf  – and had our photos taken sitting on camels: I’ll get Lance to send a PC to you when they arrive which may be any day. I think I’ll post this and see if I can get another note written in case this goes astray.

Oo roo to ye all – we’ll be dinkum soldiers soon.

Still smiling.



Mosque of Mohammed Ali, Cairo
Interior of Mohammed Ali Mosque c 1900
Shepheard’s Hotel, Cairo – postcard from Spencer’s WW1 album
The Citadel, Cairo – postcard from Spencer’s WW1 album
Egypt – Pyramid & Sphinx – postcard from Spencer’s WW1 album
Groppi Cafe in 1924 courtesy Wikimedia Commons. Groppi’s remains a Cairo landmark