Ninety four years ago, on 3rd December 1914, the First AIF disembarked at Alexandria, Egypt, after sailing from Albany Western Australia four weeks earlier. The postcard below shows the Australian troopships travelling through the Suez Canal on their way to Egypt.
Photo: 1914 Souvenir Postcard [Munro Collection]
Once ashore the troops entrained to Cairo. Private Alan Andrews, C Company 1st Battalion, wrote home to his family of the experience:
We left at 2.30 and arrived at Cairo at 9 o’clock. We had cocoa, a roll of bread and a slice of cheese served out here. It was very good. Before we left the ‘Afric’ we had about 30 large biscuits served out to us as rations. We had to break some with our bayonets or put our heels on them. We lived on those for 2 days………From Cairo we travelled about 10 miles to Mena where we are encamped. This is the spot where Napoleon camped right under the Pyramids. They are about 8 minute walk from us but they look only 200 yards off.
We arrived here at 1 a.m., and lay down where we were and went to sleep.
The front cover of the FFFAIF magazine DIGGER 10 shows the lines of the 9th & 10th Battalions, encamped at Egypt. Featured in this edition of DIGGER is a story on the work of the Melbourne Age’s official representative Phillip Schuler who sailed on “Orvieto“, the flagship of the convoy that carried the 1st Australian Division to Egypt. He landed with the troops and went with them into the desert camp at Mena. The following is an extract from the DIGGER article describing the arrival of the 5th Battalion:
Mena Camp, when I saw it at daybreak on the morning of 4th December, consisted of a score of tents scattered about in a square mile of desert, and perhaps a thousand men lying in their great-coats, asleep in the sand, their heads resting on their packs. The men of the 5th Battalion – those that are left of them – are not likely to forget that march out from Cairo on the night of 3rd/4th, and the subsequent days of settling down to camp, and the greetings they gave to regiment after regiment as they came crowding into the camp.
On the night the first troop trains came into Abbu Ella station, near Cairo, which was the siding on the southern side of the city, it was cold and sharp, but a bright moon came up towards midnight. Outside the sprinkling of Staff officers present to meet the train, was a line of dusky faces and a jabbering crowd of natives. Electric trams buzzed along outside the station yard, and after the men had been formed up and detrained, they had a few minutes to get, from a temporary coffee-stall, some hot coffee and a roll, which, after the journey was very much appreciated. It was nine o’clock. The guides were ready waiting. Territorials they were, who had been in Cairo for some time, and they led the men out on a long ten-mile march to Mena Camp…………………………
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The Families and Friends of the First AIF thanks the Australian, UK and French governments for affording Australian and British soldiers – presently buried in mass graves at Pheasant Wood – dignified individual reburials in a new CWGC cemetery at Fromelles, and applauds Minister Snowdon and his British counterpart, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence and Minister for Veterans, Kevan Jones MP, for their joint decision to DNA test the remains at exhumation and use every reasonable method to attempt identification of each soldier.