Monday Musings From The Writer’s Desk

Vintage letter

This morning I would like pay a tribute to a lady who was partly instrumental in igniting my interest in family history.  The news of her recent passing caused me to reflect.  Marion Tung Yep was my English teacher in grades 9 and 10.  She also earned the esteemed position of being my favourite teacher.

Mrs Tung Yep was more than just a teacher.  She held a masters’ degree in English and she made it her mission to hone our literary skills.  If my memory serves me correctly, for most of our schooling, we were thrown in at the deep end and told to swim – figuratively speaking of course.  We were told to learn, but did anyone teach us how to study, or retain information? No, they didn’t.  Mrs Tung Yep, however, was the exception to the norm.

Many of her classes were spent learning how to answer examination questions.  I enjoyed her English classes and received better grades than I did in subsequent years under the command of  lesser teachers.  By the time I reached Grade 12, I was disillusioned with English due to a teacher who loved to embarrass the dunce of the class.  That was often me.  I wanted to write better essays, but don’t recall receiving any guidance.

Mrs Tung Yep was also a wonderful story teller.  Whether she was explaining the lines of a poem or analyzing a novel, she always veered off on a tangent, opening the door to her childhood, or a window to the war years. Those tales of the past struck a chord with me.  She sparked the need to keep our stories alive for future generations.

Now, there was another key player in this story.  My grandmother, who taught me the importance of our family history, was an ‘Anglican Institution’ in my hometown of Giru.  She befriended all the local Anglican priests and their families.  Mrs Tung Yep’s husband was the local Anglican priest and also my Grandfather’s occasional fishing friend.  There was nothing like a web of connections to encourage one to impress. After-all, I didn’t want tales of poor grades getting back to my Grandmother.

Over the 45 years since graduating from her class, I have often voiced my admiration for Mrs Tung Yep to fellow class mates.  Some do not share my fond memories.   She was a no-nonsense lady who didn’t tolerate bad behavior or slouches.  Her expectations were high which was not a problem for me.  Her classes were much more than ‘english’.  I came away with a very valuable life lesson – the need to preserve our family stories before they are forgotten.  For that, Mrs Tung Yep, I am eternally grateful.


Monday’s Musings From The Writer’s Desk


223999 HarveyNorman

Whilst my blog is about my Great Grandfather, William Lyons’ military life, I thought that I might shed some light on my Great Grandmother, Harriet Lyons.  In my story, Cis (as she was known) takes a back seat.  However, despite her small stature,  she was a very strong lady.  After-all, she hailed from a family of steely pioneering characters.

Harriet Jane was born on 13th February 1876 in Townsville, Queensland.  She was the second eldest of nine children born to George and Harriet Deane, who emigrated from County Cavan Ireland.  From my own personal dealings with my Great Grandmother, I could be forgiven for thinking she was genteel type of lady who, when not tending to her garden, sat indoors sewing, knitting and serving tea and scones.  She was eighty-three when I was born and I only knew her for eight years.  She died in 1968 at the age of 92.

Slowly over time, family have helped me paint a more accurate portrait of the person that Grandma really was.  In her younger years, she was a dainty, auburn haired beauty.  According to one source, “she was sharp of wit, wise from birth and the kind of person who grows old with the strength that belongs to women of small stature, who have faced life on the pioneering level”.

To try and understand Grandma, one must first look at her parents.  According to her niece, Doreen Deane, Cis’ mother was ‘a true and gracious pioneer.  Not very large of frame, but brave of spirit.’  Her obituary says  that ‘she was greatly esteemed by all who came in contact with her, a common saying being that no one had ever seen a frown on her face or known a hungry man to leave her door.’  Perhaps I can rightly assume that she possessed a placid nature.  How else would she tolerate her husband, who was known for his forcefulness.  Apparently, he set the fear of God into many.  His greatest moments came to him when he lived in turmoil and the tussle of a good argument.  My grandfather recalled a moment from a visit to his grandparents’ home at Burwood.  “Grandfather sat on the verandah  reading the paper whilst yelling out instructions to Grandmother as she cleaned the house.” 


This is believed to be Cis’ youngest sister Nelly on the left, with their mother Harriet on the right.

Cis was well-schooled in the pioneering life. In the early years, her father took the family throughout Queensland and the southern states buying and selling horses.  He had an eye for a good horse and supplied them to the British Government in India.  The family also traversed the west of Queensland with horse teams, transporting goods between Charters Towers and Winton.   During those years on the road, they lived in tents and Harriet Snr tended to her children’s education.

Cis’ father was a man of boundless energy and delighted in life’s challenges.  His inventive mind was always on the prowl for his next business venture. Nothing was too difficult, he was a man who got things done.  Although he didn’t possess any formal training, it was said that he was an engineering genius. He set up a sawmill and established a construction business.  He was responsible for some major works in Townsville.

He built ‘Queen’s Wharf and won the contract for filling-in and building Sturt Street.  He built his own hotel (The Family Hotel) and when he saw the need for a school in Townsville West, he became the driving force behind the opening of the Townsville West Primary School in March 1887.  His own children, Harriet (Cis), Maria, Charles and William, were among the first students.  Later, he won the contract to supply sleepers for the railway line between Stuart and Ayr.  He was the driving force behind establishing the sugar industry on the banks of the Haughton River and the building of a sugar mill on the banks of the same river.

Growing up in such an environment, Cis was never destined to be a passive little lady.  She was moulded by years on the pioneer trail. Her father’s actions and accomplishments taught her that anything was possible.   Even her mother, who bred horses and cattle, was a living example of what a woman in those times could achieve.

Finishing her secondary schooling at the Townsville Grammar School, Cis became a school teacher.  Then she gave up her career in 1902 to marry a soldier.  Life as a soldier’s wife, especially during the war years, was not easy for Cis.  However, I believe her schooling in life lesson’s would have equipped her for the adversities that were thrown her way.  After-all, she hailed from mighty tough stuff.



Anzac Day 1917

Zeitoun Camp

Zeitoun School of Instruction

William relished the challenges offered by the Zeitoun School of Instruction.  From 6.00am on Monday 16th, he embarked on an intense schedule of training.  Each day’s lessons alternated between classroom lectures and practical demonstrations.  He was drilled in everything from the use of stars for navigation to actual skirmishing.  Although he was accomplished in most areas covered by the course, there were extra subjects and new techniques he looked forward to adding to his squadron’s regime.  By the time he completed his first written exam on the morning of Saturday April 21, he was relieved when Sunday, his first day of rest, finally dawned.

On the morning of April 25 the course participants swapped the classroom for the parade ground.  William joined the huge gathering of men who stood to attention for the commencement of the Anzac Day Service.    Many had fought in the Dardanelles.  This was their time to mourn fallen friends and in many cases the loss of their own youth.  Heads high, they stood in silence, refraining from even a whisper or the shuffle of sand with their boots.

The previous year marked the first anniversary of the landing of troops at Gallipoli.  The Queensland government began a movement to celebrate the occasion.  Thus Anzac Day was born.  Cis wrote to William,

“There were parades down the main streets of most towns in the country.  I heard that wounded veterans were wheeled along in wheelchairs.  Some were attended by nurses.  Apparently, there was also a prominent presence of widows wearing black.  Some say the day was used as a recruitment campaign.”(1)

William had read her words with a heavy heart, detecting a trace of cynicism.  He tried to put himself in her shoes of worry.  What could he say to really appease her fears?  Nothing.  He also read in an English newspaper about the grand parade of 2000 Australian and New Zealand veterans who marched through the city of London to Buckingham Palace and Trafalgar Square.  A service was held at Westminster Abbey where they were dubbed in glorified terms as the “Knights of Gallipoli”.(2) He found the title to be unsettling.   One did what one had to do in the name of survival. Surely the high number of casualties would explain that fact?  Most of us were driven by fear, not heroics. He sensed that those responsible for the ‘crown’ had never set foot in the shell-infested shores.

Listening to the Padre, William only caught words here and there:  Courage.  Sacrifice.  Fallen.  His thoughts kept wandering.  Gallipoli had been a very trying time for everyone.  God knows he was thankful for his own survival, while many good friends were less fortunate.  To his relief, the Padre finished his sermon.  While men were still losing their lives, he couldn’t dwell on the subject of death for too long.  That sort of thinking was of no use when the war was far from over.

With the ceremony finished, the rest of the day was declared a holiday and everyone was encouraged to participate in an afternoon of sports.  William took the opportunity to catch up with Colonel Wilson, the former commander of the 2nd Light Horse Brigade.  They had both fought in South Africa during the Boer War.  The Colonel had lived in Townsville for a few years, practising law, prior to enlisting in 1914.  William liked his superior; he was a quiet, unassuming man who exercised common sense.  When men and horses were dying of thirst in the desert, he introduced portable spear-point pumps. Water could be drawn quickly and stored it in canvas troughs.  The Colonel had seen them in use on cane farms in the Burdekin.  William used them on his own farm.


Colonel Lachlan Wilson

 “Colonel.”  He extended his hand which was firmly accepted by Colonel Wilson.

“Will, it’s good to see you, old boy?  What brings you to Zeitoun?”

“The Officers’ Course,”  William replied. “My final exam is on Friday.”

“This should be old hat for you, Will,”  The Colonel laughed.  “You’ll come through with flying colours.  I believe you’ve been doing well with your training squadron.”

William grinned, then changed the subject.  He felt uncomfortable talking about his own achievements.  Besides, he was more interested in hearing news of his regiment.

“I believe things have been rather heated at the front, Colonel.”

 “Yes, the regiment is doing it tough, Will,” Colonel Wilson replied, slowly shaking his head.

William sat for his final examination on the morning of Friday 27th and was confident he had passed.  During the train journey back to Moascar the following morning, he felt buoyed by his newfound knowledge. Thoughts of how he could implement new training ideas helped him pass the time.  An entire week without a headache allowed him to focus and throw his all into the tasks required.  Although he was thankful for the reprieve, he knew that an attack was always imminent.







Monday Musings From The Writer’s Desk


Vintage letter

It would be fair to say that the majority of my readers know what the letters of the word ‘Anzac’ stand for.  For those of you who are not Australians or New Zealanders, the word is an acronym for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps.   We all know that the term was coined during the first world war.  It was originally used in reference to those who fought at Gallipoli.  The place of the original landing was subsequently called Anzac Cove.  However, who was responsible for a word that has become synonymous with the Australian spirit?  If only Great Grandfather was here to clarify the matter.  I’m sure he’d have an opinion.  When I googled the subject, I discovered that there are varying accounts of its origin.  Below is a copy of an article I found on the Australian War Memorial website.


Origins of the acronym ANZAC

It is difficult to say who originally thought of the acronym. A number of accounts have been written.

General Sir William R. Birdwood’s version

The Anzac book was a collection of drawings, poems, and stories written and created by the men on Gallipoli in 1915. The book appeared early in 1916 and was edited by Charles Bean. General Sir William R. Birdwood wrote the introduction (dated 19 December 1915) in which he stated:

When I took command of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps in Egypt a year ago, I was asked to select a telegraphic code address for my Army Corps, and then adopted the word “Anzac”. Later on, when we had effected our landing here in April last, I was asked by General Headquarters to suggest a name for the beach where we had made good our first precarious footing, and then asked that this might be recorded as “Anzac Cove­”—a name which the bravery of our men has now made historical, while it remains a geographical landmark for all time.

General Sir Ian Hamilton’s version

Ellis Silas’ book Crusading at Anzac anno domini 1915 arrived in Australia from London later that year. Ellis was an artist and signaller who served with the Australian Imperial Force at Anzac Cove. He dedicated his book “to the honour and glory of my comrades with whom I spent those first terrible weeks at Anzac”. In the foreword dated 29 April 1916 General Sir Ian Hamilton credited himself with the use of “Anzac” for convenience. He wrote:

As the man who, first seeking to save himself the trouble, omitted the five full stops and brazenly coined the word “Anzac”, I am glad to write a line or two in preface to sketches which may help to give currency to that token throughout the realms of glory.

C.E.W. Bean’s version

In his book The story of Anzac Australian war historian C.E.W. Bean attributed the acronym to Lieutenant A.T. White, RASC, of the British Army:

One day early in 1915 Major C.M. Wagstaff, then junior member of the “operations” section of Birdwood’s staff, walked into the General Staff office and mentioned to the clerks that a convenient word was wanted as a code name for the Corps. The clerks had noticed the big initials on the cases outside their room—A. & N. Z. A. C.; and a rubber stamp for registering correspondence had also been cut with the same initials. When Wagstaff mentioned the need of a code word, one of the clerks (according to most accounts Lieutenant A.T. White …) suggested: “How about ANZAC?” Major Wagstaff proposed the word to the general, who approved of it, and “Anzac” thereupon became the code name of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. It was, however, some time before the code word came into general use, and at the Landing many men in the divisions had not yet heard of it.

In a footnote, Bean added that “the word had already been used amongst the clerks. Possibly the first occasion was when Sgt G.C. Little asked Sgt H.V. Milligan to throw him the ANZAC stamp.”

Robert Rhodes James’ version

In his book Gallipoli Robert Rhodes James told a similar story to Bean:

Two Australian sergeants, Little and Millington, had cut a rubber stamp, with the initials A. & N. Z. A. C. at Corps headquarters, situated in Shepheard’s Hotel, Cairo … When a code name was required for the Corps, a British officer, a Lt. White, suggested “Anzac”. Little later claimed that he made the original suggestion to White. It was in general use by January 1915.


C.E.W. Bean (editor), The Anzac book, Cassell, Sydney, 1916, p. ix

C.E.W. Bean, The story of Anzac: the official history of Australia in the war of 1914—1918, vol. I, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1936, pp. 124–25

Robert Rhodes James, Gallipoli, Pimlico, London, 1999, p. 40

Ellis Silas, Crusading at Anzac anno domini 1915, British Australian, London, 1916

Monday Musings From The Writer’s Desk

Vintage letter

Reading William’s 1917 diary, he mentions Anzac Day.  Whilst we all know what it stands for, some of you might not know the history of our biggest day of remembrance.

According to the Reserve Bank of Australia Museum: (1)

The landing of the Australian and New Zealand soldiers at Gallipoli on the morning of 25 April 1915 was their first military action of World War 1.  It was a display of strength fortitude and courage in the face of great adversity.  For a nation that had been a federal commonwealth for only 14 years this moment was a coming of age, cementing in the minds of Australia and the world the indelible image of the unfaltering Anzac Spirit.  The Gallipoli campaign lasted eight months and although it failed in its military objectives, it created a legacy which helped to shape the identity of the nation. 

Anzac Day was officially named in 1916 when the Queensland Government started a movement to celebrate the landing of the troops at Gallipoli.  The movement spread to many towns and cities across Australia who held services in churches or town halls, raised funds for discharged soldiers and organised marches for the returned soldiers which often included wounded soldiers who were transported in convoys of cars attended by nurses.  Services were also held by soldiers fighting in France and the Australian camps in Egypt organized a sports day to mark the occasion. 

In England, over 2000 Australian and New Zealand troops were taken by train to London where they marched through large crowds to Westminster Abbey for a commemoration service before continuing on to Buckingham Palace and Trafalgar Square.  The newspapers dubbed them the “Knights of Gallipoli”. 

War diaries written by Anzac troops at the front, including Egypt, describe the format of ceremonies held at the time:   A dawn requiem mass, followed by a mid-morning commemorative service, and after lunch organised sports activities with the proceeds of any gambling going to Regiment funds.  The one or two minute’s silence was introduced in 1917 and usually occurred at 9.00pm in the evening. (2)

The two simple words of ‘Anzac Day’ scribbled in William’s diary are hugely significant.  They were written by the hand of an original Anzac.  Although he wasn’t part of the first fateful landing on 25th April 1915, he landed in equally dangerous circumstances a month later.  According to the ‘History of the Fifth Light Horse Regiment’ written by Colonel Wilson, William’s landing was staged amidst a shower of raining bullets.  It is fitting that on Anzac Day 1917 at Zeitoun, he met up with Colonel Wilson.  I wish I could go back in time and listen to their conversations.

Lest We Forget.







Back at Moascar

223002 HarveyNorman

Photo from William Lyons’ collection.  He is seated.

Returning from leave,  William embraced his work with renewed vigour.  His squadron was a constant source of pride.  Men with basic horse riding experience were now handling their charges with the skill and confidence.  New reinforcements were continually improving their shooting skills.  On the target range, they were hitting both stationery and moving targets with a high degree of accuracy.  He knew there were complaints about the rigorous rounds of drilling in the unforgiving climate.  However, William could see the results of the hard work.  His squadron was rapidly transforming into an effective light horse fighting force. He wasn’t a man to boast, but he felt he was finally achieving what he set out to do in 1914.

Aside from his regimented rounds of training schedules and administrative duties, William enjoyed a full social life.  In the afternoons, after a tough day’s work in the searing heat,  he and his fellow officers often rode out to the nearby lake for a swim.  Unfortunately, the canal that ran along the bottom of the camp was out of bounds for swimming or drinking.  It was home to a microscopic insect that entered through the human skin and effected the liver and internal organs.

In the evenings, he often strolled into Ismailia, to break the monotony of camp life.  The town offered the illusion of European grandeur.  At the end of March he wrote to Cis:

“Ismailia is only one mile from camp and is an elixir that relieves stress and fatigue.  Often, I stroll into town in the evenings – usually with Capt. Atkinson or Capt. Farquhar.  The town owes its origins to the French Engineers and employees of the Suez Canal Company.  It sits at the junction of the Port Said, Suez and Cairo Railway Lines. 

In some ways, the streets of the town remind me of home.  The roads are lined on either side by lush, tropical trees that form an archway overhead, beaming with a glorious display of red, purple and yellow blooms.  Along one side of the canal are beautiful shady parks with green lawns and colourful flower beds.  The greenery of treetops are often afire with flaming bougainvillea that climbs unimpeded up the walls of many houses. So, you can understand why I enjoy my strolls into town. I must say though, the native parts of town are not so inviting.  Instead of fine French styled buildings, dressed in iron lace, sweeping verandas and pretty shutters, the native areas are tumble down and smell appalling.

The New Zealanders have opened a new Soldier’s Club in town.  Captain Atkinson and I enjoyed tea and cake there on opening night.  Also, a stadium opened at our camp a week ago.  It has already staged a boxing tournament.  Our Picture Show is housed there as well. The picture I saw was a little fuzzy, but one can’t complain.  So you see, life is never boring. Mind you, I don’t want you to think that life here is a jolly big round of social events.  We do indeed spend long, tedious days in the heat and any down time is a treat.”

William knew Cis would never see Ismailia with her own eyes. “If only?” He often wished his wife could share some of the more pleasing aspects of his life.  He tried to keep his letters on a positive note, avoiding subjects that he knew the censors would not approve.  He never divulged stories that regularly filtered back from his regiment at the Palestinian front, or horrific details of the war in France.  Instead, he wrote about moments that he wished he could share with Cis in person.

On April 9th, he completed the final preparations to send a draft of twenty men to the Regiment.  Perhaps it was the worry and responsibility he felt toward his charges that brought on a crippling headache.  He had suffered from headaches for years, but following his stint at Gallipoli, they had become more frequent.  By the end of March, they were occurring every few days and sometimes lasted for more than a day.

He missed the morning Reveille on April 14.  As much as he willed himself to get out of bed, he couldn’t lift his head off the pillow.  Instead, he burrowed his head face down into the kapok mound, hoping to cushion the pain.

Later that morning, he opened the tent flap and felt the sharp blades of light stab his eyes with blinding pain.  A thumping sensation still beat angrily inside his head.  He had felt off colour now for three days.  Managing to dress himself, he found his Batman in his ‘office tent’.

“Good morning Captain.” The young trooper stood and saluted his superior.  His face soon crumpled from concern and he enquired,  “Are you alright sir?”

“I still have a beastly head,” William replied.  “If you need me urgently,  I’ll be in my tent.  I need to ride it out, I’m afraid.” He then turned to leave.

“Sir, before you go, this came for you.”  William’s Batman handed him an envelope.

Trying to focus through the blur, he retrieved a folded single sheet of paper from the envelope.  It read:

“Captain Lyons,

You are requested to attended the current “Officers’ Course” at Zeitoun School of Instruction, commencing 0630, 16 April….“

A crooked smile broke the pain on his face briefly as William continued to read down the list of lectures he was required to attend.

  1. Squad Drill
  2. Lecture – “Description of Target”
  3. Fire orders, Bayonet Practise
  4. Field Sketching
  5. Lectures on Stars……

“I’ll deal with this tomorrow,” he handed the sheet to the young trooper.  Suddenly feeling dizzy, he grabbed the table edge to steady himself.

“Here Captain.” His Batman pulled out a chair.

 “No trooper, I really need to lay down.”

Finding his balance, William quietly retreated to his tent.  He prayed that his bad headaches would not interfere with the course.

Monday Musings From The Writer’s Desk


My interest in family history was planted when I was very young.  However, it was my discovery of scrapbooking, sixteen years ago, that taught me how to preserve the important details of our lives. The ‘who’, ‘where’ and ‘when’ are the basic details that are often missing from old photographs.  I’m sure all of us have discovered or inherited a shoe box full and we are left guessing the identity of those staring faces.

The wonderful aspect of family is that there are often common threads that bind us together.  We can see a familiarity, a resemblance that tells us with some certainty where on the family tree the person belongs.  It might be the eyes,  a straight stance, or a long thin neck.  It was only after discovering a photo of my great grandfather that I knew from whom I inherited my long neck.  Sometimes, however, we are left guessing and often my guesses have proved to be incorrect.

In a bundle of photos that came from the shelves of those old cupboards, I found a formal studio photograph of a couple who I could not place.  Judging by the dress, it was taken in the 1800’s, however it was badly marked and the woman’s face was almost totally faded away.  Because both appeared larger people than the small, thin descendants of the Lyons and Deane families that I knew, I dismissed them as family.  That was until I was given a copy of George Deane’s obituary that featured a photograph of the man.  It was the same photo I couldn’t identify.  Only after I had the photo restored, could I see some family resemblance, particularly in Harriet Deane’s face.

George & Harriet Deane

George and Harriet Deane

Recently I was given an old photograph of the Lyons family.  Once again, it came with no details, leaving me guessing.  I recognized one face as that of Mary Lyons, William Lyons’ mother.  The lady seated next to her would have to be her mother and the next, her sister, as they look so much alike.  The two girls, (fourth and fifth in back row) could be William’s sisters. As for the others, I have no clues.  One face, however, stands out from the group.  If I didn’t know it was taken around the turn of the century, I would assume he was my Grandfather, John Austin Lyons.  The man’s face and stance had me entranced.  I’m sure that family would have told Pop how much he looked like his cousin or uncle.  Now, a century later, I’m left wondering who that man was.


Mary Lyons:  front row, second from left.  The man at back left hand side looks like my Grandfather.

In 1982 I visited England and Wales, loaded up with contact details of several Welsh relatives.  My Grandmother, Phoebe Lyons, was half Welsh. Her father Owen Hughes left Wales at the age of 18, seeking a better life in Australia.  I remember thinking that perhaps my Welsh relations would not be interested in meeting long lost family from the other side of the world.  When I made the call I could not have been more wrong.  Not only did they welcome me with open arms, they were well educated in their Australian family.  Two of my grandmother’s sisters had visited previously and kept in touch.

When I walked into the living room, my eyes were drawn to a little elderly lady smoking a pipe.  Miriam Williams was my Grandmother’s first cousin and a character.  She wore her tight wavy ‘Hughes’ trademark hair back off her face, in the same manner that my Grandmother wore hers.  Her face was so familiar that I couldn’t shift my gaze.  I couldn’t say exactly who she looked like, but the family resemblance was strong.  She spoke in a mixture of English and Welsh, making it hard for me to communicate.  Not that it mattered; she was family.

The important message that I am trying to convey is that it is imperative that we write details on the backs of our photographs.  Otherwise, the identities of ourselves and our families go to the grave with us.  Despite that wonderful feeling of staring into a face that bears a strong family resemblance, the task of future family historians will be make so much easier, if we record the ‘who’, ‘where’ and ‘when’.

Monday Musings From The Writer’s Desk

Vintage letter

Good Morning

As I mentioned last week, I think it worthwhile to explore some of Egypt’s magnificent hotels that were enjoyed by our soldiers during the first world war and subsequently, the second.  Even by today’s standards, they were outlandishly lavish and housed the rich and famous during Egypt’s golden age of travel.  During that period, mid 1800’s until the beginning of the first world war, Egypt was alternative winter destination to the French Riviera.  Those grand institutions of travel were far more than just bed and board. They were temples that attracted royalty, movie stars, writers, painters, scholars and archaeologists.  Wandering through the grand hallways of those salubrious establishments our soldiers must have thought they were in heaven.

Shepheard’s Hotel

William mentions Shepheards Hotel often in his diary of 1917.  It was established in 1841 by a man called Sam Shepheard.  Famed for its grandeur, it served as a base for military during both world wars. For soldiers who battled the heat, sand and worst, on a daily basis, this hotel with its Persian carpets, stained glass, gardens, terraces and great granite pillared hallway that resembled an ancient temple, must have felt like a golden oasis.  Dances were held each evening, where men in military uniforms and women in evening gowns danced up a storm.  Even its dining room, requested a formal dress code for evening diners.

The hotel was finally destroyed by fire on 26th January 1952.  Take a walk back through time, browsing the photos below:



Shepheards Terrace

The Grand Continental

The Grand Continental, according to some sources, was built in the 1860’s.  Although other schools of thought suggest the 1880’s.  It was part of Egypt’s modernization projects that included the building of the Suez Canal.  Facing Opera Square, it was a rival for Shepheards which was down the street.

Continental Savoy CairoA

Like Shepheard’s, this hotel enjoyed a busy street frontage and it’s luxurious interior was enjoyed by famous patrons such as T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) and Lord Carnarvon, to name a few.  Like its rival, the Continental was famous for its fabulous balls and dances which attracted a rich and glamorous clientele.

Continental Savoy Cairo

Sadly, this grand old lady was allowed to fall into disrepair over the decades and in the late 1980’s it closed its doors to guests.  It still stands, but is nothing more than a palace of ghosts.

The National

The National Hotel

The National, which was one of William’s favourite hotels, opened on 1st November 1905.  With the capacity to house 250 guests, it was the largest hotel in Cairo at that time.

Situated in a prominent location on Suleyman Pasha Street, it was less pretentious than its rivals.  It featured a billiards Room and bar that had direct access off the street, which catered for non-hotel guests.  Thus it was considered far less snobbish than Shepheard’s or the Continental.  It offered suites for long term guests and families, and didn’t adhere to a formal dress code for evening diners.  Thus, it became popular with Civil Servants and military personnel.

It ceased taking guests by the 1980’s and half of the building was demolished in the 1990’s.





Back to Moascar


Following a three hour train ride from Cairo, the men emerged from the Ismailia Railway Station shortly after 2.00pm.  Positioning their hats to block the scathing, hot glare, they began to walk the short distance down the wide open road to the Moascar camp.  Upon reaching the gates, the three friends exchanged hand shakes before taking separate routes to their respective regiments.

Moascar Camp near IsmailiaA

Moascar Camp (Photo:  Australian War Memorial)

William developed a spring in his step at the sight of the camp’s sparse, temporary landscape.  His eyes ran down line after line of peaked white tents that resembled rows of crops in an expansive, sandy field.  He felt reassured by what he already knew, that military life suited him.  He loved the structure and organization, he enjoyed nurturing his men to reach their full potential. He likened his work to that of a farmer, planting seeds and feeding them until they were healthy grown plants, ready for harvest. The sense of satisfaction he derived was the same, except that in the field of war, the end result could be dire. But, then again, he was well aware that the results of floods and drought could be just as detrimental to crops.  ‘It is all in God’s hands,’ He reasoned. ‘tis all in God’s hands.’

He kept ploughing loose sand, listening to the dead quiet that blanketed the desert camp.  Despite the occasional drifting sounds of horses and gunshots in the distance, they were dulled by space and wind. Life there was a far cry from the chaos that existed in Egyptian cities and towns. The noise, the busyness, the aggressive nature of men fighting to eke out a living, were exasperating.  Despite the little frustrations experienced along the way, he enjoyed his four days of exploration.  He was in awe of the country’s history.  Most of all, he enjoyed the company of Stevenson and Barr. They proved to be great travel companions.

William spent the afternoon unpacking, sorting and washing his clothes.  He took a moment to leaf through his bundle of new postcards and admire his latest purchases from the Mousky Bazaar:  a pair of small brass vases engraved with hieroglyphics and several appliqued wall-hangings. As he rewrapped the textiles in the Egyptian newspaper that was used by the seller, he laughed and thought, ‘I’ll need to buy several trunks to transport all my loot home.’

That evening he retired to his tent after an early supper at the Officers’ Mess, with the intention of finishing his letter to Cis.  He wanted to write while his memories were fresh and also he hoped to post it the following day.  Beneath the lamp light, he wrote:

The temple at Edfu is nearly a mile from the river, yet they had a tunnel from it and a nilometer in the temple.  In one corner a staircase still exists up which, we climbed 242 steps and had a grand view from the top.  The huge gateways to these places were called pylons and on each side, as a rule, a place was cut out of the wall to allow a huge flagpole to stand – must have been like the masts of ships. 

Left Edfu at 1400 and arrived at Luxor at 1700.  Went up to the Luxor Hotel and had some tea and toast and left for Cairo at 1810.  We arrived at Cairo at 0710, had breakfast at the National, then took a drive and stroll through the Musky Bazaar.  We caught the 1100 train and landed back here at 1400.  I felt tip-top the whole time, but Mafeesh feloosh.* ”

He folded his finished, eight-page letter and placed it in an envelope for posting.  Extinguishing his lamp, he pulled back the grey wool blankets and climbed into bed. He welcomed a proper bed after spending one night on the hard floor of a felucca and another sitting upright on the train. Although his layers of blankets kept him warm, the thin mattress on his cot, however, was a far cry from the comfort of the double brass bed that he shared with Cis.  ‘Ah, something to look forward to when the war is over,’ he thought, although he tried not to dwell on the future because that usually meant facing those difficult questions that plagued his thoughts from time to time. After this war, what next?  How will I adapt to the life of a farmer?

Instead, he turned his attention to the present.  He made a mental list of things he needed to do the next day:  post his letter, check his incoming mail, do his squadron’s payroll.  ‘By golly, the trip has cost me dearly,’ he mused, knowing he’d have to cut down on his expenses in the foreseeable future in order to recoup what he has spent. Finally, he closed his eyes, put his thoughts to rest and looked forward to the familiar sound of the reveille at 0400.

*  Mafeesh feloosh – put simply, this means that he is broke.


Monday Musings From The Writer’s Desk

Vintage letter

Good morning to all my faithful followers. I feel I have let you all down of late as I have been slow in posting William’s story. I’m sure he won’t mind, as it has been put through the editing processes of my writing group, who I might add scrutinize every minute word, phrase and sentence.  It is a slow process, however, I know it makes me a better writer and in turn will please you, my readers.

I had planned to enlighten you this morning with some details of the historical hotels that were frequented by soldiers stationed in Cairo during the first world war, and I am sure that was also true for the subsequent world war.  William mentions several in his diary of 1917 and upon scrutinizing photos I think they are truly worth a mention. Even I have been wowed whilst scanning old photos of those in question.  Imagine the reaction of our soldiers who would never have seen the likes of such luxury in their lives.  The exotic opulence of the hotels that hailed from the Golden Age of Travel, prior to the first world war, was unbelievable.

So, that was my plan for this morning’s musings, however, that story will have to wait until next Monday.  This week I am sharing with you, the final installment of William’s account of his trip up the Nile.  He had such an eye for detail; he was obviously fascinated by the engineering feats and workings of everything he saw.  I hope you have enjoyed the journey as much as I have.