Goodbye Lily

Nurse Lily (Emily) Deane

Later that afternoon, William travelled to the Citadel by ambulance motor, rather than grappling with trams.  He watched the landmark looming ahead – like his trip home, which now felt as real as the bricks and mortar that dominated his vision.  The weeks and days had dwindled down to hours.  He felt the clock ticking.  Saying goodbye to Lily seemed so final.

The ambulance soon labored up the hilly road.  Each time the driver swerved to the road’s edge to allow the passing of oncoming military vehicles William tightened his grip on the open-door frame.  He enjoyed the ride as the motor growled around the giant fortifications. He ducked his head and peered upwards through the windscreen at the towering minarets and dome of the mosque.  Of course, this wasn’t his first visit, but he took it all in as if it was. He knew it would be his last.

The vehicle squealed to a halt behind a line of identical transports in the courtyard of the Citadel Hospital.

“I shan’t be long,” William told his driver as he levered himself down from the passenger seat.

Inside the hospital, the lofty walls dripped with remnants of wealth that had long lost their relevance. Beds spilled out into wide passageways from crowded wards. Faded murals and gilded archways of former grand reception rooms looked upon patients expectantly, however, no one possessed the energy or time to give them the attention they commanded.

When Lily came dashing across the room to William, she appeared flustered, and her voice rushed as she greeted him. “Will.  I’m sorry, I can only spare five minutes.”

He raised his hand in a motion to stop her, although he wished he could stop time.

 “You don’t need to explain Lily.  I can’t stay long anyway. My driver is waiting.”

Lily glanced back over her shoulder at staff busying themselves around patients.  Returning her attention to William, she lowered her voice. “The least I can do is walk you out. Surely, I can do that much.” She then ushered him toward the door.

As they walked, Lily vented.  “We’re so short-staffed and yet they keep sending girls to France.”

“How would you feel if they send you to Europe?” William enquired.

“I’m not sure. I mean, I’ve only been here a short time.” She paused, then asked, “Would I have a choice?”

She didn’t expect an answer.  They both knew her life was out of her own hands. William regretted his question, especially today. He wanted to leave on a cheery note.

“Don’t worry Lily,” he said, placing his arm around her shoulder. “I’m sure you can handle whatever life throws at you.”

“Hmm, I will have to,” she said, nodding her head with conviction.

“That’s the spirit, my girl.”

They walked through wards lined with beds occupied by men who were broken in one way or another.  William acknowledged some patients with a nod of his head.  Others laid back, motionless and bandaged, seemingly unaware of their presence. The poor sods.  Will they ever be fixed? Entirely fixed? He pushed the thought aside and returned his attention to Lily.

 “You know,” Lily whispered, so patients couldn’t hear. “Nothing is how it was in hospitals back home.”

“Of course, it isn’t,” William replied.  “This is a war.”

“Yes, and that is why we find ourselves rewriting the nursing manual, inventing new ways of dealing with wounds, the catastrophic damage inflicted by……”

William suddenly felt queer.  Lily’s words began to melt into a stream of indecipherable sounds.  Sweat dribbled down his face, despite the cool air. He edged toward the source of bright sunlight, pushing against the darkness that crept over his eyes.  One, two…only a few steps to go.  Breathe, I need to breath.  His outstretched hand clutched the door frame to hold himself upright. Filling his lungs with fresh air, he cleansed himself of intoxicating hospital smells and unwanted memories.  Straightening up, he hoped Lily hadn’t noticed, but she had.

She was clearly distressed.  “Are you okay?  Your face is as white as my apron.”

“Just a little lightheaded, I’ve been pushing myself too hard,” he replied.

“Are you sure?” Her voice was as intense as her gaze. “Perhaps you need to sit.”

“No. I can sit in the lorry,” he said pointing to the ambulance parked a short distance away.

“Well, let’s keep walking.  Take hold of my arm so you don’t fall.”

Without arguing, he obliged.

As they edged forward Lily sighed, “I’m sorry Will, I’ve been prattling on about my woes, and here you are, about to leave, you’re clearly unwell and…” She ran out of words, much to William’s relief.  He lacked the energy for conversation.

The driver saw them and rattled the motor to a start.  William glanced down at Lily who read his mind.  “Yes, I know.  You have to go.”

“Afraid so,” he said as he stooped and wrapped his long thin arms around her.  “Take care, little Lily.  Keep your chin up.”

When he released her, she wiped a tear from her face.  Regaining her composure, she pleaded, “Please promise you’ll take care. I’ll worry about you now.”

“I promise,” he replied, then urged his body up into the lorry, falling back heavily against the seat. 

The driver crunched the vehicle into gear and William waved to Lily as it lurched forward.   He heard her shout, “Bye Will,” as they motored away. Before they headed around a bend, he looked back.  She was gone.


Last Day in Egypt

He awoke before daybreak.  The ward was quiet, bar for the soft rhythm of snoring and his inner voice saying, “So little time, so much to do.”  He tried to reason, “But I have until midnight.” Yet, he couldn’t shake the nagging feeling time was running out.  So, he lay in bed staring out into the pre-dawn abyss making plans for the day.  

The hospital had been his refuge for eleven weeks and he found it difficult to imagine not being there.  He was now accustomed to visiting his favorite haunts around Cairo at a whim.  That was the beauty of being a convalescent, he spent his days at leisure.  Sure, he had to acquire day passes and there was a curfew, but aside from those small inconveniences, he established his own routines in a city that captured his fascination. 

He watched as rows of beds containing sleeping forms slowly emerged from the dark.  Each time someone stirred and then fell back to sleep, he felt relief. William knew once the ward came to life, he would hit the ground running.  Dress.  Breakfast.  The Bazaar.  Lunch. See Lily.  Bon voyage. So, he waited, stalling the start of his last day.


It was with mixed emotions that William strolled along the laneway leading to the entrance of Khan a Khalili Bazaar.  He set off early to maximize the time he could lose himself within its ancient walls.  How often did he visit?  He couldn’t say exactly, but it was a place he never tired of.   The world within its windy alleyways only existed in novels like Arabian Nights.  His memories, like old paintings, needed renewing, to survive the test of time.

Khan a Khalili Bazaar 1918

Stepping through an archway, he joined the sea of bobbing turbans, fez, and skull caps; swishing robes and scuffing shoes on stone. He hoped to avoid attention; his uniform represented money to the locals. Over the years he learnt to resist their solicitous charms. Today was no different.  He ignored the shouting and yelling fired upon him from either side of the lane.  With his head held high, he looked straight ahead, surrendering to his surroundings.

He floated along on an infusion of tobacco smoke, incense, and spices. So uniquely Egyptian.  His course twisted and turned beneath high vaulted ceilings and open skies void of sunlight, blocked by hanging balconies and walls that appeared to converge. When the alley opened onto a wider, less crowded space, he stopped.

 A few small carts rumbled along the cobble stones.  Dark curly-haired children skipped beside their mothers who were swathed in black from head to toe; their faces imprisoned behind mesh. Men guarded their tiny shops, armed with tobacco pipes, from which they inhaled in a state of oblivion.  William spotted a vendor who sat in a rickety wooden chair beside a cart carrying oversized teapots; steam billowed from their spouts.

He bought a glass of tea and sat on a nearby chair, savoring the strong black brew. From his pocket, he retrieved a notebook and cast his eyes down his penciled list of items he wanted to purchase.  On his previous visit, he found some brassware he thought Cis would like.  Unfortunately, he didn’t have enough cash.  Only problem now is, which shop?

When he finished his tea, he stood and returned to the bazaar with purpose in his step.  He now focused on the wares displayed by each tiny shop.  To the chaotic orchestra of human voices and hammering of tools against metal and wood, he moved along, allowing his eyes to roam the laden walls. He stopped and picked up items that caught his fancy, then replaced them, much to the chagrin of shop owners.  Thousands of clay pharaohs, Queens, sphinx, and cats watched him from a multitude of shops.   Occasionally he paused to admire the colorful displays, before continuing.  As he passed through an archway draped in sumptuous jewel-colored carpets, he stopped. ‘Aha,’ he exclaimed.  Out of the gloom ahead, a wall of brassware glistened like moonlit dew.  

The brassware stores were many, and alike in appearance.  He scanned the shiny wares on either side of the lane until he spotted some delicate brass vases sitting on a tray.  Are they the ones I saw last time? He wondered. As he bent down to take a closer look, the shopkeeper, who guarded his wares from his chair, stood and sidled up to William.

“You like, Sir?” he asked. 

Holding a small vase in his hand, William looked at the man whose smile bared a mouth of yellow teeth.  “Well, yes. A present for my wife.”

He turned the piece, admiring the hieroglyphics engraved around its squat base.  He could envisage a pair sitting on the sideboard in their living room.  The perfect souvenir.  Subtle, but meaningful.

“How much for these?” He asked, holding up two fingers.  Before the man could answer, he spotted the jardinières he had listed in his notebook.    “And a pair of these,” he added, pointing to the brass bowls engraved with Egyptian figures.

William read the elevation of interest in the shopkeeper’s eyes as “five pounds” rolled off his greedy tongue. 

William knew the game.  God knows, he has played it often enough.  “Two pounds,” he responded with finality. 

“No. Too cheap,” the Egyptian man snapped back with contempt.

William placed the items down and began to walk away.  He knew a fair price.

“Okay, okay, two pounds.” William heard over his shoulder and turned to be greeted by another pretentious smile.

He paid for his purchases and glanced at his watch. My God, I’ve been here more than two hours.  He quickened his steps until he could see sunlight streaming in from the same archway he entered earlier.   When he reached the threshold, he turned to take one last look.  Like a mirage, the world of Khan a Khalili vanished into the depths of its cavernous gloom.  He sighed, then spun on his heels and headed to the tram stop.

Monday Musings From The Writer’s Desk

According to William’s diary, he spent much of his last two weeks in Cairo tripping around and seeing the sites. By then, Lily Deane, his sister-in-law was stationed at the Citadel Hospital, Cairo, and spent her down time, along with some of her nursing friends, in the company of William and Fred Hockey. I wish I could time travel and accompany them on their excursions. If only I knew about their time in Egypt when I visited 70 years later. That knowledge would have made my experiences more meaningful. At that stage, I had not yet found William’s diary. And even after I discovered it tucked away in a drawer of their living room hutch, the meaning of what I was reading was beyond me.

Two days before he departed for Australia, William and Lily spent the afternoon at the Pyramids. In my first attempt to recreate the scene where they board a tram to take them back to the city, I relied on my own imagination. Then I decided to look for photographs of the Giza tram stop back in that era. Incredibly, back during the first world war, the tramline to the Pyramids was well established with regular trams running throughout the days and into the evenings. The site was already popular with travellers prior to the war and looking at the photograph below, a full view of the Pyramids from a tram seat would have been impossible.

Tramline, Pyramid Road, Giza – early 1900s

I also included in the story, Lily’s wish to ride a camel. Cameliers, no doubt, cashed in on the influx of military personnel exploring the site. Most books and websites, dedicated to that time in our history, display photos of nurses and soldiers sitting on camels with the triangle peaks behind. Below is the only photograph taken of Lily during her service abroad.

I am sure that sitting atop a camel would not have fazed Lily Deane. Both she and her younger sister Nellie were accomplished equestrians who competed in events at various agricultural shows and Lily often rode side saddle.

One more detail I mentioned is a necklace featuring the head of Egyptian Queen Neferititi. This was something Lily brought back from Egypt and perhaps gave it to her younger sister Nelly. When we were growing up, Aunty Nelly was always giving my sisters and I little treasures. She gave the said necklace to my sister Noeleen, who proudly wore it to school one day. It was stolen from the change rooms while she played sport. The thief would have had no idea of its significance, other than it was a pretty trinket..

William wrote in his diary they ate supper at St. James’ after their trip to the Pyramids. I have searched the internet for anything on this restaurant to no avail. I thought perhaps it was at one of the hotels he frequented, like The National or Shepheards. By chance, I thought I had seen the name on a receipt he had kept. When I found the receipt, to my pleasant surprise it was dated 9th November 1917. So, I know exactly what William and Lily ordered, although the writing is a little difficult to understand. I assume he drank the beer and she enjoyed ginger ale (??)

I am constantly amazed at the little items that William kept from his time in Egypt. Not only are they gems that add authenticity to his story, they seem to materialise when I need them. Admittedly, during my travels I tend to keep all sorts of ephemera like this receipt. Upon my return home I stow them in a box or packets to never see the light of day again. Recently, during one of my recent spurts of decluttering, I threw out much of my collection that spanned 40 plus years. Mind you, I kept postcards and books that might refresh my memory when I come to write about my experiences.

William and Lily’s Last Supper


Late Friday afternoon William and Lily felt the increasing crispness of the desert winds, using their hands to shield their faces from sudden whisks of sand.

“Come on,” William said, guiding Lily by the arm through the throng of sightseers. “Let’s go.”

They darted through a line of camels and lowered their heads as they passed a group of souvenir stalls, trying not to arouse any attention.  Once they reached the road, their pace quickened all the way to the tram stop. Heaving themselves onto the waiting tram, they slumped into two empty seats. 

“Phew, that’s a relief,” Lily said, catching her breath.  Brushing sand from her hands, she then removed her hat and wiped aside strands of hair stuck to her face.

William gazed through the fence-line of spindly saplings.  Yellow patches of the pyramids were visible through the hands of stringy leaves. The closest of the group was so large, William craned his neck trying to see its peak. Another was half hidden behind it.  The third pyramid and the Sphinx were out of sight altogether.

Leaning back in his seat, he turned to Lily who sat at the window. “I’m looking forward to not being harassed every time I leave home.”

“I’m sure you are,” Lily replied, her eyes glued to the window, as if the image might disappear forever.  

“Don’t worry, you can come back.”

“Definitely. And take a camel ride.  Perhaps side-saddle.”

“Only you would say that.” He laughed, remembering she was an accomplished equestrian. “I prefer to sit square on the saddle, myself.  More control that way.”

She ignored his comment and kept her eyes on the view. By now, a crowd congregated at the door of the tram.  Seats quickly filled, and passengers now stood in the aisle.

 “Just as well, we left when we did,” Lily remarked.

“That’s one of the reasons I wanted to get away. To beat the rush.”

“I’m relieved to be out of the wind,” she said, buttoning her jacket.

“That’s the other reason.”

The tram motor rattle to a start. Squealing forward, it gained momentum as it rolled along the tracks towards the city.  Both William and Lily watched in silence as the great ancient wonders disappeared from their view.  William, feeling a pang of sadness, turned to the front of the carriage, treasuring the memory of what might be his last visit. 

Back in Cairo, they sought refuge at the St. James Restaurant, American Bar and Grill Room. William sagged in his chair that faced the street. The dying sun descending the city into darkness, reminded him his time Egypt was fast running out.  Only two more days, then bon voyage, he thought, returning his attention to Lily, who sat opposite, engrossed in the menu. 

Frowning, she asked, “What are you ordering, Will?”

He had no need to look at the menu.  “The potage and pom frits.  They’re always good.”

“Okay, that’s settled.” she replied, clapping the menu shut.  “I’ll order the same.”

After the waiter appeared and took their orders, Lily leaned back in her chair clasping her hands in her lap.  Her eyes roamed the room that was filling with patrons, mostly military personnel, before finally resting on William.  “I must thank you Will.” 

“No need. Today is my treat.”

“I know, but I’m grateful for everything you have done for me in the past two weeks.”

“I could hardly let you out alone in this crazy place.”  He laughed.

Lily rolled her eyes. “I enjoyed the pyramids,” She deflected. Her voice brimmed with enthusiasm as she fingered the pendant that circled her tiny neck.

“Careful, you’ll wear off the fake gold,” William said, pointing to the painted miniature head of Queen Nefertiti she bought that afternoon.

“The seller assured me, she is real gold,” she retorted.

William laughed aloud.  “And you believed him?”

“Of course,” she replied, raising her eyebrows before breaking into a giggle.

William smiled to himself as he recalled the many times he haggled over the price of a souvenir or postcards. Oftentimes, unscrupulous street vendors tried to pass off mass-produced items as pieces of antiquity. The entire dynamics of the country can wear one down though, without the added stress of a war – the heat, dust and crowded streets littered with aggressive traders trying to eke out a living.  For a young girl like Lily, it can be overwhelming and fraught with dangers.  He felt the need to remind her, again.

“Lily,” he began, choosing his words carefully. “You will take care, won’t you?  Cairo can be quite hazardous.”

Lily straightened up and shot William a look of indignation. He knew he hit a nerve.

“You needn’t remind me,” she reacted. “I’m no fool.”

“I’m not saying you are.” William placated, realizing the spirited girl before him was no longer just Cis’ little sister.  She was a grown woman, who like her sisters, guarded her independence with ferocity.  “I’m sure your Father would expect no less of me.  To give you sound advice, that is.”

“We can agree on that point…….” 

The waiter interrupted with their drinks.

“Let’s toast,” William raised his glass of beer. “To new beginnings.”

“Yes, and to a good outcome for this war,” Lily complied with her glass of ginger ale.

“We can only hope,” William said, then took a sip.

 Shortly after, their meals arrived.

“I’m famished,” Lily announced, looking down at her plate of meat and potato. 

“Well eat up,” William urged with a brush of his hand.

Although William was hungry, he struggled to eat.  He took a couple of mouthfuls of food, then set his knife and fork down.  A tightness gripped his stomach. Today was his last opportunity to spend time alone with Lily.  He enjoyed their afternoon at Giza, but now he couldn’t relax. The realization he was leaving made him feel uneasy. So many things to do. He looked forward to seeing his family, but… Yes, there are buts. Picking up his fork again, he toyed with the food on his plate, and listened to Lily. She was a pleasant distraction.

He felt her empathy, as he patrolled the wards in her shoes, doling out care to the wounded and dying.  He sympathized as she aired her grievances about the problematic use of a palace as a hospital.   He felt nothing but admiration when she voiced her own ideas for improvements. Indeed, she possessed the necessary strength to handle the daunting tasks the war will no doubt throw at her feet.  He felt no need to add to her burden by elaborating on his own experiences or his reservations about the future.

“Lily,” he suggested, looking up from his plate. “One day, when this war is over, you could run your own hospital.  You’ll be an expert by then.”

 “Perhaps I will,” she replied.  “Anyway, what about you?  You are quiet tonight, Will.”

“I’m just tired,” he lied, in part anyway.

“Perhaps you need to stay in tomorrow.  Take it easy.”

“There’s no rest for the wicked,” he replied. “Besides, I need to visit the Quarter Master’s office and finalize the transportation of luggage to the ship. Then, I thought I might visit the bazaar and…”

“Will Lyons!” Lily interrupted. “You are your own worst enemy.”

“I can rest on the ship.” He wanted to make the most of the time he had left.

“You assume.  Do you have much luggage?”

William grinned.  “Well, yes, more than I arrived with.  I’ve collected some rather large mementos in the last three years. And not to mention all the parcels I’m taking home for others.”

Lily’s eyes narrowed.  “What sort of large mementos?”

William leaned across the table and lowered his voice. “A couple of rifles. And Large ammunitions,” he said, using his hands to indicate the size.  “

“Oh, my Lord.” Lily exclaimed aloud, bringing her hand up to her mouth.  “You’re wicked.”

“Ssh.” William brought his index finger up to his lips. “Besides, I brought a piano home from the Boer War.”

“You didn’t!’ Lily’s eyes widened. 

“I did,” William replied. “Not as big as the one that sits in your Ma’s sitting room.”

“Even so, how did you get away with it?”

“A couple of us stowed it aboard in a large box, marked “Officer’s Equipment”. 

“Does Cis know about this?”

“She knows,” he said looking down at his watch.  Draining the last drop of beer from his glass, he urged, “Come on, Miss Deane, finish your drink.  I want an early start tomorrow.  If I pay the bill now, we should be outside in time to catch the next tram.”

“Right-io” she agreed, emptying her glass.

As they emerged from the restaurant, cold air rushed at them like a sharp bladed knife, stabbing through their clothes.  They both buttoned their coats as they joined the stream of foot traffic heading towards the tram stop. Each breath William took, filled his lungs with the familiar smells of Cairo: a pungent fusion of animals, dust, petrol fumes and street foods.  His stride quickened to the rhythm of rumbling wagon wheels, clip-clopping hooves, and rattling motors, as they head towards the oncoming tram that would take them home.


A Week After Lily’s Arrival

By Sunday afternoon, William needed to recover from his hectic week.  He gladly swapped the coal tar fumes and general noise of the hospital wards for the outdoors. Except for two other men, hunched over newspapers, he had the recreation area to himself.  The double storeyed hospital building now blocked the lowering sun, spreading shade over the scattering of day beds and comfortable outdoor chairs.  Claiming a day bed, William leaned back, outstretched his weary legs, and opened his book.  By the time he reached the end of the first page, however, his focus began to wane.

The events of the last few days kept replaying in his mind. He and Fred Hockey, another convalescent at the 14th AGH, have been busy showing Lily and her nursing friends the sites of Cairo.  On Tuesday, they hired a motor car and drove out to the Delta Barrage, a type of dam constructed on the Rosetta and Damietta distributaries of the Nile.

Nile Delta Barrage – Photo:

The group spent the morning admiring the splendid arches and turrets of the barrage before enjoying the nearby gardens. The ladies’ reactions were priceless when he told them one of the great pyramids was almost sacrificed to provide stone for the completion of the barrage. Aghast, their wide eyes and open mouths seemed to be suspended in time, until finally someone blurted, “But why?”

“To cut costs,” he told them.

“Thankfully, that decision was overturned,” Lily replied, folding her arms with a sense of finality.

When she saw the pyramids at Sakkara two days later, Lily’s opinion about the preservation of the pyramids was reinforced.  “Why would someone even think about it?” She said, shaking her head. 

“Indeed.  Wait ‘til you see the Great Pyramids next week,” William replied, pointing to the three ethereal triangles that graced the horizon.

“Hmm,” she grinned. “I’m holding you to it.”

William smiled at the thought of his young sister-in-law.  Her presence has lifted his spirits.  Lily was the link that brought his family closer, despite the miles that separated them.  While Cis was a prolific letter writer and kept him well informed of life at home, Lily breathed life into her words.  Each time Lily mentioned different members of the family and activities on their farms, he missed home even more.  After 10 weeks at the hospital, life had become comfortable. However, he conceded it was time to go home.

William’s happy musings were interrupted by the slow rattling of a train nearby.  More new arrivals?  Shaking his head, he realized that life around him was an endless circle of arrivals and departures. Friendships and acquaintances were constantly shifting; nothing stood still for long.  Nothing is forever.  

Looking down, he settled back into his book, happy to escape into the safe world of fiction.  Blocking out all background noise, he totally lost track of time, until the sound of boots echoed on the concrete walkway. 

“Hey Will.”

Recognizing the voice, William looked up.  Fred Hockey approached with a bigger spring in his step than usual.

“Hockey, you look like a cat who’s caught a rat,” William grinned.

Hockey perched himself on the end of William’s bed drumming his fingers on the mattress. He was normally a nervous man, however without missing a beat, he announced, “Great news old boy.  We’ve captured Beersheba.” 

Hockey’s words rendered William speechless. Since the defeat of the Egyptian Expeditionary Forces during the 2nd Battle of Gaza last April, the area from Gaza to Beersheba was substantially reinforced by Ottoman forces.  The enemy line seemed impenetrable.  He couldn’t help wondering whether this development was a grand stroke of luck or a tactical coup?

William leaned forward and looked at Hockey.  Bathing in the excitement beaming from his friend’s eyes, he asked, “When?  And how?” He needed to know more.

 Now, they had engaged the attention of the two men nearby, who looked up from their papers.

Hockey continued. “It happened on the 31st. Apparently, the Turks and Germans were completely taken by surprise.”

Light Horsemen advance on Beersheba - AWM J06574
Australian 4th Light Horse Brigade approach Beersheba. Photo: Aust. Light Horse Association

“That’s good news, if it’s true,” he said, still unconvinced that it was possible.

“It’s true enough. I happened to be strolling near the entrance when the injured came in this afternoon by train.  I spoke to a couple of chaps I know.”

“That must’ve been the train I heard,” William said as he leaned back absorbing the information. “Did they tell you how many casualties?”

“They believe 36 wounded.”  Sighing, he added, “31 fatalities.”

Both men sat in silence for a moment. 

“Oh, I almost forgot,” Hockey exclaimed. “The Colonel was given the command of the 3rd Brigade, three days prior to Beersheba.”

“You’re a regular newsreel today, aren’t you?” William chuckled.  “So, who took over from him?

“Major Cameron.”

William nodded.  He, along with everyone else in the regiment held Donald Cameron in high regard. “I’m guessing the Colonel won’t return to Cairo before we leave.”

“Unlikely.  He is leading the brigade to Gaza.”

As the days passed, more information trickled in about the battle of Beersheba.  It was the hot topic of conversation between patients at the 14th AGH.  For many who were forced to spend their days in bed, the numerous recounted tales brightened up their days, giving meaning to their injuries.

An injured trooper who watched the final charge from afar, told a captive audience, “At a mile distant their thousand hooves were stuttering thunder, coming at a rate that frightened a man – they were an awe-inspiring sight, galloping through the red haze – knee to knee and horse to horse – the dying sun glinting on bayonet points. Machine guns and rifle fire just roared but the 4th Brigade galloped on.” 1

Another man recalled, “We heard shouts among the thundering hooves, saw balls of flames amongst those hooves – horse after horse crashed, but the massed squadrons thundered on.  We laughed in delight when the shells began bursting behind them…” 2

One man spoke with wild glassy eyes, “I was scared for I understood what was coming, though most of us laughed when the first shells screamed towards us, other men smoked as we broke into a thundering canter holding back in the saddles to prevent the horses breaking into a mad gallop.”3

William listened with pride as he learned how victory was achieved.  The Turks were led to believe that there would be an imminent attack on Gaza, not Beersheba.  They were attacked from the south-east at a place where no barbed wire protected the trenches.  Then, when the enemy identified the cavalry as Australian Light Horsemen, they expected them to dismount at the trenches and fight on the ground.  Instead, men and horses jumped straight over them.   He also learned that the alternative to victory was certain death.  If they failed to claim the wells of Beersheba, all men and horses would have died from thirst. By the time they reached Beersheba, they had already run out of water rations. 

Despite not taking part in the battle, William was proud of the Light Horse’s accomplishment.  It was a great finale to his service abroad. With only one week until his departure, he finally felt some closure. 


  1. The Desert Column, by Ion Idriess, Pg 325
  • The Desert Column, by Ion Idriess, Pg 325
  • The Desert Column, by Ion Idriess, Pg 321

Monday Musings

Lily Deane was posted at the Citadel Military Hospital in Cairo. At first glance, one is wowed by the splendor of the buildings: high ornate ceilings and walls, grand staircases and marble floors. However, the reality of accommodating a hospital within those walls was fraught with problems.

Surgical Ward of The Citadel Hospital, Cairo

The Citadel, a British military hospital, was operating for 25 years at the onset of the Great War. On 7 February 1910, Miss Ethel Becher, Principal Matron wrote:

“This hospital, once the Palace of Mahomet Ali, has, I am aware, been condemned by many Authorities, but the following points may serve to show under what trying circumstances and in what totally unsuitable surroundings the Nursing is being carried out.

The wards consist of large open pavilions or halls at the head of wide marble staircases, which it is impossible to keep either comfortably warm, or comfortably cool. At the time of my inspection the thermometer stood at 56 degrees, while in summer it rises to 104 to 108 remaining up as high as 96 at night. There are large openings high up in the walls covered with mosquito netting through which the desert sand pours into the wards when a high wind is blowing, in a short time everything, including the patients themselves, is covered with sand, and even with constant sweeping and dusting, what is usually known as cleanliness in a hospital, is an absolute impossibility. These enormous pavalions, which are of very lofty dimensions, with highly decorated walls and cornices absorbing a considerable amount of light, are at night almost in darkness, the oil lamps provided are of a very inferior pattern and give a poor light and even when burning at their best, it is impossible for the patients to read after the daylight has gone.

On windy nights which are not uncommon in Cairo, these lamps are continually being blown out and then the Sisters are reduced to groping about in the dark, or carrying candles to the bedsides; some lamps bought locally are satisfactory, but the future purchase of these was, I understand, stopped by the War Office. I consider that the provision of adequate lighting in this hospital is from a Nursing point of view an urgent necessity. 1

She also complained about the lack of running water, inadequate bathrooms and cramped accommodation space for both patients and nursing staff. Even if the problems were addressed back then, with the onset of war, the number of beds were tripled.

The hospital which then provided for only 300 patients, grew until there were 1,000 beds. The nurses had many difficulties to contend with; their quarters were cramped and inconvenient; they were frequently very short staffed.2

If only I was older when I knew Lily Deane. There are endless questions I would like to ask. Firstly, I’d ask about her first impressions of Cairo. Perhaps they were similar to my own. My first morning spent in the Egyptian capital saw scenes of chaos. Businesses were shutting and people were scuttling in all directions to prepare for the daily prayers. I was fascinated by street scenes straight out of the Bible: of sheep and cattle laying in alleyways feasting on hay, a team of robed men running with a coffin on their shoulders to bury their loved one before sundown, or the slaughter of a camel in the street, admidst a river of blood. I am sure her curiosity matched my own.

I would also like to know if her family tried to disuade her from enlisting. I had to contend with work colleagues trying to talk me out of visiting Egypt in 1988. They thought it was a strange and unsafe place to visit. Little did they know that it had been on my bucket list since my senior year of school when I became fascinated by archaeology and the tomb of Tutankhamun. My family knew there was no point in trying to talk me out of it, and I imagine Lily’s family were the same. Afterall, her parents braved the unknown to leave their home country of Ireland for a new life in Australia. Lily certainly hailed from tough pioneering stuff.

Then, of course, our conversation would switch to the war and her time at the Citadel. I’m curious about her work and working conditions at the hospital. Knowing she was a strong woman, I’m sure she handled everything that was thrown her way, including the many types of wounds and ailments that are products of war.

Lastly, I would want to go back in time and accompany Lily and William on their jaunts around Cairo: to enjoy tea at the Shepheard Hotel, to once again immerse myself in the colourful vibes of a crowded bazaar or to revisit the pyramids. I could tell them that the best archaeological treasure is yet to be found. Would they believe me when I describe the tomb of Tutankhamun? Oh to be a time traveller!




Lily Deane Arrives in Cairo

Shepheards Terrace

William ascended the front stairs of the Shepheard Hotel. Twisting his way
through the crowd of patrons and porters weighed down with baggage, he moved towards the terrace restaurant. Arriving early, not wanting to miss out, he looked for a table.

The outdoor area was more casual than the interior dining room, but still breathed an air of old-world aristocracy. Before the war, the hotel was a favourite with adventurers, archaeologists, and wealthy travellers. William never tired of the establishment. Scanning the bustling scene of diners clustered around tables dressed in starched white cloths and shiny silverware, he began to lose hope. Then a waiter approached.

“May I help you sir?”

“Yes, would you have a table for two?” holding two fingers in the air.

The waiter gave a slight bow and said, “Follow me, Sir.”

William followed the waiter through the maze of diners and large, potted palmsto a table for four in the far corner.

William sank into the comfortable rattan chair. “Perfect.”

“Would you like a drink sir?”

“Not yet. I’m expecting a friend. Thank you, anyway.”

The waiter gave another little bow and retreated.

Despite the table being at the back, William still had a reasonable view. Pasha Street was a dusty strip that separated the opulence of the hotel from the heaving heart of Cairo. Through gaps between suited men, well-dressed ladies and military personnel, William watched the trinket sellers, donkey
boys and dragomen who eked out a living on the opposite pavement. The
outdoor dining area was a haven from the harassment he would endure once he crossed that barrier. Even those who dined close to the rails were often accosted by street vendors. He thought it was a fascinating place where Lily could experience street life from afar.

Shepherd's terrace, many allied officers relaxing. 1942 Bob Landry | Cairo, Shepheard's  hotel, Old egypt
The Terrace of The Shepheard Hotel, Cairo

William spent the last two weeks anticipating her arrival. He knew from Cis’ letter that Lily had joined the Australian Nursing Corps but had no idea where she would be posted. He was so pleased she was stationed in Egypt,
rather than Europe. Only a few nights ago, he attended a lecture by Reverend Waddy1 about the situation in France. He still shuddered when he recalled the newsreel projected on the screen. The Reverend’s account was no less dire. It was certainly no place for young Lily who had never been away from Australian shores.

Tapping his fingers to the tune tinkling from a piano, William kept diverting his attention towards the street. Meanwhile, his thoughts revisited the moment he saw Lily in his ward the previous afternoon. Overwhelmed at seeing family for the first time in three years, he found himself lost for words. Although her visit was fleeting, or as she said, “A quick hello, to let you know I’ve arrived,” she lifted his spirits. He hoped her work schedule would allow them to spend more time together before his departure.

With another glance toward the street, three identically dressed ladies caught his attention. By the time it registered they were nurses, they were out of view. The stairs were not visible from the table, so he thought perhaps he should go and look.

William peered down the length of the rails and saw the girls, wearing the grey dress uniforms of Australian nurses, alighting the steps. He noticed the wisps of auburn hair caught in the sunlight before he saw the face shaded by the hat. Lily wasn’t as petite as Cis; however, her hair and face were unmistakably from the same genes.

With his back to the street, William remained standing. A moment later, she
appeared. Turning away from her companions, Lily looked out across the dining area. William watched her rise on her toes and stretch as she tried to see around and beyond the obstacles that blocked her view. He waited, amused at her obvious frustration. Finally, he waved and caught her attention. Grinning, she spoke to her companions, who then walked into the hotel.

“Hello, Will,” she beamed, rushing over to him, while, at the same time, loosening the long scarf ties of her hat. “You had me worried for a bit.”

William laughed as he leaned down and kissed her on the cheek. He then guided her over to the table. “My dear girl, it’s so good to see you again.”

He pulled out the chair. “Please, take a seat.”

The large rattan chair seemed to engulf her diminutive frame. Straightening her long skirt, she placed her purse on her lap. Then, she removed her hat and placed it on the chair beside her.

Lily kept looking around the restaurant as her hands checked her long, upswept waves for any runaway strands. Satisfied, she clasped her hands together and looked up at William, “This place is truly amazing.”

“I thought you might be impressed,” William said. “And I’m glad you didn’t brave the streets of Cairo on your own. Would your friends like to join us?”

“No, they’re off to have their hair washed.”

William laughed. “They’re what?”

Leaning forward, Lily lowered her voice. “There are no decent bathrooms at the Citadel. From being at sea, our hair feels like steel wool.”

“You know, from the salt air,” she added, reading William’s quizzical expression. “Anyway, we can have our hair washed here for a reasonable price. I’ll join them later.”

“I see,” he said, trying not to show his ignorance of the quirks of young female company. Out of the corner of his eye he spotted the waiter approaching their table.

“Ah, my saviour!” William said, relieved to change the course of conversation.

Lily shot her brother-in-law a questioning glance, which he ignored.

After perusing the menus, they ordered sandwiches and tea.

“Shukran,” William thanked the waiter who gave a little bow and left.

“Do you speak their language?” Lily asked.

“Just the basic greetings. You pick up those words quickly.”

“Cairo is so fascinating.” Lily’s face became animated. “I can’t wait to explore.”

“It is an interesting city. Plenty to see. But a word of caution….”

“Don’t worry about me, Will Lyons,” Lily interrupted. “I can take care of myself.”

“I have no doubt you can,” William said, finding her feistiness rather refreshing. “However, Cis will never forgive me if something happens to you, while I’m still here. Nor will your father, for that matter.”

“Hmm.” She huffed. “I don’t need another lesson. The Matron at the Citadel has already lectured us.”

“Good, I hope you listened. That reminds me, how’s your accommodation?”

Lily rolled her eyes. “Crowded, I must say. Four of us sharing a very, small

“That’s no good,” William frowned.

“There isn’t enough space for all of us. I was told that in the warmer months, some girls were forced to sleep on a roof top.”

“That’s very worrying, Lily. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen to you. For a start, the mosquitoes would eat you alive.”

“I’m hoping not,” Lily sighed.

“So, when do you start work?”

“Tomorrow morning. I can’t wait to get into it.”

“You might change your mind, once you get a taste of grim reality,” William said in a serious voice.

“We’ll see. Enough about me. What about you? Cis worries you know. She
doesn’t say as much, but she does.”

Lily paused, looking at her brother-in-law, then added, “You look terribly thin.”

“I’ve had my share of hurdles to cross. The latest being malaria.”

Lily nodded as William described the preceding months spent in
the hospital.

“Tis good news you’re going home, then? Cis and the boys will be relieved when they finally see you. On home soil.”

William felt a lump in his throat. “It’s been a long time coming,” he finally said. “Only two weeks to go.”

Their conversation was interrupted by the waiter who brought their lunch.

William advised, “When dining out in Cairo, you are best to eat at a hotel where you can order western food. Eating from street sellers can be risky, particularly with the flies.”

Lily finished a sandwich triangle, then said, “We have all been given a booklet about such things.”

“Not the book written by Charles Beane?”

“Not sure.”

“Dysentery is a huge problem here. As is malaria. Mosquitoes at dusk are

“We do have nets in our quarters.”

When they finished their sandwiches and drained the teapot, William hailed a waiter and paid the bill. Following a little bow, the waiter left.

Turning to Lily, William suggested, “Let’s take a look inside.”

“Can’t wait.” Lily stood, holding her purse and hat in her hands. She strode a step ahead of William with the enthusiasm of an adventurer about to visit a foreign land for the first time.

William towered over Lily as he leaned forward and opened the door for her. As he followed her, she reached back and grabbed his arm.

Shepheards Hotel B
Inside the Shepheard Hotel, Cairo.

“My golly. William Lyons, in my 26 years I’ve never…” she gasped as they
entered the lobby through two massive granite columns, topped with ornate lotus capitals painted in shades of blue, red and yellow.

William watched his sister-in-law’s expression changed to one of amazement, like a giddy child in a fairyland. She stood gazing up at the ceiling with her blue eyes wide open as if afraid of missing a single detail. Then, in the centre of the magnificent Persian carpet, her tiny polished black laced boots pivoted around 360 degrees as she breathed in the opulence that adorned the hotel.

Finally, in a breathless voice, she spoke. “This is like a palace.”

“I never tire of it. Come on, there’s more.”

William was happy to be Lily’s tour guide as they explored the inner sanctum of the hotel. They moved through a series of ornate archways, each leading into a world within a world that emulated the ancient Egyptian golden age. Goddesses or kings, immortalized in stone, flanked the stairways and doorways. Date palms rose to meet painted evening skies sparkling with golden stars. Indeed, the Shepheard rivalled the proposed afterlife of Egypt’s ancient kings and was a world away from the Egypt that existed outside the doors of the hotel. William found himself thinking about when he first arrived in this totally alien world and how different it was from the one he knew. He felt a twinge of jealousy for the experience Lily was about to face.


(1) Percival Stacey Waddy was an Anglican clergyman army chaplain. He served in France with the 3rd and 1st Battalions and in August 1917 sailed for Egypt. In October, he was transferred to headquarters, Desert Mounted Corps, where he became senior chaplain and honorary Major with the light horse.

Monday Musings From the Writer’s Desk

Vintage letter

William’s story is now at an interesting stage, where he is still residing at the 14th Australian General Hospital in Cairo, and preparing for his impending voyage back to Australia.  As I read his diary and official medical records, I wondered how many setbacks could a man endure? Then, just when he was struck with malaria, he receives a telegram from Cis, advising her sister, Lily, is Egypt bound.

I am sure this news would have had a positive affect on his psychological wellbeing.  She is the first family member he has seen in three years.  And, I must say, from her arrival on 27 October 1917, he embarked on a busy round of social outings, mostly in her company.

Nurse Lily Deane

Lily Deane (Photo from the writer’s private collection)

Emily Deane, known as Lily, was 26 years old when she enlisted with A.N.S. on 3rd September 1917.  She embarked the H.T. Ayrshire on 15th September bound for Cairo. After 42 days at sea, I’m sure she was pleased to finally dock in Egypt.  However, what was her first impression of this strange, chaotic land?

One can only summise, however I have a strong feeling she took to the madness, like a mummy to a pyramid.  I remember Aunty Lily from my childhood, although she was an old lady by then.  I guess you could say, I derive my impressions from the trinkets she collected over the years.  She travelled the world extensively during her lifetime, mostly during the fifties and sixties, which was unusual for the times. She lived in the Blue Mountains, New South Wales, and I remember her visiting her sister Nelly.

I knew Aunty Nelly well.  She lived nearby, on the original farm where her parents resided before her.  She was a great story teller and always came to visit with little treasures for my sisters and I to play with. One day she gave my sister Noeleen a pendant in the form of Egyptian Queen Nefertiti’s head – a souvenir Aunty Lily acquired during her war years in Egypt.  Noeleen wore it to school one day and left it with her uniform in the changing rooms where she changed into her sports clothes.  To her dismay, someone stole it before she returned.  It may not have been worth much in monetary terms, but now, more than 103 years after war, I wish I could steal a look at it.  With age comes  an appreciation for history.

There were other items she collected.  I have a vintage length of fabric adorned with black ladies carrying urns and baskets of fruit on their heads.  It is an artpiece in itself, something that could be framed and put on a wall. In my cupboard sits a royal blue skirt that is richly cross-stitched in bright coloured threads.  It is not a piece of clothing I can envisage on a lady from her era, but obviously she found it in her travels and wasn’t afraid to be seen in it. Then there is the gorgeous bare chested timber lady’s head who adorns my piano. The intricately carved crown and necklace suggest she hailed from Javanese or Burmese royalty.  These pieces of memorabilia all suggest she was attracted to unusual cultures that populate the faraway lands of the world.

If only I could have walked beside her as she disembarked that ship in 1917, to capture her reactions.  The smells, sounds and sights surely made a deep impression on this young girl who grew up in the isolation of a cane farm on the Haughton River.  She was a flame waiting to be lit.  By the time she returned home at the end of 1919, she had witnessed the results of war, recovered from the Spanish Influenza in 1918 and had developed an irrepressible urge to spread her career wings.

According to family stories, she borrowed five pounds from her Mother and left for Sydney where she worked as a nurse.  As soon as she saved the money, she repaid her Mother. Over the years, she rose to the station of Matron.  Not being content to work for others, she bought an old, rundown private hospital, brought it up to standard before selling it for a profit.  She continued this process until she became a wealthy woman.  She never married, but perhaps she was a feminist, ahead of the times.  She cut her own path with the ‘dare-to’ attitude possessed by her pioneering parents.

Monday’s Musings From the Writer’s Desk

Vintage letter

Deciding what details to write into William’s story often poses a problem.  I constantly ask myself, “How do I include it?” or, more importantly, “Should I include it?” These were the burning questions when I read in his diary on 10th October 1917:  “Saw the Sultan’s funeral.”

I remembered a photo I had seen in his possessions of the actual funeral procession.  The black and white image hadn’t stood well to the test of time.  However, it must have held some importance for him to have kept it. I haven’t been able to locate that photo, however, there are many online.  Fortunately I have also found a short film of the procession that moved from the Sultan’s Palace to the Mosque where he was buried.  It is incredible to be able to witness exactly what my Great Grandfather saw 103 years ago. Open the following link to view for yourself.


Watching the film, I understood why William braved the crowded streets of Cairo, despite his frailty. The death of Sultan Hussein Kemal was a piece of history he would have wanted to witness.  I’m sure the grand military procession filled him with pride.  The film has no sound, but one can feel the solemnity of the various military groups, on horseback and on foot, who led the parade. Motionless bystanders watched in silence.

The Sultan’s funeral was only one example of how William pushed himself, no doubt against his Doctor’s advice.  His records imply that he was so frail that it would take months to recover, if at all. Perhaps the thought of going home was the driving force behind his survival.  I also believe that men of his generation were blessed with fortitude.  When life threw a hardball, they picked themselves up and got on with things.

Cairo – Three Days Later

the Kookaburras

The Burlesque performance drew a reaction from the packed parade ground.  Laughter, clapping, and cheering echoed off the surrounding walls.  The rappa-tap-tap of ivory keys joined by the splendid 14th A.G.H. Orchestra, accompanied the female impersonators in a risqué skit of song and dance.  William’s feet tapped to the beat, as they did for all the preceding acts.  Songs like “King Charles”, “We want to go” and “The Flapper”, lifted the cloud that had clung to his being for weeks.  He felt the joy around him, as the throng of war-wearied men were plucked, momentarily, from their reality.

Kookaburras program

The music died and the players from ‘The Kookaburras’ bowed.

“More! More! More!” The audience shouted and whistled.

The crowd’s exuberance grew into a standing ovation until the players took their places on the makeshift stage and signalled to the orchestra.

William’s found himself riveted once again to the performance.  The beat reached fever pitch with twirling dancers leading into a can-can. Skirts flounced, legs kicked high in total disarray, drawing a cacophonous reaction from the crowd. As the players took their final bow, William joined the enthusiastic applause.

Basking in the warm afterglow of the concert, William hardly noticed the crispness of the night air.  Merriment vibrated around him as men and hospital staff began to disperse.  Still tired from his trip to Moascar, he was surprised he sat throughout the entire concert.

The next morning William went to the Recreation Room for a quiet moment of reading.

“At Last,” he sighed as he allowed his weight to free-fall into the canvas deck chair.

The book sat closed on his lap, while William surveyed the room, enjoying the relative quiet. The only sounds were the clicking of billiard balls as two men enjoyed a game.  He watched the to-ing and fro-ing of balls, although his thoughts were elsewhere.  His mind still buzzed from the concert and his aching body punished him for the hectic schedule of the last three days.  It felt good to just sit and contemplate, away from the ward.  Deaf to the nearing footsteps, his peaceful reverie was soon disturbed.

“There you are.”

William turned his head to see Lachlan Wilson approaching.

“Colonel,” William smiled at his friend.  “How did you find me here?”

“I’ve been looking all over the hospital for you,” the Colonel said as he sunk into the chair beside William. “Thought you must be out and about.”

“Not today. I’m resting.”

The Colonel laughed.  “Do you know how to do that?”

“I need to,” William admitted. “I’ve had a busy week, starting with a trip to Moascar on Sunday.”

“Today’s only Wednesday. So, what else have you done that you shouldn’t have?”

“Hmm.” William rolled his eyes. “There was the Sultan’s funeral on Monday.  The Kookaburra’s concert last night….”

“My God, Man!” The Colonel cut him off, shaking his head.

“Did you see the funeral?” William deflected an impending lecture.

“Yes, I did.  Quite impressive turnout, I must say.”

“That it was.”  William could still picture the crowded street where he and a group of chaps from the hospital stood near the Mosque.  They found a good position, close to the road’s edge, where they could peer through the gaps in the mounted military honor guard.  The heavily draped coffin appeared to be swept along like a boat on the churning river of mourners, the likes of which William had never seen before.  He felt for the pallbearers who carried the sultan all the way from the Palace to the Mosque.

Sultan's funeral

Sultans Funeral – October 1917

“It was worth the effort,” he continued.  “When an opportunity arises, one can’t say No.”

“Sometimes, one needs to listen to their head.”  The Colonel leaned back resting his head against the wooden frame of the chair. “Will, I wondered if you might do something for me?”

“Yes, if I can.”

“I have put together a Christmas parcel for my family.  If it is no trouble, could you take it with you, on the ship?”

William laughed.  “One more thing won’t matter.  I’ll need an entire cargo hold for my luggage.”

“Good.  I’ll cable my wife.  She can collect it when you dock in Brisbane.”

“Shouldn’t be a problem.”

The Colonel lurched himself out of the chair and added, “That said, I’ll be back with it in the next couple of days.”

“I’ll be here.”

Colonel Wilson raised his eyebrows. “Really?”

William also unfolded himself out of his chair, steadying himself as he stood.  His back felt wet from sweat. “To be honest, I’m not feeling well.  Think I’ll head back to the ward.”

“Good plan.  Get some rest.” the Colonel replied.

The two men left the recreation room together.

By the time Colonel Wilson gave him the parcel, William had no memory of the preceding two days.  He spent the time either shaking uncontrollably from the cold or sweating so profusely that his bedclothes were constantly drenched.  Waves of nausea made sleep a welcomed state. It was during such a lull in the storm, he opened his eyes to see the Colonel sitting in the chair next to his bed.

“How long have you been here?” His voice was hoarse.

“A little while,” the Colonel said, not letting on he had called in each day since he spoke to William in the Recreation room. Each visit was fleeting, due to William’s raging fevers.  “You’ve apparently been asleep all day.”

“Damn Malaria.  I could do with some water?” William pointed to the jug on the locker.

He pulled himself up as far as his energy would allow.  Taking the glass, he took a few sips before handing it back to the Colonel.  At that point, he noticed the brown paper parcel on his bedside locker.  “You’ve brought the parcel.”

“You remember?”

“I remember you asking, but nothing much after that.”

“Looks like you’ve received a good wad of mail too.”


The Colonel handed William the pile of unopened letters and said, “I waited in hope you’d be awake at some point.  I’m heading back to the regiment tomorrow.”

“Will I see you before I leave?”

The Colonel nodded.  “All going well, I should be back in Cairo by the end of month.”

“Good.  Until then.”  William raised his hand in a weak salute.

“Well I’d better be going.  Look after yourself, old chap.” The Colonel turned to leave, then looked back and stressed, “Don’t overdo it.”

William watched his friend disappear down the long aisle of the ward.  He knew the Colonel was right.  What am I trying to prove?  Now, look at me.  Damn malaria.

He despondently fingered through the bundle of mail, recognizing the hands of his mother, his sister Tot and Cis.   They had been his line of sustenance for three long years. Letting the letters fall onto his lap, a window faced envelope from the Telegraph Office stood apart from the rest. Fingers shaking, he lifted the back flap and pulled out the contents. It read: