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:
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.
- Squad Drill
- Lecture – “Description of Target”
- Fire orders, Bayonet Practise
- Field Sketching
- 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.