Old Photo of Cairo’s Main Railway Station (Pinterest)
At 7.00 am the Cairo Railway Station was already huffing and puffing with early morning arrivals and departures. William sat upright in his seat, looking out the window as the train slowly squealed to a stop. White steam shot across the platform, flooding the moving streams of military personnel, nursing staff and locals in dense, hot clouds of mist. Whistles bleated like angry, tweeting birds and voices blared from loudspeakers in muffled Arabic and English. William felt the busyness of the city from the safety of his seat; the urgency in people’s running feet. Taking a deep breath, he enjoyed his remaining moment of peace.
The door to the carriage clanged open, prompting the three soldiers to stand and edge their way to the stairs. Stepping down from the train, they slung their kit-bags over their shoulders. Then, eager to find the exit, they pushed their way through the churning mass.
To their relief, the trio stepped through the imposing Islamic-styled archway onto the street. The noise that was amplified to a deafening pitch inside the station building was replaced by the gentler jingling of tramcars and rumbling of wagon wheels outside. The men paid little attention to their surrounds as they were intent on finding somewhere to eat. Their last meal was tea and toast at the Luxor Hotel, the afternoon before.
“Chaps, let’s have breakfast at the National?” William suggested.
“That sounds very civilized,” Barr replied with a chuckle.
“Good idea, before it’s back to the dusty old camp,” Stevenson said.
“We have until 11.00am to catch the train back to Ismailia. Do we have time to visit Mousky before then?” William wished to make the most of his last day of leave. He found the bazaar fascinating, with its labyrinth of alleyways crammed with exotic and colourful wares.
“If we take a ride to the Bazaar,” Barr suggested. “we would save time.”
“It’s settled then?” William asked, looking expectantly at his companions. They both nodded in agreement.
Photo: Mousky Bazaar (Pinterest)
With a plan in place, they decided to walk the short, one and a half mile route to the National. William was eager to stretch his legs in the early morning cool, to iron out the stiffness from sitting on a hard train seat all night. While hawkers aggressively sought trade from him and his companions, William paid them little attention. Normally irritated by their unrelenting persistence, he smiled to himself and kept walking, totally ignoring their existence. He felt more relaxed than he had for a long time and looked forward to English food.
The square, clean, European lines of the National Hotel was a welcomed sight. As the men crossed the threshold into the reception hall, the heavy glass doors closed behind them, silencing the world outside. Their gait unconsciously slowed as they found themselves cocooned in the quiet, luxurious interior.
Without need for directions, William, Stevenson and Barr were guided through to the dining room by the tantalizing wafts of cooked food. The swinging, glass doors opened onto a discordant symphony of chinking crockery, ringing silverware and buzzing breakfast conversations. Once they were seated, a waiter, whose legs were wrapped in a long, starched white apron, poured steaming, hot tea into delicate china cups. Raising his cup to his lips, William paused for a moment to savour the soothing aroma before taking a long, slow sip.
“Ahh, I needed that,” sighed William, sinking back in his chair.
“Here’s to a wonderful trip,” Stevenson raised his cup.
“Yes, and to our ongoing friendships,” Barr added. The three men chinked their cups together then sat back in quiet contentment, enjoying the pleasant surroundings.
Photo: Old Ismailia Station (Pinterest)
That afternoon, the three men emerged from the Ismailia Railway Station and walked the short distance to Moascar where they rejoined their respective regiments. As William walked through the gate of the Moascar camp he developed a spring in his step at the sight of the camp’s sparse sense of order. He felt reassured by what he already knew, that military life suited him. He loved the structure and organization. The sounds of horses and gunshots were dulled by space and desert winds. Life there was a far cry from the chaos that existed outside the camp gates.
Moascar Camp – Egypt (Trove)
The noise, the busyness, the aggressive nature of men fighting to eke out a living, were both exciting and 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.
William 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. ” (??broke??)
As he folded his finished, eight-page letter and placed it in an envelope for posting, he extinguished his lamp and laid back on his bed. Despite tiredness, his thoughts kept him awake. 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.
William’s thoughts then shifted to his current position. His time away from camp had given him clarity. Even though he missed his family, his knew deep down that he was doing something really worthwhile. As was often the case, when he had only his thoughts for company, the found himself facing those difficult questions that lurked in the back of his mind. After this war, what next? Another war? Will I be too old to enlist again? How am I to return to the life of a farmer?
He knew he would deal with those issues, when and if the occasions arose. For now, he closed his eyes and looked forward to the familiar sound of the reveille at 0400.