Departing England

William began the day on a nervous note, although he was indeed pleased to be re-joining the remnants of his regiment.  He tried not to dwell on the 75 men who had lost their lives and instead wondered who out of the remaining 477 survivors he would meet in Egypt on 13th January, the day the “Oriana” is due to arrive at Alexandria.   Many he has encountered here in Monte Video and of those, he knew without being told, some will never return due to the seriousness of their injuries.


William Lyons standing, second from right, aboard the SS Oriana during voyage from England to Egypt January 1916.

William had already packed his bags the night before and they were now outside awaiting his transport to the local station.  The various pieces of his uniform were laid out in an orderly fashion on the perfectly flat blanket that was tucked in precise folds under the edges of the straw mattress.  He surveyed each item with caring eyes as if they were pieces of himself, and then with slow deliberation began to dress.

The crisp creases in the roomy khaki shirt sleeves deflected attention away from his bony arms that had been eaten away on the fields of war.  His trousers, although tightly belted, struggled to hold the gathers of his shirt in place.  Straightening his tie, he took one last glance in the small mirror on the wall, titivating his trimmed moustache and combing a few loose strands of dark oiled hair into place, before easing on his uniform jacket.  One by one, as the brass buttons pulled the jacket closed, it still hung loosely, waiting for the wide leather belt to give it shape; to give the illusion of a fuller figure.

William preened the front of his coat with brushing hands, straightening it over his trousers, before he was completely happy with his dress.  Once satisfied, he stretched his brown leather gloves over his long fingers and placed his Lieutenant’s cap low over his brow.  Anyone watching would have marvelled at the way his narrow shoulders suddenly appeared wider as he clenched his chin against his elongated neck, transforming William from a man into an officer. Any doubts he may have harboured about his decision to enlist since he left Gallipoli receded once more behind the stabbing points of the swords depicted in glistening brass on his coat lapels. The military man had re-emerged.

Today he was readying himself for his return to the war.  Although he was sailing into the unknown, he was looking forward to reuniting with old chums from his regiment and to see how they have fared.  He had seen some at Monte Video, however many had been forwarded to hospitals in Egypt during the earlier evacuation of wounded.  Then there were others who were on the Peninsula right up to the last day of Evacuation.  He tried not to dwell on the 75 men who lost their lives.

There were so many stories to share; experiences to hear.  Although no-one’s stories were more outstanding than the other.  They had all seen the face of death first hand.  For now, he was looking forward to taking one day at a time, in the warm Egyptian weather. Although, the English winter was an experience to behold.  Something to write home about, other than trying to relate stories about his war experiences. In order to do that, he had to censor his thoughts and well his letters would end up like those that were censored by the authorities – full of blanks.  So what was the point in trying?  He also did not want to worry the folks at home.  There will be plenty of time, once the war is over, once he is back in the jungle, where the only enemies are mosquitoes and wild pigs! 

A voice sounded from the doorway of the barracks which William had called home since mid- November. 

 “Lieutenant Lyons, your transport is ready Sir.” A young soldier announced, holding onto the open door.

“Right you are, lad,” William replied with a hint of humour in his eyes as the heels of his boots echoed on the timber floor. “If I’m not, I never will be.”

He quickly donned his dark woollen overcoat, clutched the handle of his remaining bag with a gloved hand and marched out of the room with a spring in his step, ready to face another freezing winter’s day and the cold unpredictability of a war.


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