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.

 

References:

(1)  http://museum.rba.gov.au/exhibitions/from-bank-to-battlefield/the-year-of-anzac/index.html

(2)  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anzac_Day

 

 

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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

writing

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.

IMG_0005

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.

References:

  1. https://egyptianstreets.com/2018/01/29/the-grand-continental-egypts-historic-hotel-turns-into-dust/
  2. http://grandhotelsegypt.com/?p=1622
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shepheard%27s_Hotel

 

 

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.

IMG_0001_NEW

Monday Musings From The Writer’s Desk

Vintage letter

I apologize for being rather absent from my desk at late.  Being part of a writing group takes so much of my time.  I do hope you have enjoyed reading William’s own written account of his trip up the Nile; that letter is something I will forever treasure. He was fortunate to have experienced a land as fascinating as Egypt, although he was there in extremely trying times.  He, of course, didn’t step onto Egyptian shores with adventure on his mind.  He was a career soldier, doing his duty for the Empire.  He knew about the imminent hardships; he had seen it all in South Africa during the Boer War.

Unlike William, many young men viewed the war as a ticket to adventure; it was an opportunity to travel the world, to see people and places that they could only read about in books.  Others viewed it as a meal ticket, or in some cases the chance to revisit their country of origin.  Regardless of the reasons, a country like Egypt would have opened a few eyes to the wondrous history as well as the darker sides of an ancient land.  It would have been a total explosion of the senses.  The sights, sounds and smells were so foreign to those at home, the culture so different.

Home for William Lyons and his family was the burgeoning sugar growing community along the Haughton River in North Queensland.  He had left the security of his military career in 1910 to begin a new life as a sugar cane farmer, most likely at the insistence of his Father-in-law, George Deane.  By 1914, there were 20 farms established along the Haughton, although a formal township was yet to be formed and the closest sugar mill was more than 20 miles away. There were no shops, post office, pub, churches or railway station.  For the Lyons family, the only connection to the outside world was the railway siding of Minehan, where supplies were delivered by train each week.

The quiet, rural world along the Haughton River was a far cry from the chaos of Egypt. The nearest towns for the Lyons family were Ayr (20 miles to the south) and Townsville (approx. 30 miles to the north).  Australian towns and cities were a far cry from the madness that William encountered in Egypt.  I am sure there were times when he would have loved to step out of that world of noise, for just a moment, to enjoy the peace and quiet of the bush, where the loudest sounds might have been that of a laughing kookaburra or the squawk of a wild cockatoo.

I can recall moments from my own experiences where the differences of culture hit me in the face.  After spending two weeks in Italy where noise and madness were the norm,  I boarded my flight in Rome, where people weren’t educated in the discipline of queuing single file.  I stood back in shock, watching what looked like a feeding frenzy at a zoo. During my flight, the Italian passengers were extremely gregarious, constantly moving around the cabin socializing in a loud manner, day and night.  I had to wait 22 hours to finally find peace, in Sydney of all places.  The traffic  on my arrival,  appeared to be moving in slow motion, on the verge of serene.  That was the moment I felt happy to be back in Australia.

So, despite the fascinating experiences that William collected during his three years abroad, I’m sure there were times he missed the slower pace of life at home.  Questions might have lurked in the back of his mind, concerning his future.  He relished his military work and in the field of war, he reached his potential.  He stepped back into the boots of an Instructor. From his diary entries, he reveals how he enjoyed the camaraderie of his comrades; he showed great concern for his fellow man, visiting the sick and injured in hospital. His life in the Egyptian desert appeared fulfilling; he had an extremely busy social life.

According to his diary, when on leave, he frequented some of the most opulant hotels in Cairo – The National, The Savoy and Shepheards, to name a few.  He certainly made the most of his situation.  He knew that a soldier’s life was a dangerous one.  Everyday, he walked a precarious path where the future was as clouded as a desert dust storm.  The question is ‘how would someone who experienced all that, settle back into the life that awaited them at home?’ 

 

Monday Musings From The Writer’s Desk

Vintage letter

Along with the rest of the world, I spent Saturday evening with my eyes glued to the royal wedding on television.  Royal weddings, with all their pomp, glamour and tradition, give so much joy to so many.  For a few hours, the Republican debate recedes to the background.

At the end of the proceedings, a friend asked a question that is often bandied around. “What is the relevance of the Royal family to us in Australia?”

I was quite flabbergasted and the first to admit I can be quite opinionated regarding issues that are important to me.  Having inherited my ‘royalist’ genes from my Grandmother, I replied, “But Britain is part of our heritage, as is the Queen.”

“But we are Aussies, not British,” she said in defense.

I am proud to stand up as a ‘Non-Republican’ as I see no valid resolution to the republican debate.  In my mind, why wipe out our heritage when it, in no way, effects the governance of the country.  Long ago, our national identity was shaped as we began to think as a nation, independent of Mother England.

Despite being Australian, British blood courses through my veins.  I’ve inherited my red hair, fair skin and blue eyes from my Irish ancestors.  I’ve proudly acquainted myself with living relatives in Britain during my visits.  I have also unashamedly stood on a park bench, like a royal groupie, at Ascot races to catch a glimpse of the Queen and the Queen Mother.

Queen

In defense of the royal family, they are an institution that spreads an enormous amount of goodwill around the world.  Apart from working tirelessly for numerous charities, they add a little sparkle to many lives.  To me a world without them would equate to a garden without flowers.

Now, if I were able to ask my Great Grandparents, William and Harriet Lyons, what their thoughts are on the subject, they might be grateful for the royal family’s existence. According to family, they met in Brisbane during the 1901 visit by Prince George and his wife Mary (the future King and Queen).  William, in his role as a trooper, apparently was assigned to security for the visit and Harriet was a spectator.  So, if we had no royal family, I would not exist. I rest my case.

 

Back to Cairo

Cairo Railway Station A

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.

mousky

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.

-0-

ismailia-S

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 near Ismailia

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.

 

Monday Musings From The Writer’s Desk

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Have you ever wondered how the years away from their families, affected the thousands of men who enlisted for war?  In the case of William Lyons, he was away for more than three years.  He saw plenty of action – he spent five months at Gallipoli before spending more a year involved in various conflicts in Egypt and Palestine.  Then by the end of 1916 he was promoted to a Captain and was made the commander of a training squadron of the Fifth Light Horse Regiment.

This position would have been a dream come true, doing the job had held for most of his life, prior to becoming a farmer.  He had only taken up farming in 1910, four years prior to enlisting in 1914.  Combined with his fascination for Egyptian culture and history, he may have felt he was in heaven.  One can see from the detailed account he wrote home about his trip up the Nile, he was in awe of his surroundings.

When exploring the shelves and drawers of those old cupboards, the books, postcards and items from Egypt caught my attention.  Of course, I had no idea of the significance of my finds.  It would take me another 10 to 20 years to realize the story behind those items and the man who brought them home long ago.

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Vases brought back from Egypt by William Lyons

 

 

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This applique work was found rolled up with several other similar pieces, wrapped in newspaper.  William brought them back from Egypt at the end of the war.

My own fascination for Egypt began at high school where I spent an entire semester in Grade 12 studying archaeology.  For our final assignment, we were asked to write a detailed account of an actual archaeological dig.  Of course, the uncovering of Tutankhamun’s tomb was an obvious choice, given the abundance of material available.  Most of the books were written by Howard Carter, the archaeologist who discovered the tomb. The seeds of my dream to visit that great land of antiquity, were sown firmly in my psyche.

It took thirteen years for those seeds to grow and finally come to fruition.  Looking back, it was quite an adventure.  I booked on a small group tour with a budget tour company called “Explore”.  Our tour leader, on our arrival in each town or city, showed us what there was to see.  Thereafter, it was up to us to explore on our own.

We spent many hours treading the streets of Cairo on foot.  We braved the densely crowded bazaars and the suffocating pollution of the traffic.  I was attacked by locals in a market for taking photos and had to be rescued by my newfound friends.  I braved a hard-mouthed donkey that almost got me killed in order to visit the Valley of the Kings.  Although the monuments and museums were incredibly awe-inspiring, Egypt finally wore my patience extremely thin.  The aggressive street hawkers, the street noises and smells, that were initially new and exciting, suddenly became overwhelming and I craved the normalcy of home.  I welcomed the serenity of my departing flight, where passengers patiently stood in line to board; where they sat in relative quiet for the flight’s duration.  And, I enjoyed meals minus the grittiness of sand. t

This brings me back to my Great Grandfather.  Although, he would have felt fulfilled in his final role, I am certain he would also have craved the quiet and calm of life back on the farm.  Living in chaos for three years would have eventually worn down his patience and indeed his health was adversely affected.  Sometimes one needs to remove oneself from the madness and mayhem in order to appreciate the positives.

Now I will leave you with another episode of William’s “Trip up the Nile”.

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