Exploring the citadel

Posted: February 21, 2015 by saraherhodes in 1915

I got quite a budget from you all, it was very nice. I have been fortunate with my feet so far. Sox are the chief trouble. I have darned a lot but don’t know how I am going to wear some of them – the holes are so big. You are asking how I am off for money, I have nearly forgotten what it looks like, it is the most slippery stuff ever made. Last week I went for three days with a milleime in my pocket (1/4d).

My moustache has been a thing of the past for a long time. I am giving it another run now.  If it gets anything like one I will have my photo taken with it.

The last week I have been diving into the mysteries of the past. We reckon time in Egypt in hundreds of years, not just common garden variety years. On Sunday afternoon I wandered all over the Pyramids again, there were three of us, Lce.Cpl. Davidson, Crowie and myself. Davidson is a fine fellow, he is a quiet chap, but very well informed on every subject, something like a walking dictionary – a handy man to have with you. We examined all the ancient tombs and Pyramids that I have told you of, behind the large Pyramids are three smaller ones running at right angles to the others. We had a candle with us, and crawled into the middle of the smaller trio. There wasn’t much to see though, but we kept crawling into every hole we saw, and had some very interesting experiences.

At one place where the excavators had been at work we found some very fine writings and carvings on tombs, and in many places the original colouring was still quite good. We crawled into one place, it was made of granite with a lot of glistening stuff on it, iron pyrites I think it was. There was a coffin there made of some stone. Although the coffin had been opened, some human bones remained.  I would have secured some, but they crumbled to dust as soon as touched.

In the evening several of the 2nd Contingent came over, and we were glad to renew our acquaintance with many we knew. We had several impromptu gatherings of lacrosseurs. On Thursday we struck camp, and aired the ground properly, also our blankets. On Monday we had leave from 10a.m. to 10.30p.m I went to town on 8 paistres (1/8) not because I wouldn’t borrow any, but it absolutely couldn’t be borrowed. I think five pounds would have bought the whole Battalion out. I rode into town on the roof of a car, it was much more comfortable than hanging on by one’s eyebrows below.

Crowie and I explored the Citadel and surroundings in detail. The town is very flat, in fact only on the southern side are there any hills at all. These are the famous Mokattan Hills. There are immense quarries there, the stone for the Pyramids came from them.  The Citadel is built on the slopes of these hills with the quarries behind it; on the right, on top of the hills is Napoleon’s Fort, with which he captured the Citadel, and incidentally Cairo.

Running from the gates of the Citadel, right round the quarries and forts and meeting again at the gates in the “City of the Dead”, it is a huge cemetery.  In 1882 Cholera swept this part of the town, and the people were buried where they dropped. In places holes were dug and a roof put over them and the bodies shoved in. We entered several of them and found skeletons, bones etc., would have brought a skull or two with us if it had been possible to carry them. After we had cir-cum-ambulated the Citadel we crawled up to Napoleon’s Fort by means of a steep narrow pathway. Although the fort was built only a hundred years ago, it is totally different to our conception of a fort today, that you would be inclined to think it older. In front there is a ditch dug, with a draw-bridge and port-cullis, places to pour boiling water on attackers etc.  Inside there are dungeons, passages, and all sorts of dark chambers. The dungeons are only accessible by means of a small manhole and a rope.

After we had seen everything that was worth seeing we proceeded to the Citadel itself, and saw Joseph’s Well (an immense well, very deep) and the famous Mahomet Ali Mosque. The Mosque is made of  Alabaster inside and out, and is very fine. In the court yard there is a well that used to supply the Citadel with water in cases of siege, it is over 350 metres deep and reaches to the level of the Nile. Inside the Mosque are hundreds of wonderful lamps, and the floor is covered with a lovely red carpet. There are a lot of Goorkas stationed there, also a few of the wounded from the Canal. We saw a couple of the former flogged for some mis-demeanour. They had to strip off their clothes and were seized by each arm and held over a box, and then thrashed with thin canes, each blow bringing blood. Afterwards they were carried to one side, and dropped in a huddled, writhing sobbing heap.

These chaps are very devils to fight though. A Sergeant was saying he saw them down at the Canal get to work on the Turks with their Kookris. One whipped an arm off with one stroke, and another claimed his “pound of flesh” out of a Turk’s side. The Canal trouble seems to have subsided. One Battalion came back last night, and another today.

After we had finished our wanderings, we caught the car home, dead tired, and dead broke. I got in with one milleime (1/4d.) on me. When the 1st reinforcements arrived we had just completed a four mile skirmish, it frightened them when they heard what sort of work we are doing.

Last night we had bad news. Horace Fordham, our Fordham’s brother has been ill for about ten days, and died last night. At first they said  it was small-pox, and then, that it was a bad case of influenza; up to last night Fordie hadn’t been able to trace his brother anywhere. He had been whisked off to some obscure hospital, and they wouldn’t tell him (Fordie) anything, so you can imagine what a shock it was. They say he had the worst form of small-pox, and didn’t have a chance from the first. It will be a big shock to his people, tell Mr. Fordham how sorry we all are. There is a lot of sickness here, it is like it was getting at Morphettville. There have been about 200 deaths since we have been here, and there are 1200 in the hospital now. I think we are getting too much work in the sand. I am glad to say that our crowd are all quite well.

Yesterday was a very hot day and we had a skirmish over all sorts of hills, and sand-drifts, it just about settled me, as I had a slight attack of influenza. I am alright now. We had a typical African sunset last night. The sky was a bright gold colour all over, and the Pyramids were bathed in a soft golden light, just as if they were made of gold, it looked fine I can tell you, also this morning we had a good sunrise. I might mention that I was not particularly virtuous in being up to see it rise, as it doesn’t put in an appearance until close to 7 o’clock. All the east was a bright crimson colour with black clouds all over the sky, with the edges tipped with fire. All these photos and cards you see of the Pyramids that appear to be so highly coloured are in reality true to nature, only rather flat compared with the real thing.


Notes: On inspecting the notes, this letter appears to be from 12 February.

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ColoniesMap1914 19141208


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