Tel-el-Kebir, Egypt

Posted: January 11, 2016 by saraherhodes in 1916

I have been receiving letters, papers and parcels in spasmodic issues ever since my last letter. I think I must be up to date now. Things are much the same here as they were at Mena. We get all we want of drill, N.C.O.’s parade 8.30 to 9.30, Coy’s parade from 9.30 – 12.15 and from 2 – 4p.m. The ground isn’t half as heavy to march on as the Libyan desert was. There are myriads of large pebbles, and combined with the heavy dews at night, it makes the going quite easy.

I think I told you that this was the place where Sir.Garnet Wolesley routed the Egyptians and Bedouins etc. under Arabi Pasha in his famous night march in 1882.

All the sergeants have a tent to themselves now, it is much better. I have been transferred from No. 2 platoon to No. 4. The platoon had gone to the pack a little and I was given the job to pull them together again. At first the platoon was without an officer, but since I took over, the 11th reinforcement officer has arrived. We are getting a little leave 1 N.C.O. and 4 men per company per diem have leave to go to Cairo. It is a long way to go, but the only place that is getatable.

Since I have been here I have seen Sgt. Davenport of the A.M.C., and Ken Thomas, Doug. Chennell and Sandy Delbridge of the 27th. They are all looking well. Jack Mellor and Jack Gellert are at Mardi.

I received Mr Donnell’s cake safely, and in excellent condition. I have just lived on pudding and cake the last week, everyone has had at least three parcels, and we have been living high. I have found that waistcoat very useful it is cold here in the mornings and evenings, but quite warm enough in the middle of the day. That coffee and milk goes well at nights too.

I had hard luck over my watch a few days ago. I put it in my pocket when having a wash, and found it missing when I looked for it. Suppose it means another thirty bob. I am just packed up with socks and handkerchiefs. I am going to Cairo on Friday with Sgt. Kinnish. We leave here at 2.30p.m. one day and are supposed to get back by 10p.m. the next night.

Have had a bit of poisoned thumb, nothing serious, but I have seen to it that it is too bad to carry a rifle. I am posting another letter with this – full of vague rumours.

Sarpi Camp, Lemnos Island Friday 17th December

I am writing this just on the off chance that you ever see it, or that I ever get the chance of posting it. It is just an account or record of a few of the rumours that are flying through the camp at present. It will serve to show why my letter of this date is so empty, and will prove later how true these rumours sometimes are. Well, firstly:- the peninsular in which we lost so many good men, and did such a prodigious amount of digging in, is to be evacuated, is being evacuated. Nearly all the troops have been either brought here or sent to Egypt. Stores are being burnt, guns are being blown up, all the trenches are mined ready for blowing up, and mules are being shot, as there is insufficient time to transport them away. The portion to be evacuated is the Anzac Zone and Suvla Bay. The plan is for the 5th Brigade (N.S.W & Vic.) 17th, 18th, 19th, 20th battalions to fight rear guard action to cover the rest of the troops embarking. I hear a party of 240 strong is going to act as a screen, and is going to hold a ridge called MacClagan Ridge, just by Walker’s Ridge, and cover the embarkation of this brigade. This party of men are all volunteers called from every battalion and body of troops that are on the place at present. These brave men were lined up and told that they were going to almost certain death, as they would only be able to hold the Turks of a short time, and in all probability they would be unable to be got off.

Besides these 240 men, and A.M.C. Captain and 50 Stretcher Bearers have volunteered to stay behind and tend the wounded under the Red Cross Flag, and the White Flag. They will in all probability be prisoners for the duration of the war, if they aren’t shot.  In rearguard action the wounded won’t stand much chance as they will have to be left. I fancy if the old 3rd had been up there, they would have had to do the fight. I think if the men who landed on the 25th were asked to form that final screen, they would step out to a man. It would be great to be able to have had the first and last smack at John Turk. It will count a big victory for Turkey, and will affect us both in Egypt and India I think.

Besides this evacuation the Allies are retreating both in Salonica and in Mesopotamia. We heard the Salonica was being evacuated also, but later advices say that we are going to hold it at all costs. If they do it is quite on the board that we will go up there. Another unfavourable phase is that the Senussi Tribe is causing trouble in Tripoli. This tribe is a religious fanatic sort of coot, which caused the French such trouble down that way some years ago. A lot of our light horse are being mounted and sent to Tripoli. Rumour also hath it that we may go to Khartoun or the Canal. Turkey is sending an immense army on to the canal and there will be a fight there right enough. While I have started on this lot which has no chance to pass the censor, I may as well go the whole hog.

While we have been here we have had several outbreaks of Meningitis and Diptheria. We have been isolated and a cordon put round the camp, which has made it far from pleasant. We have felt like a lot of prisoners.

Some time ago we witnessed the unique sight of the three biggest ships afloat alongside of each other. The Acquitania, Mauretania, and the Olympic – all Cunarders. The Mauretania, and Acquitania are both bigger that the Lusitania. They are beautiful boats, far too good for troop ships.

Tuesday 21 December

To Continue:- The Peninsular is evacuated. It wasn’t half such a dreadful undertaking as everyone thought it would be. For the last four days troops have been poring in here. The Turks made a charge on Chatham’s Post on Sunday night, a week ago, and were pushed back with heavy losses. Our chaps collected 19 bodies and 123 rifles out in front. Our people made several feint evacuations and the Turks made another attack with very heavy losses. Previous to this our firing line had been reinforced, and Jacko go a very bad shock.

Since then everything has been very quiet. Previous to evacuating, rifles were fixed in the fire positions and were ingeniously fixed to fire by themselves. Some had a tin hanging on a string tied to the trigger, and another tin fixed above it full f water with a hole punched in it, when the lower tin was filled, its weight would pull the trigger. Another idea was a weight on a string, with another string bearing the weight of the weight (do you get me?) a fuse was fixed to the second thereby releasing the weight which in falling would pull the trigger.

On Sunday night the last of the troops were got off with hardly a shot fired. I believe there were several casualties but probably caused by “strays”.

News has come through, that Jacko was firing just as usual all day yesterday – shelling the beach etc. As a sort of greeting for the Turks when they enter our lines we have about 600 tons of Melignite under all the trenches, the wires are connected to a bouy, which can be fired by a destroyer.

Of course I can’t rely on the accuracy of these reports. They are just rumours floating round, but they are certainly very interesting, and, if inaccurate, are a marvel of invention.

Tel-el-Kebir 11th January 1916

Here we are again, most of the yarns turned out correct. The Peninsular was evacuated with about one or two casualties. In today’s Egyptian Times I see that the Helles region has been evacuated too. About the only inaccurate report are those dealing with the mules. I believe they were all got off, also most of the guns, except big howitzers, and a long 4’7” naval gun “Long Tom” as he was known.

Love to all Lance.

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