The following articles were published in the Saturday October 17, 1914 edition of the Ashton Reporter:
TERRITORIAL’S LIFE IN CAIRO
The Ashton Territorials who have gone on service in Egypt are having the time of their lives. They are in Cairo, and an Ashton private writes that “it makes him laugh to think how the poor chaps are running round in the mills in Ashton, and cursing the bad spinning, while he himself, amid the brilliant sunshine and gay scenes, scarcely knows how to pass the hours of the day”. The fresh air out there, he adds, is making a man of him.
GOT THE LAUGH OF MILL HANDS
An interesting letter has been received from Private D. Thorpe, descriptive of the enjoyable life of the Territorials in Egypt. Writing to a Stalybridge friend, he says: –
“I am pleased to write to you once again, now that we have arrived at our destination, which is a grand place. The people here seem queer to us, but, of course, they are a different class of people altogether to us. I wish you could have come with us, as it would have suited you to see these people in the streets. The sun is scorching all through the day, and we are almost like blacks now, and they call it winter, so I don’t know what it is going to be like in summer.
The barracks that we are in is a large one, having four wings to it. We have nothing to grumble about. The buildings are simply grand out here; everything seems new, and there is no smoke in the air like there is at home. We can get English papers, but they cost us twice as much. The thing that is puzzling us most is the money, the commonest coin being a piastre, which is 2½d. in our money. I will bring some of these coins home with me, and then you will be able to see what they are like.
We have all been provided with light suits and helmets, and we had plenty of fun out of them when we put them on for the first time. We have not been allowed out of barracks yet, but we are expecting being free soon, and then we shall be able to see the sights and habits of Egypt better. We have seen three funerals since we arrived here, and they looked more like picnic parties, for the mourners ride on donkeys, and they all seem to be laughing and singing, whilst two of them carry the coffin. There are scores of camels passing in the streets with loads on their backs, and it does not seem strange to see them now, as it did at the first. The river Nile runs past one side of the barracks, and it is a grand sight to see the boats floating up and down. The houses around here are all surrounded with trees, and the streets are wide and clean. There are plenty of white people here, but most of those are French. The railway that we traveled on from Alexandria to Cairo was a treat, as we went through several streets on the journey, and we could almost touch the walls of the houses with our hands.
We have done very little work up to now; in fact, it made blisters come on my hands when I cut some bread, so you can tell how soft they are getting through want of use.
This fresh air is making a man of me, and I feel different altogether to what I did when I was shut up all the day in the mill. If you are working full time, you are welcome to it, for I am not ready for it yet, as I am quite satisfied with my present job, and it makes me laugh to think how you poor chaps are running round and cursing the bad spinning, whilst I don’t know how to pass the hours of the day over. When you write back to me just let me know how Hurst is going on this season, as I should like to know, for I have missed them very much, and I should like to get back in time to see them play a game or two before the close of the season.”
The following three articles were published in the Ashton reporter during October 1914:
An Ashton Corporal’s Letter
Corporal W. H. Martin of “A” Company, Ashton Territorials, in a letter describing Cairo, says: –
“Although the country cannot compare with English scenery for beauty, the complete change appeared nice to us. You could imagine that you had dropped back into Bible times. It is nothing fresh to see oxen drawing rough carts and ploughing with ancient wooden ploughs, and to see men riding on asses. They are a lazy lot, the men, and leave all the work for the women to do. The better class women wear veils over their faces and a wooden contrivance of some sort over their noses. They look queer, I can tell you. One of the funniest things I have seen is a native funeral. There are professional mourners, and these accompany the funeral dancing and singing and throwing their bodies into all sorts of funny contortions. The corpse is carried on the shoulders of four fellows, who knock it about and dance and run with it as if it were a bundle of old rags. The city of Cairo is a fine place, and contains some the finest buildings I have ever seen. I have seen two of the seven wonders of the world, that is the Pyramids and the River Nile. We are living on the banks of the Nile. It is supposed to be coming winter here, but it is very hot. We have had a cotton suit and helmet issued to us, and even then it is hot. Of course it is not unbearable, and the climate seems to suit me, as I have been in the best of health since I came.”
Some Set to Guard Railways
Private J. Swindels, who was employed at the “Reporter” Office, writing home on September 28th says: –
“Dear all of you – We landed at Alexandria on Friday morning and stayed till Sunday. We had a time; little beggars diving in the water for money. The barracks here is very large, but there are only 2,000 in. It is on the banks of the Nile, with date trees alongside. We can see a large part of Cairo, which is a fine city. There are lights all through the night. The natives walk about with very baggy trousers and some with long cloaks. The women have veils over their face, and something over their noses. They talk as if they were going to eat you in their own language; they also move their hands and arms about a lot. We can see the pyramids from the top of the barracks. We have got our helmets and light suits; they look very smart. They are sending some of our lot guarding railways up and down Egypt.”
CAPTURED A SPY
Private J. W. Chatburn, of Dukinfield, writing from Cairo says: –
“I am one of the 50 men picked out of the battalion for guarding the largest wireless station in the world, about 40 miles from Cairo. There are plenty of camels, monkeys, jackals, and lots of wild animals, and during the night, whilst on guard, you can hear all kinds of noises. We are divided into two sections, that makes us on guard every other night. I had the pleasure of capturing a German spy, and escorted him to the consul in Cairo. He was a fine man about six foot. When I first saw him he was drawing the plane of the wireless station, which I found on him. When searched he also had with him a khaki suit and a black soft hat. He said he was looking for work. They knew him at Cairo and he was wanted for another case of importance.”
The following was published in the Saturday November 7, 1914 edition of the Ashton Reporter:
ASHTON TERRITORIALS IN EGYPT
Cairo 200 Miles from the Turkish Frontier
OUR LADS “READY FOR ANY FUN OR DANGER”
Graphic Description of Life in Cairo
Much additional interest has now been attracted to the Ashton Territorials stationed in Cairo by the news of the threatened invasion of Egypt by Turkey, who seems determined to persist in her attack upon England and Russia. Egypt has been put under martial law. Cairo is about 200 miles from the Turkish frontier and the Turks would have to cross a waterless desert in Sinai of nearly 150 miles before their effectiveness could be realized. Even should they reach the Suez Canal they would find warships and a large contingent of troops to block their way. The Ashton Territorials, in the words of Lieutenant FA Makin, whose letter is given below, are ready for any fun or danger. Everyone is confident they will perform bravely and enthusiastically whatever duty they may be called upon to fulfill. A telegram to the London Times from Cairo last Saturday states: –
“Cairo had an opportunity today of seeing at close quarters the British Territorial troops when the strongest force of all arms seen for many years paraded the city. This display was magnificent and in every way splendid. The bearing of the men was a veritable revelation and aroused the enthusiasm of the crowds. The manner in which the Territorial troops have come on in such a short time carries the conviction that they will be a most serviceable force and reflects the greatest credit of the staff.”
PICTURES IN CAIRO
The Ashton Territorials at Work and at Play
LETTER FROM LIEUT. MAKIN
High Spirited Lads Ready for Fun or Danger
A graphic description of the life of the Ashton Territorials in Cairo is given in a letter sent home by Lieut. F. A. Makin. Writing from Kasr-el-Nil Barracks he says: –
Kasr-el-Nil Barracks, Cairo
October 7th, 1914
“We don’t get much time out of Barracks, just a little at night after “mess”. The only entertainments available are the elaborately decorated picture shows. Sunday is the only day we can get out together, so last Sunday Handforth, Shaw and I went over to see the pyramid and the wonderful tombs revealed by recent excavations. It is wonderful how ancient builders could bring and raise such huge stones and cement them together as closely as we do the finest tiles. Many of these large blocks are twelve feet long by four feet six wide. They say this pyramid was originally covered at the top with alabaster smooth as glass but some dogs removed this to build a mosque. You may now climb to the top up huge steps which form the sides. The outer coating must have taken ten years to put on. We did not attempt to climb far; you are safest accompanied by a guide. So we must come again. We can come near here by car and then you may have a donkey or a camel for a ride of five minutes for 2s. Those of us who had the camels out had the donkeys returning. I rather liked the camel ride. We saw a poor lad removed on a stretcher. He had ventured up the pyramid without guide and had a nasty fall. We don’t know how he got on, he was not a 9th man. The moonlight nights here are wonderful, you can read a paper by this light; the sunsets are most gorgeous, impossible to be pictured.”
October 12th, 1914
“They show us where Moses was hidden by the river. I hope insects were less troublesome than they are now. Every bite raises a lump with a red ring round which itches fearfully and even bleeds a little. I have escaped better than some whose faces are covered with bites. Eggs here are very small “Egyptian”, it takes four to make a decent omelette. I think the natives would drop if they saw some of our eggs at home. We have roast chicken and turkey for lunch. We cut our own when we can. First the carver gives the bird a thrilling sounding smack with the side of the knife but the chicken moves not. If you desire to get your teeth in you must get a bit of breast. I have seen turkeys driven through Cairo by a native with a long stick. I think they feed them on chunks of pyramid.
The river is deep today. This afternoon a boat with a few natives was making way up the stream and failed to lower sail soon enough to escape the bridge. They capsized. Some of our men got out a boat but were unable to help. Two came ashore lower down. I don’t know how the others fared.
On Saturday we marched through the town. It was too early for Cairo people. They go to bed late. Hotels close 2am and house pictures 9:30pm to 12.”
October 13th, 1914
“I begin to like this place better. From 5 to 11pm yesterday we had a route march. We crossed the bridge by the barracks and round an island which at this point divides the river for a short distance into a course on each side of it. Here we got a good illustration of the wonderful fertility of Egypt, wherever there is water supply. Palm trees higher than our garden flag pole, dates growing right on the top. In luxuriant gardens right and left of the roads are beautiful villas no two alike, mostly cream-coloured. At night these are brilliantly lighted, mostly by electricity. By moonlight we are reminded of beautiful fascinating story book pictures. I think land and building material is cheap, I know labour is. There is much building in progress in the suburbs. On one job today I saw a native workman on a scaffold fast asleep with his tools in his hands. I have a native groom for a week who turns his horse out like silk and is very smart at remedies for horse ailments. This afternoon we had a half-holiday and George Handforth and I went on horseback to old Cairo. I consider that the life they had there must be just the same as when Peter, James and John mended nets. We must go again with a camera. All manner of shops about 12ft by 9ft, quite open to the street. It was funny to watch a barber shave a customer who kept his red fez, and both standing. Furniture removals seemed common and could easily be done at half-an-hour’s notice. Some carried their furniture on a donkey, others on a camel. When my horse first saw a camel he carried on shamefully and I had to teach him that the camel was harmless by leading him to see and patting the neck of each. You see the horses don’t know they came to Egypt and at first they were wondering what’s gone wrong with Stalybridge, where they came from. He is however getting more accustomed and now when he meets this curious animal he snorts in the air as if to say “Oh, you are only a blooming camel”. I was surprised today to learn that Sir George Kemp and Captain Griffiths are in Cairo, which reminds me of experiences in South Africa, and incidentally is an illustration that “the war is a little place”. I don’t think there is the least chance of our leaving here until the war is over. We hear lots of rumours being to which I take no heed. This is the position: We are 1,500 and have taken the place of 8,000 regulars and will make a brave show in the face of a possible outbreak by Turkey. And we are the 9th Manchesters, this settles the matter.
It is now dark by 5:30pm but pleasantly warm in the evening. Tonight our band plays for [illegible] and very well they play. They meet for practice twice daily and also have marches on their own through Cairo.
Our Ashton lads have made fine soldiers; we find none “fall out” by the way. They get along and stick it. They are a credit to their town and are high spirited and ready for fun or danger. They soon became accustomed to Egyptian coinage and when they get some can sometimes be seen in carriages or on donkeys until the “piastres” cease from troubling. They are a sober and steady lot and must be in by 9pm.”
October 16th, 1914
“This afternoon I took Chorlton Shaw for a riding lesson. A brother officer took a snapshot of us. If it comes out alright I will send you a print and entitle it “Two ‘Knuts’ from Ashton out for a ride in Egypt”.
This morning three of us went an errand to the Citadel and were in time to hear the 12 o’ clock gun fired. We got TG Hyde to attempt a snapshot of this and as he peered into the finder the gun roared, and up went Tommy’s arm but he says he got it, but I think the result will be all sky. The view of Cairo and neighbourhoods from the Citadel is splendid. We see the towers and domes of many mosques and the pyramids in the distance.”
October 19th, 1914
“We paid our second visit to the great pyramid and this time explored the interior. I well remember the lectures we had in the old days on the subject in Berkeley Street Mission Room and the chart which hung up on the wall, and when I was slipping and stumbling along the dark passages I seemed to know my way. The place was fearfully hot. Two Arabs took us by the hand and though we are bent double they warn us to mind our head, and we must or we give ourselves a whack. Our guides are barefoot so they do not slip on the smooth stones as we do with boots on. Here and there in the passages in the King’s chamber and in the Queen’s chamber they light a piece of magnesium wire and charge [illegible] a time. Some Americans tried to ventilate the passages with air shafts but it does not seem to have been a success.”
The following was published in the Saturday December 26, 1914 edition of the Ashton Reporter:
An Ashton Lance Corporal’s Letter
Writing from the Kasr-el-Nil Barracks, Cairo to his parents, Mr. And Mrs. J. Q. Massey, Whiteland Road, Ashton. Lance-Corporal Gerald Massey of the 9th (Ashton) Battalion, Manchester Regiment Territorials makes reference to several interesting incidents. Referring to the designs of the Turks upon Egypt, he writes: –
“Talking about the Turks they are no good. If they ever reach the Suez they will have to encounter a lot of Indian troops, and if they succeed in breaking through they would be faced with about 150 miles of desert. Formerly there were wells every few miles, but these have been destroyed, and they would not get a body of troops across”
Referring to the local football clubs he writes: –
“I could not have heard anything better than Hurst having licked Denton, because there are a lot of Denton men in our mess. The other day we went for a route march in the desert. As we marched we saw human skulls and bones. The people do not seem to care where they bury their dead, and these are the remains of those who were buried years ago. It would make you laugh to see them delivering milk. Instead of taking the milk round in a vehicle, they take the cows round and milk them at the door of the customer.”
“It is winter here, and the natives are going about with overcoats, just like Christmas at home, only it is hotter than one of our warmest summer days. We have had our first rain since we came, and it only lasted five minutes. While it lasted it looked like Ashton is on a November morning when it is cold and wet.”
“The women out here are not like some of ours who are always talking. They cover up their mouths with a cloth, which looks as if it was intended to stop them from talking. The Territorials are now in splendid condition. If you saw them now you would hardly know them, they are so sunburnt.”
A Dukinfield Private’s Letter
Private S. Newton, son of Councillor J. T. Newton, Dukinfield, writing home from Cairo on December 2nd, says: “Last week we went to Abbassia for firing practice and it was a nice range. We were under canvas in the desert. The tents are known as the duplex. They are really two tents made into one, but one is so small, and so leaves a space of about a foot, which renders them rainproof. It rained very heavy one night and they stood the test. There were ten of us in one tent, all good mates. The tents are lined with yellow satin and looked very nice. Abbassia is a military town on the border of the desert. There are lots of fine barracks to accommodate thousands of troops. On one side there are a lot of huge Whitworth guns. Among the troops stationed here are some tea planters from Ceylon. Whilst at Abbassia I did my first guard. I went on all right and was not at all nervous as I had ten rounds and remembered that I was serving my King and country. It was a moonless night and very dark. I was on from 1:30 to 3:30.”
Writing on December 4th from Cairo Young Men’s Christian Association, Private Newton says:
“Yesterday we received the “Reporter” dated 14th November. It was very interesting. The weather here at present is a lot cooler. Today we did not parade until six o’ clock when we fell in with greatcoats and mess tins for training in night work in the desert. Yesterday, they issued some new kit and I got two shirts. They are very good ones and have been made by the Ladies in England. They are all one colour, army grey. Several men are leaving here for home shortly, including one in our mess named Ben Shaw who has strained his back. As to the marching, I have never been so exhausted since we came out to Egypt. We always make the best of it. Only a week ago I saw the adjutant give his boots to one of our privates who had bad feet. On Friday we spent the night in the desert.”