In the land of the Pharaohs

28th Battalion parades along Barrack Street

28th Battalion parades along Barrack Street

William Granger was a young journalist working for the Great Southern Leader in Pingelly. When WWI broke out, like many others in this State he joined the 28th Battalion to serve the Empire.

On arrival in the Middle East he penned a brief account of everyday life. In his memory, Dodgy Perth invites you to sample the sights and sounds of Egypt while war raged across Europe.

The reader should be aware the following uses language no longer acceptable, but which was normal among white Australians at the time.

Well to say the very least, the train journey was a remarkable eye-opener. I have been always led to believe that the Suez to Cairo journey was through an endless tract of arid desert, but I found that just the opposite was the case. For miles upon mile there was stretched as far as the eye could see, vast green fields in. which profusely growing were tobacco, cotton, dates, grapes, melons, rice, grain, and numerous other articles.

Stations are very numerous and at any of the larger ones a small army of natives besiege us with melons and fruit which they endeavoured to palm off on us at ridiculous prices. However, one can barter with them and often the price is reduced 75 per cent.

The nigs are the laziest and most cunning beggars ever known, they won’t do a tap of work unless the boss stands over them all the time. If the work extends over an hour or so they plead hungry and complain of divers pains—an Australian native is bad enough but they are kings compared with these heathens. They too are abominably dirty, and you can see them covered in sores and flies wandering around eating out of slop buckets. Ugh! they make one sick.

We are at Abbassich, seven miles from Cairo and a mile from Heliopolis. This latter place is an achievement of modern masonry and architecture and is wonder fully clean compared with other towns here. The buildings are large, airy, and the thoroughfares spacy and there is not the appearance of slummery that is so frightfully prevalent in Cairo. Picture shows and salons are run in conjunction with bars and the musical and pictorial portion is free to all.

There are a tremendous lot of wounded here and many large buildings have been commandeered by the military authorities for hospitals. One of the largest and finest buildings in the world containing 700 rooms and a picture of modern science—the Palace—has been taken over for this purpose. This magnificent building was built for a casino, but the license was not granted, hence its being utilised thus, which methinks is for a much better cause.

In passing, beer is obtainable from 1 piastre (2½d) to 2 piastres per pint. English beer can be obtained that is alright, but the local stuff, which is obtainable at every cafe in the street, is abominable stuff and is more deadly than “Mallet Bark”.

A decent feed costs from 6 to 12 piastres, but the mode of dishing up a meal is most peculiar and takes some getting used to.

I have been in Cairo several times but don’t care much for the place. It is of big dimension, and holds a large population and almost every country is represented amongst its cosmopolitan numbers. There is no design about the lay-out of the place, and a street just goes where it will, very often ending abruptly at the wall of some building and back you go to try another way. There are numerous alley-ways and these beggar description, being absolutely indescribable. Filth and immorality prevail and every building seems to be a place of ill-fame and it is not safe to go through these parts singly.

Everybody from mites about two years old to old men somewhere in the vicinity of a century seems to be a business man and spends his time annoying pedestrians trying to palm off his wares. They sell anything and everything. As you walk through the streets you are almost continually followed about by a horde of these pests and they won’t leave till they are forcibly driven off.

I think I have written about all for this time so I will bring this short description of the place to a close.

Corporal William Granger fell in action at the Battle of Polygon Wood on 1 November 1917, aged 25.