Med. Ex. Force.
I had no sooner written my last letter & given it to someone to post for me than a large voice was heard proclaiming that no officers might go on shore at all as the ship would very shortly sail. The anchor was raised & we moved, not however out to sea, but alongside a quay where motor lorries & such like things could be seen waiting for us. Then another individual appeared & said all —–th Division to get off here & go to a camp, with a name that no decent man would attempt to pronounce, let alone write down, for fear it might be used as evidence against him. So off we got. Kits were packed, stewards were tipped, farewells were said to the Indian Cavalry & we went on shore. The town appeared to be about 2 miles away & the camp another five or six out the other side. There were trains but it was a filthy quarter of the city & they stank, so we took a farouche to the centre of town, Here things were very different & we got on a first rate train right to the camp.
The town is a very large one indeed with several good hotels, & a first rate set of shops, everything of course very expensive. There are swarms & swarms of British troops but so far I have met no one that I know & none of our Division are here, no one in fact knows where they are.
One of the best features of the place is the train service which is really good. The trains are like a young railway, with proper definite stations & a track to themselves, not along the main road, or anything inconvenient of that sort.
On reaching the camp we at once tried to find out when we had to depart to & what we were to do. We wandered about for some time in the dark & at last came across someone who seemed to be not unwilling to have us, the only unfortunate fact being that he was only expecting men, & had neither tents nor mess for officers. Once more therefore to a Hotel, a very good & comfortable one, & considering the rest of the place not too expensive.
There seems to have been a pretty considerable muddle on the whole about some of us. We have been mistaken for a party of wounded officers who are rejoining, & who would of course stay at the base for a day or two. Strictly speaking we should have gone on by boat, as it is after much worrying & interviewing about twenty “red hats” we have got our movement order & shall go along tomorrow night by train. This is an advantage, as we have been able to see this place, & also train is more comfortable than boat. The six padres are still in my train. I dined with the Romans last night & took them along to a music hall afterwards. A curious show where one went in free & merely paid for drinks, non-intoxicants by order of military authority.
You would probably like to hear what my first impressions are of the place now that we have got here, but really there is nothing very wonderful about it. For an English passenger it is curiously French. The latter is the language spoken everywhere in the shops, the theatres are French & notices are written as a rule in French & Egyptian.
The most remarkable fact is the extraordinary number of troops, & of English people in general. There are swarms of English ladies, some of them wives, but a large number simply relations of officers who are quartered here. Yesterday I saw several subalterns in white flannels playing tennis with nicely dressed ladies. And this is War ! “Send ‘em to France is what I say”
The weather is none too warm & at intervals during the day it rains. There is a tremendous wind blowing the remains I expect of our storm, which seems to have been as bad here as it was at sea. The whole of our camp was blown away the other night, & several officers lost all their kit.
One reads in novels about the fascination of the East, so far we have not struck it. The sand cannot possibly be fascinating & the native parts or the town are about the most filthy, squalid & broken down collection of hovels that anyone can well imagine, likewise they are not picturesque. The city itself is undoubtedly very fine, large houses, wide roads, palms & all the rest, but nothing to shout about. Without palms it might be Brighton.
We hear rumours today that our people are sitting digging in the middle of the Western desert, out of sight of anything & everything, except that occasionally with a strong glass one can just observe the masts of ships passing along the canal. I am still living in hopes that this may merely be a prelude to something else & that as soon as everyone has arrived we may go elsewhere. This is all very nice but there are so many thousands here, & the chances of seeing an enemy so small, that it is liable to become a little boring. One thing pleases me muchly. One is not expected to meet the extra expense of living here on one’s ordinary pay, there is an extra Colonial allowance of several shillings per day.
The coinage is enough to drive a school master to madness. A piaster sounds simple enough, so it would be if there were only one, but there are two one made of silver & the other of nickel; there are also half piasters of the latter metal & then one deals in milliemes as well—its terrible – Add to that the fact that everyone in the place is trying to swindle one. At present my purse contains a mixture of pennies Eng & French, piasters silver & nickel, & a shilling or two, some francs, annas & rupees. Not a bad collection on the whole. No time for more