Soldier’s Letters: Written by Signaller/Sergeant W. H. Pethard, 7th Battalion, between 1914 and 1917

Soldier Identified: Signaller William Henry Pethard, Service No: 811, 7th Battalion, 1st Australian Overseas Expeditionary Force, A.I.F. Returned to Australia, 19 December 1918.

Originally published: Bendigo Advertiser (Vic.) Thursday 28 January 1915

The following notes are from a letter received from Private W. H. Pethard on active service in Cairo, Egypt:—

“This morning (29th December, 1914), the 2nd Infantry Brigade went out on a bivouac. They will return about midday to-morrow. All the signallers are going through a 10 days’ instructional course, leaving camp each morning about 8 o’clock, and returning at 3 p.m. On the 27th December we had church parade, and directly afterwards a tedious route march through the desert for about six or seven miles. The day was exceedingly warm, and we all felt tired by the afternoon.

“I have not received any letters from you since we left Broadmeadows. I do not know who is to blame, but it certainly is disgraceful that we do not receive our letters. But we are living in hopes of receiving a large mail of delayed letters soon.

“Our camp is situated on the out-skirts of the Sahara desert, quite different to the wind of Broadmeadows. The Spinx and Pyramids are in the vicinity of our camp. I have already paid them several visits. The climbing of the Pyramids is very good exercise before breakfast. They are really marvellous pieces of work. The Great Pyramid is 451 ft. high, covers 13 acres of ground, and has a base of 753 ft. square. I saw an Arab descend this pyramid, and ascend the second one in 7 1/2 minutes for 20 piastres. The Spinx is now very ugly and disfigured, but in the olden days was supposed to be very beautiful.

“I have also visited the Sultan Hassien’s mosque, which is one of the largest and most famous in Cairo. It contains the largest and highest dome (250 ft. high) in Cairo. I sat in the Sultan’s ‘good luck chair’. The Rifianza Mosque [Al-Rifa’i Mosque? (Royal Mosque in English). -ed.] is beautiful; the tombs of the late royalties are beyond description of my pen, some of them costing thousands of pounds. The ‘citadel’ is also one of Cairo’s noted beauty spots. You can obtain a splendid view of Cairo from the Mosque. The paths in the gardens are topcoated with colored (sic) pebbles forming nice designs.

“To-day I had a walk through a native village, and I have been wondering how it will stand when compared with the slums of London. I did not go through the dwellings, the outside being enough for me. As far as I could see, camels, donkeys, and human beings all live together. There are no sanitary arrangements. The natives squat down when and where they like, which does not help to induce tourists to visit these places. So no wonder they vaccinated and inoculated us, for the place swarms with disease.

“On Christmas Day they provided us with extra provisions, viz., breakfast, bread, butter and eggs; dinner, tough meat and watery pudding, which ran away when the cloth was removed, and stewed peaches; tea, bread and tea. Needless to say, my mate and I went into Cairo and had a real good feed, which cost us 12 piastres. I am getting quite stout on these ‘feeds’. Tram fares are cheap.

“I am in the best of health, and having a real good time. I am often with you all in spirit, and wonder how all my old friends are. Kindly remember me to them all.”

Cairo, Egypt. c. 1915. A Cairo street scene with horse drawn carriages in the foreground. (Australian War Memorial)

Sources: 

  1. News from Private Pethard (1915, January 28). Bendigo Advertiser (Vic. : 1855 – 1918), p. 7.
  2. Cairo, Egypt. c. 1915. A Cairo street scene with horse drawn carriages in the foreground. Australian War Memorial

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