The Kia ora coo-ee : the magazine for the ANZACS in the Middle East, 1918
Through The Way of The Philistines
The training of the N.Z.M.R. while in Egypt, prior to Gallipoli experience, took place not very far from where the ancient Raamses used to stand. I believe; nothing of it remains at the present. It was one of the two cities the Israelites were compelled to build for their Egyptian taskmasters. The other one, called Pithom (Exodus I-II), was situated on the Eastern extremity of the old land of Goshen, where Israel had been settled. On our trek to the canal we passed a night on the sands near it. We won't forget that night in a hurry, for it was made very plain to us that it does know how to rain in Egypt at times.
Since then, opportunity has offered to visit Pithom, now called the dead city or Maskhouta by the natives. "When discovered it was only partly excavated, and I am told by one who ought to know, that a large museum could easily be filled with the treasures still buried beneath the sand. To an outsider, there appears nothing very promising to dig for. It looks just a conglomeration of mounds and holes, with pieces of brick walls here and there. One street, several chains in length, was of some interest. The bricks—as stated in scripture—are strawless—just mud bricks such as the Arabs make and use now. What appeared to be an outside wall was between 30 and 40 feet thick. The bricks, of which it is composed, are very large and weigh about 26lbs. a piece. The walls still standing are very solid, but are fast disappearing. When I was there, there were fully 250 natives at work with camels and donkeys, carrying the rich Nile mud—of which the walls are composed—off to their fields for topdressing.
Recently a stone doorway was unearthed, which was pointed out to me as an opening into a burial chamber. My informant, a canal official of long standing, felt certain that a mummy would be the reward for an energetic spadeolo-gist. I understand that some of the very ancient statutes now in the Public gardens in Ismailia came from here. A few miles further on and near the canal, a small mound, within our Camp boundaries, drew attention by several pieces of polished granite lying about. A digging party soon unearthed, what proved to have been, foundations of one of the three monuments erected by Darius the Persian to commemorate the completion of the canal between Nile and Red Sea. This canal had been begun by Pharaoh Necho about a hundred years previously. After loosing 125,000 workmen, the Priests, through the Theben oracle, persuaded him to stop. The entrance on the Mediterrean side was the mouth of the Pelusiac Nile, and the canal is said to have been sufficiently wide to permit three Triremes to pass one another. Of the sites of the other two monuments mentioned, nothing is known.
The work, for a few months, on the Eastern Desert front was very strenuous, with nothing much to break the monotony. As far as the eye could reach, nothing but the everlasting sand. No wells, springs," trees, or shrubs, nothing but heat, flies and sand, and of course, a scarcity of water. All the discomforts, however, were, cheerfully borne by the men in their desire to do their job, and to do it well. Some of the sand hills rose to considerable heights, their Eastern aspect frequently being of the steepness of a roof —our horses sinking in up to their tails on being led down. Though the country proved a veritable abomination of desolation, there was a quiet granduer about it that impressed the thoughtful mind. An Australian officer, of whom I heard, when asked what it really was like, scratching his head, thoughttully made reply, "Well, its just—miles and miles of ... . beggar-all." And I think we can safely leave it at that.
When the news finally came, that we were to trek to the North, it was with a light heart that the Brigade turned its back on the long line of trenches it had been guarding, and wished the infantry joy of their occupation. Our long desired anticipation for more active service appeared to have come within reach. But in spite of our anxiety to get forward, we were held back for some time, until—suddenly—orders for a long night march brought us early one morning through Kantara. I had been there in the previous year, after the Turkish attack; but the scene had completly changed, and our troops were now. several miles to the East. After feeding up, and eating a light breakr fast ourselves, we pushed on, only to find that we had arrived too late to be of any assistance to the Yeomanry. I think, one regiment of the 2nd Australian Brigade, which was ahead of ours, managed to account for some of the enemy, who had handled the Englishmen so roughly. After our lads had made such a splendid night march of 37 miles, it was most disheartening to arrive just too late. Jacko had got away. Seventy of his dead had been counted before one position, so he had not altogether escaped unpunished.
Under the skilfull leadership of the German commander, von Kress, the Turks had made an attack on several outlying squadrons of Yeomanry. They had seized the opportunity of a dense morning fog to surround and overpower two of our advanced posts before reinforcements could come to the rescue. In the afternoon of this same day, there was some stir and excitement for a little while. We saw men rushing over the sand towards their places of assembly, while shouts of ''Their coomin'! Their coomin'!" rent the air—and very soon the various squads were moving off to their fighting stations. Our own patrols being out, our lads wanted to know what all the row was about. It was soon explained by some of the Bicaneer Camel Corps entering the lines; these had been taken as possible enemies by the Tommies.
These same Tommies had done most brilliant and excellent service on the previous day. Getting news of an attack on a post some miles out in the Desert, they marched over the loose sands, and in spite of the heat, covered the distance in short order; they arrived in the nick of time, their instant action having saved that post. By having passed to the Eastward of Kantara, the Brigade was now well committed to the route "Through the Way of the Philistines."