SEVEN chaplains stepped ashore with the First Echelon in Egypt. On their arrival at Maadi Camp six of them were posted to units, and Padre E. B. Moore,1 who had been a combatant officer in the First World War, was appointed Senior Chaplain at Divisional Headquarters and acting Senior Chaplain to the Forces. To this group fell the task of laying the foundations of the Chaplains' Department, 2nd NZEF.
Maadi Camp was the New Zealand Expeditionary Force Base throughout the war, and in time it became extremely well equipped with good roads, adequate buildings, and splendid recreational centres. It lay on the edge of the desert and was subject to sandstorms, glare, and heat. It was within easy reach of Cairo with all its unsurpassed facilities for leave, such as sightseeing, cinemas, restaurants, and well-stocked shops. And yet few soldiers enjoyed being posted to Maadi. After a campaign its comforts would be appreciated for two or three weeks only, and the bright lights of Cairo would be an attraction as long as the soldier's surplus money lasted, but then the monotony of camp life made itself felt, and the climate of the Nile Delta would take its toll of nervous energy. After a day spent on the camp training grounds one would feel too tired to explore the nearby places of historic interest, and it was easier to look for a good meal, drinks, and a cinema; but even this simple programme was made distasteful by the army of street urchins, pavement salesmen, and touts who fastened relentlessly upon the soldier as soon as he set foot in a Cairo street.
And there were other problems. Beer was usually in short supply and the only substitutes were often potent, nasty, and dangerous. Organised vice was an integral part of Cairo life and the soldier was often accosted in streets and cafés. Under these circumstances life for any long period in Maadi Camp was difficult and often led to a rapid deterioration in morale. But alongside the difficulties and temptations there lay many opportunities for healthy recreation. It was the chaplains' duty to encourage the full use of these opportunities.page 12
The chaplains themselves had the free use of an excellent club in All Saints' Cathedral, where in quiet comfort they could meet their colleagues from every armed force in the Middle East. Members of the British community in Cairo, and other nationalities as well, went out of their way to befriend the soldier on leave. Many supplied hospitality in their homes, while others ran first-class clubs, notably the Maadi Tent and ‘Music for All’. Sporting clubs made their grounds available for troops and there were fine facilities for tennis, golf, and bathing.
The civilian churches, too, were not behindhand. Soldiers were made welcome at their services and time and again they packed them to overflowing; in fact it became the custom to run Army transport from Maadi Camp on Sunday evenings to these services, and many went to All Saints' Cathedral, to St. Andrew's, and to the Methodist and other churches. There was something essentially civilian and refreshing in going to a real church after the dusty heat of a military camp, and great pains were taken to make the services helpful for soldiers. In addition, the churches put their halls at the disposal of the troops and often supplied refreshments and arranged concerts. In the same way, many New Zealanders attended the little civilian churches in Maadi and Helwan, and the Roman Catholic Convent at Maadi extended an open invitation on Sunday afternoons.
But Cairo contained many other forms of Christian life which were well worth investigating. There were many little-known Christian denominations of great antiquity which performed their old traditional rites in lovely churches built many centuries ago, and in addition the chaplains made contact with many Christian missionaries working among the Moslems. All these influences found expression in the chaplains' sermons and in casual conversations, and when men showed interest it was easy to organise a visit to some ancient church or missionary hospital.