Story – By Vance Kelly
The Australian serviceman was no exception in being among the men who would have their service record bear future witness to their misdemeanors, such as drunkenness, A.W.L or contracting a sexually transmitted disease, such as Venereal Disease or Gonorrhea.
The following transcript from Phillip Schuler “Australia in Arms” describes the “reckless revelry” and the “orgy of pleasure” the troops embarked upon while in Cairo.
“As sightseers I am satisfied that the Australians beat the Yankee in three ways. They get further, they see more, and they pay nothing for it…….It must not be thought I want to give the impression that the Australian soldier, the highest paid of any troops fighting in the war, saved his money and was stingy. On the contrary, he was liberal , generous and spoiled the native by the openness of his purse.
It would be out of place just at the moment to bring any dark shadow across the bright, fiery path of reckless revelry that the troops embarked on during the week preceding and the week following Christmas.
It was an orgy of pleasure, which only a free and, at that time, unrestrained city such as Cairo could provide. Those men with £10 to £20 in their pockets, after being kept on ship for two months, suddenly to be turned loose on an Eastern town… healthy , keen, spirited, and adventurous men…. It would have been a strong hand that could have checked them in their pleasures, innocent as they were for the most part.”
53 Thomas Drane was disgusted with Cairo and the people who lived there. He described it as……….. “rotten eastern places” full of immoral women of all kinds and creeds.
The famous Wassa, the red light district in Cairo , a place where he had seen more in ten minutes than he had seen in his entire life, he described them as a “dirty filthy mob of cattle they are that live there….it is my first visit and the last…….I could tell you more about the Wassa but it is better out of anyones diary”.
184 Donald Clark also found Cairo an extremely interesting place, and like Thomas Drane thought “Cairo was the most immoral city in the world, anyhow if there is anything worse I can’t imagine what it is like.” 184 Donald Clark
This was the picture of Cairo as described by Clark, Drane and Schuler, a heady place, full of sin and immorality, and many of the men from the 1st FCE , were no different to other men , they simply couldn’t help themselves.
Before hitting the streets of Cairo the company of men were all lectured by the O.C and doctor on the immoral dangers in Cairo. Prostitution was legal and licensed, and downtown Cairo was simply an immoral hot bed of venereal disease . When told the only way to safeguard themselves from venereal disease or gonorrhoea was by total abstinence.. sapper Roy Denning in his diary tells how this “brought forth a great laugh” from the men.
The fact that the men laughed it off would have disastrous results for the military as there was no known cure and contracting any of these diseases meant that serious numbers of men would be held back in hospital for long periods of treatment and would later occupy beds which were of greater need to the wounded and dying.
“When we arrived here first some our chaps fairly lost the heads and they are now paying for it .The military hospitals are full of venereal cases, some of them very bad……….About a fortnight ago 600 chaps were sent back to Australia as medicals unfit” – 184 Donald Clark
197 Percy Henry Macauley a young 21 year old horse driver from the country town of Goulburn , contracted V.D while in Egypt. In August 1915 he embarked back home to Australia. His next of kin were notified and advised that he was “ Sick Slight” , this was code for V.D, and Percy remained at the military camp in Langwarren Victoria. Once he had fully recovered he rejoined the reinforcements with the 15th FCE in September 1916, and was promoted to Lance Corporal and returned to France and the western front until the end of the war.
The young country blacksmith from Narranderra 16 Marcus Clark was absent from duty for 96 days with V.D and another 38 days with gonorrhea. Marcus finally rejoined his unit on 24th April 1917 on the front line in France and Belgium.
33 Frederick Henry Paton was a 19 year old mechanical engineer born in Bowral , he was working in Sydney and had worked for nearly 4 years at the Maritime Wireless Coy. at Randwick. Frederick had broke ship on the 6th December and was awarded 168 hrs detention. He was also admitted to the No.1 Aust. Hospital at Lemnos on the 17th March 1915, and later transferred to the No.1 Gen. Hospital Heliopolis. He had contracted gonorrhea and was invalided back to Australia on the “SS Ceramic” on the 4th May 1915, 9 days after his mates landed at Gallipoli. After a break in Australia and a full recovery Frederic returned to France and was attached to the 4th FCE.
231 Frank Somers was 27, a miner born in Tenterfield NSW and now a driver in Alexandria. He contracted venereal disease and was sent back to Australia in July 1915. Frank may have been laid up in hospital for quite some time as his short war record shows nothing but his circumstances with VD.
181 Harry William Macklin the under aged 18 year old carpenter was another to fall from grace. He had contracted measles in February 1915 and shortly after recovering, the temptation of Cairo was too great and he contracted gonorrhea and was shipped back to Australia and later discharged and returned to Australia on the 31st August 1915.
195 Victor Morris was a 21 years old a drover from Goulburn NSW. While serving in Egypt right up to the 28th August, but the onset of gonorrhea he was transferred to Abassia hospital and shipped back to Australia for a full recovery. After spending a year back in Australia on home duties he returned to England on 20th November 1916 but within 3 months of arriving in England he was again a gonorrhea patient and admitted to 1st Australian Dermatological Hospital ( ADH) on 24th April 1917.
179 Edwin Arthur Cooke was 24 years old a carpenter born in Bristol England.
Edwin was a driver and remained at Mena camp but was also admitted to hospital with V.D on 10th July 1915 and later he was to Mustapha hospital in Alexandria
He was eventually well enough to be transferred to Gallipoli on 22th August 1915 as a Sapper but returned to mex hospital with diarrhoea 4 weeks later and reverted back to Driver.
The lure of a good time and perhaps a single encounter in a Cairo brothel had certainly weakened the strength of the 1st FCE and no doubt the entire AIF. This problem was not easily contained by the Australian Imperial Forces and was a significant drain on military and hospital resources.
Copyright © Vance Kelly 2015
Sources: AWM, NLA, NAA
Diary Notes – Thomas Drane Diary – Link