Saturday, 20 December 2014

Christmas in Egypt and keeping in touch with 'the boys' before the internet age

The 8th Battalion of the 1st Division, AIF, included many Ballarat men who enlisted in the first days after war was declared. In the history of the 8th Battalion, Cobbers in Khaki, the author Ron Austin describes the Battalion’s first Christmas away from home as “a most forgettable one” - the Christmas dinner left a lot to be desired.  It sounds a very ordinary menu – stew, followed by rice and raisins.  The Battalion was encamped near the Pyramids and after lunch some of the men climbed the Cheops pyramid – and then had bread and jam for tea!

Cyril Bryant, from Ballarat, wrote home to his mother – 

Just fancy Mother, it is Christmas Day that I am writing this letter in Egypt, little did we know that I would be so far away from you this Xmas. We had a telegram from the people of Ballarat today, wishing us a merry Xmas…1

Meanwhile, the 100 year old Ballarat Courier reports arrangements have been made for soldiers in Egypt to have cablegrams sent to them at reduced rates:

…cable messages could be sent to the Australian troops in Egypt at the rate of 10 pence a word.  The ordinary rate would be 3/6 a word.

And on Christmas Day the Courier reports:

Taking advantage of the innovation the Mayor of the City (Cr. R. Pearse) despatched the following message: Col. Bolton, 8th Battalion, Mena House, Guizeh: Ballarat greets Australia’s soldiers and wishes them a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

On the 28th December the Courier records Colonel Bolton’s reply:

Greetings much appreciated. Please express greetings to all our folks.  Our hearts are in Victoria. Bolton

     1.  Austin, Ronald, Cobbers in khaki: the history of the 8th battalion 1914-1918. Slouch Hat Publications, 1997 p. 25 (there’s a copy in the Australiana Research room if you would like to look at it)

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