Thursday, 2 April 2015

Good Friday, 1915 - 'First Battle of the Wozzer'

Is that battle title unfamiliar?

On Good Friday, 1915, after the special Church Parade, the men were given leave to visit Cairo.  The time is drawing near for the troops to leave, and perhaps this is the last chance to visit.

There has been bitterness between some of the Australians and New Zealanders, and the Egyptians, for some time – relating to the bad drink served by local liquor traders, to a steep rise in price in the brothels, and by the many cases of venereal disease.  There was a crowd of soldiers in the brothel street of Haret el Wasser, and some of them decided to exact retribution for the insult and injury they believed they or their mates had incurred during the time the troops were in Cairo.

Percy Lay’s diary for April 2 notes  … there was a great row in Cairo. Someone set fire to the Waizizau. The best part of the place burnt to the ground. It ended up in a stoush between our chaps and the Red Caps [British Military Police]. Things were pretty lively while they lasted.

Sister Alice Kitchen was also in Cairo on that Good Friday.  She experienced some of the Wozzer disturbance, but also noticed something else: “the soldiers are now branded well by having stripes on their hats and sleeves. ‘Ours’ [the 8th battalion] red and white, others green and white, red and blue, blue and white…’ These are the colour patches, a new device to help distinguish the various units – the 8th Battalion’s colour patch White over Red instantly became known as ‘Blood and Bandages’.

Colour patch of the 8th Battalion, raised in country Victoria and including many Ballarat men

C.E.W. Bean, in his official history of the war, almost ignores the First Battle of the Wozzer, relegating it to a footnote, and concentrates instead on the momentous news just received in camp. The Australian Division was ordered to the front.

Percy Lay’s diary, April 3: Got word to say we were to leave for Alexandria and then embark for some unknown place where we were likely to have some fighting.

References for today’s blog – and further reading if you are interested in these events 100 years ago; all are available in the Australiana Research Room at Ballarat Library, and there are also lending copies in the main collection.

Adam-Smith, Patsy   The ANZACs

Austin, R.  Cobbers in khaki; the history of the 8th battalion 1914-1918

Bean, C.E.W.  Official history of Australia in the war of 1914-1918 Vol. 1, the story of ANZAC

Turner, J.L. (ed.)   The war diaries of Captain Percy Lay (1914-1919)

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