The Kia ora coo-ee : the magazine for the ANZACS in the Middle East, 1918
"Reserved For Soldiers."
"Reserved For Soldiers."
I've been "up" and "down" the line a few times, and have always found my fellow travellers merry and bright, whichever way the train was going; but in this screed I'm specialising on things seen coming down on LEAVE. We travel third class; but I doubt whether a Pullman car has ever held a happier crowd than you can see any day, inwards bound, in a carriage "Reserved For Soldiers". At Kantara, one of a mob of lucky coves, you hop in with your kit, dive for the first vacant seat, drop your burden, and have a screw round. You may spot a chap you know; failing that, if you're sociable, there'll be no trouble in making a pal for the journey. Noise and bustle till everyone gets settled; then the conversazione opens and keeps going full speed, with plenty of laughter and song. You could travel for a month o' Sundays in R.F.S. carriages and never see a group of men with glum faces; but you would find more smiles to the square yard than anywhere else in Egypt, shrapnel bursts of wit and humor, a bit of skylarking, and a pervading buzz of voices.
We sit at ease among piles of kit, haversacks, water-bottles, and all the rest—swopping yarns or our own ideas on all things under the sun. The carriage is a club room. Here and there a quiet chap tries to read, and window-seaters keep an eye on the scenery. The air is misty blue with tobacco smoke from pipes and fags; rarely we get a whiff of the aristocratic cigar.
At ease in shirt-sleeves and with heads bared to the breeze, we travel in our "special". Our manners are unconventional, too; nobody mopes in a corner because he hasn't been "introduced". No, we don't worry about "intros.", not much. We may not know our neighbours from a crow, so far as names are concerned; but "Jock", "Choom", "Dinkum" and "Cobber" are standardised monikers that do yeoman service.
We dine al fresco, pooling the contents of haversacks and mess-tins: hunks of bread, " Dreadnought" sandwiches, tins of bully, issue biscuits and slabs of boiled bacon, to say nothing of Gyppo cakes and stuff purchased from "Eggs are cook" waleds, who parade the carriage with raucous cries, at every station. I've enjoyed munger in a "special" more than six course dinners in Cairo. Our tablecloth is a sheet of newspaper, spread on our knees or the seat. There are plenty crumbs, and after a meal the carriage floor is littered with eggshell. The Gyppo munger vendors do a roaring trade whatever their wares. Without leaving your pozzie, you can buy the makings of a top-hole meal, hard-boiled eggs (salt buckshee), bread, cakes of all shapes and colours, and fruit in season: dates, grapes, oranges, pomegranates, figs, shamam and other melons. There are no wine lists to be studied with the air of a connoisseur, but a dizzy or so will give you lemonade, ginger-beero or syrup.
There are generally some pretty good singers among us, but musical instruments are lacking —even those hardy annuals the mouth-organ and the tin whistle are rare. Songs range from ragtime to ditties made in Palestine. An old favourite of the Tommies starts something like this: "Are. you from Gaza; from Sidi Bishr or El Arish? Are you from Gaza?" But any old song will do, so long as it has a chorus.
Some one shoves his head out of a window and informs us that we are within coo-ee of Cairo. Then there's something doing. Personal property is collected at the double; tunics are donned, belts whipped into place, and a long queue forms in the corridor. Before the train has stopped, chaps at the head hop out.