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Official War History of the Wellington Mounted Rifles Regiment 1914-1919

Chapter Thirty-One — The Egyptian Riots

page 238

Chapter Thirty-One
The Egyptian Riots

At the beginning of January, 1919, an educational scheme was initiated in the New Zealand Brigade, and lecture on various subjects were delivered by specialists from time to time for the edification of the troops. These lectures, with general training and sports and games, continued till about the middle of March, and then a change occurred in the situation. Rioting had commenced in Cairo, crowds of Egyptians rushing from shop to shop breaking windows, looting, and crying "Egypt for the Egyptians." These disorders increased in violence, and in a few days the natives broke out in open rebellion, with the avowed intention of ousting the British from Egypt. They murdered British officers, disconnected and destroyed railway and telegraph lines, and showed what damage they might have wrought during the campaign in dislocating our lines of communication had the opportunity offered.

In consequence, the Brigade was ordered to Kantara to reequip, and it left Rafa by two special trains on the night of March 17th, and early next morning it reached Kantara, where horses were drawn, together with ammunition and general equipment.

On the 24th the Brigade proceeded to the disaffected areas in the Nile Delta, the W.M.R. being posted to Quesna, where headquarters were established in the police barracks, and investigations held relative to rioting and looting. Two days later the 9th Squadron, under Major W. R. Foley, entraining for Cairo, the centre of the disturbance, the remainder of the Regiment being occupied for some time in patrolling villages adjacent to Quesna. The majority of the natives appeared to be friendly, and these were protected, but the ringleaders of the riots were court-martialled and punished.

Meanwhile, the 9th W.M.R. Squadron, under Major W. R. Foley, M.C., had been performing good work among the rioters in Cairo. With Australian Lighthorse troops and Mounted artillerymen, it formed a composite regiment, Major Foley being placed in command. The first week was comparatively quiet, but on receipt of the news that Zaghloul Pasha, the chief agitator, page 239and others were to be allowed to attend a conference in Paris relating to their demands, the rioting increased in intensity.

To further aggravate the situation, native officials raced around the streets of Cairo in motor-cars, inciting the rioters. The latter took charge of trains, broke windows, and generally destroyed property in all directions.

As the riots increased in violence, it became necessary to withdraw the small mounted patrols from the streets, Major Foley concentrating his command to enable it to proceed at a minute's notice to any part of the city where assistance was required. In this connection, the troops were almost constantly employed, incidents similar to the following being of frequent occurrence. One day the natives were looting Armenian shops in the suburb of Bulac, and when our troops arrived it was found that they had erected barricades of carts and furniture, behind which they evidently considered themselves safe. The W.M.R. horses, however, jumped the obstacles, and our men belaboured the natives with batons. After clearing the streets in that quarter, the party received orders to proceed with all speed to the suburban station of Bab-El Luk, as the natives there were looting the houses of the Armenians. On arriving at Bab-El-Luk, barricades were again encountered, but the situation was more serious.

The natives were murdering the Armenians. The patrol was met with showers of stones and bottles and some revolver shots Piles of clothing and furniture were being burned, and men, women and children beaten to death. Other Armenians were thrown from the windows of upper storeys, and the first house our troops entered contained the bodies of a mother, father and two little girls, the heads of all having been beaten to a pulp. Drastic measures were immediately taken by our men to drive away the murderous mob, and the latter retired to Abdin Square, near the Sultan's Palace, which was a kind of sanctuary, for our troops had been ordered not to enter it.

After the riots had been suppressed, race meetings were held periodically by the New Zealand units at their respective camps.

At the Heliopolis racecourse, near Cairo, military meetings were frequently held. The events were open to all army horses, and in them the New Zealand representatives more than held their own. For instance, two horses from the N.Z.M.R., "Gazelle" and "Grey Grown" won most of the big races and champion prizes, including the "Allenby Cup," the principal race in Egypt at that time.

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During the time between the termination of the riots and the departure of the New Zealanders from Egypt, the men were given leave when practicable, which enabled them to bid farewell to friends and acquaintances in and around Cairo. For this purpose the services of a Ford car—or "galloping bedstead," as it was more often called—were requisitioned, and from the many expressions of regret from the European residents at the departure of our men it was apparent that the latter had made themselves popular and that their services had been appreciated. The familiar cry of "Egyptian mail to-morrow" by street arabs selling the following day's newspaper was heard for the last time, and the men were not sorry. They had seen enough of the nefarious ways of the ungrateful "Gippy," who had endeavoured to "bite the hand that fed him," and the men were glad to embark for New Zealand.

A few days before the New Zealanders left for home, General Allenby thanked them for their splendid work in assisting to suppress the rebellion, special reference being made of their patience and tact during a very trying and delicate situation.

The departure from Suez of the troopship Ulimaroa with the Main Body of the N.Z.M.R. on 30th June, 1919, brought to a close the war service of a brigade whose deeds on the battlefields of the Eastern Front had proved second to none. Of the units therein the W.M.R. possessed a record of which its members are justly proud, for its almost unbroken service in the front line from the commencement of the Desert campaign is probably without parallel. It is worthy of mention, also, that Brigadier-General Meldrum, who commanded the Regiment at the commencement, participated in practically every engagement in which the Regiment served.

Those who were left behind, never to return, were not forgotten, and never will be, for they fell in the fight for freedom and humanity and placed posterity on a higher plane. With those who survived the fiery ordeal in the greatest war ever waged they proved equal to the best. Actions speak louder than words, and of the W.M.R. it can be repealed that the Regiment never vacated a position without being ordered to do so. On leave or in the firing line, all ranks recognised that the reputation of New Zealand was in their hands, and the trust was not misplaced.

page 241

Letter to the troops from General E. Allenby, Commander In Chief. 26th September, 1918.