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The Kia ora coo-ee : the magazine for the ANZACS in the Middle East, 1918

Souvenir Hunters. — Collecting Curios in The Firing Line

page 14

Souvenir Hunters.
Collecting Curios in The Firing Line.

Most people are souvenir hunters, but the craze for souvenirs never affected me until I arrived in Egypt with the Australian Forces three years back. At present I have a decent collection of curios, consisting amongst other things of a Turkish "saw" bayonet, which I took from the hands of a dead soldier at Anzac; a locket containing the photo of a Turkish girl which was found in a trench at Suvla Bay. I have two shell-caps fired from the well-known Turkish gun "Beachy Bill" at Gabe Tepe, and in addition to these I have many cartridge cases, shell-splinters, Arab trinkets and Turkish paper money.

The soldiers at Anzac were enthusiastic souvenir collectors, and whenever "Beachy Bill" put one over there was a wild rush, to the spot where the shell burst, and he was a proud man indeed who secured the precious shell cap. On one occasion a Turkish aeroplane showered down thousands of steel darts on a trench-digging party and the men raced over the open ground in hopes of gathering as many of these as possible, despite the fact that they exposed themselves to Turkish rifle and machine-gun fire.

During the early months of the Senussi Campaign I found myself at Mersa Matruh, on the North-Western frontier of Egypt. To my surprise I discovered that the wide, sandy wastes of the Libyan desert were a rich field for the souvenir collector. Near the beach at Mersa Matruh there stands the ruins of a palace which I have been informed was once used as a summer residence by Anthony and Cleopatra. Digging around the base of these ruins we unearthed Roman coins, and a portion of a rusty sword blade. On another occasion while patrolling between Matruh and Sidi Bareni we came to a cave which had been used as a burial vault by some ancient race. This was rich with curios and we found several metal rings of crude manufacture, spear points and pieces of what looked like chain mail. Again, during the battle at Sollum one of our men found a Crusader's sword, but not being a souvenir hunter he broke it in halves and used its two portions as fire irons.

We always gathered a fine collection of curios whenever we came to a Senussi camp. Many of the enemy were poorly armed with ancient rifles and pistols, daggers and curved swords. These we handed to the Military Authorities, but were allowed to keep many small articles of no military value.

During our advance across Sinai we often came to places where souvenirs were plentiful. Digging among the ruins at Pelusium we found many ancient coins and crude jewellery and amongst the fallen pillars of a one-time city near Bir-el-Mazar, New Zealand troops unearthed several fine pieces of ancient pottery and coins.

I have patrolled that vast stretch of country at the foot of the hills of Judea where David once wandered from Saul. At intervals there lie the huge, aged stones which were once temples, forts and walls of cities. Perhaps one of the most interesting of the ancient forts is at E1 Auja, between Beersheba and El Arish. During the early months of the war the Turks built a garrison town at this place and destroyed much of the old Roman forts. However, many of the walls and marble pillars still stand and if one had the time to disturb the debris which covers the floors of these ruins he would no doubt find many interesting and quaint souvenirs. The Anzacs are busy men in this land and have little time to seek curios. One man found a small wooden cross bordered with a strip of silver, and as he has since been invalided home no doubt it has found its way to some home overseas.

Roman coins are very plentiful in Southern Palestine, and are easily recognised by their design which represents Judea seated in captivity under the shade of a palm tree. Greek coins have been found at Rafa, Shellal and Gaza, and are of many shapes and designs. Pottery is to be found everywhere and during trench digging operations at Gaza last April we had to dig through a field of pottery many feet in depth. Much of it bore Greek inscriptions and nearly every specimen had been damaged.

The average soldier is a keen collector of military badges, and I have seen some excellent collections. Perhaps the rarest of these was that worn by the Constantinople fire brigade, who it will be remembered were put in action against the Anzacs at Suvla Bay with disastrous results to this much boomed body of men. This badge took the shape of two-crossed axes and I have known one of them to change hands for £ 10. I was once an enthusiastic collector of badges but a certain incident practically put a stop to my hobby. I was particularly anxious to add to my collection a certain New Zealand badge, and one morning I noticed a dead Maorilander lying on the summit of a hill at Anzac. Beside him lay a hat with the very badge I was seeking. At this time the Turkish snipers were making things very unpleasant, so in crawling up the hill I took every advantage of the shelter afforded by bushes. I was just on the point of securing the hat when a bullet zipped past my head and in succession three other shots hit the ground within a few inches of my body. I was covered with thorn scratches when I picked myself up after rolling down the hill and I was minus the hat or badge. Since them I have not taken an interest in badges lying in exposed places.

The soldier souvenir collector treasures many queer things. I have known men to carry Turkish and German letters, photographs, newspapers and books. Even after these had been examined by military authorities and proved to be of no value they have been treasured by the finders. Enemy pay-books, clasp knives, and the well-known signature seals are always considered "a good find."

In conclusion, souvenir hunting is a fascinating pastime for the soldier who has the time to seek, and a means of carrying his discoveries. Personally I would prefer to adopt it as a hobby when Mars has ceased to sound his gong. It would be safer and less laborious.