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Official History of the Otago Regiment, N.Z.E.F. in the Great War 1914-1918

Arrival in Egypt

Arrival in Egypt.

The New Zealand Expeditionary Force had now reached the end of its long journey by sea. Orders for disembarkation were issued, the transports disgorged their freights of men and horses, and on the evening of December 3rd the first troop train left Alexandria for Zeitoun station, about four miles beyond Cairo. Distant about a mile and a-half from the detraining point, and on the edge of the sun-smitten desert, was the site of the camp selected for the New Zealand troops. More and more trains arrived with men, horses, baggage and stores, and in the course of a few days, with all energies directed to one end, the various lines commenced to assume a well-ordered appearance. There were, of course, the disadvantages inevitably arising from the heat of the day and the eternal sand; while at the outset, on account of the futility and inadequacies of the local methods of so-called transport, stores were a long time in coming to hand, and certain inconveniences followed.

On December 6th Lieut.-Colonel McDonald was admitted to the Citadel Hospital, Cairo, on account of ill-health; and a Medical Board deciding that he would not be fit for duty for a considerable period of time, he severed his connection with the Regiment and eventually returned to New Zealand.

It was now proposed to use the New Zealand Expeditionary Force as the nucleus of a Division to consist of Headquarters; three Brigades, namely, the 4th Australian Light Horse Brigade, the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade and the New Zealand Infantry Brigade (including the Ceylon Contingent); New Zealand Field Artillery Brigade; New Zealand Field Howitzer Battery; one Field Company Newpage 10 Zealand Engineers; New Zealand Signal Company; Otago Mounted Rifles Regiment; Divisional Train; three Field Ambulances.

Meanwhile the weather, the great determining factor in all military operations, continued warm by day and cold by night; the general health of the troops was good; and training was in full swing over the open spaces which the desert country afforded. The training was of a severe and exacting nature; and in this connection the long route marches which the infantry daily carried out in full marching order across the sands contributed in a large measure to the high standard of military discipline and the wonderful state of physical fitness ultimately attained. In leisure periods there were afforded opportunities of securing pleasant mental and physical relaxation, either in the city of Cairo, where, it may be said, there was much moral viciousness and much iniquity, or at the great Pyramids of Ghizeh, or the many other places of antiquity which provided unfailing interest and instruction.

On December 18th, owing to the hostile action of Turkey, the suzerainty of that country over Egypt was terminated, and by Proclamation it became henceforward a British Protectorate; and Abbas Hilmi Pasha, late Khedive of Egypt, because of his adhesion to the King's enemies, was deposed, and the Sultanate of Egypt was offered to and accepted by Prince Hussein Kamel Pasha, eldest living Prince of the family of Mohammed Ali. The new Sultan was proclaimed at Cairo on December 20th, the Regiment being included in the strength which represented the New Zealand Division at the ceremony.

On December 21st Lieut.-General Sir W. R. Birdwood, C.B., C.S.I., C.I.E., D.S.O., Indian Army, who had been appointed to command the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, arrived in Egypt from Bombay. There was a march of the New Zealand Division and the Australian Light Horse through Cairo on December 23rd, and an inspection by Lieut.-General Sir John Maxwell, K.C.B., C.V.O., C.M.G., D.S.O., Commanding the Forces in Egypt. Sir Thomas Mackenzie, High Commissioner for New Zealand, arrived from London on December 24th for the purpose of extending a welcome to the New Zealand troops; on December 30th there was apage 11 review of New Zealand Forces in honour of the visit of the High Commissioner.

On December 31st Major A. Moore, D.S.O., was appointed to the command of Otago Battalion, vice Lieut.-Colonel T. W. McDonald, and was granted the temporary rank of Lieut.-Colonel while holding such appointment. Major J. H. Moir was appointed Second-in-Command of the Battalion, and Lieut. J. S. Reid became Adjutant.

Field training and a further review marked the early days of January. At this stage it was announced that the New Zealand Force was to form the nucleus of a second mixed division, to be known as the New Zealand and Australian Division of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, with Major-General Sir A. J. Godley in command. Such is a brief chronological record of the leading events immediately following the Regiment's arrival in Egypt.