Letter from a Rainham Soldier in Egypt in 1917
After serving in Gallipoli with the East Kent Mounted Rifles brothers Reg and Seymour Wickins were sent to the Middle East with the Egyptian Expeditionary Force. They disembarked at Alexandria and went to Cairo where they stayed at the Anzac Hotel. With some free time they were able to hire a guide and visit the Sphinx and the pyramids in Giza then the pharoahs tombs. They also managed to visit the Sultan Hassan and Mohammed Ali mosques and the citadel, a large fort that Napoleon had tried to capture. During the course of serving in the Middle East, Reg Wickins wrote letters back to his family in Station Road. One of these letters written in Egypt appeared in the East Kent Gazette dated April 28th, 1917.
‘I was asked to go on a certain job a few weeks back, and it was to guard a convoy of camels across the desert. Well, of course we had to ride one; that put the wind up us for a start; as neither of us had been on a camel before, although we had had enough to do with them and seen a lot of them. To begin with we made our seats as soft as possible; got the locals to put them on then got on ourselves. To this day I don’t know how it was that, when the camel was on its feet I was still on top, as they have a very nasty motion when getting up. Well, we started away alright and did twenty two miles that day and got to an old Bedouin farmhouse about six o’ clock; had some dinner and turned in for the night. The next day we were up early and had breakfast, and got on the way again and did about the same distance that day, but had nowhere to sleep, so made the best of it. About 5 am we were awakened by the stable guard, which consisted of two locals, who told us that somebody had been round the camp trying to ‘pinch’ the stuff. We were out of bed in a moment, got our camels and went to look for the men. Our NCO in charge sent one of us with two locals in different directions; he went with the chief of the locals. Well, after an hour of trotting about the country, I returned to find the other men back, but not the NCO; he came in about half an hour later with an Arab tied to a rope.
When we got into camp they asked him some questions and found out he was the man. Now we come to where the fun commenced. The NCO ordered him to have thirty lashes with the whip. Of course, this is what the locals wanted to see, so four of them came forward and two of them got hold of his head and the other two his legs and held him to the ground; after they had stripped his clothes off. Then the chief of the locals gave him his hiding which I would not have had for all the money in the world. The Arab was then allowed to go his way in fear. This may seem very cruel to you in England who have had no dealings with such men but it is the only thing that appeals to them, and I think it did to the Arab.
We arrived at our destination about 4-30 pm that day which was Saturday and stayed until Monday morning. The journey back now was alright, nothing happened out of the way. We got back to our old camp at eleven am to find that half our company had gone to Abe and that we had to follow the next day. Of course, we were pleased to hear the news and prepared to go. That night we were awakened by the sound of bullets going off and were told to keep low as one of our tents was alight. After all the bullets had gone off we dressed and went to have a look at the fire but by the time we got there the locals had put the fire out and thrown dirt over it. There were four sergeants sleeping in the tent at the time and neither woke until the place was well alight. When the first man awoke he shouted to the others and jumped out; then the third awoke and tried to get out, but the tent was all ablaze and he could not find his way out. At last he saw the door and jumped, but his foot caught in a box and he went head long into the fire and was burned very badly. During this time the other sergeant was still sleeping and remained asleep until the tent fell on him, but of course he could not get out, so two other sergeants went and pulled him out; but it was too late as he was burned all over; he had not got a piece of skin left on his body. Out of the four who came in the tent two got away with slight burns, the other two were taken to hospital straight away. The last sergeant to be out of the tent died two days after and the other one will be very lucky if he gets over his lot.’
After serving in Gallipoli, Egypt and Palestine the brothers finished the war on the Western Front in France but survived and returned to Rainham where they lived out the remainder of their lives.
Note - the original letter contained a word no longer used which has been replaced with the word "locals"