Saturday 12 March 2016

An Engineer in Egypt Part I

Sunday 12th March 1916: Sapper W H James of the Royal Engineers is the son of Company Sergeant Major James of the 1st Field Company East Anglian Royal Engineers. The son is now in Egypt at Sidi Bishr Camp just outside Alexandria. He has been telling us of his experiences and giving us his observations.

“At first I was not struck with the beauty of Alexandria. It may have a history that goes back something like 3,000 years or more(1), but history will not cover the fact that near the docks the place is filthy. Nevertheless, it is interesting. Imagine row after row of ancient Eastern temples with their fronts knocked out and turned into rag shops; refreshment house, outside which sit men of all colours of the rainbow, drinking extremely suspicious concoctions; factories working at high pressure, but having no roof to them, and a great number of shops having apparently nothing  for sale, but outside which, serenely smoking in comfortable easy-chairs, sit the proprietors, their faces an object lesson in contentment, and you have some idea of Alexandria, or the parts of it nearer to the docks. Of course there are some fine streets and buildings in the main part of the town. As to its inhabitants – well, of course, the place is extremely Cosmopolitan, in other words the inhabitants are all the colours of the rainbow, or very nearly so. Coal black faces, brown faces, and faces even whiter than my own is at the present time, are to be seen at every turning. There are a tremendous number of Jews here, too, principally, I think, of Russian extraction besides, of course, Egyptians, Arabs and Europeans of every possible nationality. What excited a good deal of interest were Moslem women wearing Yash-maks, those veils covering the lower parts of the face. We could not have chosen a better time to arrive. The whole population of Alexandria, more or less, had turned out to see a fire, and we had the pleasure of inspecting the fire brigade. Some brigade. Then we passed a Moslem temple, or praying house, where in full view of passers-by, devout Alexandrians were bowing and scraping. It seemed peculiar to see the worshippers taking off their boots on the doorstep before venturing within”.

Source: Bedfordshire Times 14th April 1916

(1) It was founded by Alexander the Great, whose name it bears, about 331 BC.

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