It’s Anzac Day today, and here’s a postcard written in February 1915 in Cairo, 99 years ago.
I’ve had this card with me for years, and it’s lovely to share it with you now. I hope that George (the writer) and Elsie (the recipient) are smiling kindly, somewhere under a sky full of blue, at being remembered this way.
Here’s the front: the Bristol Hotel, Cairo, which opened in the late 19th century, and closed probably in the 1940s.
And here’s George’s message to Elsie, on the back.
George’s words to Elsie echo what we all write on postcards when we’re far from home and, at that very moment, can’t think what on earth to write about!
They also burn with his need to hear from his loved ones, his longing to know what they’re up to and that they’re thinking of him. It was a common theme with troops stationed so far away from home.
Many on their way to World War I were like George: young and homesick, but full of life and news from an ancient world completely new to them. They would’ve been excited, innocent, perhaps secretly feeling displaced and fearful; larrikins, mates, drily funny and unassumingly courageous; energetic and utterly ignorant of what lay ahead.
In Egypt in late 1914 and early 1915, the first Australians and New Zealanders who’d signed up were trained for battle. Like so many at the start of that awful Great War, they weren’t professional soldiers, but keen volunteer recruits.
They also formed friendships and got up to high jinks, before they shipped out, bound for the Dardanelles and the carnage at Gallipoli.
But this card, written on Thursday 18 February, precedes that horror.
I don’t know anything more about George or Elsie, or what their relationship was. Were they friends? Brother and sister? Cousins? Nephew and auntie?
George’s words and tone have the informality and banality we all get away with, with family and close friends. Elsie must’ve already told him to write long letters to her, not a ‘very quick one’ like this. I don’t think they’re sweethearts or married, but I could be totally wrong. What do you think their bond was?
Here’s hoping that George made it back to Elsie from the war, alive and well.
It’s bittersweet to reproduce this long-ago postcard in a blog post in April 2014. After all, when George wrote this home, Anzac Day itself didn’t even exist.
Vale, George and Elsie.