Advertisements

WW1 Photos Centenary Website: 2014-2018 By Paul Reed

Egypt

Indian Army: Indian Camel Corps

One of the lesser know units of the Indian Army was the Bikaner Camel Corps. Formed before the Great War these men used camels as their mounts, not horses and as such could not be sent to France in 1914. Instead they were posted to somewhat warmer battlefields and played a key role in the defence of the Suez Canal in 1915 when they routed Turkish troops in one of the few camel cavalry charges of the war. The unit later fought in Palestine and some of its personnel became part of the Imperial Camel Corps formed later in the conflict.

Advertisements

Great war Portraits: An Indian Sapper

Portraits of Indian soldiers are seemingly rare; in decades of collecting WW1 images I have only ever found a few. It could be that having a portrait taken was not part of the culture of soldiers from India or that more likely it was a matter of pay; that they had better things to spend their money on. There could of course be thousands in junk shops across India!

This photograph shows Lance Corporal Venkatasami of the 2nd Queen’s Own Madras Sappers and Miners. This Indian unit fought in France, Mesopotamia, Egypt and Palestine during the Great War and provided Engineer support to Indian formations in these campaigns. Venkatasami survived the war and this photograph was taken in Egypt in February 1919.

He is wearing the typical uniform of Indian troops in these theatres of war; Khaki Drill tunic and shorts, and on his left sleeve are Long Service and Good Conduct stripes indicating twelve years in the Indian Army; not untypical for Indian servicemen of that period.


Royal Flying Corps: Egypt 1916

The Royal Flying Corps (RFC) is a formation not normally associated with campaigns outside of the Western Front, however this image shows men from the RFC in a very famous setting in early 1916. One of the main squadrons operating in Egypt at this time was 14 Squadron, and these men well be from them. They were based at a number of locations around the Suez Canal from 1915, keeping an eye on the Turks in Palestine and tribes in the Western Desert; towards the end of 1916 this involved in assisting T.E. Lawrence: ‘Lawrence of Arabia’.

The RFC men in the photo are wearing the familiar ‘Maternity Jacket‘ uniform which must have been fairly warm in desert conditions and possibly means they had not been ‘in theatre’ that long. I once interviewed a WW1 veteran who said that this location was the most popular place to have your photo taken in Egypt, with the backdrop of the Sphinx and Pyramids. The cost of the photo was relatively cheap and soldiers would be queuing up to have them done; a little board was placed in front of the camels with a number on (visible in this photo) and you then came back, quoted the number, and got your postcards to send home. I have since interviewed men who served in Egypt in WW2 and post-war and it seems little changed over 50-odd years!

A nice touch in the photo is that just below the chin of the Sphinx are some men of the Australian Imperial Force; Diggers whose iconic Slouch Hats are clearly visible. These could be from some of the AIF units then assembling in Egypt or some veterans just back from Gallipoli. Many of the famous Ancient Egyptian structures seen here are still covered in graffiti from this period.