Researching the goings-on in the Australian Imperial Force’s Mena camp, I came across this December 1914 newspaper article in Trove:
DEATHS IN EGYPT MELBOURNE, Saturday The Minister for Defence (Senator Pearce) has received information that Miles Standish Cox, of the Fourth Battalion, died from pneumonia on December 16. His next of kin is his father, Mr. E.S. Cox, of Woy Woy (N.S.W.). Another message to the Minister states that Roy Gartside Cullan, of the First Battalion, died on the same day from pernicious anaemia. His next of kin is his wife, who resides in New Zealand. WAGSTAFFE POINT, Saturday Following the death of Edward King Cox, the deceased’s father received a cablegram last night announcing the death of his second son, Miles Standish Cox, at Mena Camp, Cairo, Egypt, on December 16
Two sons dead at Mena Camp within days of each other. Sadly deaths like these were not unusual. The soldiers would return from drills soaked with sweat; the desert winds would then chill them and put them at risk of pneumonia.
On 6 December 1914 the 10th battalion disembarked at Alexandria and entrained for Cairo.
The men arrived in Cairo around midnight and were given a mug of cocoa, a bread roll and cheese. Then they boarded trams for Mena camp.
As the trams neared the terminus, the men could see the pyramids in the moonlight, wrapped in light fog.
The battalion marched into camp only to find no tents, blankets or bedding. Exhausted from the day’s activities, the men fell asleep on the sand. The desert night was freezing, and Andy had only his greatcoat to keep him warm.
A second night was spent sleeping in the open – this time huddled under waterproof sheets in the rain.The following day the tents arrived.
The NCOs would have been kept busy establishing discipline and routine. Andy would have had to deal with men more interested in climbing the pyramids or seeking out the delights of Cairo than in military routine.
For the next three months the battalion underwent vigorous training at Mena camp. A typical day started with Reveille at 6am then breakfast at 7am. After breakfast the men marched for about four miles across the desert to the drill ground. There they would rest for ten minutes before drilling until 12 noon.
Lunch was a small bread roll and tinned sardines.
In the afternoon the men drilled from 1pm until 4pm. Then they headed back to camp. They wore full kit, marching and skirmishing their way through the desert.By the time Andy arrived in camp his clothes were soaked through with sweat.
After dinner the men would wash and change clothes, then drill from 7:30pm until 10 or 11pm.
At the beginning of January 1915 the battalion structure changed from 8 companies to 4. Andy’s G Company was disbanded and he was now in D Company. About this time the ‘Australian Expeditionary Force’ was renamed the ‘Australian Imperial Force’.
By February night drills had lengthened. Soldier Archie Barwick wrote of practising at night “taking up positions, digging trenches, attacking, scouting, silent marches, bayonet attacks, rapid movements”.
On 2 March 1915 Andy left with the battalion on the S.S. Ionian for the island of Lemnos. Here they would make their final preparations for a landing at the Dardanelles.
The Broken Hill men were assigned to the 10th Battalion, which together with the 9th, 11th and 12th Battalions formed the 3rd Brigade. Andy Duncan, with his previous military experience, was assigned the rank of Sergeant.
The 10th Battalion reached its full strength by the end of August 1914. All of September and the first half of October 1914 was spent training at Morphettville.
On 20 October Andy embarked for active service abroad. The men of the 10th Battalion were transferred by train to Outer Harbour where they boarded HMAT Ascanius. Their destination was unknown, but there was speculation that the battalion would be heading to Europe.
The Ascanius made a brief stop at Albany, Western Australia, then sailed for Egypt via Colombo.
On 3 November Andy experienced the first bad weather – and possibly his first bout of sea-sickness – of the voyage. As the day progressed waves crashed over the deck with increasing fury. The rough seas continued overnight. On some transport ships horses were washed overboard.
The following day the weather calmed somewhat and the Ascanius joined the Anzac fleet of 38 transports. 6 warships, including the Japanese TMS Ibuka, escorted the fleet.
The fleet headed northeast, into waters where German cruisers prowled for allied ships. During the day the men prepared with fire alarm, collision and boat drills. At night the fleet sailed with all lights out.
The weather became hot and muggy. Andy would have slept on deck to seek some relief.
In the early morning of 9 November Andy may have witnessed the HMAS Sydney steam west at full speed. He likely watched several hours later when the Melbourne and the Ibuka raced away with battle flags raised. The men knew that something was doing. Then at 11:15am news was received from the Sydney that the German cruiser Emden was “beached and done for”.
The heat was relentless. By 14 November the men had “no smokes and little to drink”. A stop at Colombo 15 – 17 November was only to take on coal and water; there was no shore leave and no opportunity to replenish tobacco and matches.
When the fleet left Colombo the men were aware that German submarines were active in the area. So when the Ascanius collided with the Shropshire before dawn on 21 November, some thought the ship had been attacked.
The men in the forward compartments of the Ascanius were thrown from their hammocks by the force. Andy would have hurriedly paraded on deck with life belt on, ready to evacuate the ship. Evacuation was not necessary, however. Despite receiving a 7-metre hole in the port bow the Ascanius proceeded on to Aden.
The fleet reached Aden on 25 November. For many soldiers the bustling port must have been a new and exotic experience. Macarty wrote
Bedouins, Arabian Jews, Pharsees all around boat like flies selling Pine Apples, cigarettes, belts, large harbour, workers a lazy lot, get 4d a day, we throw spuds … to make them work, talk a man blind.
Perhaps Andy was reminded of his time in India.
The fleet left Aden at dawn the following day. Soon after Andy became unwell, possibly from the intense heat and the fever that was doing the rounds, or from the sea-sickness that still plagued some men. He was in bed for 5 days, treated for dehydration. From his bed he would have heard that the Australian Division was to disembark at Alexandria and proceed to Cairo for training.
The Australians were going to advance against the Turks.
Exactly four months after Andy Duncan and Jane Stewart married, Britain declared war with Germany. In Broken Hill and all around Australia there was an enthusiastic rush of volunteers to join the Australian Expeditionary Force. Andy Duncan is likely one of the volunteers described in Broken Hill’s Barrier Miner newspaper on 13 August
Since England has been at war, there has been a steady stream of able bodied men of all classes to the military staff office in Broken Hill, to enrol themselves as volunteers for the front. This afternoon Regimental Sergeant-Major Miller reported that altogether over 250 applications had been made
… Of the men, 125 who have had military experience have been selected, and these will probably form one of the companies of the Australian expeditionary forces. Those who have been chosen will probably be medically examined within the next few days. There may be a slight reduction in the number on this account, but the men are described as being of a splendid stamp, physically. The ages of the men range between 19 and 35, most of them being in the twenties. Twenty one are married, but only a few have children. The largest family is four.
While feelings of nationalism and patriotic duty drove the rush to enlist, in Broken Hill drought and unemployment in the mines must have had some influence.
Events moved quickly in August. By 15 August the makeup of the Australian Expeditionary Force and enlistment requirements had been finalised. Broken Hill men were expected to fill the South Australian quota of the Expeditionary Force. A recruiting and training camp was established at Morphettville in Adelaide.
Within a few hours of the Morphettville Camp opening, long queues formed outside the gates of men waiting to enlist. In Broken Hill eager volunteers underwent medical examinations. Andy Duncan was judged fit for active service – though at 5 foot 7 inches tall and a chest measurement of 35 inches, he only just met the minimum physical requirements for enlistment.
On Friday 21 August the first men were farewelled from Broken Hill. The scene was reminiscent of the farewell given to the South Lancashires in 1899 – even the songs were the same. Again Andy was not among the first group marching away; he left by train the following evening. His R.A.O.B. brethren were at the station to see the train out.
The Barrier Miner reported –
MORE TROOPS DEPART.
SCENES OF ENTHUSIASM.
Enthusiastic scenes marked the departure from Broken Hill last night of about 120 more volunteers for the front.
With the exception of two or three, who expect to be drafted into the Light Horse, all of last night’s batch belong to the Infantry. Lieutenant O. L. Davey was in charge of the men, and the other officers who departed were Lieutenants Perry and Farrier.
A few minutes after 6 o’clock the troops assembled in the Skating Rink, which was lent for the purpose by the management. The rink was bedecked with many flags. Though most of the men were in civilian garb, they presented a smart appearance, and their striking physique was favorably commented upon on all sides.
A few smart orders and, led by martial music from the Caledonian Pipers, the march for the station commenced. An enthusiastic demonstration greeted the men’s appearance in Oxide-street, and when the main thoroughfare was reached cheer upon cheer rent the air.
Argent-street was black with people. A vast number, with imaginations enlivened by the music, fell into step with the soldiers, and the marching army of men, women, and children swelled as it proceeded.
At the station the crowd appeared to be considerably larger than that which saw the volunteers away on Friday evening. Similar scenes were witnessed, though the patriotic feelings of the people were more visible – and audible. “Rule Britannia, ‘’God Save the King.” and war songs which have been laid to rest since the Boer war, were sung till throats were hoarse […] One of the Socialists at the northern end of the platform set up some opposition by singing “The Red Flag,” until a man in the crowd cried “Fix bayonets! Charge the red flag!” and they were hustled along a little way.
An enterprising photographer climbed on to the top of the carriages and took a flashlight snap of the crowd. A few minutes after schedule time the engine whistle shrieked its warning, final farewells were called, the Pipers struck up “The Ministrel Boy to the War Has Gone,” and the train drew slowly away from the cheering thousands.
Jane Duncan would have been amongst the crowd. She was fiercely proud of her husband being among the first to enlist, but that would not have made it any easier to watch him go.