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Friday, 2 April 2010
The First Battle of Wassa, Egypt, 2 April 1915, Outline
Topic: BatzO - Wassa

The First Battle of Wassa

Egypt, 2 April 1915

Outline

 

 

One of the many buildings destroyed during First Wassa.

 

First Wassa (also Wozzer or Wazzir), the appellation given to the first of two unheroic riots in the Haret el Wassa (the brothel quarter of Cairo, Egypt) involving troops from Australia and New Zealand. The initial incident occurred on 2 April 1915 (Good Friday), after units of the Australian & New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) received news that their period of training was at an end and that orders had been received for them to embark for long-awaited action. Causes of this disturbance reportedly lay in a desire to exact revenge for past grievances arising from dealings with the district's denizens-such as diluted liquor, exorbitant prices, and high rates of venereal infection-although wild rumours of stabbings of Anzac men by locals also appear to have played a part.

Trouble began soon after 5 p.m. when soldiers began evicting whores and their pimps into the street, and tossing their possessions out after them. Bedding, furniture and clothing-even pianos-were thrown from windows of buildings several storeys high. These materials were piled in the road and set alight. The town picket, drawn from the Australian 9th Light Horse Regiment, came on the scene and tried to clear the men out of the houses being attacked. Five arrests were made, although the crowd-growing larger by the minute refused to let these men be taken away, snatched rifles from some of the troopers and threw the weapons onto the fires, and succeed in freeing four of the prisoners.

British military police (MPs) were summoned, about 30 arriving on horseback to choruses of abuse and a shower of stones and bottles. An ill-advised effort by the MPs to gain control by firing their pistols, supposedly over the rioters' heads, resulted in the wounding of four men in the throng estimated at 2,000-3,000. This only served to further inflame matters, and forced the police to hastily withdraw. Efforts by the Egyptian fire brigade to douse the bonfires were also frustrated, its hose-lines being cut, its members manhandled (especially after they turned a hose onto the crowd), and the engine itself finally pushed into the flames.

Left to themselves, the more unruly elements began to loot some shops and put the torch to a Greek tavern. Shortly after 7 p.m. a second fire engine arrived, this time under cavalry escort which exercised extreme tact, and the various fires were tackled while a still sizeable crowd looked on. Since the `Wassa' was close by Shepheard's Hotel, where the Anzac commander had his headquarters, armed troops had also been called out. After Lancashire Territorials (non-regular British troops who were popular with the colonials) were drawn across the road, the rioters wisely began to disperse and order was eventually restored by 10 p.m.

A formal inquiry was convened the following day under Colonel Frederic Hughes, commander of the AIF's 3rd Light Horse Brigade, to investigate the causes of the riot and establish responsibility for its outbreak. Many New Zealand officers attempted to disclaim that their men had played any part, although the evidence of their presence was quite conclusive - the officer leading the Australian picket was adamant that `New Zealanders predominated'. In any event, nine-tenths of those present had been merely spectators. Apportioning blame was next to impossible, however, with few of the 50 witnesses able (or willing) to provide precise information. As the number of men injured by the MPs' bullets (three Australians and one New Zealander) was roughly in proportion to the size of the respective contingents, it could be said that the ‘honours' were about equally shared. So too was the damages bill of £1,700.

(See: The Second Battle of Wassa, Egypt, 31 July 1915.)

 

Extracted from the book produced by Chris Coulthard-Clark, Where Australians Fought - The Encyclopaedia of Australia's Battles, Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 1998, pp. 100-101.


Additional References cited by Chris Coulthard-Clark:

Bill Gammage, (1974), The Broken Years, Canberra: Australian National University Press.

Suzanne Brugger, (1980), Australians and Egypt 1914-1919, Carlton, Vic.: Melbourne University Press;

Kevin Fewster, 'The Wazza Riots, 1915', Journal of the Australian War Memorial, No.4, April 1984.

 

Further Reading:

The Battles of Wassa, Egypt, 2 April 1915 & 31 July 1915

Heliopolis Camp

Mena Camp

Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920

 


Citation: The First Battle of Wassa, Egypt, 2 April 1915, Outline

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EADT
Updated: Friday, 1 April 2011 4:57 PM EADT

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