Topic: BatzO - Wassa
Egypt, 2 April 1915
John "Jack" Jensen's Account
Account by 955 Private John "Jack" Jensen
Part transcription of a letter from 955 Private John "Jack" Jensen, 1st Battalion, H Company, written on 28 August 1915 while in England due to wounds received at Gallipoli. This section of his letter deals with his interpretation of the events that surrounded First Wassa.
The last few days we had in Egypt I shall never forget as three nights running there were riots in & about Cairo. On good friday there was a big row in one of the main streets in Cairo. I think I told you once before that Cairo is a very immoral place in fact they say that it is the worst town in the world. Some streets there are nothing but brothels & houses of infamy where every possible vice under the sun exists. Of course some of our men had been going to these places & had got diseases of different kinds & as a (what?) our chaps had a grievance against these places. Finally to finish up with one of the Manchester soldiers who were also stationed in Egypt found his sister in one of them. She had left England as a servant to some lady who had taken her to Egypt & left her there. I dare say you have heard of that sort of thing it is called the white slave traffic here in England. Anyway this girl went from bad to worse until finally she way found dancing in what they call a Can-Can hall that is a dozen or so women dancing perfectly naked in a big hall & exposing their person to every kind of indignity both by themselves & also the onlookers. It is just as well that I cannot tell you everything that goes on here as it would only grieve you. This Manchester chap managed to have a talk with his sister & tried to get her away. She was only too willing to go but the people she was with would not let her & they threw the brother out of a window as a result he was in hospital for nearly a week. When he got right he came in the camp & told our chaps & asked them to help him. At first they could not find the girl again but at last she was found in a particularly vile house. This was a day or two before Good Friday & that day being a holiday about 500 of our chaps & some New Zealanders & English troops went in to raid these houses. When they got in there a good many got drunk & they were joined by a great many more also drunk so the affair ended in a riot. They got the girl out first & then set fire to the houses. The affair started about four oclock in the afternoon & was kept up until nearly midnight Shops were raided & windows broken everywhere. I was on guard that day & we were called out to go & stop it but only twenty of us could do nothing against nearly two thousand. They had a fire in the street & were throwing the furniture out of windows two & three storeys high on to it. Some of us went in & tried to put it out & a chair came out of a window three storeys high & hit one chap & nearly killed him. We carried him away & a few minutes after piano came out of the same window & fell with an awful crash on the pavement. All the strings seemed to break at once & it went off like a cannon. After that the Military Police charged the crowd on horseback firing their revolvers into them but the crowd threw broken bottles & stones at them. One policeman got badly hit & one eyecut out with a broken bottle & two of our chaps were hit by the revolver shots.
About eight oclock five hundred Manchester troops came with fixed bayonets & were told to charge. They charged alright but they wouldn’t go for our men so they gave them rifles & our chaps threw them on the fire. Then they turned & ran & our fellows followed them up with sticks A while after the South Australian Light Horse came but the horses wouldn’t face the fire & smoke A little after eleven oclock the Westminster Dragoons came. They looked all right as they were coming down the street with all their swords drawn & their horses going straight through the fire & smoke. This very soon cleared the street & then we went for the houses & took everybody prisoner that we found. We got about fifty Australians & some New Zealanders.
The girl who was the cause of all the trouble was sent to England. She was taken charge of by the Y.M.C.A. The men in camp collected over forty pounds to pay her passage & expenses back to England Of course the money was handed over to the Y.M.C.A.
Next night a riot started in the canteen of the Abbasieh camp. Somebody caught an Arab who was employed at the canteen making water in a tub of beer. The Arab was at once pulled & half killed. All the beer casks & tubs were broken & spilt & all the groceries & goods stolen & the place burned down.
The guard was called out again but by the time we got there everything was over & the camp was quiet except for the fire still burning.
On Sunday evening the New Zealanders burned down a picture show. The man had advertised a boxing match & doubled the admission & then showed just the same pictures as he usually did. So they burned his place down.
Citation: First Wassa, Egypt, April 2, 1915, John "Jack" Jensen's Account