August 15th 1915 – Egypt
Just a card for the last before we lob over on the little stretch of hills it is our turn for a crack now. I hope we do as good if not better than the first of our chaps. I haven’t heard anymore about Alex but I’m going down to the hospital again today so I might meet someone who knew him. I never got a letter from you last mail, but hope you are getting all mine.
I haven’t miss a week without writing, I get mums regular. Mum is going to get one of the painted photos. Did you get a photo by the way, mum never said she gave you one.
See you when I get back but make sure of one I will have a little say in it if you don’t.
Well Jean Good Bye for the time
Jack. Love to all. Mum didn’t say you got your photo of me.
This is quite a typical Cairo postcard of the Mosque Khairbek, or Blue Mosque, sent by a young Victorian to his mate’s sister Jean in Footscray. It has two stamp markings on its back that provide some interesting detail about author Jack and the Military Postal system.
The black circular stamp mark – 6th INF.BDE. Field P.O. 23-AU-15 (6th Infantry Brigade Field Post Office 23rd August 1915), was produced in Egypt by the Postal Service Section of the British Royal Engineers. It was allocated to the 21st – 24th Battalions from Victoria after their arrival in Egypt in June 1915. This stamp was believed to have left the Field Post Office on the 22nd of August to travel with the troops to the Peninsula, however the date on this card says otherwise. The 6th Brigade embarked on the 30th of August, so perhaps the stamp was put to good use until then to send home some more ‘last letters’.
The purple stamp mark – Franked 22nd Battalion A.I.F. – has been signed by Capt. Chaplin 4th Class Thomas P. Bennett who would have censored Jack’s short note. These Franked Cachets denoted military origin and therefore free postage back to Australia.
Just 19 years of age, Jack Langdon Bodinnar of Daylesford had enlisted in early February with the full consent of his mother and father. He was allocated to C Company of the 22nd Infantry Battalion and promoted to Corporal before embarking on the ‘Ulysses’ in early May. At that time the transport’s destination was open to all kinds of speculation – Egypt, Cyprus or even London…
On arriving at the Heliopolis Aerodrome Camp near Cairo, the story of the Landing at Anzac, and the casualty lists, were out. Consequently the next few months were spent in serious training for service on the Peninsula, and of course sightseeing and even picnics at the Pyramids.
This second card was posted at the Heliopolis Field Post Office along with the one above and even carries the same address, however it is written to Mr Mac (Macaulay), the father of Jean.
August 15th 1915 Egypt.
Dear Mr Mac,
Just a card hoping it will find you & the family in the best of health & spirits. I am off to the front any day now it is our turn next so if we can do better than the landing party I will be satisfied if we do as good. I am hoping to get a good score to help make up for your great loss, between Bill & I we ought to be able to account for a few.
Well goodbye for the time Mr Mac, hoping to see you when I get back, yours Jack.
You can see how strong the effect of the Landing at Gallipoli was etched into the mind of Jack. He was measuring how well he will go against the ‘legendary’ status of the first ‘landing party’. He mentions ‘Bill and I’ – this is referring to his brother William, who had just enlisted and was in Broadmeadows Camp, Melbourne waiting to sail to Egypt. Jack was expecting they would end up together at Gallipoli, however Bill didn’t arrive in Egypt until January 1916.
He speaks of them ‘getting a good score’ of Turks (rifle range talk), which could be considered a normal agenda for young Australians under the circumstances, but in this case, there is also a personal agenda.
Mr Macaulay’s son and Jean’s brother, Alexander, was in the 7th Battalion and was part of the second wave attacks on April 25th, however he was last seen being led away behind the Turkish lines. Nothing has been heard about his fate. This explains the reference in the first card to Jean about searching the hospital (in Heliopolis) looking for men who might know any more information about ‘Alex’. He was successful in finding chaps who knew Alexander, but he was assumed to be lost.
One can only imagine the anguish and anxiety the Macaulay, and Bodinnar families were experiencing over the fate of young Alexander.
Jack had a very personal motivation to ‘get a good score’ when arriving at Gallipoli, so he was probably very frustrated at the circumstances of his arrival at the legendary Anzac Cove. The 22nd Battalion Unit Diary has them landing quietly at 2.30am and walking 2 miles to Rest Gully. Later that day the battalion were placed in the trench line south of Lone Pine where many dead bodies, Turks and Australians, were rotting away just beyond the trenches. The major attack on Lone Pine had occurred almost a month earlier.
The Anzac that Jack arrived at was, however, a very different Anzac to the day of the Landing. The August breakout offensive had failed. The last major attack on Hill 60 kilometres away to the north had fizzled as a failure.
The only real chance for Jack to ‘get a score’ would be as part of the daily back and forth fire between the Turk and Anzac lines, but both sides were tired of it. The cold was setting in, and the notion of withdrawal was beginning to manifest in the shadows of the British parliamentary corridors…