The famous Battle of the Wazzir – the riot by Australian and New Zealand troops in Cairo which became almost as much a part of the ANZAC legend as the Gallipoli landings – was certainly something to write home about in 1915
A letter dated April 9, 1915 to his sister, Mrs Nell White, Tooper Bert Delpratt, of Beaudesert, then in Egypt with the 2nd Australian Light Horse Regiment, gave an account of the “great row in Cairo on Good Friday”.
The letter was reprinted in the Beaudesert Times of June 6, 1915, under the heading A Letter from Egypt (before Gallipoli) and tells of how “much damage was done to property” without mentioning that it was mostly to bars and brothels in the red light district of the Egyptian capital.
“I am not quite sure how it started in the first place, but when the military police drew their revolvers and injured a couple of the men, the crowd got quite out of hand, and took possession of the street and wrecked it,” Bert wrote.
“They threw furniture from the windows of four storey buildings, piled it up in a heap and then set fire to it. When the fire brigade turned out they upset the engine and cut the hose.
“There was a picket of men from the regiment on guard in town that night and they had a most exciting time, but luckily none of them got hurt. The men who gave the trouble were mostly infantry, both Australian and New Zealand, and some have since been arrested, but I have not heard what sentence they got. A body of soldiers is like a big mob of cattle in a scrub, they are easily handled while you have them well in hand, but once you lose control of them, you are helpless and you wonder how you ever had any power over them.”
Bert was speaking from experience, having been a farm manager before enlisting in the 2nd Light Horse Regiment on August 19, 1914. The regiment had been raised at Enoggera the day before, just a fortnight after the outbreak of war and a month before Bert’s 33rd birthday.
Bert left Australia on September 24, 1914 on the Star of England, bound for the Middle East. The months after arriving were spent training with the horses in the desert and the Nile River and Bert said in his letter home on April 9, 1915, that he believed “the horses are keeping us back, that if it was not for them we would have left long before this”.
A month later, Bert and his comrades embarked for the Gallipoli peninsula as part of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force, leaving their horses in Egypt.
After some three months on the peninsula, Bert was admitted sick to hospital on August 30, returning to duty a week later.
He was wounded in action on October 24 and evacuated to hospital in Alexandria. A shrapnel wound to the neck was serious enough to keep him in hospital from October 31 until December 18.
When Bert rejoined his regiment at Wardan he was also reunited with the horse he had left in Egypt. For the first few months of 1916, the regiment was used to protect the Nile Valley from bands of pro-Turkish Arabs.
On March 4, Bert was transferred to the 13th Infantry Brigade and, a week later, was posted to the 49th Battalion. It was a short stint as an infantryman because three weeks later Bert was transferred to the 5th Light Horse Regiment, whose main role in the Sinai was long-range patrolling.
Bert was promoted to Lance Corporal in July, Corporal in August and Sergeant in April 1917. In March 1918 he was made Second Lieutenant and three months later promoted to Lieutenant.
Suffering malaria, Bert spent three weeks in hospital in October, 1918.
On December 20, 1918, in an item headed Safe and sound, the Beaudesert Times reported that Mr JH Delpratt, of Tambourine House, had received a cablegram from his two sons, Bertram and Maurice Delpratt to say they were together and well in Port Said.
“Bert left Australia with the first contingent in 1914 and fought at Gallipoli Peninsula and since then has been with the 5th Light Horse in Palestine, where he gained his commission,” read the report.
“Maurice also left in 1915 with the 5th Light Horse. He was taken prisoner by the Turks at Gallipoli and has only just been released.”
A younger brother, Robert Delpratt, had also joined the Light Horse but the war had ended shortly after he enlisted in 1918.
Bert embarked on the Somalia for return to Australia on December 25, 1918, arriving on February 8, 1919.
That month he was recommended for further promotion by his commanding officer, Major William Chatham. Outlining Bert’s service in the Sinai in 1916 and Palestine in 1917 and 1918, he described him as:
“A good reliable troop leader and would make splendid second in command. With experience will, I consider, be suited to command a Squadron. Physically strong and fit.”
But by then, Australia had no further need of its Light Horsemen and Bert’s appointment was terminated on April 30, 1919.
Bert returned to the land, working for a number of years on a property outside Winton he had bought in partnership with another man. Around 1923, he relocated to Nambour and bought his own property where he grew mixed crops including pineapples, passion fruit and sugar cane.
Bert married Winifred (Freda) Pagan and the couple had two daughters, Winifred, born in 1925, and Judith, born in 1931. In 1975, a week before his 94th birthday, Bert passed away, with the piece of shrapnel from Gallipoli still lodged in his neck.
For the Centenary of ANZAC, Judith travelled to Gallipoli and briefly walked in the footsteps of her father, reflecting on the loss of so many young men who had been asked to do the impossible on a desolate peninsula 100 years earlier.