Royal Reels: Gambling


This may well be a one of a kind illustrated World War One postcard on account of the large 3-ringed postal marking with the unusual centrally placed ABBASSIA and the 8 11 1915 date-stamp, that originated at the No 4 Auxiliary Hospital, Artillery Barracks, Abbassia, (Cairo). It has a manuscript ‘on active service 1276 9th.. 6th Reg, and is addressed to a Mrs P.C. Mowle, Neutral Bay, Sydney. The card is stampless, and the message short: Wishing you & Bill & Percy a very happy Christmas & New year. I wont be at the front before Christmas, (signed) Den. There is a transit postmark HELIOPOLIS/ 9 XI.15 – 5 P.M with arabic notation in the lower third. At the lower left hand side the origin of the card is described: The Cairo Postcard Trust Cairo 61857/ Serie 529 (Figure 1).

The reverse shows a sepia view of the Alexandrie – Station Bacos with a view of a double decker street-car coupled to a single deck one, with people milling around (Figure 2).

Modern Heliopolis is a district of Cairo, Egypt. The town was established by the Heliopolis Oasis Company, headed by the Belgian industrialist Édouard Louis Joseph, Baron Empain, beginning in 1905. The Baron, a well known amateur Egyptologist and prominent European entrepreneur, arrived in Egypt in January 1904, intending to rescue one of his Belgian company’s projects in Egypt, the construction of a railway line linking Matariya to Port Said. Despite losing the railway contract to the British, Empain stayed on in Egypt. He established the Heliopolis Oasis Company, which bought a large stretch of desert to the northwest of Cairo at a low price from the colonial government.

His efforts produced the new town of Heliopolis by 1907 in the desert ten kilometers from Cairo, and it was designed as a “city of leisure and pleasure”, with broad avenues and equipped with all necessary conveniences and infrastructure: water drains, electricity, hotel facilities, such as the Palace Hotel and Heliopolis House, and recreational amenities including a golf course, racetrack and park. In addition, there was housing for rent, offered in a range of innovative design types targeting specific social classes with detached and terraced villas, apartment buildings, tenement blocks with balcony access and workers’ bungalows. Empain’s own residence adopted a unique style, modeled on a Hindu Palace, which was erected from 1907 – 1910. It still stands to-day (Figure 3).

Modern Heliopolis was originally filled mostly with foreigners and native aristocratic Egyptians. After the military coup led by Nasser, it became the home to much of Cairo’s educated middle class. As Cairo has expanded, the distance between Heliopolis and Cairo has vanished and it is now well inside the city of Cairo. Because of the large increase of population, the original gardens that filled the city have mostly been built over. One of the tent campsites at Heliopolis in August 1915 is shown in Figure 4.

There were multiple hospitals for the armed forces at Abbassa, including the No. 4 Auxiliary Hospital and the 3rd and 14th Australian General Hospitals. The former was of smaller size than the General Hospitals, and the inside view of a ward in 1916 is shown with patients, nurses and doctors (Figure 5).

To date I have had problems in identifying the soldier who sent the card to Mrs P.C. Mowle in November 1915, but her husband has almost certainly been identified as Percival Conrad Mowle (1872-1951), a public servant, and member of the Marine Board of N.S.W. and editor of A Genealogical History of Pioneer Families of Australia, published by Angus and Robertson, Sydney(1939), which has extended to 5 editions. The woman written to was his wife, the former Nellie Sullivan, who died in 1947.

A map of Egypt is shown with Alexandria at the Mediterranean Sea and Cairo inland near the Nile River. It is difficult to find where Abbassia was located for all the references during both World Wars describe it as near Cairo, but it has merged into that city as of recent years. Previously it was the site of several Field Hospitals, and the tanks of WW2 were repaired there in the desert. It is not seen on the map where Cairo and Alexandria are identified with red arrows in Figure 6.