Lord Allenby's Special Train, Dock Siding, Port Said, Egypt
June 15, 1920
To Frances Breasted From Breasted June 15, 1920 CANTO FROM ENGLAND EARLY JULY CREEK COOK. PALLMALL.
[hand-written on telegram] Canto: Cannot leave on date fixed. Hope to sail from England early July. Creek: Forward my letters to Paris care of Cook
Lord Allenby’s Special Train, Dock Siding, Port Said, Egypt.
My dear Frances:
Kantara (Egypt): The British camp on the Suez canal. (N. 3385, P. 6945)
I am sitting in a luxurious special train alongside the Suez Canal on the dock at Port Said, having arrived about two hours ago. The railway runs alongside the canal from Kantara to Port Said for 25 or 30 miles. As we came up we saw our ship, the “Mantua,” steaming along the canal only a hundred yards from the train. It will be another hour and a half before she arrives here so that we have something of a wait before we can go on board. Some of this wait we have spent at dinner. Lord Allenby has come down with Lady Allenby to see her safely on the ship, and they invited me into their dining saloon to have dinner with them. Lord Allenby enquired more fully into my trip from Baghdad, and said, “I hope you will tell all this to the Prime Minister and to Earl Curzon. It is extremely important that they should know it. I have wired Earl Curzon very fully and they will be expecting you”. I did not tell him that I have a copy of his wire in my pocket, furnished me by one of his secretaries before I left Cairo! I will show it to you on my arrival home. The dinner was very pleasant, and I wish I could recount to you the whole conversation. Among other things of interest Lady Allenby said to her husband, “You must tell Dr. Breasted of the curious coincidence of our visit to the battle-field of Megiddo”. I then found that they had visited the battlefield only a fortnight ago, just a few days before our own vexatious fiasco in endeavoring to reach it, of which I have already written you. “You know”, said Lord Allenby, “for you have very fully written of it, how Thutmose III crossed the Carmel ridge, riding through the pass to meet the enemy in a chariot of shining electrum. We had your book with us and we had just read of it, so we knew the dates. He went through on the 15th of May over three thousand years ago, and on the same day I took Mabel (sometimes he calls her Mabel, sometimes Lady Allenby) for the first time to see the battlefield where we beat the Turks, and like Thutmose III we also went through in a chariot of shining metal, for our machine had wheels of aluminum and was all covered with polished metal. So Lady Allenby saw the scene of our victory for the first time on the anniversary of the earliest known battle there, and also approached it in a chariot of glittering metal. I wanted her to see it, for you know I took my title from there, Allenby of Megiddo, because it was a cavalry operation which broke the Turkish line, and I was a cavalry officer”.
After dinner as we stood in the corridor of the train, Lord Allenby took me aside and charged me again to tell the Prime Minister and Earl Curzon all the facts, especially those which would reveal the hostility of the western Arabs to the British, who used to be so popular among them. “I am confident”, said he, “that they will listen to you, who are without prejudice, and have no interests to serve, much more readily than they will listen to me”. He said also some very kind things, which I would feel rather foolish to put in here. As he shook my hand in parting, he added, “I have told the Foreign Office in my telegram, that you have gone a long way out of your way to do us this service, and have asked them to secure you a passage from England to America on a good ship at once. So I hope that you will feel no anxiety on that score. I have also asked them to reimburse you for any expense which you may incur in thus changing your route. I understand that you have disposed of your trans-Atlantic passage from Naples, and the Foreign Office will have secured you another from England by the time you arrive there”. He left me with very cordial wishes for my return to Egypt.
I have had a trying time in Cairo, getting duly packed, passed by the Museum, insured and properly shipped the large and valuable collection which I am bringing home. It will go from Port Said in a ship sailing directly for America without trans-shipment June 20th. Just as I was leaving I picked up the official seal cylinder of King Snefru, the builder of the first great pyramid; also another of a great official of king Menkure.
For several days I did not know which way I was to go from Egypt to Europe. The ship in which Lord Allenby wished to get me a berth had left Bombay entirely full, and the aide-de-camp had not yet been able to get in touch with her by wireless as late as day before yesterday (Sunday). So Sunday morning I went into the office of the Italian Line and paid my fare, and Ali’s too. This involved my going to London by way of Italy and France, and I feared I might become involved in the railway and dock strikes in both countries. The young secretaries at the Residency however, assured me that they could secure me every assistance from British attachés on the way, and so I determined to take the plunge. There was some difficulty about a Diplomatic Visa from the American Consulate for Italy and France, but Lord Allenby wrote a personal note asking our Agency (Consulate) to facilitate it in every possible way. There were some other complications, but when I dropped in at the Residency after having gotten all my boxes of antiquities through at the Museum, Wiggin, the young secretary in charge of my transportation told me that I could go by way of Naples if I wished, and he had secured the necessary visas for passage through Italy and France; but that he had finally heard from the big P. & O. liner on which Lady Allenby was going and had been assured that they could give me a berth. So I could take my choice. It did not take long to decide, for the P. & O. goes all the way to England by water, and going on board would be much easier, with a cavass to look after the baggage, and a special train in which to relax without anxiety until we stepped onto the dock at Port Said. Wiggin called a Residency car and we drove to the Italian Line office, where the agent was exceedingly courteous and gave me back my passage money and that of Ali also. Wiggin showed me a draught of the telegram which Lord Allenby proposed to send to His Majesty’s Government and promised to send a cavass to see me to the special train. All was at last in order for beginning the journey home and I felt much relieved.
Next day (today) I spent a large part of the morning with a stenographer from the American Agency belonging to the military attaché, Colonel Allen, who desired me to dictate a full statement to send to the War Department in Washington. Shortly afterward Wiggin called with my tickets, passport, baggage tags, tissue copy of Allenby’s telegram to His Majesty’s Government, and a stately laisser-passer addressed to all British government officials, asking them to give all possible aid at any stage of the journey, and signed by Allenby. The train had been advanced in time of departure by an hour and a half and I had barely time to get my lunch, sitting with Judge Crabites the American member of the Mixed Tribunal, who told me of Harding’s nomination. Three quarters of an hour before train time the cavass duly appeared, and with Ali on the box we drove to the station. A sumptuous red runner was laid down the entire length of the station platform, and it expanded when it reached the train to a spacious red ocean which native servants were industriously sweeping as we approached. I found all my large baggage in the “luggage van” as the English always say, and my small stuff was quickly stowed away in a drawing room compartment, where I was presently joined by Dr. Llewellyn Phillips, who had inoculated us all for cholera last February. He is the leading physician in Cairo, and he told me he was going to Port Said to see the little daughter of General Clayton, Internal Adviser to the Government of Egypt. Clayton had two little girls stopping at Port Said with their mother. One of them was suddenly taken ill with some strange infection and died 48 hours later. Clayton had just buried the little thing this morning, when a telegram arrived from Port Said saying the other child was similarly affected and had a temperature of 106. A few minutes later General Clayton appeared on the platform and came into the train, just from his little girl’s funeral. Phillips said he had made an examination and there was no trace of meningitis. With the usual English reserve and self-command, General Clayton engaged in conversation with us and no one would have known there was any trouble.
Lady Allenby presently appeared, coming down the long red carpet alone. The entire station was deserted, for no one was allowed to come in. Lord Allenby appeared a few minutes later engaged in animated conversation with General Congreve, Military Commander-in-Chief in Egypt. A lot of secretaries and friends quickly collected, many bringing flowers or sweets. I kept out of the way, but as the car was hot, I stepped outside and Allenby promptly came over to shake hands. Thereupon General Congreve also stepped over and said, “I am very glad you are going on this errand but I say, — you seem to have scared Gouraud to death! He seems to be frightened out of his wits”. I thought he meant something about my journal letter. I told him about it and asked him to give me some light; but he insisted that he was only joking, and would say nothing more. I am sure he meant something which he finally decided not to tell me. But I could not worm out a single word of explanation.
The only other passengers were two aides-de-camp, with the wife of one of them, Mrs. Morrice, whom he was taking to the ship. Several of the Residency cavasses came along, besides the regular staff of the special train, including a cook, a steward, butler and servants. The train consisted of a luggage van ahead; a dining car; two saloon cars, with several bed-rooms, dressing rooms and wash rooms, etc., in each car; and finally a second class car in the rear for the servants, where one of the aides-de-camp stowed away Ali. As the train started glasses of lemon juice and large bottles of cold soda water were brought in for charged lemonade. An hour later tea was served. It was very dusty and hot, — the weather, not the tea; but the windows were fitted with bluish glass, and large electric fans were running. It was all very different from my arrival last October. A number of stops were made and at every stop a guard of Tommies climbed out of the train and patrolled the entire length of the train on each side. No one was allowed to come near. At the present moment sentries posted at intervals are swinging resolutely up and down just outside my windows in the quiet starlight. Lord and Lady Allenby have gone for a walk on the sea shore, which is but a few hundred yards away. The storage battery has been allowed to run down, and the lights are sinking. A steward brings in a lot of candles, but the breeze is too strong for them and I must give this up. I hear Lady Allenby’s voice outside and Mrs. Morrice comes in to say that the ship has just tied up to a buoy in the basin beside us. I hear the aide-de-camp swearing at the steward for allowing the storage battery to run down. They come in for my baggage, with which Ali also goes on board, and I must put up the machine and send it along.
For the full story of my exciting trip you should come to the special exhibit “Pioneers to the Past: American Archaeologists in the Middle East, 1919-1920,” at the Oriental Institute!
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