Reg (then 24) enlisted at Northam in July 1915 and entered Blackboy Hill camp on 17 August. On 4 November he was assigned to the 12th Reinforcements to the 10th Light Horse Regiment. With the reinforcements, including Guildford mate ‘Morey’ Jones (22) and new mates Cliff McWhirter (19) and Will Gillespie (19, often called Bill), Reg embarked for Egypt on 22 November 1915 on RMS Mongolia. They arrived at Suez on 14 December where Reg’s ‘Rough Diary’ begins.
At this time the 10th Light Horse Regiment was being evacuated from Gallipoli and, over the next few weeks, regrouped with reinforcements at Heliopolis, Egypt.
When not training, Reg, Cliff, Morey and Will toured Cairo: Ezbekia Gardens, where the YMCA held concerts for the soldiers; the Cairo Zoo, where they were most interested in the giraffes and hippopotamus; the exotic Wazir, where they witnessed “immorality, lurid to the extreme”; and the Sphinx and the Pyramids - the greatest of which, Cheops, they climbed on 27 December - “451 ft high. Hard climb but well worth it,” Reg wrote.
Reg was yearning for action, and frustrated when seconded to painting and signwriting duties in mid-January. Another good mate from Guildford, Jim McKinlay with the 4th Division Signal Company, was camped nearby and awaiting deployment to France. In April, though he felt guilty at leaving Cliff, Morey and Will, Reg applied to join Jim’s unit. His transfer was approved by Jim’s Commanding Officer, but not by his own.
In June Reg was finally engaged with soldiering work, escorting 70-odd camels carting water and stores to the British light railway head between Kantara and Romani, with Will. He then joined a team crossing the desert collecting water from wells, ancient cisterns and water holes, before destroying them. On 15 June they stopped at a lake on their way back to camp, shrubs and fruit trees on its banks, and Reg wrote “we had no idea the desert held such a beautiful pond. This we destroyed by blowing up and digging trenches all round.”
Hoping to run into some action they did not, which did nothing to lessen Reg’s frustration or determination to leave Egypt.
Today Bill and myself among others applied to study for commissions in the Imperial Army. My only reason for doing so is to get out of this Egypt if possible. For we are pure and simply just a fatigue party and our chances of even seeing any active service seems very remote. ...no matter what comes along I’ll do my utmost to get away from here.
4 July 1916.
In early August the 10th Light Horse Regiment was called in to the last stages of the Battle of Romani, clearing the Turks away from the Canal Zone.
2.30pm Saturday 5 August. We are just waiting to get right into it for the first time. Machine guns are rattling just a hundred yards away. One poor chap is laying up on the ridge, killed. Fighting place: Nagid. Our position is bad. 35 miles east of Port Said. The Artillery is booming forth again. Temperature is anything over 100 degrees. Morey, Will, Mac[Whirter], J[im] F[rost] and Self are all tip-top.
5 August 1916
Ten minutes later they were on their bellies crawling up a sand dune under heavy fire from two Turkish machine guns when Jim Frost was shot through the arm and heart. Right next to Reg, he died instantly.
Moments later the others charged over the dune into deserted Turkish trenches, following which an artillery barrage saw the last of the fight go out of the Turks. Reg’s small troop captured 500 prisoners and five machine guns.
Later, they found Jim and buried him beside an oasis, a cross marking the spot “where this fine fellow lays.” Having emptied Jim’s pockets of his treasures, they gave them to his brother Hubert, in A Squadron.
It was considered a great win for us. But after being in action for the first time and seeing a mate killed alongside of me it makes one wonder however such a mad and horrid state of affairs can exist. But one must not be sentimental here. The other man is out to kill you, so it is best to get him first.
7 August 1916