Finsbury Rifles

Away from the Western Front : 10th – 23rd March 1917.

 Precautions against cholera


IWM ART2939 bacteriologist inspectin test tube James McBey
Bacteria: in the lab of a field hospital the London specialist and his assistant examine the contents of a test tube. ©IWM(Art.IWM Art 2939)


The army medical infrastructure in Egypt had been set up to treat casualties from Gallipoli. During the 1916 when much of the EEF was tied up in defending the Suez Canal against a largely absent enemy force, the Royal Army Medical Corps was able to refine sanitary arrangements. Each division had its own Sanitary Section. This section was in charge of making sure all camp areas were fit for purpose and the importance of  good practice was dinned into all officers and men. As a result, the overall  sickness rate during 1916 and early 1917 was extremely low – only 0.2 % amongst the 54th (East Anglian) Division.

It was well known that cholera was spread through the contamination of water supplies by human faeces. As the campaign advanced through the Sinai Desert and into Southern Palestine, the RAMC was at the forefront of making sure that an outbreak of cholera remained a threat rather than a reality. As well as maintaining high standards of hygiene and sanitation,  soldiers were also vaccinated. 90,000 units of cholera vaccine had been sent out to Egypt. It was only effective against cholera if administered in 2 stages and before any contact with the disease.

This description of El Arish in December 1916 shows some of the challenges the RAMC encountered in keeping disease at bay.

… human excrement, filth and garbage of all kinds, were heaped in every corner, and met the eye and the nostrils at every turn… latrine-pits, full to the brim with the accumulation of months, were spread indiscriminately over the whole town- area, each adding its stench to the already over-burdened air. There was a plague of flies in the place, and little wonder…Well might the officer commanding our R.A.M.C. Sanitary Section have despaired at sight of … El Arish. But of course he did nothing of the kind. He and his men wasted no time in looking at the job; they just took off their coats and went at it. Organisation won the day.

Date 10/3/17

Bathing Parades – ½ holiday – Batt. Command inoculation against cholera. Capt. Rev. Dixon Spain reported from 3 days leave.

Date 11/3/17

Divine Service postponed on account of Sandstorm. L. Col. S.C. Byrne left for England via Alexandria. Major A.H. Windsor takes over command of Batt.

Date: 12/3/17

Company Training. Usual Camp Routine.

Date: 13. To 17/3/17

Company Training. Backing Parades. Batt. On outpost duty every 4th night.

Date: 18/3/17

Brigade Divine Service. Routine as usual.

Date: 19/3/17

Brigade outpost Scheme for night 19/20. 11 London in Receiver. Battalion on Brigade Duties.

Date: 20/3/17

Returned from outpost Scheme + prepared to move same day to Sheik Zowaid. Batt. Moved 1715. Arr. Sheik Zowaid 2000 & prepared

Location: SHEIK ZOWAID Date: 21/3/17

Battn engaged in squaring up bivouac.

Date: 23/3/17

Training + Backing Parades – Usual Routine

Date 24/3/17

Batt. proceeded to Rafa 0800 by Route March arriving 1300

Batt. On outpost duty night 24/5. Orders received to move

Date 25/3/17

Batt. Proceeds to In Seirat via Khan Junis where day spent in bivouac arriving In Seirat 2200.

Location SEIRAT Date: 26/3/17

Batt. Proceeded at 0630 to El Meshrefe for day moved out at 2000 to outpost line Tel/El Ahmar


After serving more than 25 years with the Finsbury Rifles, Lt – Col Stanley Cesnola Byrne returned home to England via some of the well-known sights of Egypt. His battalion would remain in the Middle East for another two years.

Q57786 Lt col SC Byrne at the Sphinx March 1917
Lt-Col S.C.Byrne at the Sphinx , March 1917.© IWM (Q57786)



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