While it's not the dirty kind of archaeology, there are still mysteries that need a bit of digging to uncover answers.
This one at least begins in Egypt.
In my junk thread
I posted some scans from a collection of original photographs
taken by a member of the British armed forces of unknown rank during the First World War.
All I can glean from them, from the pictures and the notes written on the back, is that he was in Egypt and Palestine between 1916 and 1918.
The collection comprised 72 photographs and 61 postcards. None of the postcards had been addressed or sent, but he had written notes on the reverse, mainly historical or social.
He was deliberately secretive about sensitive locations, such as the barracks, his lodgings and this:
Does anyone recognize this armoured vehicle?
On the back of the photo is written: “Somewhere in Egypt. July 1918”.
I’ve looked through hundreds of pictures but can’t find another vehicle like it. There appears to be two off-set turrets, each with a different style of roof (flat and pitched). From the length it’s more an armoured truck than an armoured car, with an open back apart from the turrets.
This is where he stayed in Egypt:
On the reverse: "This is a snap shot of our 'Home-from-Hone' 'somewhere in Egypt'. - Our room is the one with the open shutters on top floor - (marked with a cross)."
This was the barracks, though I don't know whether it's in Egypt or Palestine:
On the reverse: “Church Parade at the Barracks – a line from x to x would cut through our office on the Balcony. The tree on the left is the one I picked that peculiar Blossom from. The Church occupies the ground floor, but there were too many troops – so service was held in the open.”
It's evident that at some point he was at Kantara in Egypt:
On the reverse: “The concert party at Kantara”. *
Kantara was an important point in the defence of Suez against Turkish attacks and marked the starting point of the new railway east towards Sinai and Palestine, begun in January 1916. Kantara developed into a major base and hospital centre.
EM-TY / M.T. A.S.C. refers to 'Mechanical Transport' and 'Army Service Corps'.
The ASC existed from 1914 to 1918, before becoming the RASC (Royal Army Service Corps).
There's no evidence that the photographer was connected to the ASC, just that the Concert Party at Kantara was formed by ASC members.
If he was connected, then there was an ASC Base Depot established at Alexandria in 1914, serving the Levant (Egypt and Palestine).
The ASC MT Depot Companies
The ASC Mechanical Transport Depot Companies filled a variety of administrative, recruitment, induction, training and re-supply roles. The Base Depots were based in the United Kingdom or at the port of entry to a theatre of war. Advanced Depots were located further up the lines of communication.
500 Formed September 1915. 3rd Base Depot in Alexandria, Egypt.
557 Formed November 1915 as Special Base Depot for Middle East, but was converted before departure into an Ammunition Column.
599 Formed October 1915. Base Depot and Repair Unit in East Africa.
The ASC MT Companies in the Divisional Supply Columns
Each Division of the army had a certain amount of motorised transport allocated to it, although not directly under its own command. The Divisional Supply Column Companies were responsible for the supply of goods, equipment and ammunition from the Divisional railhead to the Divisional Refilling Point and, if conditions allowed, to the dumps and stores of the forward units. Used, of course, where loads were heavy. A Company initially comprised 5 officers and 337 other ranks of the ASC, looking after 45 3-ton lorries, 16 30-cwt lorries, 7 motor cycles, 2 cars and 4 assorted trucks for the workshop and stores of the Supply Column itself.
338 Formed April 1915. 22nd Division. Later served in Egypt with 10th (Irish) Division and Salonika as army troops under GHQ command.
The ASC MT Companies allotted as Divisional Ammunition Parks
The MT Companies called Ammunition Parks operated dumps, or stores, of ammunition. This included the larger calibres of artillery shells which required special handling equipment, smaller shells, mortar rounds, grenades and small arms ammunition too.
347 Formed June 1915 for 34th Division but appears not to have moved to France. Was in Egypt and palestine as Lines of Communication unit.
The ASC MT Companies attached to the Royal Garrison Artillery as Ammunition Columns / Parks
The heavy guns and howitzers of the RGA, with attendant equipment and ammunition, needed motorised transport to haul them. The MT Companies called Ammunition Parks operated dumps, or stores, of ammunition. The larger calibres of artillery shells required special mechanical handling equipment.
810 Formed October 1916. Ammunition Column for 209 Siege Battery in Palestine, later 424 Siege Battery in Salonika..
811 Formed November 1916. Ammunition Column for 199 then 201 Siege Battery in Palestine.
904 Formed February 1917. Ammunition Column for 10 and 195 Heavy Batteries in Palestine.
951 Formed April 1917. Ammunition Column for 189 Heavy Battery in Palestine.
952 Formed April 1917. Ammunition Column for 202 Heavy Battery in Palestine.
955 Formed April 1917. Ammunition Column for 300 Siege Battery in Palestine.
963 Formed June 1917. Ammunition Column for 378 Siege Battery in Palestine.
964 Formed June 1917. Ammunition Column for 379 Siege Battery in Palestine.
965 Formed June 1917. Ammunition Column for 380 Siege Battery in Palestine.
966 Formed June 1917. Ammunition Column for 383 Siege Battery in Palestine.
967 Formed June 1917. Ammunition Column for 387 Siege Battery in Palestine.
980 Formed August 1917. Ammunition Column for 423 Siege Battery in Palestine.
981 Formed August 1917. Ammunition Column for 424 Siege Battery in Palestine.
982 Formed August 1917. Ammunition Column for 420 Siege Battery in Palestine.
983 Formed August 1917. Ammunition Column for 421 Siege Battery in Palestine.
984 Formed August 1917. Ammunition Column for 422 Siege Battery in Palestine.
988 Formed August 1917. Ammunition Column for 134 Siege Battery in Palestine.
989 Formed September 1917. Caterpillar tractor company for 205 Siege Battery in Palestine.
990 Formed September 1917. Caterpillar tractor company for 43 Siege Battery in Palestine.
1006 Formed September 1917. Ammunition Column for 440 Siege Battery in Palestine.
1007 Formed September 1917. Ammunition Column for 445 Siege Battery in Palestine.
1008 Formed September 1917. Ammunition Column for 443 Siege Battery in Palestine.
1030 Formed October 1917. MT for a 6-inch howitzer Siege Battery in Palestine.
1072 Formed April 1918. Ammunition Column for 392 Siege Battery RGA in Palestine.
1073 Formed March 1918. Ammunition Column for 394 Siege Battery RGA in Palestine.
He writes nothing about these incidents:
Siegfried Sassoon wrote a poem about a concert party at Kantara:
3. Concert Party
(EGYPTIAN BASE CAMP)
THEY are gathering round....
Out of the twilight; over the grey-blue sand,
Shoals of low-jargoning men drift inward to the sound—
The jangle and throb of a piano ... tum-ti-tum...
Drawn by a lamp, they come
Out of the glimmering lines of their tents, over the shuffling sand.
O sing us the songs, the songs of our own land,
You warbling ladies in white.
Dimness conceals the hunger in our faces,
This wall of faces risen out of the night,
These eyes that keep their memories of the places
So long beyond their sight.
Jaded and gay, the ladies sing; and the chap in brown
Tilts his grey hat; jaunty and lean and pale,
He rattles the keys ... some actor-bloke from town...
God send you home; and then A long, long trail;
I hear you calling me; and Dixieland....
Sing slowly ... now the chorus ... one by one
We hear them, drink them; till the concert’s done.
Silent, I watch the shadowy mass of soldiers stand.
Silent, they drift away, over the glimmering sand.
Kantara, April 1918