During the afternoon and evening of 2 April (Good Friday), an estimated 2500 New Zealand and Australian troops rioted in the Haret Al Wassir red-light district of Cairo’s Ezbekieh Quarter.
The so-called ‘Battle of the Wazzir’ supposedly began as a reprisal for the spread of venereal disease and was inflamed by rumours that Egyptian pimps had stabbed soldiers. It became a milestone in the unofficial history of the Anzacs.
Many of the men involved were drunk. The houses of prostitutes were ransacked and their furniture was thrown into the streets and set alight. Local firefighters who attempted to put out these fires were obstructed and their hoses were damaged. The military authorities had to deploy mounted police, a squadron of yeomanry and picquets of Lancashire territorials to restore order. All leave was stopped, but the subsequent inquiry heard from few reliable witnesses – the Australians and New Zealanders blamed each other.
Some argued that such events were inevitable when large numbers of men were crowded together far from home (and close to being sent into battle). Despite the efforts of the military authorities, a ‘Second Battle of the Wazzir’ would be fought on 31 July 1915.
Image: NZ troops entering Cairo