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 not helped by rumours that Egyptian pimps had stabbed soldiers. It became a milestone in the unofficial history of the Anzacs.
Many of those involved were drunk. The houses of prostitutes were ransacked and their furniture thrown into the streets and set alight. Local firefighters were prevented from putting out these fires when their hoses were attacked. The military authorities had to use mounted police, ‘a squadron of yeomanry and picquets of Lancashire territorials’ to restore order. The subsequent inquiry heard from few reliable witnesses; the Australians and New Zealanders blamed each other. As a consequence, all leave was stopped.
Some argued that such events were inevitable with large numbers of men 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