The WW1 Desert Front

Leeds Soldiers in Egypt

Soldiers fought in a variety of theatres of war from 1914 to 1918. Although we might imagine that trench warfare on the Western Front was the typical experience, this was just one of many settings in which soldiers fought.

Why did British troops go to Egypt?

Soon after the outbreak of the First World War, British troops were sent to Egypt, where their mission was to defend the Suez Canal from possible attack by Turkish forces. Because of its position, connecting the Mediterranean and the Red Seas, the Suez Canal was a key shipping route for Britain, allowing a far shorter journey to the oilfields of modern-day Iran. When the canal came under attack from Turkey, which was allied with Germany, Britain sent troops to protect it. 

What did they do there?

On arrival, soldiers would spend a few days at a military camp, to give them chance to get used to the climate. This was the first time many of them had left England and the heat and conditions would have been a dramatic change.

There were far fewer Turkish attacks near the Suez Canal than expected and so British troops had plenty of leisure time to explore the local area. These photographic postcards were donated to Leeds Museums and Galleries. They are believed to picture members of the Royal Engineers battalion from Leeds, who were sent to Egypt in 1917. These images reveal that British troops went on visits to the pyramids, rode camels through the desert, and met local people.

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