The Darker Side

As has undoubtedly been discovered by many war research efforts, so too have we found that not all the Tramway Anzacs were exemplary soldiers and citizens.

Like many of their fellow soldiers, a surprisingly large number contracted venereal disease. The nightclubs and entertainment of Cairo was all too close to their training camps in Egypt, and as young men often do when far away from home, they indulged.

The British military authorities did not issue prophylactics to the troops, insisting that they do the moral thing and resist temptation – in effect, be upstanding members of the British Empire.

But what happened if you were unfortunate enough to catch VD? You would be placed on report, have pay stopped, and be admitted to specialist hospital wards. In a pre-antibiotic age, treatment for VD was crude and not terribly effective. Recurrence of VD was common, with serious long-term health consequences.

Like many other servicemen, several Tramway Anzacs were placed on charges for being drunk in the line of match, absent without leave, or abusive to an officer or NCO. Stoppage of pay was the usual punishment, or reduction to the ranks if an NCO, but some unfortunates were subjected to Field Punishment Number One. A few were court-martialled of more serious offences, and imprisoned for lengthy sentences – months, or years in some cases.

However, none were sentenced to death – after the Breaker Morant and Wilmansrust incidents in the Boer War, the Australian Government determined that capital punishment would never apply to our troops. This was a continuing bone of contention with British High Command throughout the war, who viewed the Australians as undisciplined and a poor example to the British troops - the bad boys of the Imperial family.