Limbury soldier with Allenby in Alexandria

Limbury soldier 2nd-Cpl Charles William Stokes, serving in the Records Department of the Royal Engineers with the Egyptian Force, described General Allenby's review in Alexandria in December 1918 in a letter to his Aunt Elizabeth that was published in the Saturday Telegraph (January 11th, 1919). Charles had lived with his aunt and her sister at The Meadow, Limbury, from childhood and by the time of the 1911 Census was an auctioneer and estate agent's clerk.

In his letter from Egypt, Cpl Stokes wrote: “Monday, December 2nd, 1918, was a very eventful day in the history of Alexandria – such a day as will not be easily forgotten by those who were privileged to be present. The military for once had entire sway, and most thoroughfares were gaily bedecked in honour of an auspicious event.

“General Sir Edmund Allenby - the victorious leader of our troops in Palestine to such an utter rout of the Turkish forces, whose efforts were responsible for one of the greatest advances of the war, and at the same time were the means by which German hopes in the East were absolutely smashed beyond any question of reconstruction – was to review one of the divisions which took part from the commencement in the operation on this front.

“Early in the morning, with the chilly air sending vigour tingling though one's veins, vast masses of khaki-clad men were to be seen marching, with heads erect and with a wonderful step and energy, accompanied by their respective bands whose cheerful blare gave a very martial atmosphere to the whole scene. They massed along the wall by the mighty sea which, as if to give its own effect to the grandeur of the important event, rolled and swished, its white-tipped wavelets seeming to roll in even greater splendour as they broke, and were followed by an ever-continuous procession of surf.

“Crowds of enthusiastic sightseers were beginning to assemble in all parts. Hotel balconies and roofs were a mass of seething humanity, whose cosmopolitan dress gave a wonderful effect.

“The privileged guard of honour were lined up, while a body of men from the 3rd Echelon, of which I was a member, stretched from the Compound nearly to the French Consulate. Flags, decorations and gay-coloured festoons hung from poles all along the route, and fluttered in the morning breeze. A hum of voices from the surging multitude, the hooting of motor horns, to steady tramping of thousands of soldiers, the rattle of transports and guns all contributed towards the making of an unforgettable day.

“Presently, native music caused some of us to look up. It was a band of Indian troops which was marching with its regiment, the Punjabs. I thought at the time what a wonderful personality some of our leaders in that far away land must have to have secured the devotion and loyalty of all the teeming millions of India's people, who have been so widely represented throughout the war.

“Rather a coincidence was the fact that immediately following them were some of the British West Indies troops with their band. Thus East and West were united.

“Above circled and wheeled, looped and dived, several seaplanes and aeroplanes, while in the foreground a huge Handley-Page machine whirled, swooped and roared, flashing in the sunlight like a huge bird.

“At about 9.15am I went on to the Mohamed Ali Square, which was the saluting base. Thousands of people were crowded together in every available spot. Photographers and cinema operators were all striving for the best positions to obtain a record of the great affair.

Presently the martial sound of yet another band was heard from the direction Cherif Pasha Street. All eyes turned to see. A naval detachment from HMS Hannibal was approaching. With their rifles and bayonets fixed, marching with a pleasing rhythm, they swerved round the statue, halted and formed up. Thus was the Senior Service represented.

“We were not kept waiting very long before a body of outriders of the Royal Engineers came along very slowly. I am very glad that my unit were so highly honoured as to have the position of preceding their illustrious chief. Immediately behind them, in a motor car, was the brilliant commander and his wife, Lady Allenby. A vociferous cheer rose, clapping of hands and shouting from the public, many of whom no doubt realised the true meaning of all the General Allenby's victory has meant to this country.

“The General now returned to the Square, after reviewing the assembled troops, and past him rode the 53rd Divisional Artillery. What hours of work those artillerymen must have spent upon their guns and equipment! All the polishable parts of the guns were shining brilliantly, while horses and men looked remarkably well and fit. It seemed difficult to realise that these men, horses and guns had been so long on active service.

“Quite 45 minutes had passed before all had gone. After them came the glorious infantry – men who have faced great hardships, many of them on that death-trap of Gallipoli, and who had afterwards marched across burning sands to the chilly, rain-soaked hills of Palestine, pushing before them a wily and powerful foe.

“I know something of what the campaign on the hot desert meant. In 1916 I took part with the same division in the operations on the Sinai Peninsula, and I am not likely to forget the days when water was a priceless possession. A great stretch of sandy waste that forever lay before us, rolling back to a blue sky, whence the mighty sun beat down in merciless rays of heat upon the wearied men.

“On starry nights, in a silence that could almost be felt, the ever-vigilant eyes of the British soldier were watching, protecting the interests of England in the Suez Canal from the marauding raids of the enemy.

“These men who have left homes, positions and loved ones received a fairly good reception. I regret to say that is all I can say. Just a little cheer when the first battalion came in sight – and that was all.

“And what of the gallant souls that lie buried in the sands that sweep east of the canal? Their immortal memories shall stand a lasting monument to devotion and patriotism! It is to such as these that lie sleeping their last long sleep so far away from their homes, amidst the silence and dust that for ages has prevailed, the we who are left to remember them owe our lives and liberty.”