Anzac soldiers riot in Cairo's Wazzir brothel district

2 April 1915

Damage caused during the 'Battle of Wazzir' (Alexander Turnbull Library, PAColl-0914-1-53-1)

During the afternoon and evening of 2 April (Good Friday), up to 2500 New Zealand and Australian troops rioted in the Haret Al Wassir red-light district of Cairo’s Ezbekieh Quarter.

Legend has it that the ‘Battle of the Wazzir’ began as a reprisal for the spread of venereal disease and was inflamed by rumours that Egyptian pimps had stabbed soldiers. According to another account, it began as a mission to rescue a young Englishwoman who was being held as a sex slave. Whatever its origins, it became a milestone in the unofficial history of the Anzacs.

Many of the men involved had begun drinking early on their day off. 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 best efforts of the military authorities, a ‘Second Battle of the Wazzir’ would be fought on 31 July 1915.

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