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Don't Trust a Camel

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1. Peter DOIG

by Robyn Hukin © All rights reserved
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My grandfather Peter William Kenneth DOIG always said camels had a bad temper, they spat and they stank. As a child I thought he and the camels would have been perfectly suited as he was a terrifying old man. He died at aged 87 when I was only 14 and I regret not having had the courage or opportunity to have talked to him about his life. 

Peter was a lieutenant in the 10th Light Horse in the Middle East in World War 1, earning a Military Cross for capturing 1,000 Turks. It was many years before I discovered he had actually spent more time in the Imperial Camel Corps than in the 10th Light Horse. My fascination with this led me to look in a range of sources for his military career, many of which will be of use to other researchers.

A great place to start is with the National Archives of Australia: www.naa.gov.au where his service documents (31 pages) have now been scanned and are freely available on-line. Another is the Australian War Memorial www.awm.gov.au which contains a wealth of material on line. I would also strongly recommend visiting the Research Centre at the War Memorial in Canberra and spending at least a week delving into their records. I found Company and Battalion diaries, which gave the background to the few days prior to the capture of the enemy troops. Reading between the lines it would seem the Australians had recently taken possession of new bayonets and were keen to try them out!  

Unit histories also proved interesting and gave a fascinating insight into the psyche of the men who served in the Camel Corps. My favourite story concerned an event which must have created great headaches for their commanders. The desert at night could be extremely cold so after burning packing cases to keep themselves warm the soldiers ran out of firewood. Looking around to see what else they could burn they spied a telegraph pole, which was quite successful at providing heat. After continuing to burn several more the practice came to the attention of higher authorities who weren’t impressed to discover the cameleers had not only burnt eight miles of poles, but these had been carrying the Turkish telegraph lines, which allied intelligence had been using to tap for information. When the line went dead investigations discovered the line was no longer on poles! 

Other than the character references for camels Peter never spoke of his war time experiences and it has only been my delving that has revealed something of the things he encountered. Material held at the AWM Research Centre will give researchers another view of their military forebears, not always a rosy one. I learnt where soldiers would have located the VD clinic in Cairo; how many disregarded the advice given by superiors on not to visit local brothels; not to swim in the canals and rivers due to often fatal and untreatable parasites to be found there; or not to fish using explosives. I also learnt how camels were used in combat and what a dangerous unit it was in which to serve. Peter Doig’s letters home also provided the occasional insight: A sad event happened a week or so back. One of the 10th Cadets at Zietoin took part in a battle with soda water syphons on Xmas (sic) night and got wet through, as he had a few he forgot to change his clothes when he went to bed. Result, hospital next day and a funeral less than a week later.

The Cameliers by Oliver HOGUE (Trooper Bluegum) provided corroboration of Peter’s opinion of camels: It was not all plain sailing with those camels. Several men badly bitten went to hospital... There was one man-killer there with a most unsavoury reputation. He had killed a few men and sent several to hospital. Anon he went on trek with an Anzac battalion, and after a spell of decent behaviour broke out again and threatened to slaughter a whole section.

He was laid out temporarily with a crack on the skull, but the rider was taking no more chances. Next day he loitered behind on the trek, blew the camel’s brains out, and reported to the O.C. that the camel had died of a broken heart….

And another comment which took my fancy: One unlucky officer achieved fame – or notoriety – by being knocked off his camel by an aeroplane…

After the Imperial Camel Corps was disbanded Peter returned to the 10th Light Regiment. Army Despatches recorded: Second Lieutenant Peter William Kenneth Doig, M.C. This officer whilst carrying out the duties of fight flank guard to the regiment in its advance on Jenin on the 20th September, 1918, came upon nearly 1,000 of the enemy. With quick decision and free courage, he charged with the sword, completely demoralising the enemy, with the result that the whole party was captured by him. Although continually sniped at, he succeeded in disarming the lot.

Peter’s version was somewhat different when he wrote to his favourite sister Floss: 

My troops saw a few Turks out where we were and we charged with drawn swords, when I got amongst them I very nearly fell off my horse as there turned out to be a thousand of them when they were all rounded up. I couldn’t help likening them to a big mob of sheep and the only think missing was a couple of good dogs to help keep them together. I done fairly well out of the transaction as I got an automatic revolver and a pair of glasses worth anything up to ₤15.

Since then the Colonel thinks I did big things and I’ve been recommended for a Military Cross, but when I get it I’ll believe it and must account myself very lucky indeed. 

Peter remained in Egypt after the end of WW1 as part of a peacekeeping force prior to returning to Australia. He married Ethel Smith in Tooyday in 1923.

Peter William Kenneth Doig circa 1917. (Authors collection)  

 

Left and below: Peter William Kenneth Doig circa 1917.
(Authors collection) 

   

Peter William Kenneth Doig & Camel circa 1917. (Authors collection)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Sources and notes 

Peter’s quotes are from Dog With One I. A history of the Doig Family of South Australia by Robyn Hukin. 1994.

National Archives of Australia: www.naa.gov.au 

Australian War Memorial: www.awm.gov.au

Last Updated on Sunday, 06 October 2013 10:34

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