Farewell To Egypt

Hi everyone.

So that was summer, then. Of course, with such dreadful weather-related events happening in other parts of the world, those of us in the UK shouldn’t really be moaning about the damp conditions but it does feel very autumnal now and my central heating has already been cranked back into action.

I must admit to having lost some of my recent enthusiasm for typing up Ethel’s letters as other stuff seems to be demanding my attention. However, I’m determined not to leave too long a gap before I continue with them and as I only have three more letters left to transcribe and research before being able to start a new section of the book, hopefully that will motivate me. I do want to write one more blog post on the Egypt letters though before I leave them and move onto the Holy Land.

After all the excitement of seeing the Tutankhamun excavations and artefacts with Howard Carter as their guide, Ethel and Lady Burghclere return to Cairo again but this time they stay at The Residency. This is the term used for the official residence of the Governor General or High Commissioner in a Commonwealth country and the incumbent High Commissioner for Egypt in 1928 was Sir George Lloyd, an associate of Lady Burghclere’s half-brother Aubrey Herbert.

According to Ethel’s letter, Princess Mary (King George V’s daughter) and her husband Lord Lascelles were also due to arrive at The Residency in March 1928 for a month’s private holiday, shortly after Ethel and Lady Burghclere had left for Jerusalem. In one of the newspaper reports about Princess Mary’s visit, The Residency is described as: “A large white building with great, spacious rooms, looking out over the Nile, only about 50 yards away. There is a lovely garden and a broad stone terrace, where it is delightful to sit under an awning and watch the sailing boats drift past. The pyramids too, can be seen in the distance and nearer, the magnificent red and purple bougainvilleas climbing over the white garden walls of The Residency in glorious sunshine.”

It may have been a holiday but apparently Princess Mary still found time to attend a regimental dinner and inspect a large rally of Girl Guides as well as visit the bazaars, pyramids and other sights!

princess mary

Princess Mary in 1926 Photo: Wikipedia

Princess Mary was not the only royalty in Egypt around that time as the Crown Prince of Italy (Umberto II), who went on to become the last ever king of Italy, was also on a visit there. As mentioned in a previous post, he stayed at the same hotel as Ethel and Lady Burghclere when they were in Cairo the first time round. I discovered some wonderful black and white footage from his visit on the internet which is well worth a look, although sadly there is no sign of Ethel or Lady Burghclere.


The letter that Ethel wrote to my grandmother from The Residency is probably one of my favourites in the whole collection. I remember reading it before I had read any others and I was immediately captivated by Ethel’s wonderful and incredibly evocative descriptions. For a woman who was born above a butcher’s shop in the back streets of Leicester, in the heart of industrial England at the end of the 19th century, she could really write. Here are a couple of examples of her poetic prose:

It was a full moon and the sky was ablaze with stars. The Nile lay below us like a gleaming silver girdle clasped round a sleeping forest of palms, cypresses and minarets, stretching beyond the desert. It gave, particularly in the evening, a sense of illimitable distance and somehow the riddle of human destiny wove itself into the consciousness of the hour and made all life seem larger.

It’s all simply wonderful. There were days, windless days, when the Nile was as a dream and the Arabian mountains dreamlike in the glittering distance. When the voices of the children, mingling with the antiquary of the wheel under the blazing blue, had the sounds of unearthly things. When the stillness of the palms overshadowing the brown towers carried with it a sense of marvel. Eternal summer! How wonderful it is. Always the sun and the brilliant blue or indigo where the mountain edge cuts into it.

I was also very struck by the fact that Ethel thought nothing at all of going out into the desert on her own to ride, with just a dragoman (an interpreter and guide employed to help European Embassy staff) for company. I’m not sure I could have done that, even in 1928.

I can never tell anyone how much I loved being there. My happiest hours were from 4 until 6.30pm when I used to ride in the desert alone, except for my dragoman. I used to start out in the sunshine and then return as the first stars lighted the heavens. I have decided the desert is the most fascinating of all things.


Ethel riding in the desert with her dragoman, February 1928

As I’ve said before, I do feel that Ethel’s letters from Egypt are the real jewel in the whole collection and hopefully the extracts I have included in my last four posts have given you a flavour of them.

Now it’s back to typing up the rest of the collection.



5 thoughts on “Farewell To Egypt

  1. Hi Susannah. Thank you for your encouragement which is really appreciated. Your own book sounds fascinating and I admire you for being able to write fiction. The very best of luck with it. Unfortunately, the only reference in Ethel’s letters to the Egyptian Bazaars is “One day we went to the Bazaars but candidly I thought the Constantinople Bazaars much more fascinating.” Not much help.Sorry!


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