Five thousand five hundred and fifty-six Turkish non-commissioned officers and men, including 1,200 men recently captured at El Arish in the Sinai peninsula. No officers are interned in this camp. The prisoners include besides Turks Arabs, Armenians, Greeks, Jews from Palestine and Mesopotamia, and some Senoussi.
A day or two later our route took us on to the sea-shore and we knew then that we were approaching the end of the journey; moreover, if further indication were necessary, every halting-place now was populous with men, all, like ourselves, marching towards El Arish, which is the only native town in the whole desert.
The upshot in this particular instance was the conclusion of a Convention, known as that of El Arish, between the Turks and the French, signed on board Smith's ship on the 24th of January, 1800, by which this army of veterans was to be permitted to return to France unmolested, and free at once to take the field against the allies of Turkey and Great Britain, at the moment when Bonaparte's unrivalled powers of administration were straining every nerve, to restore the French forces from the disorganization into which they had fallen, and to prepare for the spring campaign.
El Arish was chiefly remembered by us because we were able to take all our clothes off for the first time in ten days, and indulge in the unwonted luxury of sea-bathing.
Repeatedly, in the subsequent history of this war, we availed ourselves of this means of supply, as our army moved northwards in Palestine. The landing of stores at El Arish, however, was not wholly successful, owing to the strong currents, a shelving and shifting beach, and heavy surf. In winter, the sea is apt to be stormy here, and then such landing may become impossible.
The fort of El Arish, before which the Turks were at this moment, was, according to the declaration of General Bonaparte, one of the two keys of Egypt; Alexandria was the other. The Turkish advanced-guard having reached El Arish, Colonel Douglas, an English officer in the service of Turkey, summoned Cazals, the commandant, to surrender.
All thought now centred on the taking of el Arish, some twenty-five miles further east, and well protected by Turkish trenches cleverly revetted with scrub, and dress rehearsals were held in which the whole force took part, and which meant a good deal of heavy marching.
The troops were not allowed into the town but a glimpse could be obtained from without of the few streets, paved only with the desert sand. From a little distance, however, el Arish was surprisingly beautiful.
The relieving force were driven off without much difficulty, and withdrew, presumably, to Shellal, which thereafter became the enemy's next point of concentration. Our column, taking with them all prisoners, animals and captured material, withdrew again to El Arish. From the time of our occupation of El Arish on the 22nd December, that town developed apace.
"We had a prosperous voyage, and were actually in sight of shore, which the captain said we could not fail to reach early the next morning. I stayed, as usual, this night upon deck; and solaced myself by smoking my pipe. Ever since I had indulged in this practice at the camp at El Arish, I could not exist without opium and tobacco.