Egyptian Toy Camel : Private G M Wheeler, 2/2 Pioneer Battalion

Unit 2/2nd Pioneer Battalion
Accession Number REL24330
Collection type Heraldry
Object type Heraldry
Physical description Cotton, Felt, Leatherette
Maker Unknown
Date made c 1940-1941
Conflict Second World War, 1939-1945

Toy camel made from red/brown leatherette stuffed with black felt. All seams have been hand sewn with buttonhole-stitch. The camel has bridle made from cream leatherette and embroidered eyes.

History / Summary

Sent from Egypt by VX45857 Private Geoffrey Maxwell 'Max' Wheeler, 2/2 Pioneer Battalion to his daughter, Maxine, for her third birthday on 14 May 1941. By the time it reached Australia Wheeler was dead, killed in action at Merdjayoun in Syria, on 17 June 1941, while serving with 2/2 Pioneer Battalion. As a result his daughter was not allowed to play with the toy but it was kept as a 'treasure'. Born 21 May 1912 at Coleraine, Victoria, Wheeler enlisted on 24 July 1940 at Caulfield, VIc.

A member of 7 Division, he embarked for overseas service in April 1941and disembarked in the Middle East a month later. He was part of the invasion force which entered Syria from Palestine to fight the Vichy French on 8 June 1941. Since 1940 France had been ruled by a pro-German government based at Vichy, which also controlled the French territories of Syria and Lebanon. The invasion was essentially an attempt to end the rise of German influence in the region.

Within four weeks of posting this camel home to his daughter in Ballarat, Max Wheeler's battalion was crossing the frontier into Syria and fighting their way towards Fort Merdjayoun. Fort Merdjayoun had already been captured by the Australians but was recaptured in a counter attack by the Vichy French. It sat at a highly strategic point commanding local roads and the surrounding landscape and was being reinforced by the French with tanks and protected by artillery. The 2/2 Pioneers were given the job of recapturing the fort.

Another member of Wheeler's battalion, Corporal William Spriggs, wrote in his diary for 17 June 'What a day it has been. It will live in my memory for life. We are ordered to take a Fort, Fort Merdjayoun. All we have to fight with is rifles and bayonets against machine guns and trench mortars and tanks. They cut us to pieces. We didn't get a chance. All we can do is keep our heads down and trust to luck. Eight of us get out towards dark and make for the gully. There are only 30 of us left out of 160. There are a lot of prisoners and we don't know how many of out mates have gone.' ('from The Man Who Went to War', 1997, pp12-13). Private Max Wheeler was one of those killed in the assault on the Fort.