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World War I German Pontoon

A German made bridging pontoon used during World War I to cross the Suez Canal.

The New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF) arrived in Egypt in December 1914 and entrained to Zeitoun Camp to start the tough training regime of long route marches, musketry drill and bayonet fighting practice.

Boredom was relived by excursions into Cairo to see the sights, both touristy; the Zoo, Botanical Gardens, theatres, the Sphinx and Pyramids, and a little seedier; the Haret el Wasser (brothel and drinking area).

This did not change the fact that the men were keen to engage the enemy and they got their first taste of action on 3 February 1915. The Kiwis were sent to the Suez Canal in response to a strong Turkish force that had trekked across the Sinai desert and luanched an attack on the canal at Ismailia in the early hours of the morning.

Inscription panel on the side of the pontoon

Inscription panel on the side of the pontoon

The Turkish troops used German-made Pontoons to cross the canal but they were repulsed by the New Zealand and Indian troops. The Turks suffered heavy losses and New Zealand had its first World War I overseas’battle’ casualty, Private William Ham, 12th (nelson) Company, Canterbury Infantry Battalion.

The pontoons were taken as ‘war trophies’ and four of them were transported to New Zealand. It appears three have suffered the ravages of time while one has been in storage at the National Army Museum and is soon to go on display at the Great War Exhibition in Wellington.

Find out more about our other museum artefacts and recent acquisitions.