There was a moon that night. Now it was half hidden by soft clouds, now clear, brilliant, white against a velvet sky. We stood crowded close to the heavy ropes stretched across the bridge, which had swung open to permit one boat after another to pass. We were at Kantara on the Suez. Across the canal was the train dimly lighted, standing on the tracks that seemed half buried in the soft, yellow, desert sand. We waited impatiently. Nearly three hours had passed since the train from Port Said had left us there to attend to baggage and troublesome passports, and to eat a meager supper from boxes brought with us from the Port.
Now a Japanese boat passed slowly along the canal; then a smaller craft with cargo, flying the Dutch flag; a British boat brilliantly lighted, its passengers, many of them in uniform, dancing on deck. The canal is so narrow that great ships must creep slowly and carefully along, with no place for miles where one boat may pass another. It is a miracle, this Suez Canal, and the story of its building a most fascinating tale. Its banks are scarred by the battles of the great war. Barbed wire, old dugouts, the remains of hastily constructed forts reminded us of the desperate struggle made by the Allies to protect it against the enemy in the air and under the water. Had any one of their many attempts successfully closed the canal, the war would have had a very different ending.
We had just spent nineteen and one-half hours coming through the canal at the slow speed permitted by law—five miles an hour. Even then our boat twice grazed the retaining wall. In a single year over three thousand boats passed through the locks, crept along through the canal, then hurried to far ports, east or west.
As the fifth boat swung lazily past, a sigh of relief went up from the crowd pressed against the ropes. A moment and the great bridge moved back into place and we were given the signal to cross. It was a weird group that hurried along in the moonlight—a party of Americans, a group of British officers, some Australian soldiers, Jews from Russia clutching their permits to enter the land of promise, Egyptians, Syrians, Arabs in native dress. There were but few women. Our porter found us seats close to the window in one of the compartments. We were sorry for this later, as the fine sand sifted in and covered clothing and baggage. No sleeping-car was possible, so we made ourselves as comfortable as we could with bags for pillows and heavy coats for blankets. We were most grateful for this railroad from Kantara to Jerusalem, realizing that before the war we would have been compelled to make the inconvenient and dangerous landing in the small boats at Jaffa.
We made our way slowly through the night across the desert that stretched as far as the eye could reach in the moonlight and slipped away into blackness when the moon had set. What it had cost the men who had laid those ties in that wilderness of sand, under the scorching rays of a pitiless sun, no history of war can adequately relate. How often in those days, as we looked reverently at old battlegrounds, we searched for words with which to describe the miracles performed by the engineering corps of the fighting armies!