Sometimes we look but we don’t really see – a local link to Egypt

On a recent visit to the graveyard at All Saints church in Grasby, North Lincs I was very surprised to see the recent addition of a Commonwealth War graves sign – indicating the presence of a war grave. A quick consultation of the CWGC app revealed the name Arthur Frank Wescott of the Royal Field Artillery who died on the 13th of November 1918. Now I’ve visited this particular graveyard many times as I have two family members buried here and I was immediately curious as I could not recall the presence of a CWGC Portland headstone in such a small graveyard.

I walked round the graveyard 3 times looking for a headstone until I noticed the ‘Dardanelles’ wording on large, white memorial stone directly behind the grave of my Nanna. The headstone bears the names of three unmarried brothers who fell during the conflict – the sons of  local Headmaster Elton Edward Wescott and his wife Leah of Grasby.

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Arthur Frank Wescott died on the 13th November 1918, a scant two days after the signing of The Armistice, whilst serving as Corporal 99056 in A Battery of the 152nd Brigade of the Royal Field Artillery. The CWGC records state he was buried in the churchyard at Grasby, he presumably having died at home of his wounds. Arthur was 20 years old.

Harry E Westcott should in fact be Elton Harry Wescott. Elton was serving as Corporal 9828 in the 6th Battalion of the Lincolnshire Regiment when he was killed in action on the 15th August 1915 at Gallipoli aged 23. He was buried in the Alexandria (Chatby) Military and War cemetery in Egypt, grave reference no: J44. I’m rather taken with the personal inscription on his gravestone which states ‘Asleep with England’s heroes in the watchful care of God’.

Edward Lawrence Wescott died of wounds on the 11th May 1917 in France whilst serving as Sergeant 9580 of the 8th Battalion, Lincolnshire Regiment  at 22 years of age. He had apparently been a member of the 1st Battalion and had gone to France as a member of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in August of 1914 and could therefore have been a regular soldier. Edward was buried in the Etaples Military cemetery, grave reference no: XVIII.M.6A. Like Harry, Edwards gravestone bears the inscription ‘Asleep with England’s heroes in the watchful care of God’. 

In September, I’m due to start my Doctoral research project on the IWGC’s operations in Egypt during the Great War – with a particular focus on the cemeteries of Hadra and Chatby at Alexandria. The Chatby Military and War Memorial Cemetery (originally the Garrison cemetery) was used for burials until April 1916, when a new cemetery was opened at Hadra. I am so looking forward to uncovering more stories such as Harrys within the context of my research.

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‘The story of Nellie and Phil’ A Wedding Beneath The Pyramids of Giza

I spotted an interesting article on the Australian War Memorial this morning regarding an event which took place at the Giza Plateau in Cairo on the 17th January, 1915. Two men, on separate occasions, had regarded the event as newsworthy enough to record for posterity in their diaries and letters home. An Australian soldier at Mena Camp in Egypt, Private Arthur Adams, noted in his diary on the 17th: ‘Wedding in camp. Private of 10th marries a S.A. girl, who comes via England’. The same event was also recorded by another soldier, Private Frederick Muir, in a letter home to his mother on 2 February ‘There was a marriage in camp here a couple of Sundays back. Quite a romantic affair’.


Photographic negatives of the 10th Battalion, AIF at Mena Camp, Egypt, 1914-1915 / photographed by Victor Cromwell. Call number: ON 585 IE number: IE429351 File number: FL429782. Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales.

Intriguingly, neither man thought to mention the names of the couple involved. It was known that the man was a soldier in the 10th Battalion, Australian Imperial Force (AIF), and that the bride had come out from England. Also, that it was the chaplain of the 3rd Brigade who had presided over the proceedings. And, of course, given the backdrop the event could not be anything but romantic.

But who were the bride and groom?

Private Philip de Quetteville Robin and Miss Nellie Irene Honeywill had known each other in Australia. Phil was an accountant at the Murray Bridge branch of the Union Bank before he enlisted in the AIF and joined the 10th Battalion. He was well known for his Australian Rules football skills, having played with the Norwood Football Club and represented South Australia in interstate games in Sydney and Melbourne.

Nellie was living in London at the time of the First World War, although she had formerly resided in Adelaide. She was the eldest daughter of William Honeywill, also residing in London, and appears to have been working as a volunteer nurse. Their plans of reuniting in England were disrupted when the AIF was diverted to Egypt while en route to Europe. A couple of weeks later, however, Nellie turned up in Cairo, and the two made what seems a spontaneous decision to get married. This had not been their intention,

‘but rumours regarding the movements of the contingent, and the fact that “Phil” might be engaged for many months, if not years, in assisting to fight his country’s enemies, decided the matter for them, and forthwith arrangements for the holding of the wedding were commenced’
“A soldier’s wedding: married in camp”, The Register, 16 February 1915

Special permission was granted for the wedding by the commanding officer of the 10th Battalion, Colonel Stanley Price Weir, and the necessary preparations were quickly made. The officers’ mess tent was handed over for the event, with the mess servants converting it so that it had the appearance of a church. The ceremony began at 11.30 am, with the Anglican chaplain E.H. Richards officiating. Cake, wine, and the obligatory showering of rice were all provided by the officers of the 10th Battalion. The speeches began with Colonel Weir’s toast to the couple:

‘But for the outbreak of the war this wedding would, no doubt, have been celebrated in Adelaide. But our surroundings, although strange, are such as to compensate for all might have been lost. In Adelaide there could not have been the romance and the novelty which attach to this wedding’
“A soldier’s wedding: married in camp”, The Register, 16 February 1915

After a short honeymoon, Nellie returned to England. A few months later Phil was among the men who landed on Gallipoli on 25 April. He is one of two soldiers – the other being Private Arthur Blackburn, who would later win the Victoria Cross in France – believed to have penetrated further inland than any other Australians at Anzac. Phil was killed in action three days after the landing and is commemorated on Panel 32 of the Lone Pine Memorial. A letter by Corporal Dennis Rowden Ward of the 9th Battalion tells of the details of his death: ‘It turned out to be Lance Corporal Robin, of the good old 10th Battalion, he had been shot through the skull, and death must have been instantaneous’. On the day of his death, he had with him a ‘Little Book for Nellie’ a diary he kept for his wife, speaking about their future together and his undying love for her. His obituary, written by his manager at the Bank of Adelaide paid tribute to his genial nature and thoughtfulness:

‘He was one of the most manly men who have ever entered the service, and whence the call for volunteers was made he was among the first to respond. When in time we learn the circumstances of his death I feel sure we shall hear that he died foremost in a charge, helping to make traditions for our army, and fighting for his country. A more noble death it is not possible to conceive’
Chronicle (Adelaide), 19 June 1915, p 17

Sadly, seven months later, in London on 19 November 1915, Nellie and her infant son died soon after she had given birth.

Information Sources:

The Australian War Memorial

State Library of New South Wales

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Veterans, South Australia

Sir Ronald Ross’ work on dysentery in Alexandria, Egypt during the Great War

The Ross Collection in the Archives of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine holds material on dysentery during the First World War.
Sir Ronald Ross is famous for being the discoverer of the mosquito transmission of malaria and the first Briton to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine.


Ross and colleagues in Alexandria, 1915

During World War One he was appointed a consultant physician on tropical diseases to Indian troops and was sent to Alexandria for four months to investigate an outbreak of dysentery which was hampering troops in the Dardanelles. In the report he made at the end of his service, he states that on visiting seven large hospitals in Alexandria, nearly all medical cases belonged to five groups of diseases usually prevalent in British troops in warm countries: typhoid, jaundice, malaria, dysentery and mixed cases. Of these, dysentery (an infection of the intestines that causes diarrhoea containing blood and mucus) was the principal cause of sickness in the Mediterranean Expeditionary Forces. Figures from a report show that from 29 August to 9th October 1915 there were 32,528 cases of diarrhoea and dysentery with 231 deaths.


Post mortems on cases showing dysenteric ulceration of colon at 21 General Hospital, Alexandria June 28-October 27 1915 by George Bertram Bartlett

He found that many of the cases were amoebic dysentery which meant prolonged illness and cases of liver abscesses. Ross instructed that all patients showing dysenteric symptoms at the front be given emetine and this resulted in patients reaching Alexandria in a less critical condition.
Ross finished his report with a number of suggestions, including increasing the number of pathologists in each hospital, and that those patients who have been treated successfully for malaria and dysentery be sent home with medical cards outlining their medical notes in case of relapse.

Ross at the Regina Hotel, Alexandria, Egypt

While Ross is remembered for his work on malaria and dysentry, this remarkable man was also a mathematician, epidemiologist, sanitarian, editor, novelist, dramatist, poet, amateur musician, composer, and artist. He died, after a long illness, at the Ross Institute on 16 September 1932.

“…With tears and toiling breath,
I find thy cunning seeds,
O million-murdering Death.”

(fragment of poem by Ronald Ross, written in August 1897, following his discovery of malaria parasites in anopheline mosquitoes fed on malaria-infected patients)

Information Sources:

Library & Archives Service, The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

Flies, Filth and Desert Soldiering …

It has often been repeated that the daily existence of Commonwealth soldiers during the Great War campaigns across the Middle East was extremely arduous. The soldiers accounts and recent archaeological surveys of the better preserved battlefields illustrate just how inhumane and gruelling the conditions were for both the Allied and Turkish Forces alike. Many factors contributed to making the desert battlefield an almost unendurable place for soldiers. The constant noise, terrible food, cramped unsanitary conditions, disease, stenches, daily death of comrades, lack of rest and thirst all contributed to the most arduous of conditions.

A typical Desert ‘Bivvy’ tent which provided some protection from the searing heat, heavy rainstorms and ‘khamsin’ winds

The logistics of supplying fresh food whilst on campaign was a major challenge. The rations issued to the soldiers provided very poor nutrition due to the unvarying diet of processed foods: canned meat, hard tack biscuits and watery jam. These rations were intended to be lived on for only short periods of time by British army divisions, not for extended periods as proved to be the case on the Gallipoli peninsula. Living on these rations caused major health problems for the soldiers due to their poor nutritional content. An unappetising and unvaried diet affected morale and increased susceptibility to disease which spread rapidly during the summer months of a campaign.

Disease swept through both the Commonwealth and Turkish forces at Gallipoli. Dysentery, tetanus and septic wounds plagued the soldiers and necessitated the evacuation of thousands of men from the battlefield to the hospitals in Egypt. Battlefield latrines were open and rudimentary which attracted the presence of flies. Flies spread diseases rapidly through the troops living in cramped, over-crowded trenches and inflicted utter misery on soldiers. Bertram George who served with the Dorset Yeomanry in Egypt, wrote home that the ‘sounds in Egypt never cease – the creaking of the waterwheels, the sound of frogs and the buzz of flies .. writing is an impossibility in the evening for as soon as the sun goes down if a lamp is lighted, the air all round is thick with the little grey sand flies which bite disgustingly’.   

Lice also became a major problem for soldiers during the summer months. Lice caused trench fever which resulted in headaches, aching muscles, skin sores and fever. Lice have an enormous capacity for infestation, a heavy infestation could involve literally thousands of insects and thousands of eggs. During the Great War, treatment of lice was by Naphthalene, usually in the form of “NCI” (Naphthalene, Creosote & Iodoform) powder or paste, and lice in the clothes were killed by the use of heat, either by dry heat, or steam.

As heating facilities were not available on the front lines the soldiers had to attempt to remove the lice as best they could. This removal, a procedure known as “chatting up” was usually by hand, picking out the lice from the clothes, or with the flame from lighted candles run up and down the seams of the clothes. (This was the origin of the verb “to chat” as the soldiers made the removal of their lice into a social event). These attempts at removal, unfortunately, only removed the lice temporarily and did nothing to halt the spread of trench fever because the infectious louse excreta was not sterilised; actual sterilisation of the clothes could only performed by washing in very hot water – and water was a scarce commodity in the desert.


De-lousing at Zeitoun in Egypt, 1915 or early 1916

Soldiers in front-line positions were issued only small amounts of water per day and the water quality was poor. The official ration, when it was met, was 4.5 litres/1 gallon of water per man per day.  Of this, the majority, five pints, went to the cookhouse for the preparation of meals and the steady supply of tea that the army required on a daily basis. Thirst and dehydration were common amongst the men.

‘A rare treat’ A member of the Australian Light Horse washing in the desert
Image Source: The Australian War Memorial

In February 1916 construction began on a railway line which would eventually stretch hundreds of miles to the Palestine border in order to support British forces. Further support was given by 170,000 Egyptian members of the Camel Transport Corps who between 1916 and the end of the Sinai and Palestine campaign in 1918 transported water on 72,500 camels to and from the British front lines. Each camel could carry between 50 and 70 litres of water, and though they were slow, they usually arrived on time.

Corporal Joseph Egerton with a train truck of water tanks in the Sinai Peninsula.
Image Source: National Army Museum 2002-05-1-110


So how did troops navigate their war effectively in a terrain largely devoid of markers? Gordon Harper, of the Canterbury Mounted Rifles used a wrist mounted compass to guide his men across the featureless plains and hillocks of the desert. Harper wrote ‘It is like being at sea out in the vast desert and it is not easy to see very far owing to the wavy formation of the sand.’The men were constantly on the move seeking out evidence of Ottoman forces. They were constantly on the lookout for brackish water for themselves and their horses. To know their position was vital. 

A wrist mounted compass from the Harper Collection
Image Source: https://ww100.govt.nz/objects-from-a-desert-war

In the end Gordon Harper summed up his thoughts on desert warfare succinctly when he decided that it was not the Ottomans, but ‘the desert which is our chief enemy. There is nothing so inscrutable as its changeless face; there is so little indication of the hidden enemy; and there is no warning of the scorching blast which rises from its red hot sands, and envelopes the unfortunate troops who are struggling in its grip.’ 

John Hubert Worthington

Hubert, as he was always known, was born on the 4th July 1886 in Alderley Edge, Cheshire to Father, Thomas and his mother, Edith Emma. Edith was Thomas’ second wife. He was their youngest child.  The family were Unitarians, who used to worship at Dean Row Chapel near Wilmslow.

Thomas was a well known architect who designed many buildings in and around Manchester. Perhaps his best known work is the Albert Memorial in front of Manchester Town Hall. The family lived at ‘Broomfield’ on Macclesfield Road throughout Hubert’s childhood. Hubert was educated at Ryleys Preparatory School in Alderley Edge. Here he met Wilfrith Elstob, who was to become a lifelong friend. In 1900 he went to Sedbergh School in Cumbria, and stayed there for 5 years. He served in the School Cadet Corps for 3 years, reaching the rank of Corporal. Hubert qualified for a Master of Arts (MA) degree in Architecture at Manchester University before being articled to his half-brother Percy in order to commence his professional career.

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A photograph of Hubert in Tameside Local Studies and Archives Centre. Reference: MR4/23/91/160

Hubert visited Italy in the years before the outbreak of the First World War, and ‘developed a lifelong love of Italian architecture’. In 1912 he began working in the office of Sir Edwin Lutyens, a famous and highly esteemed architect who was just beginning to design Lutyens Delhi, in India. Edwin’s work and personality both inspired Hubert greatly and they would remain friends for many years. In 1914, Hubert, now an Associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects applied to be commissioned as an officer in the 6th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment, where his brother Claude was serving. His ‘papers were returned from the War Office’ on the 17th. Hubert tried again a month later. This time he was accepted into the 1st City Battalion. This was being formed by the men of Manchester so that they could serve together. He became a Probationary Second Lieutenant on the 12th September and was confirmed in the rank on the 3rd October. Wilfrith Elstob joined the battalion on the same day, after Hubert had persuaded him to stay in Manchester rather than join a London based unit.

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Lt. Col Winifrith Elstob, Tameside Local Studies and Archives Centre, Reference: MR4/23/91/81

On the 8th December 1914 Hubert became a Temporary Captain. He was given command of A Company with Wilfrith as his Second in Command. The 1st City Battalion became the 16th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment. The unit trained at Heaton Park in Manchester until April 1915 when they moved to Belton Park near Grantham in Lincolnshire. They moved to Larkhill in Wiltshire during September, and sailed for France in early November, arriving on the 8th. The 16th Battalion trained around Hebuterne and Louvencourt after their arrival in France. In January 1916 they moved to the area around Maricourt and stayed here, taking their turns in the front line, until the 1st June. They then began training to take part in the Somme Offensive, which was to begin on the 1st July. On this day the 16th Battalion attacked the village of Montauban. Although they took the village, heavy German fire killed and wounded a large number of soldiers, including Hubert. As he later related, ‘6 machine gun bullets hit me + I knew no more but the feeling I was killed. The next thing I knew was that I had been dragged to a shell hole where I lay 30 hours quite helpless’. Hubert was wounded in the left hip and hand, and one bullet had passed through his right lung, breaking at least one rib.

Hubert’s wounds were very serious. He was evacuated back to the UK on the 11th July for treatment at the 4th London General Hospital in Denmark Hill. He recovered well, and was discharged from hospital on the 19th September. He went on sick leave to Clovelly Court in Devon.

Hubert continued to have trouble breathing, and at the beginning of November he ‘strained muscles of right chest’. He was still ‘unable to pull or lift heavy weights’ in mid December. His sick leave was extended every few months until the 24th February 1917. On this day he was admitted to the Prince of Wales’ Convalescent Home for Officers in Marylebone, London, until the 21st March. He was passed fit for Home Service after 3 more weeks of leave. In mid April Hubert was ordered to join the 21st Officer Cadet Battalion (OCB) at Crookham, near Fleet in Hampshire. He was employed as an assistant instructor, helping teach officers under training how to lead their soldiers on the battlefield. He was easily exhausted, but at the 21st OCB he could ‘spend his nights in bed and can rest when knocked up’. His Commanding Officer did not believe he was ‘fit for anything more active than employment here’. Hubert stayed at the 21st OCB until after the end of the war on the 11th November 1918. He became a Company Commander there on the 28th November and held this job until he was released from the Army on the 8th February 1919. He had been ‘a most reliable and hard working officer’ and ‘an influence for good’ on the Cadets he had trained.

Wilfrith Elstob had not been as fortunate as Hubert. He went missing on the 21st March 1918, after leading the 16th Battalion in the defence of Manchester Hill near St Quentin. Hubert was determined to recover his friend, who he knew as ‘Bindy’. He travelled to France twice during 1919 with members of the War Graves Commission in the hopes of finding his body, but without success. Wilfrith, with no known grave was commemorated on the memorial at Pozières. Later that year though Hubert was instrumental in gathering the evidence that led to Wilfrith being awarded the Victoria Cross on the 9th June. He went with Wilfrith’s father to receive the Victoria Cross from King George V at Buckingham Palace on the 24th July 1919.

Hubert returned to the family firm, Thomas Worthington and Sons, and resumed his career in architecture. He designed a large number of buildings and monuments, including Manchester Dental Hospital and the Private Patient’s Home at the Royal Infirmary in Manchester. He also designed a new wing for Rossall School in Lancashire, rooms for Eton College, and the Memorial Cloister at Sedbergh School. In 1923 Hubert became Professor of Architecture at the Royal College of Art in South Kensington. One of his students was Sophie Joan Banham. They married in Chelsea between October and December 1928. They had 3 children, who were all born in the Brentford area of West London. Penelope Anne was born between July and September 1929, Anthony Crispin on the 1st February 1932 and Olivia Joanna between July and September 1935. Hubert and Joan’s marriage was long and happy. They shared ‘a common interest in the arts and humanities’, and worked together on many projects. As one friend remembered, ‘it was no uncommon matter, when pondering over a problem connected with a project for Hubert to say: ‘I would like to ask Joan about this’. And so the perfect solution was discovered’.

In 1943 Hubert was appointed Principal Architect for the Imperial War Graves Commission, North Africa. He would be responsible for selecting the sites for cemeteries and memorials, and then designing them and overseeing their construction. He and Joan went on a tour of North Africa for this purpose in early 1947, and then another, visiting the finished cemeteries, in 1953. Amongst his many designs were the Malta Memorial to missing airmen near Valetta, Tobruk War Cemetery and the El Alamein Cemetery and Memorial in Egypt.

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The El Alamein War Cemetery, Egypt

Hubert was highly thought of as an architect who despite all his professional success, kept a special place in his heart for his former comrades in the 16th Battalion. He would always stop and greet any he met in the street, and never missed a reunion. At these events comrades ‘relished his after-dinner reminisces, as he was a raconteur and mimic of outstanding merit’.

Information Sources:

Museum of the Manchester Regiment

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission

 

Private Ernest Donald Gow

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Private Ernest Donald Gow
4th Bn, Australian Infantry, A.I.F.

Died: 03.02.15 (Double Pneumonia, Mena Hospital, Cairo, Egypt)
Age: 24
Headstone Inscription: ‘At Rest’
Son of William and Minnie Gow, of Ulmarra, New South Wales. Born at Wollongong.

Ernest Donald Gow (Service No. 1207) was one of the first men from the Illawarra to die in World War 1.

He was born in Wollongong in 1890, the son of William Gow and his wife Minnie Gow (nee Baldwin). Ernest had lived with his family at Croome, and had worked for the Albion Park Post Office, as well as for the Post Office in other towns in NSW.

Ernest gave his occupation as Telegraph Operator when he enlisted at Randwick in the AIF on September 12, 1914. He was part of the 4th Battalion of the 1st Brigade of the AIF. He named his father William Gow of Ulmarra as his next of kin. On October 20, 1914, he embarked from Sydney, New South Wales, Australia on the HMAT A14 “Euripedes”.

Sadly, he was one of the first men from the Illawarra to die in World War 1 of double pneumonia at the Mena Hospital in Cairo on February 3, 1915. His passing along with three others who also died of pneumonia, was reported in a number of newspapers across Australia.

Commonwealth War Graves point out Ernest was buried in Cairo, Al Qahirah, Egypt in the British Protestant Cemetery, Row B: Grave No 149. He is also commemorated on Panel No. 40 of the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

An extract from the Illawarra Mercury 12 February, 1915 reads:

‘SAD NEWS. On the arrival of the Sydney dailies early this week, it was learned that Mr. Ernest Donald Gow, son of Mr. William Gow, of Ulmarra, Clarence River, had died in the Mena Hospital, Egypt, from pneumonia. Much regret has since been expressed at the sad news of the death of this young fellow, who gave his life for the honour of his country. Mr. Gow was at one time a telegraph messenger at the Albion Park post office, having with his parents lived at Croome, he got along so well in the Postal Department that promotion came quickly, and he was appointed on the relieving staff, and had done duty in many towns in New South Wales, and from reports from several of these places it is known that young Gow was a popular officer wherever he went. In the post office he was most obliging and courteous. He was also fond of clean sport and did much to further the attractiveness of several sporting clubs in various towns in which he was relieving. Much sympathy is felt for the parents in losing so brave a son under such sad surroundings”

Sources:
Discovering ANZACS:http://discoveringanzacs.naa.gov.au/browse/records/284011

Shellharbour District Centenary Project 1914-1918 on ANCESTRY :http://trees.ancestry.com.au/tr…/71353581/person/32244157916

Trove – Richmond River Express and Casino Kyogle Advertister Family Notices – 4.2.1916
Northern Star – 24.3.2014 – http://www.northernstar.com.au/…/many-soldiers-die…/2207014/

The War Grave Photographic Project –http://www.twgpp.org/information.php?id=1818897

Trove – Richmond River Express and Casino Kyogle Advertiser – WW1 The Honour Rolls – http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article123890556

 

‘The problem is not an easy one’ … cemetery construction, horticultural schemes and the Egyptian climate

In 1948 Hubert Worthington, the Principal War Graves Commission  Architect for Egypt and North Africa was busy adding his comments to the sketch plans, estimates and reports for the new cemetery construction at Tel-el-Kebir. The war memorial cemetery at Tel-el-Kebir, 110 kilometres north-north-east of Cairo, was used from June 1915 to July 1920 and increased after the Armistice when graves were brought in from other sites, including 15 from the International Christian Cemetery at Zagazig. During the Second World War, Tel el Kebir was a hospital centre and the site of a great ordnance depot with workshops for the repair of armoured cars and other weapons of war.

The form A for Tel-el-Kebir lists 608 burials consisting of 497 British burials, 40 allied burials, 66 Polish burials and 5 civilians. The Deputy Director of Works estimated the total area of land required to be 6098 square meters – thereby allowing 10 square meters per internment at a cost of £22 . 12 shillings and 9 pence per grave* (which included the cost of the headstone). 

The remarks listed on the form A by Sir Hubert Worthington are interesting as they highlight the challenges of laying down a cemetery in the Egyptian terrain. He wrote:

‘The problem is not an easy one as four separate units have to be welded into the design. The 1882 cemetery with its magnificently grown trees makes a fine centre. New planting will continue existing palm trees with a Eucalyptus grove as a background to the East & close planting (as a screen on each side of the new main entrance to the 1914-18 cemetery) An entrance feature & gate on the road will prevent trespass and the unfortunate new native huts must be walled out with 8 foot walls as shown & be planted out’

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A view of the 1882 Cemetery, Tel-el-Kebir as mentioned in Worthington’s 1948 notes               Image Source: The Welcome Collection (1910 – 45) 

Worthington worked with, rather than against the landscape to produce beautifully ordered cemeteries with sparse but careful planting in Egypt’s tough environment. One of Worthington’s toughest challenges proved to be the cemetery at El Alamein where seven thousand men are buried with over 8,500 soldiers and 3,000 airmen  commemorated on the Alamein memorial. He declared that he would endeavour to follow the brief to build and plant along the same lines as the cemeteries from the Western front however the climate in Egypt required modifications. He suggested high walls to keep out drifting sand and shady pergolas with cool terraces to provide shelter from the sun. Where grass could not be grown owing to the lack of water the earth would have to be panned and plants such as cacti and succulents would be used rather than the thirsty roses and shrubs grown in other parts of the world.

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A photograph from the Australian War Memorial showing how difficult a task it was to provide a horticultural scheme for Egypt                                                                                            Image Source: The Australian War Memorial, MEA0953 refers 

The form A for the cemetery at Heliopolis, written in 1947,  lists 1630 British burials, 71 allied burials (inc: 28 Poles), 148 enemy burials  and 2 civilians. The Deputy Director of Works estimated the total area of land required to be 60357 square meters – thereby allowing 32.6 square meters per internment at a cost of £14 . 8 shillings and 0 pence per grave* (which included the cost of the headstone). After the war, 125 graves were moved into the cemetery from Mena Camp Military Cemetery where permanent maintenance was not possible due to sand movement. In all 1,742 Commonwealth casualties of the Second World War were buried or commemorated in the cemetery along with the 83 war graves of other nationalities reflecting the diverse make up of the Middle East Command in the World War Two. Worthington noted:

‘This cemetery is a very important one. Before my visit in 1943 the general layout had been made and most of the burials were completed. The result was very rigid and bleak. However with water and Nile mud available at the present design, depending for the most part on grass and trees should give a satisfactory result. The surroundings are ugly and the grooves and avenues of Eucalyptus trees will give the necessary seclusion and sense of peace. The war cross in a central position has avenues of cypress trees on its four sides and Ficus trees are arranged elsewhere to form arches and shady walks. The entrance is flanked by Rest Houses and within is a simple and dignified setting of the war stone. Much will depend on fine grass lawns and the use of trees and flowers’

Sometimes when we speak of Egypt our minds rarely move past the antiquities of Ancient Egypt however war has played a huge part in Egypt’s modern history. I cant help but consider how proud Worthington would be to see the horticultural work being conducted in the Egyptian cemeteries today where trees and flowers are being used to their fullest effect.

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The cemetery at Heliopolis, Image Source: Twitter @walid_matrawy  CWGC Egypt 

The cemeteries are beautiful, peaceful resting place for hundreds who tragically lost their lives – carefully tended with immense pride by skilled Egyptian gardeners. In these cemeteries we have an overlooked monument to Egypt’s significance in the wider context of world history; one that will remain as important as any sarcophagus.

Please take a moment to consider visiting the cemeteries if your travelling to Egypt  – further information on visiting the cemeteries is available on the Commonwealth War Graves website https://www.cwgc.org/

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Photograph of Hubert Worthington from the Tameside Local Studies and Archives Centre    Reference: MR4/23/91/160