Interpreting Egypt’s War Cemeteries and Memorials

Cemeteries, the final resting places dedicated to our bodies after death, reflect the spiritual beliefs and preferences of every culture allowing families and others a place to go for visiting, mourning, reflecting and memorializing the dead. The Imperial War Graves Commission were charged to care for all members of the Armed Forces who ‘died from wounds inflicted, accident occurring or disease contracted, while on active service whether on sea or land’. It was empowered to acquire and hold land for cemeteries and for permanent memorials where appropriate. It was enjoined to provide for burials, to erect and care for memorials, to keep accurate registers of the fallen and to look after those graves which lay outside cemeteries.

At the first meeting of the Commission held in 1917, the major principles of the Commission were laid down and still hold true today. The views expressed were that ‘in the erection of memorials on the graves there should be no distinction between officers and men’. This was a radical departure from the past where Officers were individually recognised and ordinary soldiers were customarily buried with less respect than truly deserved. Furthermore, it was decreed that there should be no distinction between creed and nationality. Finally, Sir Fabian Ware, the Commission’s founder, explained that the cemeteries were constructed to last ‘in perpetuity’. Never before had the ordinary man been afforded such respect in death. Having established the simple but forward looking principles the challenge facing the Commission was to construct suitable resting places which adhered to these founding principles. I’m very fond of the Kipling quote who described the Commission’s task at their conception as ‘the biggest single bit of work since the Pharaohs and they only worked in their own country’

Whilst many people may only see a cemetery as just a place where the dead are laid to rest Egypt’s war cemeteries can be divided into distinct categories, each with their own individual histories.

Churchyard / Communal Cemeteries

These sites are usually extensions to existing civil cemeteries and often used for the earliest burials or on the grounds of religious preference where the opportunity existed to inter them in an already dedicated burial place.

Aswan Bandar British Cemetery

Alexandria (Chatby) Jewish Cemetery No 3

Alexandria (Chatby) British Protestant Cemetery

Cairo New British Protestant Cemetery

Old Cairo New Latin Cemetery

Port Said British Protestant Cemetery

Port Said Muhammadan Civil Cemetery

ALEXANDRIA (CHATBY) JEWISH CEMETERY No.3_vallentine_j

Cadet Jack Valentine, RAF, Age 21, Alexandria (Chatby) Jewish Cemetery No 3, Egypt (Image Source: The South African War Graves project) 

‘Hospital’ Cemeteries / Concentration cemeteries

These larger sites are found further to the rear and often situated where the main dressing stations and casualty clearance stations were located. Detailed analysis often indicates an upsurge of burials after documented engagements. The layout tends to be regimented, in formal rows, and almost 100% of the interments are identified casualties. Interestingly, the Egyptian hospital cemeteries have been enlarged over time as burials were relocated from remote cemeteries where permanent maintenance would not have been possible on a longer term basis.

Abbaasiya Indian Cemetery

Alexandria (Chatby) Military and War Memorial Cemetery

Alexandria (Hadra) War Memorial Cemetery

Cairo War Memorial Cemetery

Fayid War Cemetery

Heliopolis War Cemetery

Kantara War Memorial Cemetery

Manara Indian Muhammadan Cemetery

Port Said War Memorial Cemetery

Suez War Memorial Cemetery

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Fayid War Cemetery, Egypt (Image Source: The Commonwealth War Graves Commission) 

Concentration Cemeteries

Concentration cemeteries are very large sites, constructed and enlarged over time when battlefields were cleared and isolated cemeteries closed. In some cases, concentration cemeteries were extensions of battlefield cemeteries and the earlier irregular pattern of burials can be easily identified in comparison to the concentration burials which tend to be regimented in their layout. The cemetery at El Alamein, with over 6,000 burials, is one notable example as it contains the consolidated graves of men who died at all stages of the Western Desert campaigns and were brought in from a wide area.

El Alamein War Cemetery

Halfaya Sollum War Cemetery

Ismailia War Memorial Cemetery

Moascar War Cemetery

Suez African and Indian Army War Cemetery

Tel el Kebir War Memorial Cemetery

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El Alamein War Cemetery, Egypt (Image Source: The Commonwealth War Graves Commission) 

Memorials 

The construction of Egypt’s memorials express the enormity of human sacrifice in wartime and commemorate Commonwealth servicemen who died during the First and Second World Wars and have no known grave. The Chatby Memorial commemorates almost 1,000 Commonwealth servicemen who died during the First World War and have no other grave but the sea. Many of them were lost when hospital ships or transports were sunk in the Mediterranean, sailing to or from Alexandria. Others died of wounds or sickness while aboard such vessels and were buried at sea.

Chatby Memorial

Alamein Memorial

Alamein Cremation Memorial

Fayid Memorial

Giza Memorial

Heliopolis (Aden) Memorial

Heliopolis (Port Tewfik) Memorial

Kantara Indian Cemetery memorial

Kantara Memorial

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The Chatby Memorial, Egypt (Image Source: The Commonwealth War Graves Commission) 

For further information on Egypt’s war cemeteries, opening times and locations please consult: http://www.cwgc.org/

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2 thoughts on “Interpreting Egypt’s War Cemeteries and Memorials

    • Hello Ron – Chances are your Great Uncle may have been buried in either Cairo or Alexandria. What information do you have on him?

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