Military History, Antiquities and the New Suez Canal

To coincide with the inauguration of the new Suez Canal the Ministry of Antiquities have recently organised several events to mark the occasion.

News of interest is the commissioning of a new Museum in the Kantara area which will focus upon  Egypt’s military history from the Pharaonic to more contemporary periods.

In a recent interview with Ahram Weekly Mohamed Abdel-Maqsoud, the coordinator of archaeological sites around the Suez Canal, confirmed that after the official opening of the new canal that the Ministry of Antiquities would start a major project to contextualise Egypt’s military history. This is likely to focus upon the development of the Horus Road which still retains physical evidence of its ancient fortresses and military structures. However this will include the refurbishment of seven archaeological sites at Kantara East and West which will be opened to the public on a long-term basis. Development of the area may facilitate easier access to the CWGC cemeteries in the Suez area subject to the travel advice issued by the UK Foreign Office.

Kantara

The Kantara War Memorial Cemetery – Image Source: The Commonwealth War Graves Commission

In the early part of the First World War, Kantara was an important point in the defence of Suez against Turkish attacks and marked the starting point of the new railway east towards Sinai and Palestine, begun in January 1916. Kantara developed into a major base and hospital centre and the cemetery was begun in February 1916 for burials from the various hospitals, continuing in use until late 1920. After the Armistice, the cemetery was more than doubled in size when graves were brought in from other cemeteries and desert battlefields, notably those at Rumani, Qatia, El Arish and Rafa.

The Second World War again saw Kantara as a hospital centre. No 1 General Hospital was there from July 1941 to December 1945 and two others, Nos 41 and 92, were there in turn for varying periods. One of the major allied medical units in the area, No 8 Polish General Hospital, adjoined the war cemetery. The Cemetery contains 1,562 Commonwealth burials of the First World War and 110 from the Second World War. There are also 341 war graves of other nationalities in the cemetery, many of them made from the Polish hospital and concentrated in a distinct Polish extension.

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