A visit to the Middle East – May 2018

by Philip J Powell

A few years ago I started researching the 150 or so names on the WWI Roll of Honour at Wesley College, Melbourne.  Being my secondary school of many years ago, it became a compelling quest to uncover the stories of these men.  From this experience, I have also researched other WWI men and women including family members and other organisations.

 

This research has resulted in visits to many Commonwealth War Graves Commission (“CWGC”) graves and memorials and related battlefields in Gallipoli, France and Belgium and a few graves in England and Australia.

 

In 2017 I was asked to speak at Christ Church, South Yarra on the re-dedication of Sir Harry Chauvel’s sword, which has been on display at the church since shortly after his death.  That reinforced an interest in the Palestine campaign and the service of the Light Horse and the Imperial Camel Corps.

In early May 2018, I was able to undertake a trip to the Middle East to complete the experience of visiting the three main theatres of the AIF in WWI.  I visited a number of WWI and WWII CWGC cemeteries and two well-known battle locations, namely Beersheba[1] in Israel and El Alamein in Egypt.

What follows is a commentary and reflection on this trip, primarily on the WWI aspects.

Israel

Ramleh War Cemetery

 

This is a substantial cemetery with nearly 4,000 graves just outside Tel Aviv, near the Ben Gurion airport.  In addition to WW1 and WW2, there are a large number of graves for deaths in between the wars and post WW2, that reflect the well-known civil conflict in this region which resulted in the departure of the British in 1948.

 

The cemetery is a very typical CWGC cemetery  - well maintained, with plenty of flowering plants.  It is located in an industrial area and I was grateful to have a local resident drive me there.

 

I was looking for the graves of OWs[2] Cpl John Alexander Dunlop, 4th Anzac Battalion, Imperial Camel Corps, who died of wounds on 28 November 1917 and Lt Jack Keith Curwen-Walker, an AFC 1st Squadron pilot killed in a plane crash 3 May 1918.  Dunlop was killed in an action outside of modern Tel Aviv at a site called Bald Hill by the British. Subsequently, we did our best to locate this site.  If our estimate was correct it is now an urban area, with a small park dedicated to a tank battle in either the 1967 or 1973 war (I cannot remember which).

North Israel

I participated in a three-day tourist group from Tel Aviv to the Galilee and Golan Heights and Dead Sea regions.

 

There was no WW1 context to this tour, but I reflected that some of the region we passed through was part of the famous swift action of September 1918 when the British Army broke through the Turkish coastal defences and swept up the coast plain and then over to the valley of Megiddo and onto Damascus and Homs.

 

Apart from passing some CWGC cemeteries at Haifa, you would not be aware of any of that. The appreciation I got from this tour was the nature of the country and the impact of the geography of valleys and mountains in the movement of armies.

Ramleh from its entrance

Ramleh looking back to the entrance

Jerusalem War Cemetery

Located on French’s Hill (which is part of the Mount of Olives), the cemetery is close to the Old City, but I doubt it attracts many visitors – for our taxi driver it was the British Martyrs’ location.

 

Built on a hill it contains nearly 2,500 graves with a large memorial at the rear to 3,316 men with no known graves.  It is an impressive place and again maintained to the high CWGC standard.  The memorial with its dome and chapel (designed by Sir John Burnet) reminded me somewhat of the Canberra war memorial. Inserted in the dome is a statue of a St George figure slaying the dragon  - not many CWCG cemeteries have a statue.

 

Outside the main gate is a long-established Australian Government memorial to the ‘part played’ by the AIF in Sinai, Palestine and Syria.

 

The OW grave we were looking for was for Sgt Charles Franklin Fuhrmann, 10th Light Horse Regiment, who died of pneumonia on 13 August 1918, a casualty of the conditions endured in the summer of 1918.

 

On the Memorial to those without graves were two men:

  1. Boer war veteran Capt Frederick Henry Naylor, OW, 1 Australian Battalion of the Imperial Camel Corps, who was killed on 19 April 1917 at the second battle of Gaza.  Aged 37, his death leading an attack on a Turkish redoubt is recorded in David Cameron’s The Charge.[3]

  2. Trooper Stanley McGillivray Johnston, 11th Light Horse, killed on 2 May 1918 as part of the second raid on Es Salt, Jordan.  His service file notes that he was not buried due to ‘hurried withdrawal of Regiment’.  He is a member of my wife’s family.

St George

C Fuhrmann’s headstone in foreground

Two of the three panels with AIF names

Jerusalem

Notes

[1] Modern Israeli spelling is Be’er Sheva.

[2] The term OW is the abbreviation to describe a former student of Wesley College - as in Old Wesley.

[3] David Cameron The Charge - page 173