A visit to the Middle East – May 2018
What a challenging place! The chaotic traffic of Cairo and Alexandria; the crowds; the constant presence of military and police and the sight of recently built apartments and developments moving into what was desert.
On arrival at Cairo airport, we were driven on the Cairo ring road around the south of the city and onto the ‘Desert’ highway to Alexandria. A multi-lane road with trucks having their own road to the side. Traffic into Alexandria late in the afternoon as bad as you would want to experience and sights of recently slaughtered animals at the roadside butcher shops will stay in my mind.
It was a 90-minute drive from our hotel (which was at the eastern end of Alexandria) to El Alamein. The road is of highway standard, but what you have to take in is the almost ceaseless holiday apartments along the road – with special areas for the air force and army personnel.
The CWGC El Alamein cemetery is located off the main road and on a slight slope. To the right is an Australian government memorial to the 9th Division and a Ross Bastiaan plaque.
The entry feature to the cemetery proper is a memorial with 11,500 names to those without graves. The names are engraved in stone and rather hard to read (and to photograph). The top of the memorial has a flat roof that enables a viewing area onto the cemetery. With over 7,000 graves it is a large cemetery. The obvious feature of the cemetery is the absence of grass. This is a desert cemetery, with a large number of shrubs and trees.
Panoramic photo of El Alamein from the top of the memorial
There are several CWGC cemeteries here and we visited the two known as Chatby and Hadra. Both cemeteries are located close to one another being not to far from the city centre. Chatby was the original WW1 cemetery and we were looking for two OWs who died after an illness at Gallipoli.
Private Norman Fielding, 24th Battalion died 29 November 1915 at Alexandra 5th General Hospital of pneumonia. He was initially reported ill with malaria on 20 November 1915 at Gallipoli. His sister was a nurse at Lemnos.
Private Henry Thomas Clive Alcock, 23rd Battalion, died of appendicitis on 14 February 1916 at No 15 General Hospital after becoming ill on Gallipoli on 7 November with influenza and gastritis.
Also at Chatby is a memorial for those who died at sea in the region. On this memorial is OW Lt Jack Lindsay Doubleday, AAMC Dental detail, who died 30 October 1918 of meningitis a fortnight into the voyage to Europe on the HMAT Malta. His death made more tragic occurring a few days before the 11 November Armistice. He had health issues that prevented him from enlisting earlier, but on finally getting to sail he never completed the voyage.
Hadra was opened in 1916 when Chatby was becoming full and has 1,700 WW1 graves. We visited it to find an OW WW2 casualty Private Jack Frederick Burge, 2/23rd Battalion who died of wounds on 13 November 1942. While I do not have details of his service, I assume he was wounded at the third battle of El Alamein.
We also visited the grave of Ernest Horlock, VC. A 1914 WW1 VC awardee in France, he was one of the 610 personnel killed in a submarine attack on his boat as it arrived in Alexandria in December 1917.
Both cemeteries are well maintained and the local gardeners were pleased to welcome us and took photos of us at the respective headstones. At Chatby the grave for Alcock did not have any flowers in front of that – no problem, the gardener cut some flowers from a nearby plant and placed them in front of the headstone for our photos. The gardeners obviously share photos as next day at Cairo War Cemetery, the head gardener said that he had seen us in photos at Alexandria!
Hadra with Burge’s headstone in the centre
Chatby with Alcock’s headstone (front) and the memorial to those lost at sea at the rear