'Desert Funeral' (by Edward Thoms, Oasis) - September 1942.
"We wrapped two blankets round him
On a broken cookhouse bench
And with kindly hands we laid him
In a shallow four foot trench.
The Padre was a stranger
And he gabbled hurriedly
Then he departed in his gharry —
He was late it seemed for tea.
We stood a moment silent
While the khamseen whipped the sand
But we came to no conclusion
Though we tried to understand.
We built a mound above him
Which the wind forbade to stay
And laid petrol tins together
To keep piard dogs at bay.
And we left him to the quiet
Of the sand and camel thorn
In the only peace that he had found
Since the day that he was born."
El-Alamein is a small town outside Alexandria on the Mediterranean coast, where, 72 years ago (from 2014), the British reached the lowest point of its fight against the Axis powers.
The journey through the desert from Alexandria to Mersa Matruh is worth the trip alone, with rusted tanks still dotting the landscape.
The El Alamein War Cemetery contains the graves of men who died in the Western Desert campaigns of World War II and especially in the Battle of El Alamein in October 1942.
More than 1200 Australian Diggers are buried here with moving inscriptions reflecting the distance from the deserts of Egypt to their homeland.
The El Alamein Cemetery is the burial place of 8,000 British, Australian, New Zealand, Canadian, South African and Rhodesian servicemen are buried in this cemetery. Soldiers who died in the course of the Western Desert campaign in Egypt and Libya during World War II, particularly those who were killed in the Battle of El Alamein in 1942.
Together with the beautifully organised grave sites, the El Alamein Commonwealth Cemetery houses the Alamein Cremation Memorial and the El Alamein Memorial. It is located near the El Alamein Battlefield.
Just outside the cemetery lies: The Australian 9th Division War Memorial in Egypt.
The battle at El Alamein took place between July and November, 1942 to halt the German advance.
This memorial commemorates those Australian troops who died during this time throughout the World War II North Africa Campaign, particularly the Battle of El Alamein.
The Australian 9th Division joined the British in June 1942 and although successful, the loss was immense with 1,225 killed, 3,638 wounded and 946 taken prisoner.
This cemetery is on land donated by Egypt and administered by the CWGC from Britain.
The headstones are arranged in neat rows on the sand, with only a few trees and shrubs for ornamentation. The sparseness of the grounds seems right and proper, as it reflects the terrain over which the armies fought.
A cloister at the entrance lists the names of those:
"who died fighting on land or in the air where two continents meet and to whom the fortune of war denied a known and honoured grave".
The number of names without remains in the cloister provides a sad symmetry to the many graves in the cemetery without names.
North and East Africa had been the site of a colonial “cold war” between Great Britain and Italy for the better part of a decade, and when Italy finally entered the Second World War in 1940, it invaded Egypt from Libya in the west. It lasted only three weeks without German support. The British pushed back and set up a forward beachhead against the Axis in eastern Libya, but repeated setbacks in Greece and Crete in 1941 and Malaysia and Burma against the Japanese in early 1942 drained their resources until the tank armies of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel took the last British fortress in Libya, Tobruk. The Allied armies fell back hundreds of kilometres in the last week of June 1942 to the last defensible point just 100 km before Alexandria. Luckily for them, this strained the German supplies and supply chain to its limit. The Axis was beginning to run short of oil, one of the principal objectives in its thrust into the Middle East.
By October 1942, the British had built up a far superior air force, running on Iranian gasoline, which clinched its success in the Second Battle of El-Alamein. The following year witnessed the Axis’ long retreat into Libya, Tunisia and Italy itself.
Sourced and submitted by Julianne T Ryan. 13 October 2014. Lest we forget.