Port Said Cemetery

The Port Said War Memorial Cemetery is on the western edge of the township. The cemetery sits between two bodies of water, on one side the Mediterranean Sea and the other Lake Manzala. Travelling along the road to Damietta you will find the cemetery 200 metres before the Customs Post, at the end of the main Port Said cemetery complex. Of the 68 Australians buried in this cemetery, nearly all are from the First World War, with just 3 graves from the Second World War.

As a hospital centre Port Said received the wounded and sick from the Gallipoli in 1915. Later in the war, in its position at the northern end of the Suez Canal, it played a similarly important role in the Egypt and Palestine campaigns. During the First World War many hospitals were based nearby including the No 31 General Hospital, No 15 Stationary Hospital and No 26 Casualty Clearing Station, the New Zealand Stationary Hospital and the No 14 Australian General Hospital.

In the Second World War the defence of the Suez Canal was again crucial, so the Canal’s defence headquarters were established in Port Said. Burials from this war were again from surrounding hospitals as well as a nearby transit camp. 

In addition to the 641 Commonwealth graves in the Port Said War Memorial cemetery, there are 430 burials from outside the Commonwealth and 7 non-war graves. 

Image: Port Said War Memorial Cemetery.

Creator: Christopher Karykides

Very quickly there were calls for a memorial to the Anzac force that defended the Suez Canal during the First World War. After more than a decade of deliberations, designs, fundraising and construction, the Port Said Memorial was finally unveiled in 1932  by Australia’s former Prime Minister Billy Hughes.

At the ceremony Hughes proclaimed that for ‘all who pass along this great waterway, this monument must make an irresistible appeal. For on this site it tells a story not less enthralling, romantic, and wonderful than the Odyssey itself. Surely the most slugglish imagination must be fired by the bare recital of the journeying of these young warriors from their far-off homes to this ancient land’.

Hughes’ oration was broadcast throughout Australia. Although, as the Sydney Morning Herald noted, even the ‘magic of science’ could not convey the pitiless heat that Mr Hughes – and more than a decade before him, the soldiers - stood under. 

In December 1956 during the Suez Crisis, Egyptian anti-British crowds attacked the monument with hammers, stones, saws, even dynamite. Most of the memorial was destroyed or went missing.

Following angry and public condemnations from Australia and New Zealand, the Egyptian government agreed to send home the remaining parts of the statue – unfortunately there was not much left, and what was left was badly damaged. As a result it was decided a second casting would be necessary. The replica of the statue now stands at Albany and another version was installed on Anzac Parade in Canberra.

The bronze horse’s head from the original memorial is now a joint Australia War Memorial /RSPCA memorial to commemorate all animals that have served alongside Australians at war. Artist, Steven Holland, placed the head on a granite plinth, at height that visitors can interact and connect with the creature like they might a real horse.

Image: The memorial to commemorate the Australian and New Zealand Light Horse units which arrived at Port Said in 1915, after the unveiling on 23 November 1932. Source: Australian War Memorial A02756.

In 1915, an Australian mother, Mrs Alice Chisholm, began the long oceanbound journey to Egypt to be near her son Bertram, who had been wounded at Gallipoli. Upon arrival she was confronted by a startling lack of facilities available to the men stationed in Egypt and so she decided to open a canteen in Cairo. This first project proved such a success that Alice went on to set up two other stations, one at Port Said and another at Kantara.

Working with Alice was another Australian, Miss Rania MacPhillamy, a young woman who had trained as a volunteer nursing aide and travelled to Egypt following her sweetheart Ronnie McDonald who served as part of the Light Horse. Although Ronnie was killed, Rania stayed on, and dedicated her time to the clubs and their service. Rania was a much adored part of the clubs and many men who passed through the canteen fell in love with her.

The Empire Soldier Clubs were a welcome relief for men moving between the frontline and leave. They were a space for respite, a space to have a smoke, a cup of tea and to write home. This type of service was greatly appreciated by the AIF leaders as it would occupy men on leave and hopefully keep them out of trouble. It was also a space available to all Australian servicemen – unlike many Egyptian hotels, restaurants or golf courses which were reserved for officers.

Image: Mrs Alice Chisholm and her daughter standing in front of the canteen that they established in Port Said.

Source: Australian War Memorial P00859.019

Just three weeks before the end of the war and after sixteen days of headaches,  painful body aches, coughing, trouble breathing and feverish temperatures, Trooper Frank Barns died from pneumonia at the 14th Australian General Hospital. The following day he was buried in the Port Said War Memorial Cemetery.

As part of the Third Light Horse, Frank contracted pneumonia whilst serving in the Jordan Valley. In spite of the ‘distressing illness’ Frank reportedly battled with ‘remarkable fortitude’, the nurses and other patients around him found it hard to understand his constant ‘cheerful smile’. Always in his mind were his wife, Mary, and his little girl, Elva, who was only two years of age. In a state of fevered delirium before his death, Frank believed Mary and Elva were on their way to see him.  

Pneumonia was an obvious concern from the beginning of the war. Early in the war, alarmed at many of the spreading disease amongst the AIF, physicians held an inquiry and compiled a list contributing factors – although different doctors weighed the causes differently, the list was:  

  1. The troops having brought it, or the germs of the disease, with them from Australia.
  2. Their close contact in tent life.
  3. The extremes of heat and cold in the 24 hours.
  4. Exhaustion from overwork at a time when they were not
  5. The exhaustion resulting from unfitness due to dissipation.
  6. Exposure at night in trams and motors, while insufficiently
  7. The dusty atmosphere in which they lived and worked.

Image: : Port Said War Memorial Cemetery in the interwar years.

Source: Courtesy of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission archives. 

 

Sources:

Butler, A. G. ‘Chapter V – Egypt: The First Impact of Disease’, Part 1 The Gallipoli Campaign, Official History of the Australian Army Medical Services, 1914–1918, 2nd edition (Melbourne: Australian War Memorial, 1938).

Horsfield, Jennifer, Rainbow: The Story of Rania MacPhillamy (Charnwood, ACT: Ginninderra Press, 2007).

Barns Frank Launsley Service Dossier

B2455, BARNS F L

National Archives of Australia.

Order of ceremonial at the unveiling of the Australian and New Zealand Memorial at Port Said by Rt. Hon. William Morris Hughes on Wednesday, 23rd November, 1932, National Library of Australia. 

Port Said War Memorial – Policy 1920-1939

A461/F - 370/1/15

National Archives of Australia.

Removal of Port Said War Memorial to Australia Policy 

A4940 – C3129

National Archives of Australia.

Statement by H Parker, HMAT Dunluce Castle, 28.9.1919 

Red Cross Wounded and Missing File

Trooper Frank Barnes

1DRL/0428.

Chronicle, Adelaide, 8 November 1919.

Sydney Morning Herald, 27 December, 1932.

Age, 27 December 1956.

Sydney Morning Herald, 1 November 1959.

Commonwealth War Graves Commission

www.cwgc.org

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