Fayid Cemetery

Fayid is a little town that overlooks the ‘dazzling blue waters’ of the Great Bitter Lake, a marker at the mid-point of the Suez Canal. The cemetery is four kilometres south of the town centre on a connecting road between the lakeshore and the main Ismailia-Suez Road. Getting to the Fayid War Cemetery can be difficult and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission recommends using a private car or taxi.

Coming along the main road from Suez or Ismailia, you’ll see a large fish statue at the junction of the connecting road. You will need to pass the railway line, then the sweet water canal, approximately 1km along the road from the junction. 

If you are coming from the road along the Suez Canal and the Great Bitter Lake, you will find the end of the connecting road some 6 kilometres south of the roundabout at a main junction of the road into Fayid town centre. The east end of this connecting road is opposite a red and white police checkpoint and the cemetery is about 200 metres along from the junction on the right hand side.

Fayid War Cemetery was opened as Geneifa New War Cemetery in June 1941 for the burials of those who died in the many military hospitals based in the area. There are 760 Commonwealth graves in Fayid War Cemetery, amongst them are 16 Australians. One hundred and ninety of the graves were originally at the Qassassin African Cemetery, but they were brought to Fayid after the war because these graves could not be guaranteed ongoing care and maintenance in this remote location. The last of the burials at Fayid Cemetery are from 1955 during the Commonwealth forces withdrawal from Egypt. 

Image: Fayid War Cemetery.
Creator: Christopher Karykides

Pictured is the crash site at Buheirat-Murrat-el-Kubra, where Pilot Officer Hugh McMaster was killed on 6 November 1941 alongside his fellow pilot, Sergeant Donald Ferguson Muir. Two ground crew members at the Kabrit Aerodrome, Aircraftsman First Class Herbert Albert Penfold and Leading Aircraftsman William Ernest Clark, were also killed in the crash.

The aircraft had taken off and stalled on its approach after an acceptance test. Attempts to steady the Wellington U for Uncle of No. 148 Squadron RAF as it came into Landing Ground 60 were in vain. All four men killed in the crash are buried at Fayid War Cemetery.     

Both Pilot Officer McMaster and Leading Aircraftsman Clark served with the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). The RAAF played a key role in many Second World War campaigns, including in the Middle East. Throughout the war some 215,000 personnel served in the RAAF and by 1945 Australia’s was the fourth largest air force in the world, after the USA, USSR and the UK.

Image: Crash site at Buheirat-Murrat-el-Kubra.
Source: Australian War Memorial P03249.002.

After the Second World War and Commonwealth troops had been evacuated from Cairo, Alexandria and the Nile Delta, Fayid hosted the British Headquarters in the Canal Zone. A makeshift and temporary set up, these headquarters were ‘Jerry-built’, constructed and expanded by remaining German POWs. But years after the war, it became increasingly puzzling why the repatriation of these prisoners (nearly 80,000 men, 20,000 of whom were skilled tradesmen) was taking so long – especially given they were so desperately needed in Germany to rebuild their shattered homeland.  

There were accounts of the German POWs working as guards and servants for the British women living in the headquarters. Apart from the fact such uses went against the ‘spirit’ of the Geneva Convention, there was also a sense of alarm at the sexual impropriety of the set up. These German men were described as ‘strong, vigorous and lusty’ and given it had been five years since they’d seen any other women how could they restrain themselves from these English women? A Fayid British Official dismissed such concerns – after all these men had sport, he said ‘Fellows play a lot of soccer. Play it damned well too’. 

Hundreds of these German POWs attempted to escape Egypt. Some did successfully, others not so, like the two Germans who disguised themselves as sheikhs in Arabic outfits and proceeded to chat in Germany in a Cairo café. Part of Fayid War Cemetery holds the graves of German Army POWs, some of the 440 graves at Fayid from outside the Commonwealth.   

Image: German prisoners of war in Egypt.
Source: The Mail, 31 October 1942, p. 1.

Through the main archway of the Fayid Cemetery, you will see a cross at the Cross of Sacrifice, behind that, towards the back of the cemetery, you will find the Fayid Memorial.

The Fayid Memorial is inscribed with the names of 265 troops – 225 from East Africa, 6 from Sudan, 4 from West Africa and 30 who fought with the British - who served within their own forces or as part of Commonwealth units and died in non-operational zones of Egypt. Their graves were too far afield to be maintained permanently, however because of their national or religious customs, they could not be relocated.   

The Fayid Memorial also remembers 177 of their fellow troops from the African Pioneer Corps who served and died alongside them. Their names are inscribed on memorials in their homelands, Basutoland Bechuanaland and Swaziland. 

Image: Fayid Memorial at Fayid War Cemetery.
Creator: Christopher Karyides

Sources

The Courier-Mail, 12 November 1941, p. 3

The Mail, 31 October 1942, p.1

Sydney Morning Herald, 16 September 1947, p. 2

Advocate, 2 March 1948, p. 6

Mirror, 5 June 1948, p. 16

Hugh McMaster Service Dossier

A9300,

MCMASTER H

National Archives of Australia

Air Crew Remembered,

Hugh McMaster

http://www.aircrewremembered.com/raf1941/mcmaster.html

Commonwealth War Graves Commission

www.cwgc.org

Royal Australian Air Force – History

http://www.airforce.gov.au/History/?RAAF-Sq7iGFssX2/HNFhOlsw4TP9fITfYhI7O

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