Suez War Memorial Cemetery

The Suez War Memorial Cemetery is based seven kilometres west of the Suez town centre. If you are travelling from Cairo you will drive along the Cairo/Suez Roads, a direct traffic link between the cities. When you reach Suez via this route you’ll come to a roundabout/T junction which is signed and will direct you left. Follow as directed and continue along the road to a traffic light where you will again turn left. Continue travelling along this road for several hundred metres until you see a large communications pylon on your right, turn right just before the pylon. A short way along this road you will find signs directing you to the Suez War Memorial Cemetery on your left and the Suez African and Indian Army Cemetery is to your right.

There are 890 Commonwealth war graves at the Suez War Memorial Cemetery, 55 of those interred here are Australian, 42 from the First World War and 13 from the Second. There are also a number of men commemorated in a special memorial inside the cemetery, men who are known to be buried inside the cemetery and surrounding areas but whose graves could not be located.

The Suez War Memorial Cemetery was opened in 1918. The region played a key role in the war as a hospital centre, hosting two Indian general hospitals, two stationary hospitals and casualty clearing stations. Prior to 1918 bodies were buried in the nearby Protestant cemetery and these would later be moved to the Suez War Memorial Cemetery. The close by Arbain Indian Cemetery was also included in to the new cemetery, however its graves aren’t marked by stones or crosses, but their names inscribed on screen wall panels at the front of the burials.  

Image: Suez War Memorial Cemetery.
Creator: Christopher Karykides

In times of war and peace, the Suez Canal was key to the strength of the British Empire. Its defence was a priority of the British presence in Egypt as any vulnerability could disastrously impact lines of communications and transportation so necessary to the war effort.

Later in 1914, British leaders placed tens of thousands of troops, including many Indian soldiers, along the ninety-nine miles of Canal, from Port Said through to Suez. There were also strategic actions, such as flooding parts of the Canal at its north end and at the point running through the Bitter Lakes. This made the Canal unapproachable and the ‘theory was to make the water of the Canal the main obstacle.’

Although the Canal was always considered an essential point of defence, Egypt was thought of mostly as a training camp and troops stationed there were moved in large numbers to Europe as there were no serious concerns of an invasion from Palestine. However, when the Serbian barrier between the Central Powers and the Near East front opened up there was a definitive shift in the defence approach of Egypt and the Canal.

Rather than the Allied defences being sited alongside the banks of the waterway, troops were moved twelve miles into the Sinai desert, Lord Kitchener is reported to have said ‘instead of you guarding the Canal, the Canal is guarding you.’  

Image: Australians on sentry duty at the Suez Canal.
Source: Bendigonian, 27 May 1915, p.2.

Raised in January 1916, the Imperial Camel Corps (ICC) comprised of four battalions, one British, one part Australian and New Zealand, and two Australian. As the war progressed and the Corps moved in to the north of Palestine, and its more fertile landscape, the impracticality of the camels became apparent and horses were drawn on once again. The Imperial Camel Corps was mostly disbanded in June 1918.  

The men of the Imperial Camel Corps had an unruly reputation and were well known as a band of rough troops. This was because as when the ICC was formed Australian commanders seized the opportunity to rid their ranks of some of their more troublesome characters. One Private, Frank Reid, noted ‘hardly a day passed without at least half a dozen of the Cameliers being paraded at the orderly room for disorderly conduct.’

But their reputation was also as an effective and resourceful fighting force. Two Australian members of the Imperial Camel Corps are buried here at the Suez War Memorial Cemetery, Troopers Maysteers and Ralph. 

Image: The grave of Trooper Ralph of the Imperial Camel Corps at the Suez War Memorial Cemetery.
Creator: Nathan Wise.

Pictured is the headstone of Private Cyril Ansbacher, a worldly young man who was born in New Jersey, USA, trained as a chemist in England and made a life for himself in Australia with his young Brisbane wife Kathleen and their infant son Mervyn.

Private Ansbacher began serving with the AIF on the homefront in 1917 working as a dispenser at the pharmacy of Kangaroo Point Hospital. He was well known for ‘his kind actions gaining him the love and esteem of officer and private alike.’

Departing for the frontline in February 1918, Private Ansbacher arrived in Egypt at the beginning of April. But just weeks later, on Anzac Day, Cyril was found in his bed, unconscious, at 5 o’clock in the morning, he was taken to the Suez Government Hospital and despite desperate attempts to resuscitate him he died hours later without ever recovering consciousness.

Investigations confirmed that Private Ansbacher had taken his own life, a self inflicted morphine overdose. The suicide of troops at the front and in the decades following is a difficult part of the history of war; their stories often don’t fit comfortably within an Anzac mythology.

In spite of the uncomfortable circumstances of Cyril’s death, Mrs Ansbacher and Mervyn would always remember their husband and father as a hero:  

He sleeps not in his native land,
But under foreign skies,
Far, far from those who love him,
In a hero’s grave he lies,
God’s will be done.

Image: The grave of Private Ansbacher at the Suez War Memorial Cemetery.
Creator: Nathan Wise.

Sources

Gammage, Bill, The Broken Years: Australian soldiers in the Great War, (Canberra: Australian National University Press, 1974) p. 141.  

Gullett, H. S., ‘Chapter II – After Gallipoli’, Volume VII – The Australian Imperial Force in Sinai and Palestine, 1914–1918, Official History of Australia in the War of 1914–1918, 10th edition (Angus and Robertson: Sydney: 1941).

Reid, Frank, The Fighting Cameliers (Pte, ICC, Journalist, of Pring, Qld. B. 1885) in Bill Gammage, The Broken Years.

Northern Star, 17 May 1918, p.8.

Northern Star, 25 April 1919, p. 1

Commonwealth War Graves Commission
www.cwgc.org

Imperial Camel Corps
http://www.awm.gov.au/units/unit_13624.asp

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