Heliopolis War Cemetery

Cairo, Egypt

The large Heliopolis War Cemetery is situated a short six kilometre drive from Cairo airport, and about ten kilometres from the centre of Cairo. It is recommended as a site for anyone who only has a short space of time to spend in Cairo, as it is easily accessed via a short taxi ride from the airport along major roads. The easiest access is via Nabil el Wakkard Street to the north. Visitors staying in Cairo for longer periods will also find great value in the site, as it is a large and scenic Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery containing the graves of about 1830 identified casualties, including approximately 35 Australians. The suburb of Heliopolis (or ‘New Egypt’), within which the cemetery is based, is also a relatively new and modern part of Cairo. It is home to wealthy Egyptians and international visitors such as politicians, sports personalities and other celebrities. Thus, those with more time on their hands may also like to explore other areas of the suburb.

Visitors arriving at the Heliopolis War Cemetery by the front gate are confronted by a large pavilion that now hosts the Heliopolis (Port Tewfik) Memorial. The Heliopolis (Port Tewfik) Memorial is a relatively recent addition that serves to commemorate the approximately 4000 men who died whilst serving with the Indian Army in Egypt and Palestine during the First World War, but who have no known grave. A similar memorial was originally based at Port Tewfik, but this was destroyed during the Arab-Israeli conflict of the 1970s.

The commemorative War Stone for this cemetery can also be seen through the gates in the middle of the pavilion, in the centre of this image. Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemeteries feature a number of common features that link the sites together, and the War Stone is one of these.

Image: The Heliopolos (Port Tewfik) Memorial at the front of the Heliopolis War Cemetery.
Creator: Christopher Karykides

This image presents a wide view of the Heliopolis War Cemetery from the perspective of the War Stone. The cemetery was opened in October, 1941, and contains the graves of soldiers who served and died during the Second World War. Many of those buried here died as the result of wounds or illness whilst based in Cairo’s nearby hospitals.

This cemetery contains the graves of individuals from 22 different nations, thus reflecting the multi-national nature of the forces operating in this theatre during the Second World War. They include over 1000 British troops, in addition to individuals from Canada, Australian, New Zealand, South Africa, India, Malta, Sudan, France, Poland, the Netherlands, and a number of other nations.

At the very back if the cemetery, in the centre of this image behind the Cross of Sacrifice, can be seen the Heliopolis (Aden) Memorial. This memorial is another relatively recent addition that serves to commemorate the approximately 600 men of the Commonwealth forces who died whilst serving in Aden during the First World War, but who have no known grave. A similar memorial was originally based in Aden, but this was destroyed in 1967.

Image: The Heliopolis War Cemetery
Creator: Christopher Karykides

Throughout the Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemeteries men and women from different national forces are often buried side-by-side. In this image the grave of Sister Ellen Amelia Ladkin of Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service, a British nursing unit, stands alongside the grave of Kenneth William Woodbridge of the 2/1st Pioneer Battalion of the Australian Army. They died three days apart in November, 1941, and are now buried side-by-side.

In both world wars, various medical services followed combat units throughout the theatres of war in order to be close on-hand to deal with casualties. In many cases nurses and doctors experienced the same horrors of war as soldiers. For example, at Tobruk in 1941, Australian nurses were evacuated mere days before the port was cut off and the siege began, whilst at around the same time in Alexandria and Cairo nurses experienced regular bombardment by enemy aircraft. Bombs from these air raids did not discriminate between soldiers, nurses, and civilians. At the same time daily work in hospitals throughout North Africa placed nurses at great risk of contracting illness.

Image: The graves of Ellen Amelia Ladkin and Kenneth William Woodbridge, Heliopolis War Cemetery.
Creator: Nathan Wise

Some 35 Australians are identified in the field of 1830 graves at Heliopolis War Cemetery. Of those 35 Australians, 16 served with the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). This image shows the grave of one of these men, Flying Officer Laurence Cuthbert Pyke.

Laurence Pyke enlisted with the RAAF but, due to close cooperation between Australian and British forces, served in Egypt on attachment with 216 Squadron of the Royal Air Force (RAF). At 1:15pm on 4 November, 1942, the Lockheed Hudson (a light bomber/transport/reconnaissance aircraft) that Pyke was flying in crashed at his home airbase in El Khanka, Egypt. Five others in the plane were either killed instantly or died of injuries later in the day (four of these men are also buried at the Heliopolis War Cemetery, and they include one other Australian from the RAAF, Flight Officer Francis Valentine Brown). Pyke survived the initial crash, but died of his injuries the following day, on 5 November, 1942.

Pyke was one of 5117 Australian RAAF personnel who died whilst serving in, or attached to, RAF units during the Second World War. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemeteries in Egypt contain the graves of about 485 Australians from the RAAF, many of whom were serving in British units at the time of their death. An additional ten Australians from the Australian Flying Corps (the predecessor of the RAAF from the First World War) are also buried in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemeteries in Egypt.

Image: The grave of Laurence Cuthbert Pyke.
Creator: Christopher Karykides

Sources:

Alan Storr, ‘RAAF WW2 Fatalities by Squadrons’, Australian War Memorial, Canberra, 2006, p. 103.
Commonwealth War Graves Commission, http://www.cwgc.org/

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