Cairo War Memorial Cemetery

Cairo, Egypt

The Cairo War Memorial Cemetery is located in the Old Cairo cemetery area of Cairo. Whilst only a short distance from the centre of Cairo (about 5 kilometres), there are a number of other cemeteries in this area, and it is recommended that prospective visitors identify the location of the cemetery clearly on their maps, and check this with drivers or guides before setting off. Access through the main gate is via Al Seka Al Hadid (as it appears on recent maps), parallel to the nearby train line and just off the larger road of Salah Salem. However, even when standing directly outside, the cemetery is easy to miss as the wall and gates blend in easily with the general style of cemeteries in this area.

Upon passing through the gates of the Cairo War Memorial Cemetery, visitors will be met by what appears to be a dual-style of cemetery. On their right hand side (southern side) are the common styles of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission graves; and on the left hand side (northern side) there are different styles of civilian graves. This cemetery was originally part of the civilian New British Protestant Cemetery but parts of this were ceded to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in 1920. They are now all contained within the large Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery walls, but two areas remain divided into different plots.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission recommends contacting their local office in Cairo before visiting this cemetery in order to ensure that the Head Gardener can open the cemetery gates for visitors - Tel: 00 202 2290 1247

Image: Cairo War Memorial Cemetery.
Creator: Christopher Karykides

This image, showing the Great Cross in the centre of the cemetery, also highlights the stark difference in styles between the civilian (left) and military (right) graves. The Cairo War Memorial Cemetery contains 2392 military burials, consisting of 2054 from the First World War, and 338 from the Second World War. Of these 2392 graves, Australians comprise 513, with 493 of these coming from the First World War and 20 from the Second World War.

In December, 1914, the first convoy of men of the Australian Imperial Force disembarked in Alexandria, Egypt. From here the bulk of these men entrained to Cairo where they were based for several months at Mena camp, at the foot of the Pyramids of Giza, prior to embarking for Gallipoli. Cairo would be their first taste of Egypt, a country that many Australians would visit before subsequently making their way to the Western Front in Europe, or to the Sinai-Palestine Campaign in the Middle East. Some of the men buried in this cemetery died after evacuation to Cairo from either Gallipoli in 1915 or from battles throughout the Sinai-Palestine Campaign from 1915-1918.  However, the soldiers of the Ottoman Empire were not the only thing these men feared; poor sanitary conditions throughout the different theatres of war meant that diseases could just as easily kill men. Indeed, throughout June and July, 1915, a greater number of men were evacuated from the Gallipoli peninsula due to illness, than the number being evacuated because of wounds. Many of these men failed to recover and they were subsequently buried in this cemetery.

Image: The Great Cross, Cairo War Memorial Cemetery.
Creator: Christopher Karykides

This image, looking west back towards the main gates, displays the lines of graves in the military plots. Among these, towards the back wall, lies the grave of James Dudley Ward-Proctor.

Having previously served in the South African (Boer) War, James enlisted again in the 10th Battalion of the Australian Imperial Force in the first month of the war - August, 1914. However, military service did not seem to suit James and he soon fell out of favour with his commanding officers, one of which indicated that James was:

Consistently insubordinate. Not likely to improve … At present awaiting trial for striking an officer.

Another officer reported of James:

This man is a bad character, is a drunkard + most insubordinate.

In January, 1915, following a trial by court martial, James was sentenced to ‘1 years imprisonment without hard labour’. However, following the Gallipoli invasion on 25 April, 1915, James was quickly released and sent to the peninsula with reinforcements. After just several days on the peninsula James received a gun shot wound in his neck and was evacuated back to the 1st Australian General Hospital in Cairo. He languished in this painful state for over a month before dying of his wounds on 22 June, 1915, whereupon he was buried in this cemetery. Casualties from the Gallipoli peninsula were also evacuated to Alexandria, Malta, and Lemnos, and the cemeteries in those locations hold the graves of many other Australians.

Image: The Cairo War Memorial Cemetery.
Creator: Christopher Karykides

Hector Small is one of the 513 Australians buried in this cemetery. Hector, a farmer from Camden, NSW, enlisted as a healthy young 22 year-old with the 1st Australian Light Horse Regiment in August, 1914. He sailed with the first contingent of the AIF an arrived in Egypt in December, 1914. Following training with his unit in and around Cairo, he was finally transferred to the Gallipoli peninsula with his unit in early May, 1915. However, 18 days after landing Hector was admitted to hospital. Hector’s casualty form records that for the next six weeks suffered from ‘influenza’ and ‘diarrhoea’, worsening to a point where he became ‘Dangerously ill’. On 4 July, 1915, he reportedly died of ‘enteric fever + haemorrhage’ whilst in the No.1 Australian General Hospital in Cairo and he was later buried in this cemetery.

Image: The grave of Hector Small
Creator: Christopher Karykides

Sources:

Butler, A. G., The Australian Army Medical Service in the war of 1914-1918, Volume I: Gallipoli, Palestine and New Guinea, Australian War Memorial, Melbourne, 1938, ‘The rate per cent on weekly average strength of men evacuated from Anzac for sickness and wounds’, p. 347.

Commonwealth War Graves Commission, http://www.cwgc.org/

National Archives of Australia, Series B2455, First Australian Imperial Force Personnel Dossiers, 1914-1920, www.naa.gov.au

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