Heroes Return Blog – Stories from Second World War veterans’ trips

Camels….. by The National Lottery Community Fund
November 26, 2009, 11:43 am
Filed under: Africa | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

One sight we do hope to recall in our minds is that of a herd of camels wandering through the desert with their herder. Apparently a man’s wealth is measured by how many camels he has. It was lovely seeing them in their natural habitat as opposed to all dressed up for giving tourist rides.

El Alamein Cemetery and Museum by The National Lottery Community Fund
November 26, 2009, 11:11 am
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I was the only one to oversleep this morning. My 91 year old father, despite being one of the last to go to bed due to putting the world to rights in the bar the previous night,  was up and breakfasted with everyone else and was wondering where I was. I blame my phone as the hour had gone back, realigned itself with Greenwich meantime which meant that so did my phone and Egypt was now GMT + 2.

This was the day we visited the cemetery at El Alamein. A deeply powerful moment for my father as this is where he did serve in those terrible days. The poignant moments for all our group were different but no-one could not be affected by seeing several touching headstones – this is because these young men died together, and their remains cannot be separated, therefore they rest, as they died – together.

The El Alamein museum is nicely appointed. Not entirely 100% accurate according to our guide Steve Hamilton who really does know everything there is to know about this period of history. The museum also holds examples of all the different kinds of desert uniform; the Italians still managed to be the most stylish – even in war.

We were told horrifying stories of POW ships and ships carrying the injured were sunk by friendly fire off the coast of North Africa. El Alamein train station itself is a wreck. What a pity as it could so easily be turned into a memorial. We then visited the actual sites of the battles themselves. There are still thousands of uncleared mines – so it is a bit risky wandering off the beaten track. There are still active mine sweeping divisions operating on a daily basis.

Visiting the Cemeteries by The National Lottery Community Fund

The cemeteries play host to the dead from many faiths:- Jews, Muslims, Christians, and are all beautifully maintained. This we found surprising as we had only expected the war graves to be so well tended.

The War grave we visited this morning was the final resting place for not only the fallen of WWII but also, the battles of a bygone age – now seen only in films. Napoleon fought battles along these shores and many dead from this time can be found in the graveyards. Whilst my father inspected the row upon row of pristine and highly respected graves of WWII I found myself very touched by a tomb dedicated to the family of one Daniel Frazer. The epitaph read:-

Maggie Frazer died 1892         34 years

Also lie here her children

Elizabeth         died 1887        11 months

Isabella            died 1891        6 years

Daniel              died 1891        3 years

“Sleep on loved ones and take your rest, I loved you well, but Jesus loved you best.”

Other inscriptions I found touching included, “He does not die who lives on in the hearts of loved ones.”

We both were wondering what these cities/ places must have been like in 1892.

Alexandria by The National Lottery Community Fund
November 26, 2009, 10:51 am
Filed under: Africa | Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

The Hotel Cecil in Alexandria, with its 150 year old lift was a hotel highlight. Along with its ancient façade and wonderful historical feeling – it was a lovely hotel with excellent food and nice rooms. Alexandria is a cosmopolitan and fascinating city which I really enjoyed vsiting. So in contrast with Cairo, that is so chaotic busy and smog filled.

My father couldn’t really remember this city very well, but he will now, as I found and bought him the most lovely antique walking stick – for all of £3.50. (Maybe it wasn’t an antique!)

Alexandria retains the vestiges of an elegant age – it shows in its buildings and the care that is taken of them. Apparently they re-paint them every 5 years.

First Day in Egypt by The National Lottery Community Fund
November 26, 2009, 10:43 am
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On our first day in Egypt we visited the Sphynx and the Pyramids. For me, much more impressive this time around (I had last visited over 25 years ago). For my father whose last visit was nearly 70 years ago, things had changed a great deal and he wasn’t impressed by these changes. In the early 1940’s the army barracks were positioned next to the Pyramids and in the evenings, the soldiers would clamber to the top of them and have a beer in the cool night air. There would probably only be around half a dozen people around. Now you are not allowed to climb on the pyramids and there are hawkers, camels, tourists and horses, not to mention the poor area of Giza right next door.

Still none of this can detract from the awesome pyramids, standing as they have done – bar their original facades – for thousands of years.

Robert Day’s journey by The National Lottery Community Fund
November 26, 2009, 10:29 am
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The BA 747 was yet another cause for bewilderment. Cramped seating, televisions that have no knobs – in the back of seats what’s more…..earphones, all needed to be got to grips with. A gin and tonic settled things down and we had an excellent flight with us both talking to extremely interesting new acquaintances. One an Egyptian business man and the other an ancient astrologist. The latter was my companion for the 4 ½ trip and he described to me the things that have only recently been discovered about nomadic tribes that existed in the Western Desert, West of Abu Simbel, until climate change 3-4,000 years ago which forced them to alter their way of living and head towards the Nile Delta.