The itinerary of this years reunion visit to the Canal Zone was pretty much the same as last years, the Wreath Laying Ceremonies, the outings to Cairo, Port Said and Suez were the same but there were some people who hadn’t been before and a few things were done differently.
In the report, mentions of the name ‘Jeff’ relate to Jeff Malone who has organised all the visits.
About two weeks before the departure date Jeff received word that the airline, KLM, had altered the flight schedule and the take-off time from Amsterdam had been brought forward about twelve hours to 09.30 instead of 21.00. This meant Jeff having to contact everyone to give them the new times for leaving their local airports, also to contact the bus company in Egypt to meet the group at Cairo airport in the afternoon and to warn the hotel in Ismailia they would be arriving in the evening and not in the early hours of the following morning.
One slight hiccup on arrival at Cairo airport, Duncan, a Veteran who made his own way from Australia, should have met up with the main group but couldn’t be found. Jeff made some enquiries and was told Duncan’s flight was delayed which prompted the main group to leave the airport and continue their journey to the hotel by the two coaches that had been laid on. Unfortunately Jeff had been given the wrong information so Duncan, who had been looking for them, was left at the airport and had to make his own way to Ismailia. Another hiccup was three suit cases failed to arrive at Cairo, one of these was delivered to the hotel on Monday and the other two didn’t arrive until Wednesday.
The staff at the Mercure Hotel, where they were staying, gave a big welcome to everyone and after being given keys to their rooms the group settled in and did their own thing for the remainder of the evening.
On Monday morning the group met in
the Timsah Coffee Room at the hotel
for a briefing by Jeff who explained what was happening
during the stay and gave advice to those who
were on the trip for the first time.
A group photo was then taken in the grounds
and in the afternoon Jeff took two separate
parties on a guided walk round Ismailia,
pointing out places of interest and scenes of incidents etc.
Many of the locals welcomed them, smiled
and spoke to them and were willing to shake
hands. On learning that the visitors were from England
the usual remark was, "Manchester United?" or "Liverpool?"
When one of the group said,"No, Derby County"
they shrugged their shoulders! Some
of the local young lads were seen to be wearing England
Tuesday was the day for the Wreath Laying Ceremonies at the Moascar and Fayid Cemeteries. They managed to get into the Moascar Cemetery quicker than any previous visit, in the past it meant waiting to get the permission of the Egyptian Military Commander of the Garrison, this year there was no delay. Those members who made up the Wreath Laying party, and a few of the others, wore a uniform as similar as possible to the KD uniform worn almost sixty years ago. Ron Myers laid the wreath and was escorted by Albert Rouse and Evelyn Norton. Richard Woolley recited Binyon’s Exhortation and John Innes played ‘The Last Post’ and ‘Reveille’. Jeff acted as time keeper for the minutes silence. After the ceremony the group looked round the cemetery, some searching for a particular grave of a friend or relative and taking photographs. Three of the group were the younger sister, a younger brother and his wife, of Arthur Davie who was killed by the ‘Fruit Barrow’ bomb on the bridge over the Sweet Water at Ismailia, January 1952. It must have been a traumatic experience for them to see the bridge where Arthur was killed when they went on the walk round Ismailia. Jeff played the tune of the hymn ‘Abide With Me’ at Arthur Davie’s grave with some of the group singing the words.
From Moascar the group went down to the Fayid Cemetery and repeated the ceremony. Jack Myers sang a Welsh lament by the grave of someone who was from his village and Jeff played ‘Abide With Me’ by another grave. Lunch was had at the El Morgan Hotel by the side of the Great Bitter Lake, next to where the ‘Old Vic Lido’ was, and the afternoon was spent lazing on the hotel beach or swimming in the lake. That evening there was a sing-song and quiz in the bar of the Mercure Hotel.
a free day for most of the group but in the
morning a party of twelve led by Albert Rouse visited a
primary school next to Fayid Cemetery and
presents, (pens, pencils, rulers and note books
etc.) were handed out to the children. Another party of 32 left to go across
the Sinai, (by bus not camel,) to Taba Heights
on the Gulf of Aqaba. Here
they spent the night at the Sonesta Beach Resort
before leaving the following morning for
the journey through the South Sinai Mountains to the
Monastery of St Catherine.
Another slight mishap, just
about the time they were to leave the Resort one of the group
slipped on some marble steps, hurt his leg
and cut the back of his head, the hotel insisted
on getting a doctor who, after an examination, took the
injured member to a nearby clinic to have
the wound stitched. How
many of you went to that area around the
monastery on schemes and exercises? This
outing was arranged
by Ron Myers and
they travelled in
an air conditioned coach on a decent
road, not over rough roads in a Landrover
or three tonner! Near to St
Catherine’s coach park Richard Woolley came across a
large bolder with some names of British servicemen
and dates written on it. If your
name is G Aspin, or S Stopford of 26 LAA
Sqdn RAF Regiment and you were there on 22nd
November 1952, or C Frame of Motherwell and was with LAD
REME, 4 Coy. RASC, (4/4/53)
or T G Dailey, Al Dacombe, A Griffiths, C Hutchings, B
Kirby or (?) Gunn 35 RE, and another that
could be Harris, please get in touch with the
webmaster of this site, your names are still on show
for everyone to see after almost sixty years.
While this party were returning to Ismailia on Thursday others still at the hotel went on a trip into the Sinai Desert to a former Israeli Command post at Tabbet el Shaggara which the Egyptian army captured from the Israelis and is now a museum. They returned via the new Kantara Bridge near El Ballah. The barn dance arranged for that evening was cancelled – Jeff had toothache.
On Friday a coach load went on a visit to Cairo with morning coffee being taken at the Chantilly Restaurant before moving on to the Pyramids and Sphinx at Giza. After a packed lunch on the coach the afternoon was spent visiting either the Khan Khalili Bazaar or the Cairo Museum of Antiquities. It was noted that at the Pyramids only two other coaches were in the coach park whereas in previous trips the coach park was full. At the moment Egypt has a definite shortage of tourists.
This was the day of the Royal Wedding and those who had not gone on the Cairo trip stayed behind at the hotel and either relaxed on the beach or stayed in their room and watched the wedding on CNN TV. All the group were given two bottles of Stella Beer each with compliments of the hotel, "to help celebrate" they said. A very nice gesture from the management. Another mishap today, one member tripped over in the hotel grounds and fractured her thumb, this meant a visit to a doctor and she came back with a plaster-cast covering her hand, fingers and thumb.
On Saturday a coach party took a leisurely drive down to Port Suez going through Fayid, Fanara, Kasfareet, Geneifa, Shallufa and took a slight detour to go past the old Kilo 99 checkpoint on the Cairo / Suez road. This is still a checkpoint being the border of the Suez and Cairo Directorates. Lunch was had at the Red Sea Hotel in Port Tewfik. It was intended for them to walk down to the end of the Canal to look across the bay towards Ain Sukna, Addabiya and the Ataka Mountains but unfortunately they were not able to do so, it was fenced off for some reason and no one was allowed past the barrier.
Sunday was a drive up to Port Said
via El Gamel airfield, (where the
Paras dropped in November 1956.) A
visit was paid to
the Egyptian Military
Museum, some of
the group who had been before sat outside,
watched the hubbub of traffic and spoke to
some of the local people passing by.
From here they went to the Morgan
Port Hotel where some stayed for lunch and took
it easy on the hotels private beach. The others had a
packed lunch on the jetty near to where De Lessep’s statue
stood before it was blown up in 1956 and then
went on the ferry across the harbour for a quick visit
to Port Fouad. Then took a
stroll round some of the Port Said shops and called in at
a coffee bar before catching the coach back to
Ismailia. There were no
cruise ships anchored in the harbour which
resulted in there being no street vendors chasing
everyone to buy their wares. Another sign of the
lack of tourists.
A Gala Buffet was held that evening in the function room of the hotel, some of the ladies came prepared and wore a posh frock and some of them dressed in Egyptian style clothes, purchased in the hotel gift shop specially for the occasion. The hotel supplied an excellent buffet with a large choice of well cooked and prepared food. They also gave a very good and nicely decorated cake to one of the group whose birthday it was that day. The entertainment was put on by professional dancers, a Whirling Dervish spun for ten minutes without a break and won applause from everyone, but probably not as much as the belly dancer who had the men standing, cheering and clicking away with their cameras.
Throughout the holiday a collection
was held to buy Jeff a present
in thanks for all the work he had done to arrange these reunion
visits for the last twelve years, and during
the Gala evening Ron Myers presented him
with a very nice wrist watch. He was
later presented with an engraved tray and
the balance of the money collected.
Monday morning was a free period and most of the group went into Ismailia on an organised shopping trip, many bought items in a supermarket which was an interesting experience and drinks were later had at the Nefertiti Restaurant. In the afternoon about thirty of the group went to the British Military Cemetery at Tel el Kebir where another wreath laying ceremony similar to the other two took place only his time the wreath was laid by Brian Simpson. No Suez Canal Zone fatalities are buried here, most of the graves are dated 1940 - 1945 but there are quite a few dated 1882 - 1883 which are of British soldiers who were killed in General Wolseley's defeat of the Egyptian Army in what is now known as ‘The Battle of Tel el Kebir’.
The barn dance which should have
been held on Thursday was held on Monday
evening. Nothing very serious in this, just a load
of fun and laughter caused by people doing it wrong,
either by accident or on purpose to plague
Jeff. During intervals
of the dancing(?) songs were sung by Alan Watson,
a SVA member who sings in the style
of, but does not try to copy, Tony Bennett and Matt
Tuesday morning saw the group preparing to leave, packing completed, hotel bills settled, the last bottle of ‘Stella’ drunk, tips given to the waiters and "good-byes" said to the staff. Shortly before the coaches were due to leave, the owner of the Coach Company, El Ghamry Tours, came to the hotel to thank Jeff and all the people who had been on these visits for their custom. He presented everyone with a gift and had a photographer take some photos. The coaches left the hotel at 11.00am for Cairo airport and some of the hotel staff had tears in their eyes, they knew that this would be the last visit organised by 'Mr Jeff', - as they always called him, - and looks like the last one organised by the SVA, unless someone else wants to take over from Jeff. Many of the staff had been at the hotel since the first visit. Over the years they had made friends with those who had been regular SVA visitors and were always happy to see the Suez Veterans group arrive.
The temperature during the visit ranged between 30° and 35° Centigrade (86° – 95° Fahrenheit) but was comfortable. Most of the days had slight cloud which prevented the sun being too fierce, there was a breeze which on a few occasions strengthened to a slight wind, this managed to keep things cool and bearable. One evening there was a spectacular electric storm that lasted about four hours, no ground strikes but almost continuous sheet lightening behind a thin veil of cloud and a slight rumble of thunder which seemed to roll all around. It did rain for a little while but the event was worth seeing.
It was noticed by many who had been on previous trips that on this visit the people in Egypt were much more relaxed and happy. There was a different atmosphere amongst them, more than usual loads of people came forward saying “Welcome to Egypt” and wanting to shake hands. Even the elder women waved to the ‘tourists’, this has not been seen before. One girl, perhaps in her early twenties, remarked, “Welcome, thank you for having the confidence in the Egyptian people to come and visit our country.”
A sad note is that after twelve such visits, Jeff is not arranging any more, each year he found it harder make the arrangements, took a lot more of his time and the responsibility was getting too much.
Thank you Jeff for all the work
you have done to help Suez Veterans
and many of their families to go back to the Canal Zone,
not just for a visit but also to be able to pay respects
to those who lost their lives
out there and remain buried in the Egyptian sand.
The following report was sent in by one of the members who went on the reunion visit.
A HAPPY DAY IN ISMAILIA.
2011 was my
second visit to the Canal Zone with
the Suez Vets, during my first visit on Jeff's
Ismailia walk I was the last one to
return to the hotel due to problems I
had with my feet and legs, this year once again I was
last but due to different circumstances.
Jeff's walk took place on Easter Monday and it was also
a celebration for the population of Ismailia
who lined the banks and Gardens
alongside the Sweet Water Canal. On the return
part of the walk, being in the
rear of the group I was accosted by a local lady begging
me to take her back to the UK, something
she persisted in until told in no uncertain manner by
the security people in their pick-up truck
to go away, by this time we were in the
area described above and were besieged by children
coming over to shake our
hands and exchange names, invitations were also offered
by the families sitting in groups to
join them in their celebrations, this was a genuine
display of friendship and happiness, of
which I took advantage. On a rough estimate
I probably shook hands and exchanged names with 100+
children, lagging further
behind the main group, the plainclothes security man
walking with me was very patient,
and thus I became the last straggler to return to the
hotel! Two years running!
But I would not have exchanged that experience for
anything, it was one of the happiest days
I have experienced for some time, and the posy
of flowers I was given by a young lad survived
in water in my bedroom till we
left. How this differed to an instance on the
penultimate day of our visit,
when my daughter and I in the company of the taxi driver
whose services we made use of, took us
to a point overlooking the Suez Canal where we could
see Ferry Point, leaning against some railings
were an Egyptian couple, who on our
approach with the taxi driver turned around and walked
away, it was such an
obvious display of dislike of our European appearance,
that I asked Achmed the taxi driver
''Did they leave because of us?'', the answer was in the
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