THE  'SUEZ  VETERANS  ASSOCIATION'

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  A brief report on the SVA reunion visit to the Suez Canal Zone. 24th April - 10th May 2011.

Group photo
Some of the group in the grounds of the Hotel Mercure, Ismailia.
( Photo by courtesy of Sonia Wiley.)


When you have read the report click  HERE  to see some photographs taken on the visit.

REPORT OF THE VISIT

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 football shirts.

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.

Wednesday was 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 Munro.

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.
Everyone who went on these visits enjoyed the experience.


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 affirmative.
How completely different from Easter Monday.  What a difference a day makes!

Brian Bull.
11th May 2011.


A set of two DVD discs containing video and still photos taken during the visit can be obtained from Rod Bolmer.
Price is £2.50 which includes postage.
For more details e-mail Rod at: [email protected]   - or phone him on: 01924 827393

Click HERE to see some photographs taken on the visit.
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