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The Kia ora coo-ee : the magazine for the ANZACS in the Middle East, 1918

Desert Graves. — Heroes of The Frontier

Desert Graves.
Heroes of The Frontier.

This war is exhibiting to the world a patriotic and vigorious Australasian spirit, and though the eyes of strong men and steadfast -women are tired with weeping, there are yet tears to spare as incidents recall from time to time the sad but glorious passing of comrades who crossed a world of oceans in reponse to the call of Empire.

Neath the desert sands of Egypt their dust commingling with that of heroes of historic ages our comrades lie. Tucked away within the narrow, silent, sea-girt valleys of ill-fated Gallipoli, the very flower of Anzac sleeps. The shell-swept wastes of Palestine made rich by conquests in the years now sped are richer far where the sons from Australasia have fallen. Again we drop a tear of sympathy for the brave who are no more.

It is only those who have patrolled the North-Western Frontier of Egypt who have seen the scattered graves of the heroes who fell fighting for the Motherland far away from the land of their birth. These graves are at the bottom of stunted bush gorges, by the shores of the Mediterranean and far out mid the shifting sands of the desert. Some of them reveal the identity of the body beneath by a crude wooden cross on which is carved or painted the rank, name and unit of the fallen soldier. Other graves are just raised mounds of earth on which has been placed a hat, and perhaps a bayonet has been stuck in the soft earth at the sleeper's head.

At a foot of a sanger overlooking Mersa Matruh is a small, well-laid out graveyard, and here are buried the heroes who fell in battle to the South-West of Matruh on December 25th, 1915. Here lie resting side by side Colonial and Imperial troops. The graves are kept in excellent order and have handsome white wooden crosses over them.

There is a stretch of coast line which runs from Mersa Matruh to Sollum, and here, until two years ago, few men had walked since the Roman era. A half mile from the edge of the dark blue waters Nature has attempted to recompense the country for the defects of the desert by a narrow belt of fertile land which runs with the coast line far beyond the limits of human vision. Here there is a prolific growth of wild flowers of white, purple, gold, blue, green and red, clustered so thickly that each plant must struggle for its existence, yet placed so cunningly that each bloom is toned and subdued by those close to it. There are graves studded here and there amid the flowers, graves which in many instances will never reveal the identity of the hero below. Crude entrenchments and rusted barb wire entanglements close by tell the story of some fierce encounter between British and Senussi. I know a silent spot just off the motor road to Sollum where two Anzacs lie buried in one grave. Few pass the spot without halting to make some slight improvement to the resting place of the sleeping heroes.

At Sidi Bareni, a small graveyard is perched on a sandy ridge overlooking the dancing waves of the Mediterranean. A huge wooden cross stands over a wide mound of earth and bears this simple inscription, "Here lie Officers, N.C. O's and men of the 1st. and 3rd. South African Infantry. R. I. P." These men fell in battle at Agagia on February 25th. 1916, It was here that Gaafar Pasha, one of the generals of the Senussi Army was captured. Ours was a motley but efficient force consisting of Sikhs and Ghurkas from India, Boers from South Africa, Australians and New Zealanders, and British Yeomanry from the Homeland. Agagia to-day presents a horrible sight. Hundreds of dead Senussi and Turks lie unburied, their bones bleaching under the fierce rays of the desert sun. Our dead have long since been removed and buried. The cross at Sidi Bareni covers the remains of the South Africans. Elsewhere lie the Australians and the New Zealanders.

On the other side of the coastal fertile belt stretching for miles, till the end of the earth it seems is desert, dry, dusty brown desert, without life of any kind. Scattered around are a few Roman cisterns or water caves which are still in a good state of preservation. Near one of these wells is the grave of a Queenslander. Nine thousand miles of land and water divide him from his homeland. I knew him "down under" five years ago, a tall, rugged, smiling faced Australian who lived only for his wife and his 280 acre sugar plantation. War was one of the last things that he thought of. Then came the time when Mars sounded his tocsin and this man like thousands of others felt that it was his duty to go forth and battle for the Empire as his forefathers had done in ages past. He came to Egypt; was one of the mounted units sent to rout the Senussi, and fell fighting the enemies of the Motherland. May the shifting sands of the desert deal kindly with his grave.

These graves scattered about the desert show how this war has consolidated the bonds of Empire. From the British possessions near and far the pick of manhood has come forth without hesitation to do their portion in bringing victory to the Motherland, under whose flag they have tasted the richest fruits of freedom.