Last night I sat down and watched some of the BBC ‘s live televised programme of the Royal British Legion Service Festival Of Remembrance. This is always a very poignant service, and indeed a very poignant time for the entire commonwealth each and every year. Next year 2018 commemorates the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War 11.11.1918.
It was a programme that my dad always watched without fail, as he did with the Sunday Service at the Cenotaph. In more recent years, we have also come to honor those in the services who have been killed or injured, or been involved in rescuing & helping those struck down by terrorism.
We have all, been taught at school and read the books, watched films and documentaries over the years of the two World both here and abroad. Wars and numerous other conflicts, including Vietnam, in more recent years the war in the Falkland Islands, the war between Iran & Iraq, the IRA and so on.
In the 1950’s there were also several other major conflicts that the British Armed Forces had played their part in, that so many are not still fully aware of, except the older generation. The Korean War, also the war out in the Malayan Jungle and also the build up to the Suez Canal Crisis in Egypt, all of these are known as the ‘forgotten wars’. These are wars our government would rather not talk about.
The 1948 Act – National Service as peacetime conscription was formulated by the National Service. From 1 January 1949, healthy males 17 to 21 years old were expected to serve in the armed forces for 18 months, and remain on the reserve list for four years.
In short, the British government decided we needed to be prepared to defend us and our allies in case of another outbreak of war ever happened in the future. However, by 1963 National Service, in the UK came to an end. Some say it should be brought back….but that is always going to be an issue with those who believe conscription is wrong.
However, what many hundreds of thousands of people do not realize is that at the time between the early to late 1950’s there were many young men in the National Service, who went out to Korea, Malayasian Jungle and Egypt, along the Suez Canal Zone, and served alongside the regular British Forces in dangerous and life threatening conditions. The sad thing about this was because these young men were conscripted National Service men, they were never really recognized for their actual service, or recognized like the regular armed forces personnel and the Medical Corps, despite the deaths of many conscripted men during that era in the service of their country.
It took our own British government and the MOD over 50 years to recognize officially one of these particular conflicts, and to finally honor all these men with an official General Service Medals for their service in the armed forces as a National Service Conscript. My late father being one of them.
Over the last few years of his life my dad often use to tell my brother, sister-in-law and myself of his time out in Egypt in Shandur and Ismailia. Some of his stories have been imprinted in mind over the years, some good and some not so good, including the time he came across a scorpion in his bed, or when got put on report for getting sun-burnt whilst off duty. How he and his mates would go swimming in the big lakes on weekend leave. When he was told off by a Captain for not saluting a female Major in the Nursing Corp, instead he waved at her across the docks in Egypt…..the Captain didn’t realize that dad and the Major were friends from back home, and they had both worked at the same hospital in Catherine De Barnes she as a Matron and dad as the hospital gardener and he also did orderly duties. Both prior to going over seas. Just a few years before she had saved my dad’s life when he had become extremely ill on duty at the hospital and had to be rushed into theatre. The Major told the Captain, she never expected an old friend to salute her and she ended up putting the Captain back in his place.
When my dad passed away in April 2016, it was down to us to sort out his paperwork, belongings etc. In a metal tin tucked safely away we came across dads National Service documents, his joining papers, shipping papers, demob papers and so on a couple of black and white photos, and despite being of very poor quality, I can not part with them. It was quite a little sentimental treasure trove for me to hold on to. I sat down and looked through them all again last night after the service on tv. It seemed therefore very appropriate for me to write this piece on my dad and many thousand of other men who did their National Service.
In 1936 a treaty was signed between the United Kingdom and the Kingdom of Egypt called the Anglo Egyptian Treaty of 1936. It stipulated the British pledge to withdraw all their troops from Egypt, except those necessary to protect the Suez Canal and its surroundings. Following World War Two, Egypt denounced the Treaty of 1936, leading to skirmishes with British troops guarding the Canal in 1951. Thus the Egyptian Revolution of 1952.
An estimated 200,000 British troops served in the canal zone during the emergency – which preceded the Suez crisis of 1956 – and more than 300 were killed.
Attacks on the British garrison soon followed and in January 1952 the British government authorised an operation to disarm the Egyptian paramilitary police force in Ismailia which was orchestrating the violence. This was successful, but the violence continued. Riots in Cairo of an unprecedented scale followed, culminating in attacks on Saturday 26 January on British property and the expatriate community, thereafter known as Black Saturday.
British threats to occupy Cairo prompted King Farouk of Egypt to dismiss Nahas Pasha, but in July 1952 Farouk was overthrown in a military coup and General Mohammed Neguib seized power. Rather than insist on Britain’s rights under the 1936 Treaty, Anthony Eden, the British foreign secretary tried to negotiate with the new government.
In June 1950 my late father had just undergone his National Service basic training, as a REME at Heathfield Camp in Honiton, Devon, then a brief spell at Aberfield, near Reading, to then be told that he was about to be shipped abroad to the Egypt Canal Zone in the Dec of 1950 to Shandur and stationed with the 4th Royal Tank Regiment, where he spent his first Christmas abroad as a REME until Feb 1951, when he was sent over to GHQ 2nd Company in Fayid, Ismailia For those who are not aware of what a REME is, it a Royal Electrical Mechanical Engineer. In short these were the men who supported our troops by ensuring any damaged equipment, guns, vehicles were repaired and fit to be used in service both in training and on the front line.
In 1950/51 the trouble was already brewing, and fighting and skirmishes had started, and the Suez became known as the Crisis Zone. My dad among many others was one of those caught in the middle of it all.
Britain faced the increasingly difficult prospect of maintaining control over the Suez Canal in the face of rising Egyptian opposition and the economic realities of the post-war world. In attempting to exert its authority over the Canal Zone, Britain came up against a guerrilla movement fed both by nationalist and religious sentiment, and facilitated by a weak monarchy and a confrontational opposition government. The 1950-54 battle over the Canal Zone set the stage for the creation of an independent Egypt and the 1956 Suez crisis. Realistically, the British Armed Forces, under the instruction of our British government were trying to protect their rights under the 1936 agreement. There is a great deal of history behind this crisis is makes interesting reading. effectively, it was the start of the Guerrilla Warfare along the Canal Zone that led to the war in 1956.
What many do not know is that the early Liberation Battalions involved ex-Nazis. Several dozen former Wehrmacht and SS officers who served as advisors to the Egyptian Army from 1950. Mr Churchill, was again Prime Minister, and had become somewhat fixated on the prospect of British troops being once again under attack by Nazis, or their protégés.
According to the Foreign Office, the British lost 47 soldiers in the Canal Zone between 16 October 1951 and 1 June 1954 and a further seven were missing and were presumed killed.
British withdrawal from the Canal Zone accelerated, and the last troops left on 13 June 1955. Though the threat to British forces in the Canal Zone was over, Britain’s concerns over the security of the Canal itself were not. The Egyptian President Nasser would nationalize the Suez Canal in July 1956, setting the stage for full-scale war along its banks between Egypt and Israel.
There is a lot to be said for the part our National Service men played out there, and the dangers they had to endure. We were so delighted when my dad finally received his medal a few years ago. Those forgotten men had finally earned their recognition as where those who served out in Korea and the Malayan Jungle. These men should also never be forgotten for carrying out their duties in war torn areas of the world. Lest we forget.
I have managed to photograph some of dads service papers, obviously with their age, (which is older than me) they are not in the best condition. My dad was also a life long supporter of the Royal British Legion, it was thanks to them that he was able to maintain a certain level of independence these last few by way of a Disability Scooter
Many thanks for stopping by.