Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Friday, November 10, 2023

The Basra War Memorial


The Basra Memorial commemorates 40,635 members of the Commonwealth forces who died in the operations in Mesopotamia from the autumn of 1914 to the end of August 1921 and whose graves are not known. This combined British-Indian memorial to the missing, unveiled in 1929, includes on its panels the names of all British personnel and Indian officers. The Indian non-commissioned officers and other ranks are commemorated numerically, with their names included in a memorial register. 

Until 1997 the Basra Memorial was located on the main quay of the naval dockyard at Maqil, on the west bank of the Shatt-al-Arab, about 8 km north of Basra. Because of the sensitivity of the site, the memorial was moved by presidential decree (Yep, Sadam Hussein). The move, carried out by the authorities in Iraq, involved a considerable amount of manpower, transport costs, and sheer engineering on their part, and the memorial has been re-erected in its entirety. The Basra Memorial is now located 32 km along the road to Nasiriyah, in the middle of what was a major battleground during the (first) Gulf War.

When first unveiled in 1929, the names of most of the men of the Indian Army whom it commemorates were not accurate. War records at the time hadn’t been properly compiled and the commission could only be provided with the names of Indian officers, and British officers and men.

Since then an accurate list of the names has since been compiled and all lie in the CWGC’s Iraq Roll of Honour, on display in the UK, waiting for a time when conditions on the ground allow a more permanent solution.

However, there is hope. Step by step, progress is being made in Iraq. In 2012, during a gap in hostilities, Kut War Cemetery was completely renovated. Before and after images are a testament to success. In 2019, the most recent project, the renovation work, at Habbaniya War Cemetery, has also succeeded.

Sources:  Sidney Clarke (photos), CWGC (text)

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