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Earlier in the day myself and two Aussies Roger and Mike headed to the Gaza War Cemetery. We had heard there was a British cemetery in town and thought we should visit on Anzac Day to show our respects, sing Taps (in this case The Last Post) and eat Anzac biscuits.
You might ask where you get Anzac biscuits in Gaza, well Mike cooked them. Getting the ingredients took a bit of work - oats are not common here and we visited several "supermarkets" to find them. Baking soda and baking powder are hard to discern from other ingredients on sale and shop staff had no idea what we were looking for. In the end one of our field officers helped and we succeeded in getting everything bar the golden syrup. Then there was the challenge with the oven. It is a gas oven and it either burns the top of what you cook or the bottom, so there were a few experiments - well done Mike for the excellent results.
The Gaza War Cemetery is in Gaza City, about 10 minutes drive from the ICRC Delegation, and is well known locally for its avenue of cedars leading from the main road to the gate. Apparently the trees were planted at the same time the cemetery came into use. It contains 3,217 Commonwealth graves from the First World War, 781 of them unidentified. Second World War burials number 210. There are also 30 post war burials and 234 war graves of other nationalities.
Of the British soldiers, the great majority belong to the 52nd (Lowland), the 53rd (Welsh), the 54th (East Anglian) and the 74th (Yeomanry) divisions. New Zealand also has quite a number of soldiers buried there. There is even one nurse, in amongst all the thousands of soldiers - she died at the age 26, and served in the Royal Alexandria Nursing Corps.
The significant thing about the visit for me is the cemetery’s incongruous setting - a beautiful green haven and peaceful oasis in the chaos of Gaza city. It is a place where a picnic feels compulsory til you remember its real purpose. The cemetery is pristine thanks to a local family who look after it, but it is totally surrounded by litter, dust, disintegrating buildings, traffic and noise.
It’s quite a reminder of all the years of war in the region, not just the World Wars, but the centuries of unrest in the region. It makes you realise how far away the soldiers must have really felt - and did they understand the reasons behind their presence? Finding the nurse’s grave for me was probably more significant than anything else - she must have had some character and courage to be where she was, when she was. Brave lady, short life... hopefully she believed in what she was doing.
Though living in a delegation becomes like a temporary family, sometimes, especially on days like Anzac Day, all you want to do is give family and friends a hug, and let them know how special they are.
Gail Corbett is working in Gaza as part of the New Zealand Red Cross delegate programme. The programme is supported by funding from New Zealand Aid Programme through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The New Zealand Red Cross delegates programme has been running since 1960.