This past weekend we visited

the WWII memorial grave-site for the Commonwealth soldiers

at El Alamein.

And curiously enough, despite my usual reaction to such monuments —

a blasé distaste for the glorification of what I think of as mostly pointless violence and killing

I’m usually more sympathetic to such anti-war statements as Mark Twain’s “War Prayer” —

I found myself touched when we visited this place.


Perhaps it was because these men had been so young.

It felt sad to think that they had all died before they had reached

the point in life that I’m at now (and I’m nowhere near old yet)

At their age they should have been in college worrying about mundane little things…

What to eat for breakfast or whether to shower or sleep in before work.

They should not have been fighting in an alien land – hot harsh and unforgiving –

when they died.

Perhaps also, it was the fact that this memorial did not tout any one country over others, but was for all soldiers en mass.

Most of the dead had belonged to England and many to France,

(There was a moment there when the familiar cynicism about war kicked in when I read the inscription that said something about the British Empire but even that feeling bleached and faded away in the sun)

But I also saw a headstone for a Polish soldier and for one from South Africa

Didn’t see any Indian names in the rows that I glanced at, but surely there was at least one?


Amid the rows of headstones I saw two things that especially touched me

One was a lone flower by the gravestone of a young private named Day.


Somehow the sight of this lone blossom

(I call it the lone lupine, though I may be wrong about the flower)

flapping in the desert breeze under the harsh unrelenting sun

brought to mind the word valiant.

Yes, it was the sight of that valiant blossom struggling against all odds in the desert

that touched me most about El Alamein

It seemed such a fitting metaphor and tribute all in one for the soldiers buried there.

Metaphor did I say?

Not quite, for while the soldiers did not survive the odds

the lupine may, and I hope it does.



The other sight, equally touching and at the same time uplifting was that of a crooked tree.


Planted somewhere between the rows of headstones,

it was bent over so completely to one side

that it appeared almost as if it had bent over

for the express purpose of offering its shade to the three soldiers who were buried there.

And that gesture of kindness touched me, for I can think of nothing so desolate

as the feeling of being alone and friendless and thirsty and hot in an unfamiliar land.