Late in 2009 Dennis and I had the opportunity to visit Tobruk in Libya and El Alamein in Egypt, two sites of historical importance to Australians. This was part of our once-in-a-lifetime experience, a drive from Tripoli in Libya across northern Africa to Cairo in Egypt.
Both Dennis and I feel very lucky to have been able to visit Tobruk in Libya before the country’s most recent upheavals. In World War II many battles centred around this strategic port city and Australia’s 9th division became known as the ‘Rats of Tobruk’ after holding out for more than 6 months in the siege against Rommel’s Afrika Corps.
After spending a few days in Tobruk, we crossed the border from Libya in to Egypt. We were interested to see the differences between the two sites. They were both of great interest to us as we knew Australians had been involved in major campaigns in these areas during World War II.
I found El Alamein to be much more tourist-focused and very organised with a small museum dedicated to the battles.
El Alamein is a small town in the desert located on the Mediterranean coast approx. 250 km northwest of Cairo, the Egyptian capital. This was the site of some fierce and bloody battles during 1942 between the Axis and Allies, with the Allies finally pushing the Germans and Italians back across the border into Libya.
Our first stop in El Alamein was the very moving Commonwealth War Cemetery, with its many monuments commemorating the different forces that make up the Commonwealth. The Australian section was vast and made up at least a third of the whole cemetery. It was a very sombre experience walking among the many grave stones of the Australian soldiers, so far from Australian soil.
EL ALAMEIN WAR MUSEUM
We continued to the nearby El Alamein War Museum, built in the late 1950s and renovated in 1992. The museum houses an extensive collection of artefacts from the battles that took place in the desert around El Alamein.
Split into different sections, covering both the Allies and Axis, the museum showcases a range of uniforms, models explaining each battle, military kit and weapons. Outside, on the museum grounds is an assortment of military hardware from armoured troop carriers to tanks, planes, cannons and jeeps, which are all open to the public to view and explore. The museum seems outdated and old fashioned compared to the more modern museums you can visit in Europe or Australia these days; however it’s important to keep in mind when visiting the museum that Egypt is still a developing country and the museum is in the middle of the desert, many miles from anywhere.
At the military museum we met Ibrahim and a Bunnik Tours group which was also visiting on the same day we were. Ibrahim or “The Professor” as we like to call him is one of our most popular guides in Egypt and well loved by the many hundreds of Bunnik Tours clients that have travelled with him over the years. Ibrahim has completed writing his own book on Egyptology, which is his great passion.
A visit to El Alamein is highly recommended as it shows a different side of Egypt. Egypt is more than just ancient history and is a country with a lot of diversity to offer tourists.