At 11am on 11th November we remember the ending of the First World War, and the men and women who lost their lives in other wars and other parts of the world. Much of our focus is often on Europe, and those who fought and died in other theatres of war can sometimes be forgotten or relegated to the sidelines. One such group are the men who fought and died in North Africa during the Second World War.

Men of the Highland Light Infantry (City of Glasgow Regiment) camouflaging a gun position at Mersa Matruh, 28 May 1940. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:

Mersa Matruh is an ancient fishing port dating back to the time of Alexander the Great. It was also the place where Anthony and Cleopatra would escape for seclusion – at the time it was a village of sponge fishermen where the two lovers would relax and swim naked together in the sea. Allied troops were stationed in Mersa Matruh during the First World War, and at the time of the Second World War it was at the end of a narrow-gauge railway from Alexandria and as such was an important supply post for the Allies. The Allied troops who fought in North Africa came from all around the world – from the United Kingdom to Australia, from India to New Zealand, and the British Eighth Army (including the famed Desert Rats) set out on some of their most important operations from Mersa Matruh. Mersa was also the site of a crushing Allied defeat by Rommel’s Afrika Corps in June 1942.

I would like to thank Ian from the Desert Rats website for allowing me to use the following poem as a tribute to all those who fought and died during the North African campaigns of World War 2.

Signallers at Homs


How often do you folks at home
Think of sandy graves without a stone,
Where sleep our comrades brave and true,
Out in the desert at Mersa Matruh.

The raging sandstorms awake them not,
They’re cool below but above is hot
The trails of the desert are over them,
They fought and died like Englishmen.

Do you not feel pride in your heart
Where you think may be a friend took part
in the struggles for the empire, Britain and you,
And lay down their lives at Mersa Matruh.

On honoured scroll their names shall shine,
And will not dim through pass of time
In years to come we will remember them
As soldiers of the empire and British men.

Then forget them not you folks at home,
Those men who lie in the desert alone,
They died for their country, Britain and you
In the western desert of Mersa Matruh.

Desert Graves


  1. Where is this poem from? I have a hand written copy on what looks like thin wartime paper. Poem is almost the same although the language is more in keeping with when it was written. ie
    The Graves at Mersa Matruh

    “How often think you folks at home,
    of sandy graves, without a stone,
    where sleep our comrades brave and true,
    up in the desert at Mersa Matruh.

    The raging sandstorms wake them not,
    they’re cold below – above it’s hot,
    the trials of war are done for them,
    they fought and died like British men.

    Do you feel proud, down in your heart,
    thinking, may’be a friend took part,
    in the struggle for Empire, Britain and you;
    up in the desert at Mersai Matruh. (actual spelling of Mersai)

    On the honoured scroll their names will shine,
    fading not in the pass of time,
    in years to come we’ll honour them,
    they fought and died like British men.

    Then forget them not, you folks at home,
    those heroes that lie in the desert alone,
    they died out there for freedom and you!
    Up in the desert at Mersa Matruh”.

    The poem is written in upper case.
    Thought you might find the language differences interesting.
    If you know of anyone such as Desert Rats museum who would like this please forward me their contact details.

    1. Hello Mark,
      What an amazing artefact to have! Have you any idea who might have written it?

      I got the poem from here The website if an amazing source of information for the Desert Rats and I’m using it to research my next couple of novels. There is a mine of information and the manager of the site is incredibly helpful. The website also includes information about the Desert Rats Museum

      I hope this is all helpful.

      Best wishes,

  2. Thank you for your email. I am an Antique Dealer and came across it years ago and filed it safely. I have recently closed my shop after 29years and in sorting through items found it. I cannot remember where I came across it if I do remember anything I will of course forward it.
    I will contact the museum and if they want it I will happily donate it.

      1. Have contacted them, thank you.
        I am not retiring just giving up retail and can use my time finding objects and researching them and now reading your books.

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