Commemorating the First World War Centennial in Kansas

Memorials to the Missing – Basra

Basra Memorial Panel

Basra Memorial Panel

During WW1 the British and their Indian Army were extensively engaged in today’s Iraq, which began with a strike in early 1915 to protect the Royal Navy’s principal source of fuel oil.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) Basra Memorial to the Missing commemorates 40,626 members of the Imperial Forces who have no known grave and who were lost in the Middle East (excepting Gallipoli) and Africa from the beginning of hostilities through August 1921. Only the Thiepval Memorial on the Somme battlefield in France and the Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres, Belgium bear more names of the missing.

Designed by Edward Prioleau Warren, who otherwise designed mostly churches and residences in 17th century revival style (many of these in and around Oxford), the monument is in Roman style and was dedicated on March 27th, 1929 by Brig. Sir Gilbert F. Clayton, an old Middle Eastern hand who was the British High Commissioner to Iraq and had been the superior officer to T.E. Lawrence (a.k.a. Lawrence of Arabia) during the war.

Taken from British Army helicopter in 2007

Taken from British Army helicopter in 2007

Until 1997 the Memorial was situated on the main quay of the former Royal Navy dockyard at Maqil, on the west bank of the Shatt-al-Arab, eight kilometers north of Basra, but in 1998 the Memorial was summarily removed by the Saddam Hussein government, a project that

involved a considerable cost in manpower, transportation and engineering, and completely re-erected at a site in the middle of nowhere 32 kilometers up the road from Basra to Nasiriyah, near the site of a battlefield during the 2003 war (remember PFC Jessica Lynch?).

Once there were four CWGC cemeteries in Iraq, and they fared better under Saddam than today. The one in Basra had 2,551 WW1 burials and 65 WW2 burials but it was completely levelled by the current local government. At Kut-al-Amarah there are 4,621 WW1 burials and this site is presently threatened with destruction. The Baghdad North Gate Cemetery is safe for now and has 4,160 named and 2,729 unknown WW1 burials, 296 WW2 burials, 127 non-British WW1 and WW2 burials and 41 non-military burials. The Khanaqin cemetery had to be abandoned in the 1960’s due to its remote location; it had 544 WW2 burials, 440 of which were non-British. These remains are now buried in a mass grave at North Gate. My WW1 travelling friend John Hambidge MBE has a family connection to North Gate: 27710 Pte. William H. Nicholls, 1st Ox and Bucks Light Infantry, died July 22nd, 1917. Like many British families, John and his wife Barbara could put together a tour just to visit sites commemorating members of their families.

Nicholls family ca. 191

The CWGC has not been allowed access to the Basra Memorial for several years, and there is concern that the site has been damaged, probably significantly. Is the Basra Memorial to the Missing destined to become missing?

James (“Jim”) Patton BS BA MPA is a retired state official from Shawnee, Kansas and a frequent contributor to several WW1 e-publications, including "Roads to the Great War," "St. Mihiel Tripwire," "Over the Top" and "Medicine in the First World War." He has spent many hours walking the WW1 battlefields, and is also an authority on British regiments and a collector of their badges. An Army Engineer during the Vietnam War, he does work for the US World War 1 Centennial Commission and is affiliated with the WW1 Historical Association, the Western Front Association, the Salonika Campaign Society and the Gallipoli Association.


  1. Emily Gibbs

    Hello Jim,
    Your website is a terrific resource, thank you! I am a middle age Australian Masters candidate, writing on war and commemoration of Australians in the great War in Iraq. I am especially interested in the Basra Memorial. Have you ever come across ANY reference to Saddam moving the memorial? I know it has happened, and there is the physical evidence in itself, but I am interested to learn anything about the actual logistics of why and how he did it.
    Hope to hear from you, Emily

    • James Patton

      Yes. Saddam Hussein did move the CWGC Basra Memorial from the waterfront to the present location out in the desert.. I believe that an Italian contractor did the work.

  2. hussein habib

    I left Iraq in 1990 I had a lot of memories at The Baghdad North Gate Cemetery because I use to live close by it. It was very greenish with big trees. Now I live in London!

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