At our meeting of September 23 our speaker was Kenneth Mills who gave a very interesting talk on the various modes of casualty evacuation during conflict from the Napoleonic times up to present day and a brief history on the attempted recovery of the Suez canal from Nasser.
In 1792 the French surgeon Dominique-Jean Larrey noted that most soldiers died from their injuries due to delayed treatment. He developed the horse drawn “Larrey’s Litter” a flying ambulance based on horse drawn artillery.
This was used during the Napoleonic campaigns and was still in service right up to the Boer war in South Africa in 1901 with little design change until the motorised era.
In 1914 evacuation progressed to train followed by motorised vehicles in 1915 and then to air in 1944 utilising a Dakota ambulance and today the C17 Globemaster.
The Suez Canal was opened in 1869 after 10 years work financed by the French and Egyptians and operated by an Egyptian-chartered company. The canal became strategically important providing a passage from the Mediterranean to the Indian ocean reducing sailing times to the east.
As a result of financial difficulties in 1875 Isma’il Pasha, the Egyptian ruler of the time, had to sell his shares of the operating company to the British government giving them a majority 44% share of the canal operations.
In 1882 after the battle of Tel-el-Kebir the United Kingdom took control of Egypt and the canal.
On July 26 1956 Nasser, during a speech, instructed the Egyptian forces to seize control and nationalise the canal in retaliation for the U.S. & U.K. withdrawing funding for the construction of the Aswan Dam.
The British saw this nationalisation as a direct threat to British interests but also considered that direct military action risked angering Washington and damaging Anglo-Arab relations.
In an attempt to regain control Britain concluded a secret military pact with France and Israel. Britain sought the co-operation, to no avail, of the U.S. throughout 1956 to deal with what they maintained was a threat of an Israeli attack on Egypt. All diplomatic initiatives and international conferences encouraged by the U.S. proved fruitless and war became inevitable.
On October 29 Israel forces invaded Egypt and a British and French ultimatum to cease hostilities was rejected by Nasser resulting in British and French troops invading Port Said and taking control of the canal which was condemned by America, Russia and United Nations.
Due to financial and political pressure brought to bear by the U.S and public protest the British government announced a cease fire on the November 6. although military assessment was that the canal could have been completely taken within 24 hours. The Anglo-French forces were withdrawn by December 22 1956 and were replaced by Danish and Colombian units of UNEF.
The long term consequences of the crises resulted in the loss of British influence in the Middle East, the explosion of Egyptian confidence, the construction of the Aswan Dam with financial support from the U.S. and Britain and the enlarging of the Suez Canal.
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