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    Map of the Tomb

    360° Tour of Egypt

    Make a Mummy

    Ancient Tomb
    Opened on Live TV

    An Ancient Oasis
    Is Rediscovered

    Producing TV From
    The Middle of Nowhere

    Egypt Has a Long
    History of Grave Robbers

    Disturbing the Dead

    The Pyramids and Sphinx

    Photo Essays
    Cemetery of Anubis

    Tomb Raiders

    Pyramids in Giza

    Cairo Marketplace

    Egyptian Treasures

    Egyptian Pyramids

    Mummy Dearest

    Death Masks

    Related Stories
    Bahariya Circa World
    War II: From English House
    to English Patient

    The Embalming Industry:
    Mummification for Faith
    and Profit

    Bahariya Has Much to Tell
    of Greco-Roman Egypt

    Greco-Roman Egypt Was
    a Culture in Transition



    Map of Bahariya

    Biography: Hugh Downs

    Biography: Zahi Hawass

    Fox Fast Links
    Link to Dr. Hawass' Site

  • Bahariya Circa World War II:
    From English House to English Patient

    By Jackson Kuhl
    BAHARIYA, Egypt — During World War II, from the highest point within the Bahariya depression, British, Australian and Indian forces kept a watchful eye for Field Marshal Erwin Rommel — the Desert Fox.

    William Tolan/
    The ruins of English House atop Gebel al-Ingleez

    Today only a skeleton remains of this vital outpost (called "English House" by locals) that was torn apart as a protest against colonialism.

    During the war, the population of the Bahariya Oasis was divided by politics. On one hand were the native Egyptians who chafed under British rule and sympathized with the Axis powers on the simple logic that the enemy of your enemy is your friend. The German-Italian forces, rolling eastward toward the British-held Suez Canal, were looked upon by the Egyptian nationalists as vital to a future independent state.

    On the other hand were the Senussi inhabitants of the oasis, refugees from Mussolini's occupation of Libya in the west. The Italians had deposed the Senussi king Idris, forcing him to flee to Cairo and turning many of his tribesmen into guerilla warriors.

    The British seized the opportunity by forging a deal with the Bahariya Senussi: Help us fight the Axis and we'll restore you and your monarch.

    William Tolan/
    Egyptian nationalists vented their anger on the British by destroying English House

    But beyond occasional acts of sabotage from the local Egyptian nationalists — pouring sugar into the tanks of their vehicles, for example — the Commonwealth forces stationed at the English House never saw any action: the presence of the post caused Rommel to avoid Bahariya completely.

    The British made good on their deal and Idris returned to a joyous Libya, declaring an independent state in 1951. Eighteen years later, Idris was overthrown by Muammar al Qaddafi and died in 1983, once more in Cairene exile.

    Today, the only remains of English House are sun-baked stones that look down upon the oasis.

    But other detritus of the war remain in Bahariya. Peter Wirth, a local hotel owner and tour guide (who is intensely fervent of all things Saharan) has retraced the steps of Ladislaus Almásy, the English Patient of the book and film, and brought back artifacts of Almásy's travels.

    William Tolan/
    Laszlo Almasy's petrol cans, recovered from the Western Desert

    Those familiar with the story of The English Patient may be surprised to learn that he was a real person. An explorer fascinated with tales of lost oases and desert lore, Almásy's most famous discovery is that of Wadi Sura and the Cave of Swimmers, located near the Gilf Kebir in Egypt's southwestern corner. It isn't a deep cavern system as depicted in the movie — more like an overhang — but its prehistoric paintings of swimming people testify to a past that was not as arid and dry as today.

    When war broke out, the Hungarian-born Almásy joined his country's air force and eventually wound up teaching desert survival in Rommel's Afrika Korps. His greatest mission was the smuggling of two German spies from southern Libya through the Western Desert to the Kharga Oasis. There, Almásy turned back and the spies continued toward Cairo. Even though the two were eventually captured, Almásy's feat landed him in the annals of desert adventure.

    Some fifty-odd years later, Wirth backtracked along Almásy's path and found the camps and fuel depots made during his crossing. He also found German fuel cans and even discarded wine bottles and cigarette packs. All date to 1942 — the year Almásy made his trek.

    "I know which roads he took and I followed them," said Wirth, further explaining that in some windless parts of the desert, the tracks from Almásy's desert vehicles are today just as they were when made.