Sykes grave 311.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Due to one Haifa man’s persistence, the disturbing neglect of a British railway
official’s grave has been brought to light.
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Michael Gottschalk, a native
of London who moved to Haifa within months of his birth in 1936 and has lived
there since, discovered the story of George R. Hughenden Sykes by
In January 2009, while helping to locate the graves of two
Italian soldiers killed in the Haifa Bay area during World War II, Gottschalk
stumbled across the city’s Jaffa Road cemetery, which contained Sykes’s
Once inside, Gottschalk was shocked to discover that Sykes’s metal
headstone had been stolen, and speculated that it had been sold for scrap
Gottschalk then spoke with several history experts in the Haifa
area and discovered that Sykes had for a time been the superintendent of the
Palestine Railway in the city during the British Mandate. He was stoned to death
in his car on August 23, 1929, during the Arab riots, while out for a drive with
his wife. His wife was saved from death by members of the Hagana.
York Times article written after his death reported that he had been part of a
British convoy sent to the settlement of Kastina – modern-day Be’er Tuviya – to
help Jewish settlers ward off rioters. In response to Sykes’s death, the British
sent a warship to Palestine, the SS Barham, filled with a large contingent of
marines to quell the riots.
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Since his discovery, Gottschalk has
personally taken it upon himself to ensure that Sykes’s grave receives a new
headstone, which is expected to cost around NIS 3,600.
the Commonwealth War Graves Commission would bear responsibility for Sykes’s
grave. The Jaffa Road cemetery is listed on its Web site, which states under
“historical information” that “Haifa (Jaffa Road) Cemetery contains 36 non-war
burials in the care of CWGC.”
However, Gottschalk said the CWGC had
rebuffed all of his attempts to get the commission’s help, telling him when he
contacted it last month that “this casualty is not our
The British Embassy in Tel Aviv, Gottschalk said, was
equally unhelpful, telling him, “I find your perseverance admirable and
wholeheartedly support your efforts. As you might imagine, we get many enquiries
on military historical matters and the like, but sadly we are simply not
resourced or funded to sort out every one of them.”
Gottschalk was also
disappointed by Israel’s failure to honor the British Christians buried in the
“The [Religious Affairs Ministry] only looks after Jewish
graveyards, never British or Arab graveyards. When a Jewish graveyard in Europe
is violated, the press goes out with pictures and protests to the government
responsible in Europe,” he told The Jerusalem Post last week.
we not try to protect the Christian British graveyards?” He has also tried to
locate relatives of Sykes, but has been unable to link him to anyone specific
since his last name is so common.
Explaining his interest in Sykes,
Gottschalk recounted, “We, at school, always thought that the British
However, he then “discovered that many gave their life for
Gottschalk also believes Israel should have some sort of
memorial day for the soldiers who liberated the country from Turkish
Israeli public could then be taught facts about the British that “have
overlooked,” he said.
Despite his failure to raise funds for Sykes’s
grave, and saddened by the “cold shoulder” he has received, Gottschalk
optimistic that further dissemination of Sykes’s story will help garner
in replacing this hero’s missing headstone.
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