Moorhouse Affair

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The Moorhouse Affair was a military confrontation between the United Kingdom and Egypt over the abduction and murder of Second Lieutenant Anthony Moorhouse in Port Said, Egypt, following the end of British military operations in the 1956 Suez Crisis.

Biography[edit]

Anthony Gerard Moorhouse (18 December 1935 – 13 December 1956), a graduate of Stonyhurst College, was a Second Lieutenant on National Service in the 1st Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment. His father, Francis Gerard Moorhouse, owned a jam-manufacturing company in Leeds, Yorkshire, Moorhouse's Jam.[1] Moorhouse was stationed in Port Said after the 7 November 1956 ceasefire.

Abduction[edit]

On 10 December 1956 Moorhouse had led a raid in Port Said on the premises of an Egyptian dentist and arrested seven Egyptian commandos.[2] On the following morning, 11 December 1956, he returned to the scene alone and without military authority[3] where he was surrounded in his army Land Rover by a crowd of Egyptians, one of whom took his pistol. He was overpowered and driven off in a civilian car later located by British forces.

Lieutenant General Hugh Stockwell, the British Task Force commander and commander of the British Army's II Corps, ordered a house-to-house search of a five-block area and for all males over the age of 15 found there to be detained and questioned.[4] The searches were unsuccessful in locating the missing officer.[5]

The United Nations also made efforts to obtain information on Moorhouse's disappearance. On 22 December 1956 the kidnappers allowed Major Wiks, a Norwegian UN officer, to see a man in a British uniform claiming he was Moorhouse. After the encounter the UN officer reported that Moorhouse was "alive and well".[6] However, uncertainty remained.

Confirmation of death[edit]

A family friend and former army colleague of the Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, the British Member of Parliament Colonel Cyril Banks, travelled to Cairo in an effort to establish the missing officer's fate. On Christmas Eve, 24 December 1954 he finally had a meeting with President Nasser who told him that Moorhouse had died of suffocation when held captive.[7]

On 31 December 1956, Dag Hammarskjöld, the Secretary-General of the United Nations received a report from the Egyptian Army that, after his capture, Moorhouse was kept with the intention of exchanging him for Egyptian prisoners. When British troops began to search for him he had been locked in a small metal cupboard; his captors returned once to feed him but, as the search intensified, they felt unsafe to return and he was left for two days.[8] When they finally returned they found him dead, apparently from suffocation, and buried him in the house where he had been kept prisoner.[9]

According to an account made in 2006 by one of the Egyptian kidnappers, Moorhouse was captured and then taken to a safe house where he was trussed, gagged and hidden under the floor. It was never intended to kill him, but to kidnap him as a hostage to exchange against imprisoned Saqa officers, held by the British in Port Said. It was confirmed that Moorhouse was held as a hostage with the intention of exchanging him for Egyptian prisoners. However, he was left alone and bound by his abductors for hours in a wooden box, due to the curfew and constant British patrols. The orders issued later, were to transport him out of Port Said via Manzala Lake and from there, to Ismailia. When they -we- returned they -we- found him dead due to suffocation. Once I found this fact, I have ordered to bury him in order to avoid discovery of his body. He was then buried secretly below the stairs and two comrades have helped me to bury him. After the departure of the Anglo-French troops from Port-Said - 22nd December 1956, his body was moved by the Egyptian Police Personnel - under UN Officers supervision - from the burial place in Oraby street to a dignified grave in the Port Said graveyard. Photos of kidnappers, removal for burial and more details of Operation Kidnapping instructed by the commanding officer, are to be found at the following URL http://hakaek-misr.com/yahiaalshaer.com/YS-Moorhous-Kidnap1.htm [10] In late December 1956 Banks returned to Egypt to recover Moorhouse's body[11] and the British government asked the UN and Swiss government to mediate to recover the body with the Egyptian authorities.[12]

The Egyptians complied with the UN request on 2 January 1957[13] and, on 4 January 1957, Moorhouse's body was flown to Naples, Italy, for formal identification.[14]

On 5 January 1957, British pathologists from Scotland Yard formally identified the body as that of Moorhouse.[15] The body was flown back to the UK on 6 January 1957.[16]

Memorial[edit]

Lieutenant Moorhouse was buried with full military honours in Lawnswood Cemetery in Leeds on 10 January 1957 after a service at Leeds Cathedral.[17][18] His memory is marked in the name of a road, 'Moorhouse Close', in Chester, Cheshire. A small plaque refers to his "heroic death during the Suez Crisis" at the right entrance to this cul-de-sac.

Political and social aftermath[edit]

This tragedy "aroused furious anger in Britain" and became "a national symbol of Egyptian deceit".[19] It led to widespread criticism of the Eden government from opponents of the Suez invasion. When residents of Port Said planned to turn the house where Moorhouse had been held into a museum[20] British public opinion was further inflamed. Moorhouse's death also raised questions regarding President Nasser's authority and the effectiveness of the United Nations.

Depiction in drama[edit]

Moorhouse's death was the model for the fate of "Mick Rice" in John Osborne's The Entertainer. It was also the inspiration for the depiction of Leslie Williams, a British conscript soldier seized by the IRA in Brendan Behan's play The Hostage.[21]

References[edit]

  1. ^ http://www.moorhousehistory.co.uk/businesses/moorhousejam.htm
  2. ^ "Egyptians Kidnap British Officer" The Daily News, St Johns, 12 December 1956
  3. ^ "Last Allies Leave Egypt" Sunday Herald, 23 December 1956
  4. ^ "Port Is Tense After Attacks On Police" The Miami News, Dec 15, 1956
  5. ^ Search For Kidnapped Officer|British Pathé
  6. ^ "GREAT BRITAIN: The Kidnapped Lieutenant" TIME Magazine, 7 January 1957
  7. ^ "Attempt to Recover Body of Officer" The Age, 31 December 1956
  8. ^ "HOODED EGYPTIAN LOOKS OVER SUSPECTS" The Miami News, 18 December 1956
  9. ^ http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/written_answers/1957/jan/22/second-lieutenant-anthony-moorhouse-death
  10. ^ "An act of folly" The Guardian, 8 July 2006
  11. ^ "Attempt to Recover Body of Officer" The Age, 31 December 1956
  12. ^ "Egyptians Kill Britain (sic), Reports Say" Tri City Herald, 26 December 1956
  13. ^ "British Government Gives Priority To Gas Muddle " Rome News-Tribune, 3 January 1957
  14. ^ "BODY FLOWN TO ITALY" NY Times, 5 January 1957
  15. ^ "BODY IS MOORHOUSE'S; Identity of Briton Slain in Egypt Is Established" NY Times, 6 January 1957
  16. ^ "OFFICER'S BODY FLOWN HOME" The Glasgow Herald, 7 January 1957.
  17. ^ "Parents Mourn Suez Victim" The Spokesman-Review, 11 January 1957
  18. ^ "Amateur sleuths find last resting place of soldier executed in Suez" The Yorkshire Post, 2 December 2005
  19. ^ "Briton's Fate a Symbol" NY Times, 29 December 1956
  20. ^ http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1959/dec/07/united-arab-republic-proposed-museum#S5CV0615P0_19591207_HOC_193
  21. ^ MEMORIES OF ENGLAND: BRITISH IDENTITY AND THE RHETORIC OF DECLINE IN POSTWAR BRITISH DRAMA, 1956–1982