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Last Updated: Friday, 18 April, 2003, 06:31 GMT 07:31 UK
Lost British graveyard found in Iraq
Lt Colonel Tim Collins reflects at the memorial
Prayers will be said on Easter Sunday
The Royal British Legion has welcomed news that a lost graveyard for World War I dead has been found in central Iraq.

The cemetery at Al Amara, built for those on the Mesopotamian Expeditionary Force, has been discovered by the banks of the Tigris river.

It was found by the Royal Irish Regiment, who on Easter Sunday will say prayers at the cemetery for those who died and for the current armed forces.

The site had been protected by its Iraqi keeper, who received death threats from Baath officials.

Hassan Hatif Moson, a 40-year-old father of seven, told the Daily Mail, in a pooled despatch from Iraq: "The old regime, they threatened my life and my job but I never gave up.

"I could not permit the graveyard to be ruined - local people have tried to break in here to drink late at night and also to steal the carvings.

"I always believed that one day the British would return."

'Good news'

The cemetery, which includes two Victoria Cross winners, was abandoned by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission after the last Gulf War.

Jeremy Lillies, head of public affairs for the Royal British Legion, said: "This is very good news. It is extremely good to hear that this chap has stuck to his guns in the face of a great deal of intimidation to keep the place in as good order as he could do.

It is quite remarkable what Mr Hassan has achieved - this place has been better tended than some of the war graves in France
Lt Colonel Tim Collins
Royal Irish Regiment
"The good news now is that something can be done about it."

He said the Commonwealth War Graves Commission had a warehouse full of new headstones in Baghdad, but their distribution had been delayed by the war.

The headstones at Al Amara were plundered by an earlier Iraqi regime in 1937.

But Mr Hassan kept the memorial polished, saved the masonry from looters and cut the grass.

He worked without pay since the last Gulf war and kept all the documents relating to the graveyard since he took the keeper's job in 1977.

Graveyard keeper Hassan Hatif Moson
Mr Hassan protected the cemetery
That thoughtfulness will enable thousands of British families to trace the final resting place of their loved ones.

Royal Irish Commanding Officer Lt Colonel Tim Collins led a team of officers in search of the cemetery after hearing about it from local people.

He said: "It is quite remarkable what Mr Hassan has achieved - this place has been better tended than some of the war graves in France.

"He has shown great respect to the British and courage in the face of the Baath regime by carrying this burden of the empire."

The two Victoria Cross recipients are Royal Naval Lt Commander Edgar Cookson and Lt Colonel Edward Henderson of the North Staffordshire Regiment.

The condition of Al Amara was in contrast with another British military cemetery near Basra, which was found in a state of disrepair.

It contained hundreds of soldiers and officials who died over a series of campaigns from 1880 onwards.

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