Here, maps are of little use. One main road stretches from Alexandria to Libya. Either side of it, beneath a featureless desert, the Axis and Allied minefields have spent seven decades drifting from where they were originally sown.
The desert war was said to have been different from the war in Europe: it was a conflict fought only by combatants; civilians were not directly involved. The land on which the battles were fought was alien to both sides and historical accounts suggest those fighting felt more compassion for their adversaries than was usual in war, the desert having become a greater, common enemy.
The only soldiers here now are Egyptian Army conscripts. The men who fought for this ground in the early 1940’s are long gone, and yet, from just below the desert’s surface, the war has continued in their absence.
It is estimated that approximately 17 million unexploded anti-personnel and anti-tank mines, artillery shells, bombs dropped by aircraft, and machine gun, small arms and mortar rounds remain beneath the sand. The term ‘Devil’s Gardens’ was first used by the German General Erwin Rommel to describe the box-like areas of minefields and barbed wire installed by both sides during the conflict.
This is the legacy with which the Bedouin live, but whereas areas allocated for luxury beach resorts and petroleum company compounds have been cleared of unexploded ordnance (UXO) as part of the region’s economic redevelopment, Bedouin land has not benefited from such comprehensive programmes. Official records of incidents involving UXO have not been kept until recently but it is believed thousands of Bedouin have been killed or injured since the end of hostilities.