(Letter to a friend in London told of her peril)

(Originally printed in the 25th Janurary 1952 issue of the Catholic Herald)

“I AM not a martyr yet, but I may well be one of these days.” In these prophetic words Sister Anthony, the 52 year old St. Vincent de Paul nun who was murdered in Ismailia last weekend told of her danger in a last letter to a member of the community at Blandford Street Convent, London.

Her murder by Egyptian terrorists on the steps of her convent has shocked opinion throughout the civilized world.

On Monday, the nuns at the London Convent where she had lived and worked during the war years, received her letter. In it, Sister Anthony spoke of the worsening situation and of the ever-present possibility of martyrdom. Six days later, on Sunday, they learned from a little girl in their school that the papers were already reporting that she had been murdered the previous day in cold blood.

Born in the Bronx district of New York City in 1900, Sister Anthony spent many years in Belgium after taking her vows as a religious of the Congregation of St. Vincent de Paul. I was told by the Sister Superior of the Mother House at Mill Hill, London, this week: “At various periods she was a teacher at the Sisters of Charity school for the deaf and dumb in Tollcross, Glasgow; at the Holy Family School, Liverpool, and at St. Vincent’s Orphanage, Mill Hill. During the recent war, Sister Anthony performed a variety of tasks at the Blandford Street school, in London’s West End. The Sister Superior there said: “She was a most versatile person, popular with everyone and of a most lovable disposition. Her cheerfulness and readiness to see the humorous side of any situation were a comfort to all of us when the air raids made life uncomfortable.”

“The children she taught were always greatly attached to her, and she kept in touch with some of them right up to the time of her tragic death. One of the little tasks she personally undertook was looking after the destitute old men who came round to the back-door of the convent. She made a point of collecting cigarettes for them, and this gave her particular pleasure.”

“Sister Anthony left for Ismailia about five years ago. But she was a great letter-writer, and her final letter reached us last week. In it she seemed already aware of the perils around her – and resigned to anything that might happen to her.”

One of Sister Anthony’s former pupils wrote to the Blandford Street school this week, expressing her sorrow at the news of the tragedy. “I shall always be grateful” she said, “for the memory of those happy days, for the excellent education, and for the solid grounding in the Faith.” The writer admitted that girls seldom realize the value of such spiritual benefits until later in life. And she concluded: “I believe that great blessings will flow to the Order as a result of Sister Anthony’s heroic death.”

Mr. John Ramsay-Fairfax, one of the many Catholic servicemen stationed in the Suez Canal Zone during the war, described the Ismailia convent as “an oasis of spiritual and bodily rest and refreshment to many hundreds of Catholics among the Allied forces. Being ‘English-speaking’, Sister Anthony quickly endeared herself to all those troops with whom she came in contact, and I can recall how some of them arranged for her to visit the Catholic church at Fayid.” “But it wasn’t only the local British and French communities who had reason to appreciate the kindness and generosity of her and the other nuns. I remember the late Archbishop Hughes telling me of their strenuous and determined efforts to start an infant school for the poorest of
the Egyptian Coptic poor who dwelt nearby.”

Men of the 16th Parachute Brigade in their red berets combed the Arab quarter of Ismailia on Tuesday this week, continuing their prolonged search for arms and suspects which might lead them to the murderers. While they moved cautiously from house to house, General Sir George Erskine, British Commander in the Suez Canal Zone, led the official group of officers and men who knelt bareheaded in the garrison cemetery at Moascar as Sister Anthony’s body was lowered into its temporary grave.

General Erskine – who was present at the Solemn Requiem Mass before the funeral in the neighbouring Church of the Holy Family – knew the murdered nun well. His wife, Lady Erskine, was a close personal friend. “She was a wonderful woman who was well know to all of us” was General Erskine’s tribute. “It is a monstrous thing that the people who profess to be fighting us should attack helpless women.”

The Mother Superior of the convent, a small house with its own garden, is Sister Yvonne Moran, one of the ten French nuns in a community of 12. It was Sister Moran who described the shooting in the garden, which led up to Sister Anthony’s murder.

“All the afternoon terrorist kept coming into the convent grounds,” she said. “The children were put in the cellar, and our native boy went out several time to ask them to go away. Then five of them rushed through with bombs in their hands; the fuses burning. Sister Anthony ran out to stop them, shouting “No, no, no, you won’t throw that!” But they pushed her aside and threw their bombs. Then Sister Anthony phoned the British for help. Outside the terrorists were screaming for someone to cut the telephone lines. As we heard the tanks coming, I saw Sister Anthony begin to open the door. She had heard the tanks and was going out to welcome them. Then there was a shot and she was finished. She died on the steps. She was good and kind, a hard worker, a very good sister.”

After clearing the area, British troops stood guard over the convent while the body of Sister Anthony was laid in state, between flickering candles, on a mahogany table. Soldiers, who remembered her friendly smile as she walked daily to and from the garrison school, filed past the body to pay their last respects.

A special British court of inquiry is now sitting, going through the evidence about the murder. Although it is doubtful if Egyptian witnesses will come forward, the military authorities are convinced from medical evidence and from statements already taken down, that Sister Anthony was shot by someone inside the convent grounds.

The Egyptian Government, which promised to conduct its own inquiry, has alleged, through its Minister of the Interior, Fuad Serag El-Din, that it was a Bitish bullet which killed her. The Minister also alleged that both the Sister Superior and Sister Catherine had emphatically denied that there were any Egyptians inside the convent before or at the time of the outrage. The murder, claim the Egyptians, was a deliberate act of “provocation” by the British to interest American opinion in the Anglo-Egyptian dispute.

For their part, American diplomatic representatives on the spot are carrying out an independent investigation. And Mr. Jefferson Caffery, United States Ambassador in Cairo, has announced that “appropriate action” will be taken when the full facts have been laid bare.


The YMCA Bridge at El Firdan - A huge bomb hidden in a street barrow blew up on the bridge at 14:30 hrs following the killing of Sister Anthony

Assessing the situation following the shooting of Sister Anthony outside the convent in Ismailia

The Royal Lincolnshire Regt on search and clearance

Troops behind the barricade set up on the road from Ismailia to Kantara

Troops on patrol in Ismailia following the killing of Sister Anthony as she tried to protect the convent from being taken over by Egyptian guerillas

Sister Anthony "Lying in State"
She was later buried with full Military Honours


January 22, 1952 - A State Department spokesman said in Washington that the US was still trying to find out who was responsible for the shooting of Sister Anthony in Ismailia on Saturday. He said the British contended that an eye-witness had seen Sister Anthony shot at close range by an Egyptian, while the Egyptians claimed she was hit by a stray British bullet. The Egyptian Acting Foreign Minister had promised an investigation.
A military court of inquiry to investigate the killing of Sister Anthony will be held by British Military Head-quarters in the next few days, it was announced by a British spokesman, while the Egyptian Government has decided to set up a mixed Commission of Inquiry of US, British and Egyptian diplomats.
The Egyptian Government in a special communiqué last night said it had been proved “beyond doubt” that Sister Anthony was killed by “a British bullet”.

The body of Sister Anthony was yesterday taken in procession to the Catholic Church for a Requiem Mass and back again for further lying in state.
A Guard of Honour of 30 Egyptian policemen accompanied it. British troops stood to attention behind their barbed wire barricades a few yards away.
The funeral service will take place today - Reuter and AP (The Irish Independent, Dublin)

Ismailia: January 22, 1952 - Fresh disorders heightened the Anglo-Egyptian crisis today as the Egyptian Government denied all responsibility for the shooting of an Irish-American nun, placing the entire blame upon the British.
The nun, Sister Anthony, was shot dead during a fracas between Egyptian guerrillas and British troops near a convent in Ismailia on Saturday last.
The Egyptian Ministry of the Interior has announced that British troops have forcibly occupied the Ismailia Courts ejecting judges and other officials. The Ministry also announced that British troops had moved into other Government buildings and civilian houses, placing artillery on their roofs. At the same time British troops were reported to have closed the road from Kantara to Ismailia putting up barbed wire entanglements which prevented Egyptian Coastguards from reaching the positions.
British military authorities yesterday said that Sister Anthony had been shot down when she ran forward to intercede after it had become obvious that Egyptian guerrillas were about to use the convent as a vantage point from which to hurl bombs at British positions.
Last night the Egyptian Minister of the Interior, Fuad Serag El Din, told a Press Conference that an official inquiry had shown that Sister Anthony had been killed by a bullet during haphazard firing by British soldiers.
It was also announced yesterday that the American authorities were investigating the circumstances surrounding the nun’s death. - (The Connacht Sentinel, Eire)


DESMOND STICKLAND (ex: The Royals 1951-52) recalls:
January 19, 1952 – At 14.30 hours, a huge bomb, concealed in a street barrow, was exploded on the YMCA Bridge. A Troop of ‘B’ Sqdn engaged and accounted for three Egyptians, later in the afternoon an armoured car was damaged by a bomb thrown from the convent in which Sister Anthony had been murdered by an Egyptian just previously. As a result of this a large scale search and clearance of part of the Allied Quarter of Ismailia was carried out on 20th and 21st January. The Para Brigade conducted it assisted by ‘B’ Sqdn, and as a result, 12 Egyptians were killed or captured and about 80,000 rounds of 14mm ammunition, which had recently been stolen from the BAD, were recovered.

JOHN HUNT (ex: RAF Ismailia/ElFirdan 1951-52) remembers:
There has been much confusion over how Sister Anthony met her death. Well – from my point of view it was at the height of the ‘troubles’ and, being a good Catholic, I often attended St. Anthony’s Church at El Firdan and had briefly known her. After her murder, as we were informed, I was quite honoured to attend her funeral and we fired a salvo at her graveside as she was buried with full Military Honours. It was certainly a moving occasion. Now, whether a cover-up or not, I can say without doubt – those who were at the sharp end knew that she had definitely been gunned down by a terrorist faction for her connection to all British children that she taught. I would like to think that this was the correct version.


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