Al-Ahram Weekly Online   6 - 12 September 2007
Issue No. 861
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875


By Mohamed El-Hebeishy

EGYPT is not only the Pyramids, Khan Al-Khalili and the Valley of the Kings. Mohamed El-Hebeishy rediscovers the Egypt few people know.

Egypt's strategic location as well as its political ties with Great Britain resulted in the country being a great Commonwealth base in both world wars. During WWI, Egypt played a crucial role in withstanding Turkish offences from the east. Subsequently it was the springboard from which military campaigns aiming at the conquest of Sinai, Palestine, Lebanon and Syria were launched. Egypt was also the base for the Commonwealth Expeditionary Forces dispatched to Gallipoli, Turkey. Continuing to play a decisive strategic role during WWII, Egypt hosted the General Headquarters for the Middle East Command in 1941 in Heliopolis. During October of the same year a war cemetery was opened.

In addition to the 1,830 graves Heliopolis War Cemetery contains, now it is also home to the memorials of Port Tawfiq and Aden. The original Port Tawfiq Memorial was built in 1925 honouring the casualties the Indian Army suffered during WWI in Egypt and Palestine. It was irreparably damaged during the Egyptian-Israeli hostilities of 1967 and 1973. The Aden Memorial commemorates 618 casualties of WWI who lost their lives defending Yemen's Aden. Likewise, the original place of commemoration was destroyed in 1967 during the Yemeni civil war.

The Heliopolis War Cemetery and the memorials are among 2,500 worldwide war cemeteries constructed and maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. In 1917, based on a memorandum submitted by a former commander of a mobile unit of the British Red Cross, Sir Fabian Ware, the Imperial War Graves Commission, as it was called at the time, was established by Royal Charter. Thanks to the original idea of Sir Ware and the continuous efforts of his establishment, the commission now pays tribute to the 1,700,000 men and women of the Commonwealth forces who died in the two world wars.

For more on Egypt's hidden treasures, see Egypt Rediscovered available in Cairo's major bookstores.

photo: Mohamed El-Hebeishy

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