A memorial like no other
Giza Eye HospitalREAD STORY
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Commemorating unknown numbers
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War memorials come in many shapes and sizes. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission is known around the world for creating a blueprint for how memorials, and cemeteries, should look.
But anyone familiar with our work will know that if we created a rule, it was probably broken at some point too.
Nowhere is that more obvious than in the hot, busy streets of Giza. It’s the location of quite possibly the most unusual and least known of all our memorials; one that broke the convention of ‘functional memorials’.
That’s because it is, in fact, a laboratory.
Building an annexe to an Egyptian eye hospital at the same time as constructing grand monumental memorials elsewhere in the world sounds strange, but it was no accident.
During the First World War around 125,000 Egyptian men supported British Empire Forces as part of the Egyptian Labour Corps (ELC) and the Camel Transport Corps (CTC).
Their work was varied. Some were stretcher bearers, others built vital supply and transport infrastructure that kept the war effort on the move.
However, when those serving with the ELC or CTC died, their units often buried them in unmarked graves or kept sporadic records, if at all. It’s estimated around 10,000 to 50,000 died during the First World War but an accurate number is impossible to know without proper records.
When the Commission’s work to commemorate all who served under the banner of British Empire forces began it was faced with the impossible task of remembering an unknown quantity of anonymous men from Egypt.
A long debate took place amongst the Commission’s representatives in Egypt and Egyptian authorities, which saw many an idea bounce back and forth. They liked the idea of a memorial mosque, but there were enough already in the main cities.
They liked the idea of memorial with a function.
In the end, after drawn out discussions, it was agreed that a memorial laboratory building, to sit within the grounds of a new ophthalmic hospital, then under construction, would be the most fitting solution.
A fully functional building that could be of benefit to the Egyptians now and in the future. And that it does to this day. Nearly a century later the Giza Memorial is still in operation as a key part of the hospital’s training facilities.
And on the outside walls stand tall bronze plaques that bear the likeness of some of the anonymous but not unremembered men whose lives, and deaths, continue to be commemorated by this most curious of war memorials.