Crouching tiger, hidden names
Port Tewfik MemorialREAD STORY
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Memorial destroyed and inaccessible
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For more than half a century two crouching stone tigers stood, ready to pounce, at the mouth of the Suez Canal.
Their wide-open mouths and bared teeth called on the thousands who passed by to look up and recall the memory of more than 3,000 Indians who gave their lives in Egypt and Palestine during the First World War, and have no known grave.
However, if you stood there today, you would never know. In the 1960s the sculpted tigers, along with the rest of the Port Tewfik Memorial, were destroyed beyond repair. Many of the bronze panels were stolen. Collateral damage in the Arab-Israeli War.
It’s now one of a handful of CWGC sites that, in its original form, exists now only in photographs.
There had been nods to the culture of those remembered there. The words chosen by CWGC’s first Literary Advisor, Rudyard Kipling, were carefully cast in bronze panels in English, Hindi, Urdu and Gurmukhi.
However, no names appeared on the memorial when it was unveiled in 1926, only the names of their units or regiments.
The Commission had not been satisfied with the records of the missing provided by the army and colonial authorities and so no names were included. These were eventually obtained and included in the register.
As well as being a memorial to the missing Port Tewfik stood as a memorial to the Indian Army which served in Egypt and Palestine during the War. It’s two crouching tigers, embodying the Indian Army, stood guard over the entrance to the Suez Canal, the vital artery of Empire.
Imperial fortunes, however, would slowly wane. As Britain withdrew from lands it had once ruled, the commanding locations that had been chosen for memorials like this were suddenly harder to access.
Following the memorial’s destruction in the 1960s, the Commission strove to restore it but by the 1970s, it became clear that a replacement memorial could not be built in the same location. On top of the area’s instability, a towering power mast had been hastily erected within metres of the ruins.
After long debate, it was decided to build a new memorial within the grounds of Heliopolis War Cemetery, in a Cairo suburb, 75 miles east. The Commission took the opportunity to redress the historical inequality and so physically included the names on the new memorial, so now all 3,727 men are commemorated there.
And now new tigers guard their memory. The symbolic spirit of the Indian Army was replicated in the new design with three bronze tigers placed at each of the cemetery’s entrances.
The tigers, still crouching; the names, no longer hidden.