Heliopolis (Port Tewfik) Memorial, Egypt

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A backgrounder

Man Aman Singh Chhina, June 25, 2023: The Indian Express

The Heliopolis (Port Tewfik) Memorial is part of the larger Heliopolis Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery. This memorial commemorates the memory of 3,727 Indian soldiers who died fighting in various campaigns in Egypt and Palestine in the First World War.

The original Port Tewfik memorial had been unveiled in 1926 and was situated at the entrance to the Suez Canal. Port Tewfik is now known as Port Suez. The memorial was destroyed in the Israeli-Egyptian War of 1967 by retreating Egyptian soldiers and a new memorial bearing the names of the Indian soldiers who died in the First World War campaign in Egypt and Palestine was erected in Heliopolis Commonwealth War Grave Cemetery in 1980.

While the original memorial, which comprised a central column and two roaring lions crouching to attack, did not include any names of Indian casualties, these names were made part in the new memorial at Heliopolis.

What was the role of Indian Army in West Asia in First World War?

Indian troops of the expeditionary forces sent from India played a major role in West Asia in the First World War. According to researcher Vedica Kant, who has written a book on the Indian troops on First World War, the Indian troops played a key role in securing the Suez Canal in Egypt and in Palestine, where Indian cavalry participated in the Battle of Haifa, commemorated in New Delhi in a war memorial. Indian soldiers also played a key role in Mesopotamia in the First World War.

Which are the Indian regiments which are commemorated at the war memorial?

A large number of Indian Regiments belonging to the Indian Army, as well as to the State Forces of the princely stated, are represented in the memorial. The princely states played a vital part in the war effort in the First World War and the troops of State Forces saw widespread action in almost all theatres of the war.

Among the regiments listed at the Heliopolis memorial are the 42nd Deoli Regiment, 58th Vaughan’s Rifles (Frontier Force), 2nd Battalion, 3rd Queen Alexandra’s Own Gurkha Rifles, 51st Sikhs (Frontier Force), 1st Battalion 50th Kumaon Rifles, Jodhpur (Imperial Service) Lancers, 3rd Sappers and Miners and many more.

Is any prominent Indian soldier commemorated at the war memorial?

Risaldar Badlu Singh, who was awarded the highest British war time gallantry award, Victoria Cross, posthumously, is commemorated at this war memorial. He had died in battle and was cremated in the field.

Risaldar Badlu Ram belonged to the 14th (Murray’s) Jat Lancers and was attached with 29th Lancers (Deccan Horse) and died fighting on September 13, 1918. The memorial lists him as son of Lal Singh, of Dhakla, Jhajjar, Rohtak, Punjab.

“For the most conspicuous bravery and self-sacrifice on the morning ofthe 23rd Sept., 1918, when his squadron charged a strong enemy position on the West bank of the Jordan between the river and Khes Samariveh Village. On nearing the position Ressaidar Badlu Singh realised that the squadron was suffering casualties from a small hill on the left front occupied by machine guns and 200 infantry. Without the slightest hesitation he collected six other ranks and with the greatest dash and an entire disregard of danger charged and captured the position, thereby saving very heavy casualties to the squadron. He was mortally wounded on the very top of the hill when capturing one of the machine guns single-handed, but the guns and infantry had surrendered before he died. His valour and initiative were of the highest order,” the citation states.

What are the names of some of the other soldiers commemorated at the war memorial?

The names of some of the personnel who died in this theatre of operations and who are commemorated are:

  • Sepoy Nazara Singh of 51st Sikhs (Frontier Force), son of Mihan Singh, of Sabra, Kasur, Lahore, Punjab.
  • Sepoy Nikka Singh of 51st Sikhs (Frontier Force), son of Nihal Singh, of Nathana, Moga, Ferozepore, Punjab.
  • Havildar Narayan Singh of 1st Battalion 50 Kumaon Rifles, son of Nar Singh, of San, Pithoragarh, Almora, United Provinces.
  • Sepoy Gurcharan of 1st Battalion Queen Victoria’s Own Corps of Guides Infantry (F.F.) (Lumsden’s), son of Isar, of Tia Mal, Dehra, Kangra, Punjab.
  • Sowar Aidan Singh of Jodhpur (Imperial Service) Lancer, son of Ram Singh, of Parhiyaee, Phalodi, Jodhpur, Rajputana.
  • Sapper Bhaguji 3rd Sappers and Miners, son of Mahadeo Kevte, of Mali Wada, Ahmednagar, Bombay.
  • Major Mohammad Yusuf Ali Khan of Patiala (Rajindra) Lancers, son of Maihme Khan, of Mahmad Pur, Nabha, Punjab.
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