25 years in the Egyptian desert

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The Commonwealth War Graves Commission is proud to have cemeteries and memorials at 23,000 locations in more than 150 countries around the world. We set high standards for our sites, so our work would be impossible without the efforts of our gardeners, like Adel Abdel Azeem who is retiring next year, after 25 years with the Commission.

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From the riches buried in the great Pyramids, to the intricate tombs of the Valley of the Kings, the country of Egypt is synonymous with commemoration of the dead. But this grand tradition of care and respect the Egyptians have for their dead did not die out with the Pharos, and there is no finer example than at the CWGC sites in Egypt.

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At the Moascar War Cemetery, Commission gardener, Adel Abdel Azeem, has worked for nearly 25 years, tending to the cemetery and each of the nearly 1000 burials it contains.  

Egypt saw some of the fiercest fighting in both the First and Second World Wars, with Commonwealth soldiers fighting long, bitter campaigns in the area during both conflicts. As a result, there are now over 40,000 Commonwealth soldiers commemorated across the country, who’s graves and memorials are maintained by Adel and his colleagues.

To work in any organisation for a quarter of a century is commendable, but Adel’s service is made even more special as he’s been working at one of the Commission’s most remarkable sites: the cemetery stands in an active military base.

Working in a busy military base brings an additional layer of intricacy to an already complex and demanding job.

Where most CWGC sites are readily open to the public, to visit Moascar you need a security pass from the Egyptian Military Authority. Adel is responsible for liaising with the Egyptian Army Officers to ensure that visitors are able to access the cemetery and that maintenance work can be carried out.

Adel’s work is further complicated by the extreme weather conditions he faces in Egypt. In a desert country with very little rain, the majority of Moascar’s water comes from the River Nile, almost 4 kilometres away. Despite this, Adel and his colleagues have maintained the high standards required at all Commission sites, commemorating the enormous sacrifices made by all the Commonwealth soldiers in both the First and Second World Wars.

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But its not only the army and the weather that Adel’s had to deal with during his time with the Commission; he vividly remembers returning home one day to find his house collapsing! It was only thanks to Adel’s quick thinking, and the help and support of his then-supervisor, that no one was injured. They soon got the house fixed up and we can report that it remains standing to this day.

Despite the countless obstacles that come with such a challenging job, Adel has loved his time with the Commission.

Adel joined the Commission after a recommendation from his brother-in-law, himself a Head Gardener here, Adel started his career at the Fayid War Cemetery before moving to Moascar a year later. He soon settled in and spent the following 24 years working at the cemetery.

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Now, as he enters the final months before his retirement, Adel can reflect on the quarter of a century he’s spent at work for CWGC: “I have enjoyed every working day with the Commission ever since I joined as a young gardener and throughout the years that have passed until my retirement in a few months.”

“I have very fond memories of all horticultural managers and supervisors that I have worked with, coming from Egypt, the Mediterranean Area and the UK alike.”

The sacrifices of the men and women we honour should never be forgotten, and it is through the tireless work of our gardeners who, like Adel, work in all weathers, through countless obstacles and without fanfare, that we can continue in our efforts to honour the 1.7 million men and women of the Commonwealth forces who died in the World Wars.

After 25 years, Adel has left an indelible mark on Moascar War Cemetery. A quarter of a century is a huge achievement, we wish him all the best for his last active months, and a happy retirement.