Ahmed stepped forward, peering carefully ahead he raised his rag-filled hand and gently cleaned the work. He blew on it one more time. A puff of soft sand came back, and it was done. A 100-year-old wrong is righted, a family 15,000 kilometres away made happy, and a 19-year-old soldier can at last stand easy.
Jesse Humphryis is an Australian whose name had been ingloriously misspelled on official memorials, both in Alexandria and Canberra, ever since he was buried at sea near Suez on the 2nd of April 1915. In late 2015, Ahmed Baghdady Rashed was tasked with engraving a missing letter “i” on a First World War sandstone memorial. He is the chief engraver of a five man stone masonry team at the Chatby War Memorial Cemetery in Alexandria, Egypt.
Amid the Gallipoli chaos just weeks after Jesse died, he was lost in a litany of bureaucratic bungling. This included his mother not officially being told of her son’s death. The ultimate ignominy was his name being incorrectly recorded for the ensuing hundred years. Justice has now been served in Alexandria. Correcting the bronze panel at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, however, is still work in progress.
“It is with great pleasure that I can tell you that the re-engraving work has finally been completed!” Eleni from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in Egypt emailed a week before Christmas. The Chatby correction followed 7 years of correspondence. “I am happy that this is bringing your family so much joy to know.”
Recruiting a suitable team of specialists was a drawn-out process. “It is not a straightforward engraving,” Eleni explained at the start. “We do not have a resident specialist in Egypt for the task, so after considering various options, it was decided that recruitment from [outside] the local region was necessary.”
A team was at first sought from Greece, but finally a local lineup based in Egypt was found. The chief engraver Ahmed led his expert crew, Ramdan Madbouly, Nageh Sobhy, Mohamed Sayed, and Ahmed Yousry. They also levelled some headstones. A team of gardeners were soon at work replanting.
The Chatby correction has made both Jesse’s spirit, and his long suffering family, very happy indeed. Thank you Ahmed and the rest of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
Read Jesse’s story here