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Keren Memorial

Memorial to Indian war dead restored by Commonwealth War Graves Commission in Eritrea

15 July 2015

The Keren Cremation Memorial, within Keren War Cemetery, commemorates Sikh and Hindu soldiers who died on the Keren battlefield and whose remains were cremated in accordance with their faith. Three East African soldiers are also commemorated on the memorial.

Keren is a small town located approximately 90 kilometres west of Asmara. During the Second World War it was an Italian stronghold and the scene of the most decisive battle of the war in East Africa, when in February and March 1941, a combined British, French and Commonwealth force defeated an Italian army almost twice its size.

The work to restore the memorial was required after the existing structure was hit by lightning - which displaced blocks and damaged many of the memorial's stone surfaces.

New stone was ordered from Italy and shipped to Eritrea, but erecting the memorial proved challenging, as access to the area is extremely difficult. With support from the British Embassy, the CWGC's Africa team was able to gain access and complete the restoration.

Richard Hills, the CWGC's Director for Africa and Asia Pacific Area, said: "The completion of the new memorial demonstrates the CWGC's commitment to remember those who died during the two world wars - no matter where or how they died."

"I am extremely proud of my colleagues in Africa. Their tenacity, motivation and professionalism are a credit to them and the CWGC."

"I would also like to express our sincere thanks to His Excellency Mr David Ward, British Ambassador to Eritrea, and his colleagues for the invaluable support they gave us during our operations - particularly in enabling our staff to travel to and from the site safely."

For more information,contact: Peter Francis on 01628 507163 or 07766 255884 or by email peter.francis@cwgc.org

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Notes for editors:

1. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (www.cwgc.org) maintains the graves of the 1.7 million Commonwealth servicemen and women who died during the two world wars. It also holds and updates an extensive and accessible records archive available online at www.cwgc.org

The CWGC operates in over 23,000 locations in 154 countries across all continents except for Antarctica.

2. The Battle of Keren
Guarding the entrance from the western plains to the Eritrean plateau, the only road
passing through a deep gorge with precipitous and well-fortified mountains on
either side, Keren formed a perfect defensive position. On these heights the
Italians concentrated some 23,000 riflemen, together with a large number of
well sited guns and mortars. A preliminary assault by United Kingdom and Indian
troops was repulsed after a week of bitter fighting, although they gained and
held a valuable position on Cameron's Ridge, on the left of the road.

The final battle began a month later. After ten days of gruelling combat the Commonwealth troops succeeded in forcing their way through the seemingly impregnable defences on the ridge and finally through the 200 metre long road block which the Italians had blasted at the narrowest point in the pass. Keren was taken on 27 March. The defeated Italian force retreated in some disarray to Asmara, which fell to Commonwealth forces on 1 April, and the Italian surrender was taken at the port of Massawa on 8 April.

3. Keren War Cemetery and Cremation Memorial Keren War Cemetery contains 440 Commonwealth burials of the Second World War, 35 of them unidentified. The Keren Cremation Memorial stands within the cemetery and commemorates 285 Sikh and Hindu soldiers whose remains were cremated in accordance with their faith. Three East African soldiers are also commemorated on the memorial.