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Ecclesistical & Heritage World No.99

Desert memorial merits its place on shortlist

It is unusual for the shortlist of the Roofing Awards to contain an overseas project, but the inclusion of the El Alamein War Cemetery in the Reinforced Bitumen Membranes category of the 2020 Awards was an honourable exception. The reroofing project was carried out by The Complete Roofing Company (TCRC) and will be carried over to the combined 2020/21 awards with the other shortlisted entries.

The El Alamein War Cemetery is the largest Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) cemetery in Egypt. Unveiled in 1954 by Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, the cemetery contains more than 7,200 Commonwealth burials from World War Two, of which more than 800 are unidentified.

It contains the graves of servicemen who died during all stages of the campaigns in the Western Desert and whose remains were brought into the cemetery from a wide area, but especially those who died in the Battle of El Alamein at the end of October 1942 and in the period immediately before. There are also some 100 war graves of other nationalities.

At the entrance to the cemetery is the CWGC Alamein Memorial. It bears the names of almost 12,000 British and Commonwealth servicemen who have no known grave. The memorial takes the form of a cloister, some 80m long. It is entered through three arches, which lead to a wide hall where the names are inscribed in stone. Broad stairs lead to a rooftop terrace, with stunning views across the desert and in the distance the Mediterranean Sea.

Due to the historical and sentimental value of the site, with thousands of lost servicemen’s names inscribed in the stone on the underside of the memorial, it is imperative that the roof performs and protects the building from water ingress. The performance and aesthetics of the roof are particularly important because it also acts as a large, paved viewing platform, from which visitors can gain a unique perspective of the enormity and scale of battle and the ground where the many lost servicemen lie.

For the highly prestigious and historically important project, TCRC were selected to install a range of roofing and waterproofing products from leading manufacturers, including Garland, SIG Roofing and Aggregate Industries.

Designing a sympathetic waterproofing solution

In the initial stages of the project TCRC attended on site with the client in order to undertake an investigative survey and feasibility study. That enabled them to be able to establish the nature of the existing make-up and create the most appropriate specification proposal.

TCRC then worked closely with both the client and all manufacturers to create a sympathetic design and specification that would be suitable for this listed architectural building in such a unique location. It consisted of an inverted roof build-up, incorporating specially selected products which are rated to withstand desert temperatures.

A particularly important requirement of the project was that the finish of the new waterproofing system should match the colour and appearance of the existing structure. TCRC therefore liaised closely with SIG Roofing in Bristol and Aggregate Industries in order to source a smooth ground roofing slab that would blend in perfectly as required.

A unique project with unique challenges

During the installation phase of the project there were a number of unusual challenges for the TCRC team to overcome. For example, 100% propane gas is not available in Egypt; instead, only a mix of propane and butane is available, which requires higher power regulators. As a result, there was the challenge of sourcing them in the local markets of Alamein.

Similarly, it was not easy to locate fuel and other specific tools that were required for the job, such as a specialist tile saw.

The harsh weather conditions were extremely difficult to work in, with the summer temperatures reaching as high as 500C.

In terms of the installation itself, quality was of paramount importance at every step of the process. Initially, the existing tiles had to be carefully removed and then disposed of responsibly. The substrate was then primed before two layers of Garland APAO membrane were expertly installed.

Imported paving slab pedestals were then placed on the roof, followed by 300mm x 300mm Aggregate Industries Buff smooth ground slabs. The existing cast-iron drainage channels were also lifted and weathered, before being safely reinstated.

The project was summed up thus by Tim Coleman, director of TCRC: “This was a fantastic team effort by everyone involved, which ultimately led to the client being delighted at the high-quality waterproofing solution that they received. TCRC’s work will enable this historically significant site to continue telling such an important story for many years to come.”

For further information visit www.thecompleteroofingcompany.co.uk