Wilf Shaw's El Alamein story with the 8th Army.

October 23 2012 was the 70th anniversary of El Alamein. Read below Wilf's memoir of this battle, describing what it was like to be at El Alamein with Monty's 8th Army.

"My feelings, bearing in mind what had happened previously at Gazala and in the most appropriate phrase I can think of, were "fatalistic resignation". I just couldn't see how I was going to get through it without serious injury or worse, which I didn't, but, thank God, I didn't lose a limb. I am not ashamed to say I was scared as hell, I was part of a section of 8 or 9 who advanced towards dug-in Italians with Bredas, no more than 40 or 50 yards away. They opened up as we advanced and hit most of us, I hit the deck and jammed the rim of my steel helmet into the ground, it was an action that surely saved my life because a bullet smashed straight into it, it broke through the steel and dropped on the inside of the camouflage net which covered my helmet. I was on the right extremity of the advancing section, the lad on my left had been hit around his mouth and neck and was in a bit of a state. I can still remember his name, it was either Diggle or Dibble, I found out later that he didn't die from his injuries.

An officer leading us gave the order to charge forward. I did and threw hand grenades and we overran the enemy positions. I ended up in an enemy trench on top of a dead Italian. There was only the officer and myself who managed to get that far. I think if I was hearing this from anyone else I would find it hard to believe.

It was the following day when I got hit when doing the same thing in broad daylight and this time it was shellfire and, of all the places to get a shell splinter, it was beneath my left armpit. It penetrated almost, but not quite through to the front, no bones hit or no blood vessels, which I think is remarkable considering all the blood vessels there are there.

I was taken away by a modified 3-tonner with others who were casualties. The three tonner made its way out through a minefield. I passed through 2 or 3 casualty clearing stations over the next few hours, finally ending up at 106 South African field hospital late at night on 24 October. We were attended to and finally got to bed. The tented ward had 2 radio speakers and the song being sung when I finally got my head down was, " When you come to the end of a perfect day" !

That's some tale isn't it? And I wouldn't blame anyone if they found it hard to believe.

The one thing that must be so memorable and must stand out starkly in the minds of all those who took part, and that was the artillery barrage of the 25 pounders which were in close support behind us, the only record I have seen of that barrage was in the film " Desert Victory". It really did feel that the tide was about to turn and, indeed, after stiff initial resistance by German and Italian forces, that was exactly what happened and just over 6 months later after further successful assaults at Mareth and Wadi Akarit, the Axis forces were driven out of North Africa for good, just as Winston Churchill said of the battle, 'Before El Alamein, we never had a victory, after El Alamein, we never had a defeat'."

Yours truthfully and sincerely

Wilfred Shaw

24 October 2011

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