Veterans remember horror of Battle of El Alamein

Veterans arriving for a service to mark the 70th anniversary of the Battle of El Alamein, at Westminster Abbey, London.
Veterans arriving for a service to mark the 70th anniversary of the Battle of El Alamein, at Westminster Abbey, London. Photo: PA

Veterans of the Battle of El Alamein have described the deaths of 4,000 Allied troops, as they marked the 70th anniversary of their first major World War against the Germans under the command of General Montgomery.

An evensong service at Westminster Abbey in London commemorated the seven decades since the battle in North Africa, which was said to be the turning point for the Allies in the Second World War.

About 40 British and Australian veterans, many of whom are now in their 90s and families of the fallen, were part of a 500-strong congregation to remember those who fought in the 14-day battle.

Watch this report from Lee Comley.

Major Freddie Salinger, 94, who served with the Royal Artillery Medium Regiment, was attacked by a dive bomb in which four men from his troop died. Speaking before the memorial service, Major Salinger said:

I think of them now with great sadness that they were cut off in their prime in their mid 20s.

It was not until about the 9th day (of battle) ... in the morning, the sun was shining, I looked up and saw some Stuka dive bombers. I didn't realise it but they were for us. I found out we had lost four, including a sergeant.

Veterans arriving for a service to mark the 70th anniversary of the Battle of El Alamein, at Westminster Abbey, London.
Veterans arriving for a service to mark the 70th anniversary of the Battle of El Alamein, at Westminster Abbey, London. Credit: PA

Major Frederick Hunn, who is 93 tomorrow on October 28, fought in the Battle of El Alamein with the Duchess of Cornwall's father, Major Bruce Shand, in the 12th Royal Lancers.

He talked about the retaliation ordered by Gen Montgomery on October 23 when nearly 1,000 guns pointed at the German positions were fired at once.

I'd been used to battle because I'd served at Dunkirk but I remember on the 23rd, at 9.40pm, every gun opened up.

The sky was bright from the guns. We were a mile away but could still hear the tremendous amount of noise.

I'd seen plenty of barrages but I'd never seen one like this before.

If they're great friends, as most of them in my regiment were ... when they are killed beside you, and you're a young chap at only 22, it's sad when you lose such young people.

– Major Frederick Hunn
Veterans arriving for a service to mark the 70th anniversary of the Battle of El Alamein, at Westminster Abbey, London.
Veterans arriving for a service to mark the 70th anniversary of the Battle of El Alamein, at Westminster Abbey, London. Credit: PA

Under the leadership of General Montgomery, nearly 200,000 British, Australian, New Zealand, South African, British Indian, Free French and Greek Forces defeated the Axis powers.

At the time of the battle, which started on October 23, 1942 and ended on November 4, the Allies were fighting to keep their crucial supply lines open from the Mediterranean to the East.

German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel had inflicted heavy defeats on Allied forces in Africa forcing them back to the village of El Alamein, about 60 miles west of Alexandria.

Eventually on October 23 General Montgomery ordered the retaliation with almost 900 guns levelled at the German positions to be discharged at once.

While previously the Suez Canal was threatened, and with it Allied access to the rich oilfields of the Middle East, now the Allies were able to press their advantage and eventually push the Germans and Italians from Africa.

Recalling the importance of the Allied victory at the Battle of El Alamein, which began on October 23, 1942 and ended on November 4, Sir Winston Churchill said:

Before Alamein we never had a victory. After Alamein we never had a defeat.