Henley resident and World War II reenactor Richard Pinches took the remembrance trip of a lifetime, having visited Egypt for the 75th anniversary of the Battle of El Alamein last month. Mr Pinches made the journey in honour of his late father, Peter, who was himself a ‘desert rat’ and served the armed forces during the WW2 battle.
Richard took the trip with his partner Liz Howard and buried a photograph of his father and some soil taken from Meadows Farm in Henley where both his father lived and he now lives under a tree at the Allied forces only cemetery (picture above).
75 years ago, on the 23rd October 1942, the allied forces began the final offensive that defeated the Germans and Italians in North Africa. This was a turning point in the second world war, and an exciting breakthrough for the British, the South Africans, the Canadians, Australia, New Zealand, and some French. Richard described the role that his father played in the combat. “My father was a lorry driver for the Royal Army Service Core (RASC). He arrived in Cairo in 1941 and drove huge distances across the desert to Libya and back to Egypt several times during the war delivering front line troops with fuel, ammunition and food until 1943. My Dad survived the war, and died in Henley in December 2015.”
Sadly, many soldiers were not as fortunate, with the Battle of El Alamein claiming the lives of some 13,000 Allied and 10,000 Axis troupes. Despite the many casualties, it was considered a ‘clean war’, fought in open spaces away from towns and civilians. Richard explained, “The desert is flat and featureless. These people were fighting over literally just desert — it was incredible. It was called a war without hate, because there was a lot of camaraderie between the two forces. Unlike the Germans and the Russians, who hated each other, there was a lot of camaraderie between the Germans and the British. They respected each other.”
It was his father’s stories of the war that inspired Richard to become a World War II reenactor. Now, he depicts life as it would have been in the desert, complete with a desert uniform and a tent. For Richard, having the opportunity to visit the location where his father fought during this special commemorative year was incredibly rewarding. He recalled, “There was a ceremony at the allied cemetery. There was over 7,000 dead bodies there, who died in that battle. That was very emotional. They had a wreath laying ceremony where heads of state from all different nations came. It was so moving, a fantastic trip. The weather was great, and it was very emotional to stand in the battlefield. You’re standing amongst shrapnel that was there, and you can pick it up. The debris from the war is still there, and the machine gun pits are still there. But the Egyptians are ripping it apart. They are literally taking the sand from the battlefield to use for building. They have no idea what they’ve got there.”
Richard was out over the weekend in his desert rat uniform collecting for the Royal British Legion poppy appeal. Richard’s El Alamein trip is certainly an experience he’ll look back on for years to come. He shared, enthusiastically, “To stand in the battlefield and have it described to you in great detail by a battlefield guru was fantastic. It was one of my best trips ever!”