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Memories of Egypt
Remembering: Bill Bristow is travelling to Egypt to attend the 70th anniversary
commemorations of the battle of El Alamein.
Photo: DUBBY HENRY
Looking back: Left, a young Sergeant Bristow in Tel Aviv early in the war.
Fallen soldiers: The Commonwealth
War Cemetery at El Alamein.
By DUBBY HENRY
Go to papakuracourier.co.nz and click
on Latest Edition to see a video of
footage from the battle of El Alamein.
These are brave
men who have
stories to tell
BILL Bristow almost didn't make it
to the battle of El Alamein.
But he will be there with 23 other
New Zealand veterans of the North
Africa campaign when they com-
memorate the battle's 70th anniver-
sary next week.
The 93-year-old from Takanini
will be among those flying to Egypt
on Friday aboard a Royal New Zea-
land Air Force Boeing 757 on a trip
funded by Veterans' Affairs New
They will also be paying their
respects to more than 1100 Kiwi
comrades buried in the El Alamein
Commonwealth War Graves
Mr Bristow knows how lucky he
was not to be among them.
He was 20 and under-age when
he enlisted in the army and spent
1940 in the Egyptian desert as a
scout, preparing for the Italian
He was captured during the fate-
ful battle of Crete and put in a Ger-
man prisoner of war camp for a
One month -- and I'd had a guts-
ful. I thought, to hell with this.''
A barbed wire fence and two
guards stood between him and
They'd shoot you if they caught
you but if you watched yourself you
could get through.''
He and three others lay in the
shadow of a tent waiting for the
guards to pass.
We waited and waited and
waited and no sign of them, so I
thought, Righto, I'll go'.''
He crawled under the fence and
started to run for a stand of bamboo
across the road.
I suddenly saw a cigarette glow-
ing there so I stopped and went
back smartly,'' he says.
Next thing we saw two Jerries
[German soldiers] move out of
there. They were the guards, out
sitting there having a quiet smoke.''
Crisis averted, the young ser-
geant made his escape then spent
five months wandering the island
trying to get off.
He was fed and clothed by the
Greeks, who he says were marvel-
They'd give you their last crust
of bread,'' Mr Bristow says.
He managed to escape by boat
and rejoined the 18th Battalion in
But the first battle of El Alamein
began while he was recuperating
from illness away from the front
The battle was halfway through
when he arrived in the town but he
spent several weeks fighting to
defend the Allied position.
Then his brigade was withdrawn
so it could train as an anti-tank pla-
Of course, while this was hap-
pening the [second] big battle of El
Alamein was all over and done with.
The Allies chased the Germans
right out of Egypt, right up to Tunis
and out of North Africa altogether.
New Zealanders were there -- all
except the fourth brigade. That was
It was bitterly disappointing to
miss out on the action, he says,
especially as the battle was a
turning point in the war.
Home is where your unit is and
my unit was the 18th Battalion. All
I ever wanted to do was get back to
rejoin the unit. But somehow I got
left behind quite a few times.''
Soldiers often heard that mates
had died when they returned to the
fray, he says.
But he will be among friends at
the commemorations, including
Pukekohe's Roye Hammond, 94,
also from the 18th Battalion.
We've been cobbers all the way
through,'' Mr Bristow says.
Veterans' Affairs New Zealand
general manager Rick Ottaway says
the trip will be an emotional experi-
ence for the men. These are brave
men who have some incredible stor-
ies to tell from their time serving in
the North Africa campaign.''
TURNING THE TIDE
Two important battles were
fought at El Alamein in 1942 --
the first in July and the second
for two weeks in October and
November. The Allied victory in
the second battle led to the
retreat of the German Afrika
Korps and later the German
surrender in North Africa in
1943. The battle put an end to
the Axis' hopes of seizing the
Suez Canal and gaining access
to oil fields in Persia and the
Winston Churchill later wrote:
''Before Alamein, we never had
a victory. After Alamein, we
never had a defeat.''
Almost 10,000 Kiwis were
killed or wounded during the
North Africa campaign
More than 4000 became
prisoners of war during the
More than 1100 New
Zealanders are buried in the El
Alamein Commonwealth War
Graves cemetery -- the largest
number of Kiwis buried in one
cemetery outside New Zealand
Three were awarded the
Victoria Cross for their part in
the battles -- Charles Upham,
Keith Elliott and Te Moananui-a-
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