El Alamein: Westminster Abbey service marks anniversary

Veteran arrives
Image caption Veterans, many aged in their 90s, were part of the battle in which 4,000 Allied servicemen died

Veterans of the Battle of El Alamein have attended a special remembrance service at Westminster Abbey to mark its 70th anniversary.

The Allied victory in North Africa, led by General Montgomery, was seen as a turning point in World War II.

More than 4,000 Allied servicemen lost their lives and almost 9,000 were wounded.

The victory over German and Italian forces came after 12 days of intense fighting in the desert.

More than 500 people attended the evensong service including over 40 British and Australian veterans of the battle, many of whom are now in their 90s.

Describing the significance of the battle in October and November 1942, Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill said: "Before Alamein we never had a victory, after Alamein we never had a defeat."

Vital supply lines

Two wreaths were also laid at the Grave of the Unknown Warrior during the service.

The first was placed by General Sir David Richards, Chief of the Defence Staff, on behalf of The Duchess of Cornwall whose father Major Bruce Shand served with the 12th Lancers at El Alamein.

He said: "The Battle of El Alamein was a turning point in the Allied fortunes in the Second World War, a victory that Churchill referred to as "a bright gleam that caught the helmets of the soldiers, and cheered all our hearts."

"Men from all three services played their part, not least those from my own regiment, the Royal Artillery.

"I am very proud to be here today, paying tribute to them, and their example of courage and professionalism which today's Armed Forces constantly strive to live up to."

A second wreath, on behalf of the Armed Forces, was laid by the Chief of the General Staff Gen Sir Peter Wall.

One veteran, 91-year-old Robert Lay, from Northumberland, who served with the 5th Armoured Tank Regiment at El Alamein, spoke poignantly about his fallen comrades.

Image caption El Alamein veterans marked the anniversary at the Commonwealth war cemetery in Egypt

"The 70th anniversary of the Battle of El Alamein is for me a timely opportunity for remembrance of all my close friends and associates, particularly my first tank crew - closer than brothers - who I travelled with almost all the way to Tunis.

"All of them I believe were killed by the time we crossed the Seine in 1944."

Viscount Montgomery, the son of Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery - who famously commanded Allied Forces at the battle - also gave a reading.

The anniversary will also be marked in Afghanistan by 4th Mechanized Brigade (The Black Rats), who wear the Jerboa or 'Black Rat' emblem as their insignia in Helmand Province today.

At the time of the battle, the Allies were fighting to keep their vital supply lines open, from the Mediterranean to their forces in the east.

But the German Afrika Korps commanded by General Erwin Rommel had inflicted heavy defeats on Allied forces in Africa.

The Allied victory frustrated Nazi hopes of taking the Suez Canal and the Persian oilfields.

Last week veterans from Britain, Australia, New Zealand and other allies gathered at the Commonwealth war cemetery in northern Egypt, on the edge of what was the desert battlefield, to mark the victory.

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