Poignant inspection for Camilla
It was a proud moment for Desert Rats when their patron The Duchess of Cornwall stepped from Monty's open top field car to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the first major Allied victory, the Battle of El Alamein, where her own father was wounded.
The royal visitor arrived at the 7th Armoured Division Memorial, in Thetford Forest, where she met 35 veterans and enjoyed an informal cup of tea with them.
It was also a proud moment for Rodney Scott, from Beyton, who organised the visit and worked behind the scenes to invite the Duchess to become patron of the division.
This was her first visit to the memorial in the forest and Mr Scott said: "What a lovely lady. She spoke to all the 35 men present who were active at El Alemein and spent time with each of them. It was not just a hello and handshake."
The Thetford Forest Desert Rats 7th Armoured Division Memorial Association was formed some years ago and the memorial was created in 1998.
Field Marshal Montgomery led Allied troops to victory in the Egyptian desert and many of the veterans recalled the searing heat in which they had to operate.
The Duchess took the salute from the Royal Tank Regiment, the Guard of Honour, on the parade ground and attended a short service of remembrance before laying a poppy wreath at the memorial.
After a minute's silence, she inspected several vehicles used in the battle and met old comrades, who told her stories of pride and dark humour in the face of adversity. She then joined them for a cup of tea.
One of the veterans who spoke to the Duchess was Robert Curson, a staff sergeant attached to the 7th Armoured Division, also known as Desert Rats.
The 88-year-old said: "She told how her father, Major Bruce Shand, was injured and captured during the battle.
"My main duties were reconnaissance and car maintenance. Conditions were tough in the desert and it could get so hot that bully beef would melt in the can."
Another veteran, Sidney Hunt, from Bar Hill, near Cambridge, was a trooper with the 4th Queen's Own Hussars who twice met Monty and said he gave good 'pep talks'.
"Temperatures could go up to 120F in the desert. It was pretty tough," he said.
Cllr John Labouchere, vice-chairman of Breckland District Council, was among the dignitaries who accompanied Camilla on her visit. His father,
Peter Labouchere, was a colonel with the 3rd Hussars who fought in the battle and his son, David, is a colonel with the Queen's Royal Hussars.
He said: "It is a very important moment for our district and for me."
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Friday 24 May 2013
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