I am looking forward to the Early Early Christmas Fair at Tidworth on Tuesday 27 September from 4 p.m. when I will be signing books and talking about Churchill’s Second Darkest Hour in World War II and the four Battles at El Alamein, which marked the “beginning of the end” according to his famous address at the Lord Mayor’s Reception in November.
I have recently toured the battlefield and paid homage to the thousands of soldiers and airmen who are buried at El Alamein. The coast line is unrecognisable from even ten years ago, but the family looking after the Commonwealth War Cemetery are still doing a fantastic job in testing conditions. The museum has a new addition since I was last in North Africa with the arrival of a P-40 Kittyhawk found in the desert in immaculate condition.
On his way to take command of 13 Corps at El Alamein, Lieutenant General Brian Horrocks felt a certain amount of trepidation because generals, at that time in the Middle East, didn’t as a rule last very long. He subsequently wrote that: “Command in the desert was regarded as an almost certain prelude to a bowler hat.”
He need not have feared because he was supported fully by the Eighth Army commander, Lieutenant General Bernard Montgomery and despite an uncomfortable interview with the Prime Minister, he earned huge plaudits for blunting Rommel’s attack at the Battle of Alem Halfa, 80 years ago today.After his success with 13 Corps in Egypt, he went on to even greater exploits with 10 Corps in Tunisia and 30 Corps in North West Europe, but sadly was medically discharged due to the wounds he suffered, so we never saw him as a peace time general.
There is still a fierce debate about when exactly the turning point of the war occurred. Churchill’s wonderful quotation about “…the beginning of the end” leads many people to believe that it was November 1942. However, others including distinguished historians such as Basil Liddell Hart believe it was earlier in July at the first Battle of El Alamein, or at the beginning of September when Horrocks held firm on the Alem Halfa ridge.