The Wiltshire Yeomanry in Action: El Alamein
The Battle of El Alamein has been seen one of the major turning points of the Second World War and although it has been viewed more critically in recent years, it cannot be denied that it was a major boost to British morale. Churchill declared "Before Alamein we never had a victory. After Alamein, we never had a defeat."
The first battle took place in July 1942 with the decisive second battle being fought over a period of 13 days from 23rd October.
An article from The Times, November 6, 1942 reported
“Victory in Egypt
No doubt remains that a major victory in North Africa, for which the country has waited so many months, has been achieved at last.”
The Royal Wiltshire Yeomanry took part in the battle; a description of their enagement with the enemy can be found in the book 'Royal Wilts: The History of the Royal Wiltshire Yeomanry, 1920-1945' by Lieut. Co. P.W. Pitt, T.D., published in 1946 (Ref: AAA.357 (BL)). We also hold material which adds context and a different perspective on their time in North Africa.
Sergeant Bull wrote of the battle to his mother; we hold transcripts of these letters (Ref: 3560/10/34/1). Charlie, part of “A” Squadron, Royal Wilts Yeomanry, writes on 27th October 1942
I will try to write you the letter I promised and give you some news, well last week I was in Cairo on a course and during that week the Regiment moved up to the line and at present waiting a few miles out of Alex to be sent up to them. I suppose you know by now the attack has started in the desert…
The Wilts, along with two more Regiments from the Armoured Brigade with the N.Z. Infantry Division, and were the spearhead of the attack through the minefields, well what happened is that the Wilts led through our own minefield and then through the Gerry’s, which was the plan…”
L.C. Wheeler from Devizes was serving with the RWY at El Alamein. He recalled in his memoir how he learned about the fate of his comrades "who a few hours had been joking and laughing with us", and which had a big impact on him.
We hold photographs of scenes and men serving in North Africa, some of which include the names of individuals (Ref: 3560). There is also a DVD copy of a film taken by a trooper in Egypt. It includes life in camp in the desert and tanks on manoeuvres (Ref: 3560/10/33/2).
Additional archival material regarding the North Africa campaign such as orders, diaries, reports etc. can be found at Ref: 1882/37-55, 66, 70-1; a map of the 1943 campaign (North Africa) at Ref: 3112/22. A printed and bound report on the New Zealand Division’s operations in Egypt and Libya in 1942 can be found at Ref: 3560/3/38. A bound typescript of the Royal Wiltshire Yeomanry action at Tel el Aqqaqiv in Libya includes operational orders, extracts from the war diary and plans (Ref: 3560/3/39).
There are drawings and sketches of various subjects in North Africa, 1943 at Ref: 3112/71.
The living conditions of the Wiltshires were cleverly turned in to verse by one soldier.
Christopher Herbert Fleetwood Fuller was sent to North Africa and reported back to the Minister of State Oliver Lytleton during the November 1941 failed offensive (Fuller had been commissioned into the Wiltshire Yeomanry in 1928). The King and Churchill also received a copy of his correspondence. The letters are both descriptive and revealing, reporting on his navigational problems finding divisional headquarters “somewhere in this limitless desert” to his living conditions “My hands are cold and writing bad after a night in the open.” A note at the bottom of one of the letters dated 22nd November 1941, Ref: 1196/5, reads:
“You told me to enjoy myself. I am, like hell.”
Local Studies Assistant
We hold additional printed material about the Royal Wiltshire Yeomanry:
'1939-1945 As I Remember' by L.C. Wheeler (WEB.921)
‘The Royal Wiltshire Yeomanry, 1907-1967’ by Platt (AAA.357)
‘A history of the Royal Wiltshire Yeomanry’ by Platt (AAA.357)
‘Saturday Night Soldier’ by Siminson, John (AAA.357/BL)
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