Tamworth veteran returns to battle scene

A TAMWORTH war veteran will make the journey back to Egypt for the first time since fighting in one of WWII’s most decisive battles 70 years ago.

Edward “Ted” Carter was just 23-years-old when he fought in and helped win the Battle of El Alamein in October, 1942.

He expects the place to have changed significantly when he visits the site next week where a cemetery now holds his fallen comrades.

Now 93, he will join 20 other veterans from across Australia on their mission back to the country for the 70th anniversary of the battle and North Africa campaigns.

The veterans were selected by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) to represent each arm of service involved in the campaigns, which effectively saw the Germans abandon North Africa.

They will participate in several commemorative activities along their seven-day journey, including a service at the Commonwealth war graves commission at El Alamein war cemetery, which contains the graves of more than 1000 Australians.

As Tamworth’s last known surviving Rat of Tobruk, Mr Carter marked the 70th anniversary of the siege of Tobruk last year, which also saw the German army repelled in 1941 after an eight-month campaign.

His itinerary will be full from this weekend on, when he flies to Sydney to meet his fellow veteran travellers before flying out next Monday.

They include other “Rats,” a prisoner of war and a nurse, ranging from 88 to 95 years of age, who all participated in the North Africa campaigns.

At El Alamein, the battle was fought from October 23 to November 4 and involved Australian soldiers of the 9th Division holding the northern flank against the German assault.

Mr Carter was part of the 2/3rd Pioneer Battalion and his role in the offensive was to lift landmines on the opening night of battle to let trucks carrying troops and artillery through.

At one stage during the process, he was  wounded by shrapnel.

Mr Carter described the battlefield as a huge area, covering a large expanse of the desert with tanks and artillery everywhere.

“There were about 750 guns shooting 25 pounders (shells) behind us and a few mine fields  in front of us,” he said.

No man’s land, between the ally and enemy lines, was about 2000 yards across.

Mr Carter said there was only desert surrounded by hills back then and a railway, which wasn’t used because it had been blown up at some parts, was the only modern infrastructure.

“Now I’ve been told there are high-rise buildings,” he said.

Mr Carter remembers the last days of fighting at El Alamein as a period when “everything was thrown at both sides.”

After the battle, he was pulled out and moved around before returning to Australia with his battalion aboard the Queen Mary in April, 1943.

Mr Carter was finally discharged in October, 1945, as a Lieutenant.

He came back to Tamworth with his wife, Mary, where he has been an active community member ever since and still speaks at Anzac services each year.

His family were also involved in WW1 – his father fought at the Gallipoli landing and his mother nursed soldiers on a hospital ship off the coast at the time of the landings.

Mr Carter said when he goes back to El Alamein next week, he is most interested in looking at the cemetery.

“How it’s been looked after and to find some of the graves of the men I knew from my battalion,” Mr Carter said.

“I don’t know what to expect of it – a lot of the men that died were buried where they fell.”

His daughter, Alison, has even been teaching him to use a digital camera to record the experience. “(Egypt) won’t be like it was back then,” she said.

“It has gone from war to tourism.”

Mr Carter was accepted to go on the trip nearly two months ago.

“Once that happened, I had stop and think and try and resurrect all the old memories,” he said.

Ever since then, he has been receiving medical check-ups to ensure he is fit to travel.

A doctor, nurse and several DVA officials will travel with the group throughout the seven-day journey.

Veterans’ Affairs Minister Warren Snowdon said the group represented the thousands of men and women who bravely served in North Africa through some of the most ferocious fighting of WWII.

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