“I was the original desert rat”

After joining the Army at 18, Len Burritt served on the frontline in more than 100 battles in 15 different countries, including the Battle of El Alamein in 1942. Seventy-five years on, he recalls his time serving in the Egyptian desert.

“I joined the army aged 18 in 1936 and served as a wireless operator with the 7th Armoured Division, using Morse Code to pass on key communications from north Africa to places as far afield as Hong Kong, Palestine and India.

“Eight different generals were in command during the campaign and I was the personal wireless operator for the first five of them. I would often be briefing our commanders on troop positions in the middle of the desert.”


Len Burritt, now aged 99, attended the 2017 Festival of Remembrance

After one ferocious sandstorm, sand became trapped behind Len’s eyes, which led to an operation and two weeks in bandages.

“Our long shifts were both mentally and physically taxing,” he continues.

“During the battle of Sidi Rezegh in November 1941, I was in our Armoured Command Vehicle for four days and nights with almost no rest at all. One shift was often quickly followed by another, so you just had to get used to it. The ‘crack, crack, crack’ of bullets bouncing off the armour plating became commonplace.

El Alamein

“When the Germans drove us out of Dunkirk and the Japanese out of Singapore we were the only people available to fight.

“El Alamein was just a railway station in Egypt. We had been there for four months, building up so that we outnumbered the enemy four or five times. One night about a thousand of our guns opened up at once, shelling the Germans on the other side of the line.

“El Alamein was the first battle that we actually won hands down. To me it seemed as though it might be the beginning of the end of the war. And from then on the Germans kept on retreating and never advanced once more.”


British infantry advance during the Second Battle of Alamein, 1942

After the desert campaign, Len went on to land on the Salerno beaches during the invasion of Italy, and the Normandy beaches during the D-Day Landings, for which serveral decades later he was awarded the Legion d’honneur by the French ambassador to the UK.

Now aged 99, Len attended this year’s Festival of Remembrance to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Battle of El Alamein.

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