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70th Anniversary Commemoration of El Alamein

During October 2013 a Royal New Zealand Air Force Boeing 757 flew a party of both New Zealand and Australian veterans of the North African campaign to Egypt for the international commemorations marking the 70th anniversary of the Battle of el Alamein. In the party were two RNZAF veterans; their stories follow, along with comments by the mission commander and from the support party.

The Commonwealth War Cemetery at el Alamein; 1100 New Zealanders are buried there and 859 with no known grave are commemorated on the Memorial. Note the resort town of el Alamein in the background; in 1942 that was all open desert with supply dumps, artillery batteries and sangars for the 8th Army

Wing Commander Leanne Woon, HQ Joint Forces New Zealand.

“During the 11 day trip there were plenty of opportunities to get to know the veterans and hear their stories. The ready smiles, the twinkle in the eyes and vivid memories from the war belied the veterans’ ages of 88 – 96 years. It was humbling to hear their experiences spoken with such honesty and selflessness. For many it was the first time they had told their story. I had read about the North African campaign, but meeting the veterans and learning about their experiences made it far more significant and real."

“Although it sounds clichéd, being selected as mission commander was definitely an honour and privilege to support our 23 veterans on their return to el Alamein."

Flt Lt Stewart Frame DFC. “It was a marvellous trip. We were all well looked after. I was the oldest in the party and perhaps because of that was called on to be the wreath-layer at the New Zealand service—which was at 4pm [the day before the International service]. It was all most moving at the Commonwealth Cemetery,

“The flight out to Egypt was well planned. I spent a lot of time in the cockpit talking with the crew and observing a couple of landings. The Wellington bomber that I flew had barely a dozen instruments; the 757 has so many!

“On the memorial I found the names of three friends; one of them was Kingi Tahiwi, who had (before the war) worked in an office with my sister. He came to england soon after me and while training (near Blackpool) we played rugby together. He was in the desert in a Baltimore squadron and one evening before he flew a mission to Tobruk we had the time for a long talk. But he never returned from that mission.”

Flt Lt Alan Peart DFC also said it was an excellent trip. “The Air force was absolutely superb, the food served on board was Masterchef standard! We were all treated with great care from all who took part, the VANZ team, the defence force personnel and the Air force crew. It was a well planned and well executed trip, with no apparent glitches. Everybody stepped in and helped out as far as the veterans were concerned.

“I really appreciated the opportunity of seeing how the aircrew flew an aircraft of that size. They were consummate; it was wonderful!

“My experience was in North West Africa—Algeria and Tunisia—not Egypt, but I had a cousin, Lt Col Jan Peart of 26 Battalion who was killed in the battle of Alam Halfa, and my father-in-law was in the divisional Artillery there.”

Wing Commander Woon: “In true Anzac spirit, 18 Australian veterans and their support team joined us for the flight from Dubai to el Alamein (and return) which added to the significance of the commemorations. With only four spare seats the flight was almost maxed out!

Flying Officer Mike Borek, mission support team. “The Commonwealth Cemetery at el Alamein, where the commemorations were held, is impressive and quite sombre— seeing the memorial wall and all the headstones marking those who lost their lives. Our ceremony was short but had a distinct New Zealand flavour with our Maori cultural group singing impressively. After the ceremony, we took some veterans to find the head stones of their fallen mates, at each one they laid flags or poppies. Many of the veterans visited the museum and the railway station, which brought back memories and more stories of the war. The veterans said they were glad to have the opportunity to visit and pay their final respects."

Wing Commander Woon. “I am incredibly proud of the efforts of the 40 Sqn crew and 209 Sqn’s baggage team, who ensured our mission of deploying and supporting the el Alamein commemoration was accomplished and the RNZAF's reputation was enhanced.

“With many stopovers, numerous hotels and buses, different time zones, hot humid weather, and other nations’ officials, there were the inevitable logistics challenges to overcome. Patience and flexibility were needed; working alongside other personnel from across the New Zealand Defence Force made this a ‘trip of a lifetime’ for me.”

Flying Officer Mike Borek. “I felt honoured when I was selected to be part of the mission control team for the 70th Anniversary of the battle of el Alamein, and I also felt connected to the veterans, as my grandfather had fought in the 8th Army as a ‘Desert Rat’, in 7th Armoured division.

“Before the trip we met the veterans in Takapuna; they all seemed very sprightly for their age, and were very open to talking about their experiences. the trip to el Alamein was long for us, so must have been a hard trip for many of the veterans.

“The experience allowed me to have an understanding of the conditions that our veterans had fought in. I can better appreciate the hardships they faced, the conditions of heat, lack of water and being so far from home.

“Those who are left are a testament to the big impact our small nation can have. It was a long time ago, but the men who fell in North Africa will not be forgotten. Today in the RNZAF, we continue a legacy of support to other nations throughout the world.”

Wing Commander Woon summed up: “For me this trip reinforced the tremendous sacrifice made by the (then) young men and women who served our country. While we all know the phrase ‘ lest we forget’, this trip was one way to ensure we don’t.”

Flt Lt Stewart Frame DFC

My flying training was at New Plymouth and Ohakea—I got my wings in my 25th birthday, and got married too! Twelve days later I sailed from Auckland in the Awatea. I was posted to England and I was keen to get into flying boats, so put my name down for Coastal Command. But I trained on Wellingtons and never did get to fly in a flying boat!

In April 1942 I was posted to 221 Sqn in Eqypt and flew out via Gibraltar with a fuelling stop in Malta. But the squadron had a detachment in Malta and one of their aircraft had just gone missing, so we stayed in Malta nearly three months. The island was enduring three bombing raids a night and it was just after the George Cross had been awarded to the whole island. And then the first Spitfires arrived. None the less we lost some aircraft and a number of fellows from our squadron.

On 01 July we flew to Egypt and I was given my own crew. We had radar-equipped Wellingtons; we would fly over the sea at night looking for enemy ships or submarines. We would use the radar [fixed aerials] for two minutes to scan ahead for 100 miles, then for one minute each to port and starboard. Three of the crew shared the radar duties, changing over every half hour or so—the WT [wireless] operator, the radar operator and the tail gunner.

We went into the drink one night [22 July 1942]. We had overload fuel tanks for a sortie north of Crete, but just off
the coast of Egypt one motor stopped and we had time to radio a Mayday before we hit the water. We all stepped out into a dinghy and she went under. We fired a flare (to attract attention from an aircraft overhead) but it was seen by a naval motor launch on patrol. They rescued us and took us back to Alex.

In 1943 I returned to Malta and we flew a lot of missions from there.

Stewart was awarded the DFC in May 1943 for completing over 50 operational sorties with 221 Sqn. He returned to England to instruct on Beaufighters—one of his favourite aircraft—before returning to NZ in 1944 and joining No.40 Sqn flying passengers and freight to the Solomon Islands.

Flt Lt Alan Peart DFC

I had trained in NZ and got to the UK in 1942, joining 610 Sqn, commanded by Johnny Johnson. I flew a few ops, including Dieppe which was my first exposure to combat. I was quite a sprog; it was quite terrifying until you learned the ropes. They called for volunteers to go to Malta; I swapped with a married man who had been picked. Two of us were sent to Gibraltar, but because I had flown Hurricanes, I was kept in Gibraltar to fly their only night fighter Hurricane, which was painted overall black.

We assembled and test flew Spitfires by day and then I was on night duty. But the Germans never attacked, even though the spies in Spain must have seen what was going on.

Soon after the Torch landings [the Allied invasion of North Africa, 7/8 November 1942] I joined 81 Sqn flying Spitfires from an airfield west of Bone. It was a hell-hole. The Germans had reacted violently to the landings and we were under air attack from Sicily and Tunisia.

We had to protect the port of Bone which was the main supply point for the British First Army. Our airfield was bombed and strafed by day and the port bombed each night. That winter in North Africa [1942/43] was cold, wet and miserable; we lived among mud, slush and bomb craters. When not flying we shivered in slit trenches.

The Germans were flying FW 190s and Me109 Gs, both better than the Spitfire V. We got massacred. The Mark V was not up to scratch against the Germans; we lost a lot of pilots. We were pulled out and re-equipped with the Spitfire Mark lX, it was a wonderful aeroplane. Colin Gray took command and the equation changed; we soon gained command of the air.

In May 1943 we moved to Takali airfield on Malta; there were still raids going on but with the influx of fighters we
flew sweeps over Sicily. I flew through the whole of the Sicily campaign and flew over Salerno [the Allied landings were in September 1943] where I was shot down and had to force land on the little air strip that was still under German shell fire.

Soon after, I was hospitalised with hepatitis and when I got out my squadron was at Bari in Italy. Our ground crew were sent to India by ship and we collected new Mark Vlll spitfires and flew them out to India, where I flew in the Burma campaign.

Alan Peart was awarded the DFC in June 1944 for his operations with 81 Sqn RAF; by the end of the war he was credited with shooting down over 7 enemy aircraft.

Sources:, personal sources in New Zealand. Photos: courtesy

For additional material on the Desert Air War, see Gerald Schwartz Archive on this site

Further extensive New Zealand material on this site is here

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SY 1 Feb 2016

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