Historic battle sign unveiled in village

A PIECE of history recovered from a desert battle which marked the turning point of the Second World War has been unveiled in its new spiritual home.The RAF regiment based at Honington near Bury St Edmunds was formed only months before the battle of El Alamein in north Africa - the Allies' first victory over the Nazis.

A PIECE of history recovered from a desert battle which marked the turning point of the Second World War has been unveiled in its new spiritual home.

The RAF regiment based at Honington near Bury St Edmunds was formed only months before the battle of El Alamein in north Africa - the Allies' first victory over the Nazis.

In 1942 El Alamein was only a train station in the desert but later became famous as the location for General Montgomery's historic stand against Rommel's Afrika Corps, with the brave men of his 8th Army including the new regiment.

The simple battered train station sign in English and Arabic greeted many of the Suffolk troops who fought in the battle and it is now in pride of place at RAF Honington.


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One guest of honour at the unveiling was Ken Kettlewell, from Bury, who was a 22-year-old wireless operator at the battle.

“I remember the confusion - no one knew what was going on,” he said. “But there was the sense it was an historical turning point - there seemed to be no overall plan but I was just a minute part of it all.

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“It was an important victory because it showed we could beat the Germans.

“It lasted for five days and the break through came suddenly and to everyone's enormous relief. There was a sense among the troops that we were comrades in this together, just hoping we were going to come through it all.”

Flt Lt Paul Costello, with RAF Honington's El Alamein flight training group, paid tribute to the veterans.

He said: “This sign is important to this training formation because the history of that day helps the spirit of the men and motivates them to achieve against the odds as the veterans did.

“It also has particular resonance because we are again in the desert today and for those men the sign will have extra historical significance.”

Eric Gill, 87, from Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, who drove Army trucks during the crucial battle, said he was proud to have served and paid tribute to those who gave their lives for freedom.

“It is great to see the sign here I hope it will raise awareness of the battle and its significance,” he said. “It was the turning point and a great achievement. I am proud to have been there but I do know that war doesn't do any good for anybody.”

RAF Honington station commander Paul Burt, who unveiled the sign at the base with the veterans, said the regiment would continue to be inspired by the veterans' example and thanked historian Dr Howard Tuck for recovering the sign.

It was found in a store room in Egypt by Dr Tuck while he was in north Africa studying the battle and he had decided to present it to the veterans and the regiment to keep their memory alive.

will.clarke@eadt.co.uk

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