Orwell Park 2010

On 23rd November 2010, at Orwell Park School, near Ipswich, Suffolk, a group of veterans from the 22nd Armoured Brigade and 7th Armoured Division (The Desert Rats) which it was a part of in World War Two gathered for a service of remembrance and wreath laying at the memorial situated in the school grounds.

The memorial is at the school, because in 1944 for a few days before they embarked for Normandy, the men of the 22nd Armoured Brigade were stationed in the school grounds. As well as the veterans and their families, plus the school, the Association's Patron HRH, Duchess of Cornwall kindly attended and laid a wreath of her own.

Please click on a picture for a larger image and place you mouse over it to read the text associated with it

The Marine Cadet Band play as HRH Duchess of Cornwall arrives.

HRH Duchess of Cornwall prepares to take the salute

Taking the salute

The Marine Cadet Band play as HRH Duchess of Cornwall arrives.

HRH Duchess of Cornwall prepares to take the salute

Taking the salute

Vintage vehicle passes the saluting dias. Although carrying the markings of 11th Armoured Brigade, this type of truck would have been used by the Desert Rats.

A more modern Abbot SPG passes the saluting dias. 

The public, schoolchildren and members of the school look on.

Vintage vehicle passes the saluting dias. Although carrying the markings of 11th Armoured Brigade, this type of truck would have been used by the Desert Rats.

A more moden Abbot SPG passes the saluting dias.

The public, schoolchildren and members of the school look lon.

The march to the memorial, in the school grounds.

A pipe band leads the column.

The Reverend David Hanwell during the service.

The march to the memorial, in the school grounds.

A pipe band leads the column.

The Reverend David Hanwell during the service.

HRH The Duchess of Cornwall prepares to lay her wreath, as our patron.

HRH The Duchess of Cornwall moves forward to the memorial to lay her wreath

Close up of the words of the wreath.

HRH The Duchess of Cornwall prepares to lay her wreath, as our patron.

HRH The Duchess of Cornwall moves forward to the memorial to lay her wreath

Close up of the words of the wreath.

The Last Post is sounded

Veterans by the memorial plaque

A close up of the veterans by the memorial plaque.

The Last Post is sounded

Veterans by the memorial plaque

A close up of the veterans by the memorial plaque.

HRH Duchess of Cornwall with the veterans and pupils from the school.

Close up of HRH Duchess of Cornwall with some of the veterans.

HRH Duchess of Cornwall addresses those attending the day.

HRH Duchess of Cornwall with the veterans and pupils from the school.

Close up of HRH Duchess of Cornwall with some of the veterans.

HRH Duchess of Cornwall addresses those attending the day.

 

The date of 23rd November has a significance to the history of the Desert Rats as explained below.

23rd  November

In early May 1944, the men and vehicles of the 22nd Armoured Brigade, started to arrive at Orwell Park School, while some B Echelon units were elsewhere at locations such as West Ham Stadium. These were 22nd Armoured Brigade HQ, 1st and 5th Battalions Royal Tank Regiment and 4th County of London Yeomanry (The Sharpshooters). During May the Regiments spent time water proofing their vehicles ready for the great day that was fast approaching – D-Day and the subsequent Battle of Normandy.

At the end of May and in the first few days of June 1944 the Regiments moved to the docks at nearby of Felixstowe and commenced loading onto the Landing Craft that would take them to Normandy, for the start of the final journey of the war, via France, Belgium, The Netherlands, into Nazi Germany to Hamburg and later to Berlin itself.

Previous to arriving at Orwell Park School, the Brigade and its constituent units had spent nearly four years battling the Axis forces in France, the Western Desert and Italy, before returning to the UK in January 1944. The date of 23rd November is a key date for all the units of the Brigade and the Desert Rats themselves, as by 23rd November 1941, all three Armoured Brigades under command of 7th Armoured Division, (4th, 7th and 22nd Armoured Brigades), were counting the cost of the First Battle of Sidi Rezegh, south of Tobruk in Libya, during Operation Crusader. Both 5th Battalions Royal Tank Regiment and 4th County of London Yeomanry were part of this force, in 4th Armoured and 22nd Armoured Brigades respectively, with 1st Royal Tank Regiment, part of the Tobruk Garrison, in 32nd Army Tank Brigade.

The battle had started a few days earlier on 18th November 1941 when the British advanced heading for the key Axis Airfield about the plain south of Tobruk, from where the area could be dominated, with minor skirmishing starting on 19th and battle real on 20th when 4th County of London Yeomanry executed what at the time was described as "the nearest thing to a cavalry charge seen during the war", against the Italian Ariete Armoured Division, with 'C' Squadron losing eight out of eleven Crusaders with twenty-one casualties. By the evening of the 19th the 22nd Armoured Brigade had lost half their tanks, with about fifty being lost to the Ariete Division and over thirty to mechanical faults and breakdowns. The Axis wireless communiqué that night claimed "the annihilation of the British 22nd Armoured Brigade" and it was ordered to join forces with 4th Armoured Brigade as a result of losses in both Brigades.

The battles on and around the Sidi Rezegh airfield between 20th and 23rd November were some of the ‘bloodiest’ of the desert war and are classed as the first true tank battle of the North African Campaign, with men from 7th Armoured Division being awarded three Victoria Crosses (two Posthumously) and by 23rd November the British were forced to withdraw to regroup and re-equip. Each Brigade had started the battle with about 150 tanks, but my now the strength of the individual Brigades was only of 4th Armoured Brigade = approx 35 tanks, 7th Armoured Brigade = 15 tanks and 22nd Armoured Brigade = 40 tanks. Such were the losses that effectively between them the Regiments did not have enough tanks to form a single brigade, having suffered losses of over 80% due to enemy action and mechanical breakdowns!

After only a few days out of the battle the strength of the regiments was being increased and although 7th Armoured Brigade withdrew to Egypt and then went on to fight the Japanese in Burma in 1942, the remaining units helped force the Axis forces to withdraw, thus lifting the siege of Tobruk. They also were to take part in El Alamein in October 1942, with 22nd Armoured Brigade consisting of the units it had when it was at Orwell Park School in 1944.

It should also be said that 7th Armoured Brigade effectively saved the British Army from even higher losses during the retreat in Burma and ended the war in Northern Italy wearing the ‘Green Rat’ Badge and 4th Armoured Brigade, wearing the ‘Black Rat’ Badge, became an independent unit and while 22nd Armoured Brigade prepared for Normandy here, it was preparing for Normandy in the Worthing area of Sussex. Both they and the Desert Rats were to fight their way across Europe side by side.

23rd November 1942 found the men of the 7th Armoured Division pursing the Germans and Italians along the North African coast through Egypt and Libya from El Alamein, with 22nd Armoured Brigade out of the line for re-equipping, with 8th Armoured Brigade taking their place, albeit temporarily, along side the rest of the Division, 4th Armoured Brigade fighting alongside them

By 23rd November 1943, the men of 7th Armoured Division has heard that they were to return from Italy to the UK and had started to hand over their equipment to the Canadians, before embarking. Meanwhile, the men of 4th Armoured Brigade, had just crossed the River Sangro in Italy and still has a few weeks to go before also hearing they too, were to be posted by to the UK.

By 23rd November 1944, the men of the Division and 22nd Armoured Brigade found themselves near Weert in The Netherlands, preparing for the coming battle to cross the Rhine in 1945 and into Nazi Germany itself. By now 4th County of London Yeomanry had been merged with 3rd County of London Yeomanry due to losses in both Regiments and was serving in 4th Armoured Brigade as 3rd/4th County of London Yeomanry and 5th Inniskillen Dragoon Guards has taken its place in 22nd Armoured Brigade. The 4th Armoured Brigade was also in the Weert area and at this time the 7th Armoured Brigade was supporting India Troops of the 8th Army on the Adriatic coast of Italy.  

Alas many of the men who had spent those few days here at Orwell Park School in the spring of 1944 would never return home again!

Some BBC articles on the events of the day.

BBC: Duchess joins Desert Rats reunion at Orwell Park School BBC Article on the events as Orwell Park November 2010
BBC Suffolk: Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall and Suffolk's Desert Rats

 

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