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Hundreds pay tribute to brave Desert Rats at division’s reunion service

PUBLISHED: 06:20 20 June 2016 | UPDATED: 07:48 20 June 2016

Scenes from the Desert Rats Memorial Service at High Ash Camp in Mundford. Picture: Matthew Usher.

Scenes from the Desert Rats Memorial Service at High Ash Camp in Mundford. Picture: Matthew Usher.

© ARCHANT NORFOLK 2016

Hundreds gathered at a Norfolk war memorial to pay tribute to an army division with an illustrious name and a historic bond to the county.

Scenes from the Desert Rats Memorial Service at High Ash Camp in Mundford. Picture: Matthew Usher.Scenes from the Desert Rats Memorial Service at High Ash Camp in Mundford. Picture: Matthew Usher.

The Desert Rats Reunion at High Ash, near Mundford, featured a service in honour of the 7th Armoured Division and the 4th and 7th Armoured Brigades.

Formed in 1938 in North Africa, it earned its nickname and its fine reputation during the fierce fighting in the region. It also served with distinction in Italy and northern Europe.

Its only time spent in Britain during the Second World War was a brief period in 1944, which it spent at High Ash, in training for D-Day.

The service, held on Sunday at the Desert Rats memorial, near the camp, was presided over by Major Simon Copley-Smith, chairman of the Desert Rats Association.

He gave thanks to his predecessor Rod Scott and his wife, Tina, who ran the association for 15 years, and paid tribute to its founder and first chairman Les Dinning.

It was attended by the mayor of Thetford, Terry Jermy, and nine Desert Rat veterans, as well as representatives from the 7th Infantry Brigade, which evolved from the division.

In his address, Maj Copley-Smith said: “This is for the veterans who made such a gallant contribution to ensure this country remained free from tyranny and dictatorship.”

The commemorations began with a parade to the Cromwell Memorial, visible from the A1065, in front of which the service was held and on which wreaths were laid by patrons and servicemen.

Father Andrew Lane, who led the service, said: “The Desert Rats in all their incarnations have displayed and continue to display such courage in all the horror or war. They fought so bravely and sacrificed so greatly for the cause in which they believed – the cause of peace.”

A letter from the Duchess of Cornwall, a patron of the association, was read out during the service and the Last Post was played before a poppy fly-past. As well as a commemoration of the 7th Armoured Division, the event also served as an open day for the association, with support from the 7th Infantry Brigade, Royal British Legion, Royal Anglian Regiment, army cadets and military vehicle trusts.

Do you have a story about the Desert Rats’ time at High Ash? Email bethany.whymark@archant.co.uk

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