John Allan Chaplin Pearce

John Allan Chaplin Pearce

b: 21 OCT 1912
d: 15 SEP 2006
He thinks he was named after John Allan Cleveland Skinner (J A C Skinner) and his wife calls him Allan, though we always refer to him as 'Uncle Jack', since his initials are JAC. When he was born his sister Effie (then aged 13) wrote a poem for him:

"Oh where didst thou come from Baby boy
Who art so sweet and full of joy
Thine eyes are blue, thy hair is gold
How glad I was when I was told!!

They say thou cry'st but I know better
For I have seen thee in my dreams
And they have told me to the letter
That thou art sweeter than Sunbeams".

And her friend Margaret Beadle (aged 12) contributed:

"Darling Baby sweetest Mite
Who only yesterday saw the light
His hair is gold his eyes are blue
And if you saw him I know that you
Would like him too".

Alan Ray-Jones writes, in 2003:

From 2000 to at least 2003 I have seen more of my Uncle Jack than I had done for many years past, because he treats me, little though I know, as some kind of computer guru, and invites me to his house at least once each time he and I are both in London. He is about 90, and had become interested in computers a few years previously. But because he spends much of each year at Viareggio in Italy (where they have an apartment) on the beach, with his wife Lella, and leaves the computer in his London house (next door to a Saudi Arabian princess, he says), he is forever forgetting the bit of computing that he has learned. This year may be better: he has bought a laptop too, which he keeps in Italy, and says that he will study it - he finds the beach gets boring.

He says that he wasted his time at Oxford, and that his brother Edward (a hard and successful worker), had had one enormous stroke of luck, which was that he was not quite old enough to join in the first world war in France, when the life expectancy of young officers was only a fortnight, yet had the war and post-war drive, the sense that anything was possible. Jack, born ten years later, was a young man in the wasteful thirties, and had as a role model, only King Edward VIII. He thought he must have been a very difficult child, and remembered one trip to Rouen (mentioned by Edward in his autobiographical notes), when he locked himself in the loo and refused to come out for hours. On the way home they had a rough crossing from Dieppe to Newhaven, and he remembered Edward being prostrate on the deck, and himself being sick for the last time that day on South Kensington station. Unlike Edward, he had nothing but kind words for Aunt Mim, who helped to look after him on the Rouen trip.

He said my mother, his sister Effie, was a tough and resourceful woman who had made life difficult for herself by marrying a penniless and delicate artist, who had problems making ends meet financially. He spent several months in St Ives with us in 1940, while waiting for his call up papers, and joined the Home Guard there.

I doubt if he and I agree about much politically for he is a natural Tory and I am not, but we are both old enough to disagree gently and without too much passion. He hoped that Berlusconi would be good for Italy (as Prime Minister) which I thought unlikely, and pleased me greatly a while ago by mentioning, after he knew of my obsession with collecting information on our family, that he had an old photo album which might be of interest to me. Indeed it was!

Charles lives with him and works in the civil service. He is alone for much of the time in the London house while his parents are in Italy every summer. His other son, Lawrence (an accountant) and his family live at Frodsham near Warrington, away from the bright lights and society which Jack and Lella enjoy.

Uncle Jack worked for much of his life as a solicitor for the Church Commissioners concerned with church property, and said that this had been an asset in buying his own houses. His investment in his own house has certainly been very successful, and has given him a comfortable life and retirement. The time he most likes to remember is the second world war, especially the campaign in the North African desert. He says that the British made many mistakes, but at last a change in the command structure (with Montgomery at the top), brought success, and he contributed the account below to the 60th anniversary celebrations of the North African campaign:

The encounter between the British 8th Army 'Desert Rats' and the German Army Afrika Korps in August 1942 was, as it were, the second Battle of Alamein. The first was a desperate running retreat in July, and the third was the tremendous assault on 23 October, in each case a very long-drawn out affair.


An account of the Battle of Alam el Halfa,
on 31 August 1942:
by Major J.A.C. Pearce, 4CLY.

"At this rate Rommel should be at Shepheard's for dinner!"

This was the sage, and not wholly facetious appreciation of the situation by Capt. Esmond Baring, the GIII of the 22nd Armoured Brigade. We were watching the column of some 3,500 tanks, guns and vehicles of the Afrika Korps and their Italian allies surging steadily towards us across the desert like an enormous dun-coloured snake, dimly visible through the late afternoon heat-haze to the British observers some five miles away on Alam el Halfa ridge.

The time was 5pm. Reports had been coming in since before midnight that Rommel's long awaited attack was under way. His route lay through the mine-fields at the southern end of the Alamein Line and then north-east to the southern end of the ridge where we were standing. A map skilfully planted by British Intelligence in a wrecked scout-car, showing all the softest areas marked as 'good going' so as to deplete his precious petrol as quickly as possible, apparently had little success; but his approach march had been severely impeded by armoured British harrassing attacks and also by the massive and unremitting onslaughts of the RAF, which had now achieved total air supremacy.

I was then Brigade Liason Officer and was standing between Baring and the 36 year old Brigadier Pip Roberts, who had been given this vital area around Point 102 to defend, with a greatly enlarged brigade consisting of 4th CLY, 1st and 5th RTR and the Greys, together with 1st Rifle Brigade and 1st Royal Horse Artillery.

Progressing from Captain in 1940 to Major in 1941 and briefly Lt. Colonel in 1942, the newly-promoted Brigadier was - in the words of his divisional commander Major-General (later Field Marshal) Harding - "the most outstanding armoured commander ever produced by the British Army". Certainly, to a novice 2nd Lieutenant like myself, his masterly handling of a vital and close-run armoured battle involving thousands of men made it seem a perfectly straight-forward affair. I was indeed lucky to have a grand-stand view of such a thrilling historic event - instead of a more usual seat in the front row of the stalls!

At last, after three years of being knocked all round the ring, the British had learned most of the niceties of desert warfare and the Brigade - except for the Greys in reserve behind the ridge and the gunners - were all ready and waiting with grim determination in well concealed hull-down positions in the wadis and depressions of the great bare whale-back that is Alam el Halfa, invisible except for the muzzles of their guns. Before them across the plain was a series of cairns marking the different ranges up to 1,000 or so yards, to guide their fire.

A few days beforehand the six regiments had carried out a moonlight exercise, moving some two miles from their normal 'air dispersal' positions on the plain to reconnoitre their carefully selected battle stations on the ridge, so that each tank commander would know exactly where to go. Accordingly. soon after midnight on the eve of battle they had moved into their allotted positions without difficulty, the full moon casting a pale greenish light over the desert, almost bright enough to read by. The Brigade had of course moved in a total blackout and under wireless silence, so the enemy was quite unaware of our defensive positions.

The minutes passed slowly. Very soon the Brigadier decided it was time to attack the steadily moving column in the flank, as it swung eastward and passed across his front some 1.200 yards away. "Start engines and prepare to move!" he ordered the leading regiments on the radio, and the whole area woke into life. I remember thinking what a weight of responsibility he had to bear in ordering rhe regiments out of their excellent positions and down on to the plain, where the superior fire power of the Germans would take a much heavier toll.

At that moment the enemy column halted. Roberts immediately countermanded his order. There was a hurried consultation and then a solid phalanx of German tanks (some 200, four deep) turned left and advanced slowly on our positions. As they passed the 1,000 yard markers and came within range, all the guns of the 4th CLY opened up. this time the Germans had an unpleasant surprise for us, the new Mark IV Special fitted with a long barrelled 75, the most formidable tank in the desert. These tanks especially did great execution as they advanced, but the British held their ground and kept up an intense fire on the oncoming army.

Here at last was a battle to their liking, where they had been granted reasonable odds. There seemed to be a new feeling of confidence, doubtless generated by changes in the High Command, that was spreading unconsciously through the army, and the youthful Brigadier reinforced this feeling by his equanimity and his instinctive grasp of every situation.

Covered by some rocks at the foot of the slope the Rifle Bridade had dug in their 6 PDR anti-tank guns, and with these they infiladed the Panzers to great effect as soon as they got to close range, holding their fire until the last moment. The Brigadier's tank and that of the 2 i/c Colonel Roddick, plus my own scout car and two or three other vehicles comprising the very small TACHQ were ingeniously stationed in a little wadi. This was half way up the slope, about 1/4 mile behind the front line - as it were in the 'Dress Circle' - and although the Stukas came over several times they never spotted us, and instead bombed the echelons behind the ridge before they were shot down like clay pigeons by the RAF. The only inconveniences we suffered were ricocheting shots and overs which came skittering up the slope, and once - as I recall - a chunk of metal about the size of a bedstead, which came hurtling through the air and nearly hit us.

The most exposed unit on our front was undoubtedly Sandy Cameron's A Squadron of the 4th CLY, which was in the centre of our position. Within a very few minutes all fifteen of his Grants had 'brewed up'. One poignant sight I still remember vividly was a Grant turret silhouetted against the sky as it sailed vertically up into the air with the motionless body of the tank commander still leaning on the turret rim. And I heard afterwards of a man being killed while standing behind his tank, by a shot that passed clean through the front and rear armour plating.

The moment of crisis had arrived. A dangerous gap had opened in the British line. Cool and collected as ever, Roberts ordered an S.O.S. barrage trom the Brigade artillery, which succeeded in halting the enemy's attack for a few minutes. At the same timehe called up the Greys in reserve behind the ridge. I well remember the anxious wait till they came into view and then the heartening sight of 50 massive Grants charging over the crest of the hill in the sunset and then down the slope to plug the fateful gap. "Come on the Greys!", shouted Roberts over the radio: "Get out your whips!" - evoking memories of 'the terrible grey horses' at Waterloo.

At the sight of these new arrivals while under the concentrated bombardment of the Brigade artillery and the close-support bombing of the RAF, the Afrika Corps seemed to lose heart. Their attack was never pressed home and in fact it was already getting dark. But it had been a near thing. The Brigade, and especially the 4th CLY, had borne the full weight of the Axis onslaught and under Roberts's superb leadership had won a great victory.

A few enemy tanks had found a lodgement in the wadis at the foot of the ridge on the left flank, but they were isolated and soon winkled out. The remainder, who could move, retired to leaguer in Deir el Ragil, a broad depression about eight miles away, where they were pounded relentlessly under the flares of the night bombers as soon as the night started. And this time there was no counter-attack. The British were denied the privilege they had so often exercised in the past, of hurling themselves on the enemy anti-tank guns.

The Battle of Alam el Halfa was over, apart from mopping up and some half-hearted attacks next day. The Germans had suffered a very unwanted reverse, because at last the British had learnt their lesson of concentration of force and paid them in their own coin. The Germans called it a Reconnaisance in Force but in fact Rommel had made a determined thrust for the Delta and had been given a bloody nose, while Montgomery had asserted his mastery over the battlefield.

The Axis column had consisted of our old adversaries, the 15th and 21st PZ Division and the 90th Light, together with three Italian armoured divisions. On the Brigade front alone they lost some 30 tanks out of about 200, and we lost 17 Grants out of 87, without reference to our nomerous 2 PDR gun tanks. Fortunately the Afrika Korps did not seem to be up to their old form, no doubt after the intense fighting of the summer and with their machines and their lines of communication severely strained. Even so, they had given us quite a test.

A day or two later Monty, anxious as ever to impress his personality on the 8th Army, came round to visit the troops who had been involved, and called a group of officers from the Brigade round him. I well remember my first sight of the new General as a spare, slight figure with his Tank Corps beret, fly whisk and crisp delivery. The 8th Army had seen such a succession of generals killed captured or sacked that little interest was aroused by the sight of one more.

"Now you've got to wemember this", said Monty: "I'm not weacting to Wommel, Wommel's weacting to me". At that time everyone in the 8th Army thought of Rommel as a superman towering over the desert. "What a hope!" was my own feeling.

"Well Duffy, what do you think of him?" said Sandy Cameron as we walked away a few minutes later, when Monty had finished. "Uninspired and unconvincing! We shan't be hearing much more of him in another two or three months' time". A prophecy which did not turn out to be altogether accurate!

I have always thought of the Battle of Alam el Halfa as the real turning point in the Desert War, as after that failure by Rommel the break-through on 23 October was a foregone conclusion. And on a captured map the German centre line was shown as passing straight through Point 102.

Sometime later I heard an apcryphal story, which nonetheless could well be true, to the effect that soon after the battle Monty had offered Sandy Cameron a V.C. in recognition of the part played by his squadron. Whereupon Sandy had rejected the honour and instead had roundly criticized a defensive strategy which had allowed his entire squadron to be wiped out in the course of a few minutes.


NOTES

Alam el Halfa A long ridge or dune of sand midway on the Alamein Line
4 CLY 4th County of London Yeomanry
Shepheard's Hotel The celebrated Cairo 'Ritz'
GIII Staff Officer of Captain's rank
Field Marshall Erwin Rfommel The most famous and formidable of the German armoured commanders.
LO Liaison Officer
RTR Royal Tank Regiment
The Greys An historic Scottish cavalry regiment, very recently mechanised, which in spite of any problems
of desert navigation, arrived in the nick of time.
RHA Royal Horse Artillery, long since mechanised
Wadi Arabic for a gully or ravine
75 High velocity tank gun of 75mm bore
2 i/c Second in Command
TACHQ Tactical Command HQ
Echelons Columns of soft-skinned lorries supplying the tanks
Stuka German close-support dive-bomber
Grant General Grant US heavy tank

A masterly account of the battle is given in 'El Alamein'; by Field Marshall Lord Carver, who was G1 of our division (7th Armoured) at the time.


Another of his stories is about the time he met cousin Gwendoline Strozzi in her palace in Florence during the war (see Steward, Gwendoline); and a third is about his disappearing fireplace.

It was about 1960, when he was buying his London house, but before he moved in: he was alarmed when he arrived one day to find the front door swinging open and unlocked. He looked cautiously around the ground floor and then upstairs. Entering the big drawing room on the first floor, he discovered to his alarm that the very fine Italian marble fireplace, the only thing of real value in the house, had vanished, and that all that was to be seen was the rough brick structure.

Despondent, he went to the nearest architectural salvage company, not far away in the Brompton Road, told them that his marble fireplace had been taken, and asked if they had anything similar that he could buy in its place. They had nothing. He visited all the other companies in the same line of business, hoping either to find something that would do, and found nothing. For a time he did no more about it, and several months passed.

Eventually, he went back to his local salvage company, and they suggested that he might try their larger depot some way out of London. He did so, and was fairly astonished when the manager there said he might have just the thing needed. "It came in last week," he said. As they approached it he felt sure he recognised it, and told the manager that he thought it might be his. The manager sighed, "Not again," he said. A week later, the fireplace was delivered, and everything fitted including the positions of the fixings!

If he had visited the depot more than a week earlier it would not have been there, and if later it might have been sold. He always seemed to fall on his feet!

He died in Italy after a year-long illness on 15 September 2006, and Charles rang to tell me on 25 September, after he and Lawrence had bought him back to England for burial. There will be a memorial mass in Brompton Oratory at 11am on Tuesday 7 November 2006. AR-J

END

See also 'From the Desert to the Baltic' by Major-General G B P Roberts, C.B., M.C., D.S.O.
Romantic, conservative, loved Italy, opera, the high life, died aged 94.
Biography
He thinks he was named after John Allan Cleveland Skinner (J A C Skinner) and his wife calls him Allan, though we always refer to him as 'Uncle Jack', since his initials are JAC. When he was born his sister Effie (then aged 13) wrote a poem for him:

"Oh where didst thou come from Baby boy
Who art so sweet and full of joy
Thine eyes are blue, thy hair is gold
How glad I was when I was told!!

They say thou cry'st but I know better
For I have seen thee in my dreams
And they have told me to the letter
That thou art sweeter than Sunbeams".

And her friend Margaret Beadle (aged 12) contributed:

"Darling Baby sweetest Mite
Who only yesterday saw the light
His hair is gold his eyes are blue
And if you saw him I know that you
Would like him too".

Alan Ray-Jones writes, in 2003:

From 2000 to at least 2003 I have seen more of my Uncle Jack than I had done for many years past, because he treats me, little though I know, as some kind of computer guru, and invites me to his house at least once each time he and I are both in London. He is about 90, and had become interested in computers a few years previously. But because he spends much of each year at Viareggio in Italy (where they have an apartment) on the beach, with his wife Lella, and leaves the computer in his London house (next door to a Saudi Arabian princess, he says), he is forever forgetting the bit of computing that he has learned. This year may be better: he has bought a laptop too, which he keeps in Italy, and says that he will study it - he finds the beach gets boring.

He says that he wasted his time at Oxford, and that his brother Edward (a hard and successful worker), had had one enormous stroke of luck, which was that he was not quite old enough to join in the first world war in France, when the life expectancy of young officers was only a fortnight, yet had the war and post-war drive, the sense that anything was possible. Jack, born ten years later, was a young man in the wasteful thirties, and had as a role model, only King Edward VIII. He thought he must have been a very difficult child, and remembered one trip to Rouen (mentioned by Edward in his autobiographical notes), when he locked himself in the loo and refused to come out for hours. On the way home they had a rough crossing from Dieppe to Newhaven, and he remembered Edward being prostrate on the deck, and himself being sick for the last time that day on South Kensington station. Unlike Edward, he had nothing but kind words for Aunt Mim, who helped to look after him on the Rouen trip.

He said my mother, his sister Effie, was a tough and resourceful woman who had made life difficult for herself by marrying a penniless and delicate artist, who had problems making ends meet financially. He spent several months in St Ives with us in 1940, while waiting for his call up papers, and joined the Home Guard there.

I doubt if he and I agree about much politically for he is a natural Tory and I am not, but we are both old enough to disagree gently and without too much passion. He hoped that Berlusconi would be good for Italy (as Prime Minister) which I thought unlikely, and pleased me greatly a while ago by mentioning, after he knew of my obsession with collecting information on our family, that he had an old photo album which might be of interest to me. Indeed it was!

Charles lives with him and works in the civil service. He is alone for much of the time in the London house while his parents are in Italy every summer. His other son, Lawrence (an accountant) and his family live at Frodsham near Warrington, away from the bright lights and society which Jack and Lella enjoy.

Uncle Jack worked for much of his life as a solicitor for the Church Commissioners concerned with church property, and said that this had been an asset in buying his own houses. His investment in his own house has certainly been very successful, and has given him a comfortable life and retirement. The time he most likes to remember is the second world war, especially the campaign in the North African desert. He says that the British made many mistakes, but at last a change in the command structure (with Montgomery at the top), brought success, and he contributed the account below to the 60th anniversary celebrations of the North African campaign:

The encounter between the British 8th Army 'Desert Rats' and the German Army Afrika Korps in August 1942 was, as it were, the second Battle of Alamein. The first was a desperate running retreat in July, and the third was the tremendous assault on 23 October, in each case a very long-drawn out affair.


An account of the Battle of Alam el Halfa,
on 31 August 1942:
by Major J.A.C. Pearce, 4CLY.

"At this rate Rommel should be at Shepheard's for dinner!"

This was the sage, and not wholly facetious appreciation of the situation by Capt. Esmond Baring, the GIII of the 22nd Armoured Brigade. We were watching the column of some 3,500 tanks, guns and vehicles of the Afrika Korps and their Italian allies surging steadily towards us across the desert like an enormous dun-coloured snake, dimly visible through the late afternoon heat-haze to the British observers some five miles away on Alam el Halfa ridge.

The time was 5pm. Reports had been coming in since before midnight that Rommel's long awaited attack was under way. His route lay through the mine-fields at the southern end of the Alamein Line and then north-east to the southern end of the ridge where we were standing. A map skilfully planted by British Intelligence in a wrecked scout-car, showing all the softest areas marked as 'good going' so as to deplete his precious petrol as quickly as possible, apparently had little success; but his approach march had been severely impeded by armoured British harrassing attacks and also by the massive and unremitting onslaughts of the RAF, which had now achieved total air supremacy.

I was then Brigade Liason Officer and was standing between Baring and the 36 year old Brigadier Pip Roberts, who had been given this vital area around Point 102 to defend, with a greatly enlarged brigade consisting of 4th CLY, 1st and 5th RTR and the Greys, together with 1st Rifle Brigade and 1st Royal Horse Artillery.

Progressing from Captain in 1940 to Major in 1941 and briefly Lt. Colonel in 1942, the newly-promoted Brigadier was - in the words of his divisional commander Major-General (later Field Marshal) Harding - "the most outstanding armoured commander ever produced by the British Army". Certainly, to a novice 2nd Lieutenant like myself, his masterly handling of a vital and close-run armoured battle involving thousands of men made it seem a perfectly straight-forward affair. I was indeed lucky to have a grand-stand view of such a thrilling historic event - instead of a more usual seat in the front row of the stalls!

At last, after three years of being knocked all round the ring, the British had learned most of the niceties of desert warfare and the Brigade - except for the Greys in reserve behind the ridge and the gunners - were all ready and waiting with grim determination in well concealed hull-down positions in the wadis and depressions of the great bare whale-back that is Alam el Halfa, invisible except for the muzzles of their guns. Before them across the plain was a series of cairns marking the different ranges up to 1,000 or so yards, to guide their fire.

A few days beforehand the six regiments had carried out a moonlight exercise, moving some two miles from their normal 'air dispersal' positions on the plain to reconnoitre their carefully selected battle stations on the ridge, so that each tank commander would know exactly where to go. Accordingly. soon after midnight on the eve of battle they had moved into their allotted positions without difficulty, the full moon casting a pale greenish light over the desert, almost bright enough to read by. The Brigade had of course moved in a total blackout and under wireless silence, so the enemy was quite unaware of our defensive positions.

The minutes passed slowly. Very soon the Brigadier decided it was time to attack the steadily moving column in the flank, as it swung eastward and passed across his front some 1.200 yards away. "Start engines and prepare to move!" he ordered the leading regiments on the radio, and the whole area woke into life. I remember thinking what a weight of responsibility he had to bear in ordering rhe regiments out of their excellent positions and down on to the plain, where the superior fire power of the Germans would take a much heavier toll.

At that moment the enemy column halted. Roberts immediately countermanded his order. There was a hurried consultation and then a solid phalanx of German tanks (some 200, four deep) turned left and advanced slowly on our positions. As they passed the 1,000 yard markers and came within range, all the guns of the 4th CLY opened up. this time the Germans had an unpleasant surprise for us, the new Mark IV Special fitted with a long barrelled 75, the most formidable tank in the desert. These tanks especially did great execution as they advanced, but the British held their ground and kept up an intense fire on the oncoming army.

Here at last was a battle to their liking, where they had been granted reasonable odds. There seemed to be a new feeling of confidence, doubtless generated by changes in the High Command, that was spreading unconsciously through the army, and the youthful Brigadier reinforced this feeling by his equanimity and his instinctive grasp of every situation.

Covered by some rocks at the foot of the slope the Rifle Bridade had dug in their 6 PDR anti-tank guns, and with these they infiladed the Panzers to great effect as soon as they got to close range, holding their fire until the last moment. The Brigadier's tank and that of the 2 i/c Colonel Roddick, plus my own scout car and two or three other vehicles comprising the very small TACHQ were ingeniously stationed in a little wadi. This was half way up the slope, about 1/4 mile behind the front line - as it were in the 'Dress Circle' - and although the Stukas came over several times they never spotted us, and instead bombed the echelons behind the ridge before they were shot down like clay pigeons by the RAF. The only inconveniences we suffered were ricocheting shots and overs which came skittering up the slope, and once - as I recall - a chunk of metal about the size of a bedstead, which came hurtling through the air and nearly hit us.

The most exposed unit on our front was undoubtedly Sandy Cameron's A Squadron of the 4th CLY, which was in the centre of our position. Within a very few minutes all fifteen of his Grants had 'brewed up'. One poignant sight I still remember vividly was a Grant turret silhouetted against the sky as it sailed vertically up into the air with the motionless body of the tank commander still leaning on the turret rim. And I heard afterwards of a man being killed while standing behind his tank, by a shot that passed clean through the front and rear armour plating.

The moment of crisis had arrived. A dangerous gap had opened in the British line. Cool and collected as ever, Roberts ordered an S.O.S. barrage trom the Brigade artillery, which succeeded in halting the enemy's attack for a few minutes. At the same timehe called up the Greys in reserve behind the ridge. I well remember the anxious wait till they came into view and then the heartening sight of 50 massive Grants charging over the crest of the hill in the sunset and then down the slope to plug the fateful gap. "Come on the Greys!", shouted Roberts over the radio: "Get out your whips!" - evoking memories of 'the terrible grey horses' at Waterloo.

At the sight of these new arrivals while under the concentrated bombardment of the Brigade artillery and the close-support bombing of the RAF, the Afrika Corps seemed to lose heart. Their attack was never pressed home and in fact it was already getting dark. But it had been a near thing. The Brigade, and especially the 4th CLY, had borne the full weight of the Axis onslaught and under Roberts's superb leadership had won a great victory.

A few enemy tanks had found a lodgement in the wadis at the foot of the ridge on the left flank, but they were isolated and soon winkled out. The remainder, who could move, retired to leaguer in Deir el Ragil, a broad depression about eight miles away, where they were pounded relentlessly under the flares of the night bombers as soon as the night started. And this time there was no counter-attack. The British were denied the privilege they had so often exercised in the past, of hurling themselves on the enemy anti-tank guns.

The Battle of Alam el Halfa was over, apart from mopping up and some half-hearted attacks next day. The Germans had suffered a very unwanted reverse, because at last the British had learnt their lesson of concentration of force and paid them in their own coin. The Germans called it a Reconnaisance in Force but in fact Rommel had made a determined thrust for the Delta and had been given a bloody nose, while Montgomery had asserted his mastery over the battlefield.

The Axis column had consisted of our old adversaries, the 15th and 21st PZ Division and the 90th Light, together with three Italian armoured divisions. On the Brigade front alone they lost some 30 tanks out of about 200, and we lost 17 Grants out of 87, without reference to our nomerous 2 PDR gun tanks. Fortunately the Afrika Korps did not seem to be up to their old form, no doubt after the intense fighting of the summer and with their machines and their lines of communication severely strained. Even so, they had given us quite a test.

A day or two later Monty, anxious as ever to impress his personality on the 8th Army, came round to visit the troops who had been involved, and called a group of officers from the Brigade round him. I well remember my first sight of the new General as a spare, slight figure with his Tank Corps beret, fly whisk and crisp delivery. The 8th Army had seen such a succession of generals killed captured or sacked that little interest was aroused by the sight of one more.

"Now you've got to wemember this", said Monty: "I'm not weacting to Wommel, Wommel's weacting to me". At that time everyone in the 8th Army thought of Rommel as a superman towering over the desert. "What a hope!" was my own feeling.

"Well Duffy, what do you think of him?" said Sandy Cameron as we walked away a few minutes later, when Monty had finished. "Uninspired and unconvincing! We shan't be hearing much more of him in another two or three months' time". A prophecy which did not turn out to be altogether accurate!

I have always thought of the Battle of Alam el Halfa as the real turning point in the Desert War, as after that failure by Rommel the break-through on 23 October was a foregone conclusion. And on a captured map the German centre line was shown as passing straight through Point 102.

Sometime later I heard an apcryphal story, which nonetheless could well be true, to the effect that soon after the battle Monty had offered Sandy Cameron a V.C. in recognition of the part played by his squadron. Whereupon Sandy had rejected the honour and instead had roundly criticized a defensive strategy which had allowed his entire squadron to be wiped out in the course of a few minutes.


NOTES

Alam el Halfa A long ridge or dune of sand midway on the Alamein Line
4 CLY 4th County of London Yeomanry
Shepheard's Hotel The celebrated Cairo 'Ritz'
GIII Staff Officer of Captain's rank
Field Marshall Erwin Rfommel The most famous and formidable of the German armoured commanders.
LO Liaison Officer
RTR Royal Tank Regiment
The Greys An historic Scottish cavalry regiment, very recently mechanised, which in spite of any problems
of desert navigation, arrived in the nick of time.
RHA Royal Horse Artillery, long since mechanised
Wadi Arabic for a gully or ravine
75 High velocity tank gun of 75mm bore
2 i/c Second in Command
TACHQ Tactical Command HQ
Echelons Columns of soft-skinned lorries supplying the tanks
Stuka German close-support dive-bomber
Grant General Grant US heavy tank

A masterly account of the battle is given in 'El Alamein'; by Field Marshall Lord Carver, who was G1 of our division (7th Armoured) at the time.


Another of his stories is about the time he met cousin Gwendoline Strozzi in her palace in Florence during the war (see Steward, Gwendoline); and a third is about his disappearing fireplace.

It was about 1960, when he was buying his London house, but before he moved in: he was alarmed when he arrived one day to find the front door swinging open and unlocked. He looked cautiously around the ground floor and then upstairs. Entering the big drawing room on the first floor, he discovered to his alarm that the very fine Italian marble fireplace, the only thing of real value in the house, had vanished, and that all that was to be seen was the rough brick structure.

Despondent, he went to the nearest architectural salvage company, not far away in the Brompton Road, told them that his marble fireplace had been taken, and asked if they had anything similar that he could buy in its place. They had nothing. He visited all the other companies in the same line of business, hoping either to find something that would do, and found nothing. For a time he did no more about it, and several months passed.

Eventually, he went back to his local salvage company, and they suggested that he might try their larger depot some way out of London. He did so, and was fairly astonished when the manager there said he might have just the thing needed. "It came in last week," he said. As they approached it he felt sure he recognised it, and told the manager that he thought it might be his. The manager sighed, "Not again," he said. A week later, the fireplace was delivered, and everything fitted including the positions of the fixings!

If he had visited the depot more than a week earlier it would not have been there, and if later it might have been sold. He always seemed to fall on his feet!

He died in Italy after a year-long illness on 15 September 2006, and Charles rang to tell me on 25 September, after he and Lawrence had bought him back to England for burial. There will be a memorial mass in Brompton Oratory at 11am on Tuesday 7 November 2006. AR-J

END

See also 'From the Desert to the Baltic' by Major-General G B P Roberts, C.B., M.C., D.S.O. Romantic, conservative, loved Italy, opera, the high life, died aged 94.
Facts
  • 21 OCT 1912 - Birth - ; Sidcup, Kent
  • (Abt 2 Oct 2006) - Burial - ; Brompton Cemetery, London.
  • 15 SEP 2006 - Death - ; Italy
  • FROM 1960 - Residence - ; Kensington, London
  • FROM 1941 TO 1946 - Military Service - ; North Africa then Italy
  • 1956 - Medical -
  • FROM 1917 TO 1935 - Education - Merton Court, Chartherhouse, Oxford University
  • FROM 1947 - Occupation - solicitor ; London
  • FROM 1960 - Residence - ; Kensington, London
Ancestors
   
Henry Edward Pearce
15 SEP 1843 - 7 DEC 1927
 
 
John William Ernest Pearce
4 APR 1864 - 25 JAN 1951
  
  
  
Harriet Georgina (Hattie) Hurst
25 AUG 1842 - 11 MAY 1920
 
John Allan Chaplin Pearce
21 OCT 1912 - 15 SEP 2006
  
 
  
Holroyd Chaplin
17 MAR 1840 - 23 DEC 1917
 
 
Irene Kate Chaplin
1 MAR 1873 - 22 JUN 1962
  
  
  
Euphemia Isabella Skinner
7 JUN 1847 - 10 SEP 1939
 
Family Group Sheet - Child
PARENT (M) John William Ernest Pearce
Birth4 APR 1864Wellington Place, Bristol, Gloucestershire, England
Death25 JAN 1951 South Villa, Vale of Health, Hampstead, London, England
Marriage16 APR 1898to Irene Kate Chaplin at St. Annes? (corner of Church St & Kensington High St.)
FatherHenry Edward Pearce
MotherHarriet Georgina (Hattie) Hurst
PARENT (F) Irene Kate Chaplin
Birth1 MAR 1873Westbourne Park Villas, Paddington, London, England
Death22 JUN 1962 Hampstead, London, England
Marriage16 APR 1898to John William Ernest Pearce at St. Annes? (corner of Church St & Kensington High St.)
FatherHolroyd Chaplin
MotherEuphemia Isabella Skinner
CHILDREN
MEdward Holroyd Pearce , Lord
Birth9 FEB 1901Merton Court, Sidcup, Kent
Death27 NOV 1990Crowborough, Sussex, England
Marriage9 APR 1927to Erica Priestman at Dallinghoo, Suffolk
FPhyllis Margaret Pearce
Birth8 FEB 1910Sidcup, Kent
Death6 JUN 1973
Marriage1939to Edward Douglas Eade at North London
MJohn Allan Chaplin Pearce
Birth21 OCT 1912Sidcup, Kent
Death15 SEP 2006Italy
Marriage18 NOV 1948to Raffaella Elisabetta Maria (Lella) Baione at Florence, Italy?
FHelen Nugent Pearce
Birth22 NOV 1917Merton Court Preparatory School, Sidcup, Kent (probably)
Death6 APR 1920Brighton (probably)
FEffie Irene Pearce
Birth18 AUG 1899Yarth House, 93 Fitzjohns Avenue, London NW3, England
Death26 JAN 1996Royal London Hospital Whitechapel (Tower Hamlets), London, England
Marriage12 FEB 1926to Raymond Ray-Jones R.E., A.R.C.A. at "In Brighton, quietly, Raymond Ray-Jones RE, ARCA to Effie Irene Pearce, eldest daughter of Mr and Mrs J.W.E Pearce of 2
Family Group Sheet - Spouse
PARENT (M) John Allan Chaplin Pearce
Birth21 OCT 1912Sidcup, Kent
Death15 SEP 2006 Italy
Marriage18 NOV 1948to Raffaella Elisabetta Maria (Lella) Baione at Florence, Italy?
FatherJohn William Ernest Pearce
MotherIrene Kate Chaplin
PARENT (F) Raffaella Elisabetta Maria (Lella) Baione
Birth
DeathMAR 2012 London
Marriage18 NOV 1948to John Allan Chaplin Pearce at Florence, Italy?
Father?
Mother?
CHILDREN
Private
Birth
Death
Marriageto Elizabeth
Private
Birth
Death
Evidence
[S27768] 'The Law List(s)', Stevens
Descendancy Chart
John Allan Chaplin Pearce b: 21 OCT 1912 d: 15 SEP 2006