It’s a searing memory: Egypt, October 1942.
Every day from July to November, 21-year-old Gunner Clyde Towler was blinded by sunlight and deafened by the sound of German Stukas with screamers in their wings.
The gunner’s job was to load and fire a 40mm Bofor anti-aircraft gun at attacking enemy aircraft, Mr Towler said.
“Our job was to protect heavier guns – field guns – that were firing at the enemy.
“The German aircraft were trying to put them out of action because they couldn’t defend themselves against enemy [allied] aircraft.
“And they were firing at us at the same time and they always attacked out of the sun.
“They dive at an angle of 87 degrees which is nearly vertical and they had screamers in their wings.
“It was very frightening initially, but after a lot of action you got used to all the noise they were making because once they pulled out of their dive, they were very vulnerable and slow.
“That’s when we used to shoot them down, you know, because they were flying slowly once they pulled out of their dive.”
Mr Towler, 91, and family members will join allied diggers at El Alamein this October for the 70th anniversary of the World War II battles that turned the tide of war in North Africa.
Australia’s 9th division were the attacking force against Rommel, and the stand at El Alamein, Egypt, ordered by Field Marshal Montgomery was successful, he said.
“I am going to pay tribute to those who did not come home,” Mr Towler said.
Mr Towler said his gun crew numbered about 14 brave men from Pittsworth, Boonah and other states of Australia.
“They never ever looked like folding up, and they were so courageous every one of them that I just followed suit, so I kept doing what I had to do too.”
His was a dangerous and vulnerable job on a gun platform above ground level.
He told how he was hit by shrapnel one day: “It hit me on the bare chest because we were stripped to the waist.
“Only had a tin helmet on, pair of Blucher boots, then shorts – it was very hot in the desert. Nothing on the chest.
“It [the shrapnel] flew through the air, hit me on the chest, and burnt it in a little bit because it was still hot from the explosion, then it just fell down onto the gun platform.
“I just didn’t pick it up as a souvenir – I just threw it away.”
Mr Towler’s gun crew survived El Alamein, but there was one casualty, he said with sadness.
One man went mad during an attack: he cowered in the pit and screamed: “No-one can live through this – we’ll all be killed. We must be killed.”
The man was repatriated back to Alexandria as he couldn’t do his job, Mr Towler said.
Of his gun crew, only Mr Towler will travel to Egypt to remember the fallen: “I’m only alive because I was one of the youngest fellas there.”
“The camaraderie of all my mates is the best memory by far. They were just the cream of Australia,” he said.
Mr Towler is proud that his wife and “best mate” Mary, and two of their eight children, Tony and Danny, will travel to El Alamein too.
They will attend five memorial services in Egypt including the memorial service for the Australian 9th division at 8am on October 20.
Together, they will ensure the heroes of the desert are never forgotten.
This story first appeared in print on Wed 12 Sept 2012: The Queensland Times (APN, Ipswich)