One of the most noticeable things about military history is that certain elite units seem to attract a lot of attention. Aside from Regiments such as the Paras, the Marines and the SAS, its quite rare that a larger unit becomes famous in such a manner. Along with perhaps the Light Division in the Peninsula, the Guards Division in the First World War and the 101st Airborne in the Second World War, the British 7th Armoured Division – better known as the Desert Rats – is possibly one of the most well-known Divisions of all time.
Its also inevitable that any famous unit will have a plethora of books written about it, and the Desert Rats are no exception. Patrick Delaforce, George Forty, Robin Neillands and John Parker are among the writers who have published books about this famous Division. Many of them focus on the higher conduct of the war, the senior officers and the battles. But this book, by Roger Fogg, is different. Not only is it based around an enlightening collection of photographs and mementoes, they were collected by his father Ted, a Desert Rat from the Desert through to Berlin.
The 7th Armoured Division was formed in Egypt just prior to the Second World War. Fighting throughout the campaign in North Africa, they went on to the invasion on Sicily, and then Italy. During their time in the North African Deserted they picked up their ‘Desert Rats’ nickname from the Jerboa. In late 1943 they were recalled to Europe to take part in Operation Overlord, and after landing at Arromanches fought their way through France, Belgium, Holland and finally Germany. They ended the war as part of British Army of occupation, and took pride of place at the Victory Parade in Berlin in July 1945. Thus the Division and its men had been on quite a remarkable journey.
Having done a lot of research on my own family’s military history I found this book fascinating. The documents and photographs tell their own story. We should be grateful that Roger has collated them and made them accessible for future generations. Collections such as these provide a wonderful depth to the bigger strategic picture. As useful as well researched books about Generals and Battles are, they can only tell us so much. What about the men they sent into battle? This is a very ‘real’, down to earth and refreshing account. I like the scrapbook concept – its a fantastic way of bringing to life to the kind of collection that all too often gathers dust, forgotten in an attic or catalogued and stored in a museum.
This book tells us not only about the Desert Rats, but life in the British Army in general during the Second World War. For a start, look how many of the men are smoking in the photographs. There are also telegrams home, Army newspapers and handbooks issued to the Desert Rats as they liberated country after country. I only wish I had half as many documents about my Grandad’s war service!