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Deserts Rats, past and present, gather to celebrate their history and to remember their fallen comrades

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Deserts Rats, past and present, recently gathered to celebrate their history and to remember their fallen comrades.

The annual one-day event, organised by the Desert Rats Association, took place at the High Ash Memorial site in Thetford Forest, Norfolk.

7 Armoured Division, whose byname was the Desert Rats, were stationed in Thetford Forest between January and May 1944 whilst they prepared for the invasion of Normandy.

The Division sailed from Felixstowe on the 5th June 1944 with the first tank landing taking place on Golden Beach on the evening of 6th June.

A Cromwell Mark IV tank, dedicated to members of the 7th Armoured Division, 7th Armoured Brigade and 4th Armoured Brigade is situated on a plinth at the site.

Crowds attending the event saw thousands of poppies drop from an Auster aircraft during a service led by the Reverend Philip Layton.

Amongst those in attendance was the first Desert Rat Len Burritt (97). Len joined the Army aged 18 in 1936 and worked as a wireless operator in 7th Armoured Division. He has written a book titled ‘Home and Away’ about his life as a Desert Rat. He said: “I come to the reunion every year and I thoroughly enjoy the day.”

Fellow Desert Rat, Ron Groom (92), was a wireless operator with the Mobile Radar Unit. Ron whose campaign medals include the Italian Star and African Star said: “It was an important part of our lives. There was a spirit of comradeship, we all experienced the same trials and tribulations. We had a very good bond.”

The veterans were joined by Officers from Headquarters 7 Infantry Brigade and Headquarters East who proudly wear the ‘Desert Rat’ insignia today.

The Brigade was formed in February by the merger of 7 Armoured Brigade and 49 (East) Brigade. The ‘Desert Rat’ insignia was transferred to the new Brigade from 7 Armoured Brigade.

Also in attendance were members of the Queen’s Dragoon Guards who are part of 7 Infantry Brigade.

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