‘I thought he’d died there …’


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Joyful reunion at the 75th anniversary of the Battle of El Alamein

John Hair and Frederick Maurer were wounded on the battlefield within hours of each other at El Alamein in 1942. Until October this year they had not seen each other since, tragically believing the other had been killed.

Reunited at an event in Canberra marking the 75th anniversary of the battle, the pair, who served with the 2/23rd Battalion of the Australian 9th Division in Syria, recognised each other instantly.

Mr Hair said of Mr Maurer after their reunion, ‘I knew who he was immediately, he looks just the same, a little bit older and a little bit wiser.’

Until the moment they laid eyes on each other again for the first time in three-quarters of a century, he’d assumed his friend was among the thousands who lost their lives during the battle.

‘I thought he'd died there,’ Mr Hair said.

Mr Hair had sustained a shrapnel wound to his leg early on in the battle when a shell exploded nearby. Across the battlefield, Mr Maurer was shot through the eye. Neither knew the other’s fate. 

Mr Maurer was treated at the British General Hospital in Alexandria for three months before being transferred to the Australian Field Hospital. He was then transported home to Australia and discharged in October 1943, settling in Victoria.

Mr Hair remained in hospital for the rest of 1942 recovering, and moved to the Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital later that year, also settling in Victoria.

The men had arrived in Egypt in 1941 before being sent to Syria to join the 2/23rd Battalion, from the 9th Division, which included the famed ‘Rats of Tobruk’. The 2/23rd Battalion’s nickname, ‘Albury’s Own’, came from the high number of recruits who had joined from Albury and Wodonga.

From Syria, they were deployed straight to El Alamein in May 1941. Between July and November 1942 there were three battles for El Alamein, and Australians featured prominently in two of them. 

The decisive second battle of El Alamein began on 23 October 1942, with the Australian 9th Division playing a key role in the defeat of General Field Marshall Erwin Rommel’s forces.

Overall, the battles lasted for five months, and when the entire El Alamein campaign is considered – from July to November 1942 – Australia suffered 6,000 casualties out of a force of 15,000.

To mark the 75th anniversary of the battle, 23 El Alamein veterans visited Canberra to attend a reception in their honour on October 23.