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A Desert Rat

On the 80th anniversary of the battles of El Alamein, we celebrate the life of Major Bill Apsey MC (OP 1934-37)
27 Jun 2022
Written by John Sadden
OP updates
Men of the Rifle Brigade watch the destruction of a British supply dump (photo: public domain)
Men of the Rifle Brigade watch the destruction of a British supply dump (photo: public domain)

Bill Apsley joined Portsmouth Grammar School in 1934 and enjoyed playing cricket and football. He came first in the shot-putt on Sports Day, 1937. Three years later, in the midst of war, Bill joined the Rifle Brigade and was soon serving in the Eighth Army in the Western Desert. He took part in both battles of El Alamein and in the pursuit of the the German army – the Afrika Korps – up to Tunis, where his men were amongst the first to enter.

After the North African campaign, his battalion took part in the landings at Salerno, fighting in the Italian Campaign, repelling German counter-attacks. For his bravery during the attack on Cardito, Bill was awarded the Military Cross.

Soon, Bill’s battalion was back in England preparing for the D-Day landing on the Normandy beaches. His battalion landed on Gold Beach.  Later, at Villers-Bocage, his unit came under attack by enemy mortar fire and Bill was hit…

“I remember… my leg looked a mess, but no pain. Almost immediately I was on my back with my left arm useless. Damned mortars. You could never hear them coming. Somehow I crawled to the side of the road and was then conscious of a blow in the back. Suddenly, silence and Rifleman Jackson and others rushed over and put me in the back of a tank. A jab of morphia, swig of Scotch and I was on my way to the RAP.”

Bill was badly wounded and invalided out of the army.

“In the ambulance were two tank boys horrendously burnt, both died on the way back. My fighting war was over. After three years and three times wounded, I had against the odds survived. I still ask myself, why me?”

After the war, Bill studied law and became a company secretary. He died in 1999.

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