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‘I thought he’d died there ...’
Remembering all who
have served our nation
Joyful reunion at 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, each believing the
other had been killed.
Reunited at an event in
Canberra marking the 75th anni-
versary of the battle, the pair, who
served in Syria, recognised each
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
Until the moment they laid eyes
on each other again for the first
time in three-quarters of a cen-
tury, 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 shrap-
nel 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 Alexan-
dria 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 and moved to
the Heidelberg Repatriation Hos-
pital later that year, also settling
The men had arrived in Egypt
in 1941 before being sent to Syria
to join the 2/23rd Battalion, of 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 Octo-
ber 1942, with the Australian 9th
Division playing a key role in the
defeat of General Field Marshal
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 recep-
tion in their honour on 23 October.
Minister for Veterans’ Affairs
Dan Tehan was on hand to wel-
‘It is an honour to host some
of the veterans of the Battle of El
Alamein,’ Mr Tehan said.
‘They remind us that today we
are not glorifying war or fighting,
we are celebrating the human
spirit and the service and sacrifice
of the Australians who defended
Second World War veteran
Edward Fleming, 92, had to
leave this year’s Remembrance
Day service at the Australian
War Memorial before it came to
a close to head to work.
Fortunately, given he uses
a stick to walk these days, he
didn’t have far to travel.
Dr Fleming is a volunteer in
the Online Gallery within the
Memorial’s research area, where
visitors come to look into the
military service of family mem-
bers. He works at the Memorial
on Thursdays and at weekends.
‘It’s a great way to interact
with the public,’ Dr Fleming
‘And gets you out of the
home, sitting there by yourself
The engaging Dr Fleming first
a pilot with Bomber Command,
in Lancaster aircraft.
He’s lived in Canberra for the
past 50 years and has attended
most Remembrance Day cer-
emonies in that time.
‘Certainly the last 14 or so,’ he
Asked why he felt it impor-
tant to attend the ceremony,
which is held at 10.30am on 11
November each year and fea-
tures at its heart the playing of
the Last Post followed by One
Minute’s Silence, the veteran
said it was about having served.
‘My crew has all passed away,
just through illness and age of
course ... and just out of respect
for former colleagues who also
served,’ Dr Fleming said.
‘I lost about five or six quite
good friends due to service [in
the Second World War].’
The young pilot returned
from the war and studied
‘In the Vietnam War, I was on
the Air Force Reserve, and did
medivacs up to Vietnam and
worked at Butterworth,’ he said.
The 92-year-old noted his 93rd
birthday was coming up in the
same breath as telling Vetaffairs
about a recent trip to England
for a squadron reunion.
‘I had two of my children with
me and they saw the Lancaster
flying, heard it flying ... that was
a great experience,’ he said.
It wasn’t a reunion that
involved catching up with old
‘Most of us who served in
England were seconded to the
RAF, so there would be just
two or three Australians on this
squadron, a crew on another
squadron ... we were scattered
all over England.
‘Of course, with the passage
of time, there are not very many
Hundreds of Canberrans and
visitors from interstate and
around the world joined Dr
Fleming in marking the 99th
anniversary of the Armistice by
attending the 2017 National Cer-
emony for Remembrance Day.
It was a day for contemplation and
reflection. AWM2017.4.296.3 and 4.295.17
Wing Commander Jonathan Lilley plays the didgeridoo. AWM2017.4.295.110
Edward Fleming leaves the
Remembrance Day service to head to
work inside the War Memorial.
REGISTER NOW FOR 2018 OVERSEAS COMMEMORATIONS
As many Australians start to plan overseas trips for 2018, the Department of
Veterans’ Affairs is encouraging those planning on attending international
commemorative services to register early.
As the Anzac Centenary 2014–2018 commemorative period draws to a close, four
overseas commemorations will be held:
• Anzac Day Commemorations in Turkey (25 April 2018)
• Anzac Day Commemorations in France — marking the Centenary of the Battle of
Villers-Bretonneux (25 April 2018)
• Centenary of the Battle of Hamel in France (4 July 2018)
• Centenary of the First World War Armistice in France (11 November 2018).
Registration to attend overseas commemorations is now open and passes are
provided at no cost. Details on how to register are available on DVA’s website at
Highlights included play-
ing of the didgeridoo by Wing
Commander Jonathan Lilley,
Air Force Senior Indigenous
Liaison Officer and member of
the Worimi people; Australia’s
Federation Guard and the Band
of the Royal Military College,
Duntroon; a commemorative
address by Senator Mathias Cor-
mann; and the laying of wreaths
by dignitaries and school
John Hair and Frederick Maurer were reunited 75 years after their last meeting.
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