Warrnambool veterans commemorate World War II battle

WARRNAMBOOL war veterans Jack Bullen and Jack Caple are heading back to North Africa to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Battle of El Alamein. 

The duo leave today for a week-long trip to Egypt as part of a 19-man contingent to mark the success over German forces in North Africa.

Veterans’ Affairs Minister Warren Snowdon said the veteran representatives, aged between 88 and 95 years, come from all over Australia.

“This group represents the thousands of men and women who so bravely served in North Africa through some of the most ferocious fighting of the Second World War, including the decisive Battle of El Alamein from October 23 to November 4, 1942,” he said.

Mr Caple, 93, only this year sold his home in Warrnambool and moved to East Brighton to be closer to family. 

He served in the army’s 2/24th Battalion and was well-known in Warrnambool as the trouser production manager at Fletcher Jones.

Mr Bullen was a plumber’s assistant in Nhill before he enlisted in Horsham during July 1940.  Mr Bullen was initially told by the recruitment officer that he was too young, so he upped his age to 20 in order to enlist at just 18. 

Mr Bullen, 91, said those going on the trip had to survive a thorough medical examination before getting the all-clear to fly out.

He was confident of passing the exam and banked on his solid schedule of three rounds of golf a week as a solid base. Mr Bullen said he had known Mr Caple for 50 years and was delighted the pair would be able to make the trip together.

“We moved down to Warrnambool nine years ago and Jack and I got together again. We’ve been to Fiji, Vietnam, on a river cruise from Budapest to Amsterdam and later this year we’re going to New Zealand,” he said.

“This trip to Egypt will be ideal. I think I was born to be a VIP, I’m loving the treatment. There will be a doctor and a nurse and all up we’ll have 12 attendants, I can’t wait.” 

As a driver in the 9th Division Cavalry Regiment, Mr Bullen arrived in the Middle East in May 1941 and experienced battle for the first time a month later in Syria. 

His regiment supported troops of the 7th Division in the Syrian campaign and between July and November 1942, Mr Bullen served at El Alamein. It was not only the enemy that posed a threat in El Alamein, Mr Bullen also had a close encounter with poisonous snakes while sleeping in a trench one night. He was informed the next day that he had slept with three asps, which he had thrown out of the trench not realising they were poisonous. 

Mr Bullen left Egypt in January 1943. In April 1945, Mr Bullen again embarked for overseas service, this time with the 2/11th Australian Commando Squadron in British North Borneo. 

There will be official services on Friday and Saturday at El Alamein as well as battlefield tours.

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