Rutland’s Military Veteran…
This month Pride’s Carissa Smith meets a grand old gentleman whose achievements have been celebrated with a very special reunion to celebrate Collyweston man Wilf’s 101st birthday last month…
Words: Carissa Smith. Image: Dean Fisher.
He’s the Desert Rat. Apparently a rat with nine lives, but this month Rutland’s Wilf Hamit, former Desert Rat, celebrated his birthday with a visit from his old colleagues. The D-Day veteran is receiving support from Rutland’s County Council, who marked a recent landmark by organising a special reunion between the veteran and his iconic former regiment, which is currently based at Kendrew Barracks.
Last month saw the 101st birthday of Wilf, a Second World War hero of the British Army’s 7th Armoured Division, rather better known as The Desert Rats. When deciding what to do to celebrate this occasion, Rutland Care Village alongside Rutland County Council decided to organise a meeting between the D-Day veteran and serving officers from the modern-day regiment, where Wilf served in a driving and mechanic’s role, driving all sorts of army transport vehicles. Pride spoke to Wilf’s daughter Barbara Whitworth to chat about this special reunion and to find out more about the veteran’s time with his old chums.
Wilf Hamit was born on the 16th October 1918. He grew up in Collyweston with his father and his four siblings. Wilf had a tough childhood and lost his mother at the age of 11. At the age of 21 Wilf joined the war like many youngsters, believing the war to be noble, and anticipating a brief skirmish.
Wilf was in active service for six years and served in Germany, France, Italy and North Africa. Wilf served as part of the 8th Army’s 7th Armoured Division. He was in Mechanical Transport and served under Field Marshal Montgomery. Wilf was also awarded several military medals and decorations to mark his military heroism.
The distinguished 7th Armoured Division, gained its nickname from its exploits in the Western Desert Campaign. From 1944 onwards the shoulder sleeve insignia of the 7th Armoured Division is the Jerboa, a desert rat.
The Desert Rats, led by General Allen Francis Harding, were especially noted for a hard-fought three-month campaign against the more-experienced German Afrika Korps, led by Erwin Rommel, known as The Desert Fox.
“The Division was disbanded in 1947 but reformed two years later to serve with the British Army on the Rhine (BAOR) before being disbanded for good in 1958,” says military expert Tom Whitehead.
“However, the 7th Armoured Brigade, which had originally been the Light Armoured Brigade of the 1938 Mobile Division, and also used the jerboa as its emblem and so they adopted the nickname to ensure the legacy of the Desert Rats lived on.”
“The Brigade also served with the BAOR as part of the British 1st Armoured Division and would later help liberate Kuwait in the first Gulf War with Iraq in 1990.”
In 2003, it was back in Iraq to play a key role in the second Gulf War and was part of the British force that stormed the southern city of Basra, wresting control from Saddam Hussein’s forces. Barbara describes her dad as a cat (rat?) with nine lives as he survived six years in the army including the D- Day landings at Arromanches Beach and the horrendous battle of El Alamein, according to Barbara.
“Dad doesn’t speak too much about his time in the army apart from that he has seen some awful things. However, we know he did his duty and he is proud.”
“He was shot a few times – I think he said in the leg – and was also machine gunned down a few times too.”
“He did tell me snippets of information and I remember him telling me he was part of 40 minutes of gunfire in El Alamein which is why he is so deaf now.”
“There is one story I will always remember too. Dad told me he was driving though the desert as part of a mission and they stopped to have a cup of tea but within minutes were machine gunned down. Dad and one other soldier were the only survivors.”
After the war Wilf married Barbara’s mother, Joyce. Wilf worked as a builder with his brother Ray, his other brother, Marcus was killed in active service with the army in Tunisia.
Prior to moving into Rutland Care Village in June 2019, Wilf had lived in Ketton for 40 years and had been receiving support from Adult Social Care services to maintain his independence. He eventually made the decision to move in to residential care as he felt that he was becoming isolated and wanted to be somewhere with more people around him.
“Dad has always been a strong and active man. He was even driving until the age of 92 and never had an accident in his life.He also built my fishpond at the grand old age of 86!”
One of the core aims of Rutland’s Adult Social Care services is to provide personalised support for its residents. From speaking to Wilf and his family the care staff at Rutland Care Village knew Wilf was incredibly proud of his military career and his service in the Desert Rats who are based at Kendrew Barracks in Cottesmore.
The team had the idea of reconnecting Wilf with his former regiment as a way to recognise his important contribution to our military service.
“When the ladies who look after dad first suggested the visit, I did think it would be nice. He’s got a lot of stories to tell and I hoped people would be interested.”
After careful planning, on Friday the 26th July Wilf was met by Lieutenant Colonel Andy McCombe, Joint Regional Liaison Officer for 7th Infantry Brigade and Headquarters East. Lieutenant Colonel Andy McCombe spoke to Wilf about his service memorabilia and swapped stories. Barbara had kept some memorabilia including his medals, his brass cap and driving licence. Lt Col McCombe said: “It has been a great privilege to meet Wilf. He is one of a group of extraordinary people that played a pivotal part in World War Two. They’re our forefathers who laid the foundations for today’s modern-day infantryman – who continue to serve all over the world, with the same commitment and professionalism. I’ve got a copy of his memoirs that I’m looking forward to reading and sharing with the younger members of the regiment.”
The day had been very special for Wilf and his family. Barbara tell us: “This has been a really special day for dad. It’s not easy for him because of his sight and his hearing but I know he was touched, despite being a little bit overwhelmed.”