James Owen of Penrhos

and his descendants

Killed in action

In August 1942, Winston Churchill made significant changes in the army high command to the Middle East. General Sir Harold Alexander became C-in-C and Lieutenant-General Bernard Montgomery was given command of the 8th Army. Alexander, on 19 August wrote urging Montgomery to prepare to attack the Axis forces to destroy them at the earliest possible moment. The two armies were in close contact on a front of nearly forty miles between the sea and the Quattara depression with both sides improving their positions and adding to the profusion of mines upporting their defences. Moonlight was essential for the start of the attack in order to be able to clear the minefields but Montgomery insisted that the September full moon period would be too soon, with all the preparations required, and he recommended 23 October for the attack.

Mike's battalion would have been involved as troops and armour as well as ammunition and supplies were moved into position in the period leading up to 23 October 1942. At 9.40 pm that day the Battle of El Alamein was heralded by an intense fifteen minute barrage, reminiscent of WWI, from Allied guns. As planned, the Recce Battalion spearheaded the attack, clearing mines.

There are various series about the Battle of El Alamein on Youtube though the actual addresses tend to change; at the time of writing there is a short overview here and a series of five programmes, the first of which begins here. Vivid footage illustrates what Mike would have experienced in the last few days of his life; he was killed on 26 October.

The battle had been in progress for two days and nights when, on the night of 25/26 October, the 9th Division made the first of three attacks that would create the conditions for victory at El Alamein. Much of the fighting took place in an area of almost uninterrupted flat plain and casualties were heavy. One of those killed was Mike. The battle of El Alamein would end in victory on 5 November, the significance of which was noted by Churchill: Before Alamein we never had a victory. After Alamein we never had a defeat. Mike was twenty-five when he died. He is buried in El Alamein War Cemetery [XXIX. B. 23]. His widow, Angelina, never remarried and she died, childless, in 2002 [Bristol Apr 2002]. Mike is survived by his daughter. The poem El Alamein, which I first encountered many years ago, now has an added significance.