With the sandy soil of Breckland beneath my feet I walked the Desert Rats trail in ThetfordForest.
The 7th Armoured Division, who had earned their nickname in the sands of North Africa, had been stationed here in the months leading up to D. Day in 1944.
There is a Cromwell Tank beside the A1065 between Mundford and Swaffham which is a war memorial to their dead and marks the beginning of
A way-marked path with interpretation boards leads visitors around the site of the former camp and tells the history of the famous fighting force. I made the easy 2 mile walk in reflective mood. It was, you could say, an act of remembrance. I am a war baby and my father had served alongside the Desert Rats in North Africa. By way of coincidence my son is serving with the 7th Armoured Brigade today, providing boots on the (sandy) ground in Afghanistan.
The sounds of military aircraft overhead and the crump of demolition charges from the Training Area were sufficient reminders that wars and rumours of war have not gone away. As I walked my heart was full with prayers for my loved ones but mostly for those who suffer through war. “When will they ever learn? ” asked Joan Baez in the words of a song that repeated inside my head and I pondered “Is war ever the right option ?” I find my answer in the memory of another walk.
The Desert Rats ended the war in a former German Army base on Luneburg Heath. That is where the 7th Armoured Brigade is still based. When I visited in the summer, I found the barracks are equidistant from the railhead and the camps at Bergen-Belsen. A walk around Belsen site with its mass graves and memorials is a sobering experience. Strangely it is the same sort of forested sandy heath land as the Norfolk’s Brecks
To help one’s remembrance the site has a documentation centre in which the lives tens thousand, out of the hundred thousands who perished , are recorded and displayed along with filmed interviews of survivors and photo documentation from every period of the camps history. I think it was the beautifully kept toilets in the documentation centre that gave most pause for thought. When one contrasted their spotless cleanliness with the degradation that so many had to endure in the past the mind boggled.