Allan Walsh, a Cumbrian Desert Rat who was once within touching distance of Field Marshall Erwin Rommel, died at the age of 96.
Trooper Walsh had been wounded in the opening salvo of the battle of Sidi Rizegh on November 21, 1941. Gunner for the squadron leader Major Ralph Younger, his close pal Trooper David Crone was killed instantly as a German shell tore into the tank.
Both Trooper Walsh and wireless operator Paddy Doyle were wounded, while Major Younger was virtually unscathed but all three were able to scramble out.
After some time Trooper Walsh was picked up by the Red Cross but they were lost for a while in a sand storm before reaching a field hospital. Wounded soldiers – British, German and Italian – were all being treated in the field hospital and that’s why Trooper Walsh got close to Rommel.
In his own words: “One day the tent flaps opened and this man swept in and made straight to the bed next to me. It was a German soldier and the visitor spent a good ten to fifteen minutes with him. I could have leaned from my bed and touched him”.
“It was later when we were told the visitor had been none other than Erwin Rommel. The soldier he talked to had once been his driver.”
After treatment in a Cairo hospital, Trooper Walsh was eventually flown to another hospital in South Africa – his war over. He came home in September 1942, travelling back on a captured Italian liner which was carrying a cargo of oranges back to Britain. After two months he was discharged because his wounds made him “permanently unfit for any form of military service.”
Allan had signed up for the Cavalry of the Line in June 1936 – claiming to be older than he was at the time of 17 years and 9 months. His love of horses had drawn him to the cavalry. He had ridden since he was eight years old, going with half a dozen other lads in a pig cart along the coast from Maryport to Silloth and then riding horses back home.
The horses had been shipped over from the Isle of Man and collected by a local farmer. He supplied a horse-drawn hearse for funerals and the animals were very often jet black.
So when he decided to join the army it was inevitable that he enlisted for the Cavalry of the Line, joining the 5th Enniskillen Dragoon Guards and based in Colchester. It wasn’t long before he was involved with the regimental polo team, travelling over to Le Touquet for tournaments. He was held in high regard by the commanding officer for his care of the polo ponies so when he asked for a transfer to the 7th Hussars he tried to persuade him to stay.
But Allan had decided to move on as the Enniskillen were being mechanised and he wanted to stay with the horses. The transfer was granted and he was posted to Egypt with the Seventh but not long afterwards they too were mechanised.
After leaving the Army he married farmer’s daughter Sarah Holliday and joined West Cumberland Farmers as a travelling representative around the farms of Lakeland.
He was employed with the same firm for over 40 years and was married to Sarah for over 60. His care and devotion to his wife, who was latterly blind and wheel-chair bound, was like his army service – exemplary.
There is one final postscript to the Battle of Sidi Rezegh – a reunion of old comrades. Son John tracked down Paddy Doyle, who had also crawled out of the stricken tank on November 21, 1941, and 69 years after that fateful day they exchanged words for the first time.
The initial telephone call lasted over an hour and afterwards, they were regularly in touch. Paddy also put Allan in touch with another old comrade, Bill Canti who had also survived that battle in the Libyan desert.
Trooper Walsh died in Workington Community Hospital on New Year’s Day, 2015 aged 96.