Unlucky break keeps veteran from returning to El Alamein

World War 2 veteran Colin Rutherford at Montecillo Veterans Home and Hospital yesterday. Photo by...
World War 2 veteran Colin Rutherford at Montecillo Veterans Home and Hospital yesterday. Photo by Craig Baxter.
A Dunedin war veteran is disappointed a broken bone will stop him returning to the battlefields of El Alamein, and the chance to recall a close encounter with a landmine.

"That's life, I suppose," a philosophical Colin Rutherford (93) said yesterday while nursing a broken left shoulder at Montecillo Veterans Home and Hospital.

"I lost my balance and I am afraid a tarsealed road does not have any give."

That unlucky break last week means, following a medical ruling, he can no longer attend commemorations in Egypt to mark the 70th anniversary of El Alamein on October 19.

He had been looking forward to the trip, as he had little recollection of the actual battle.

"My memories of it are a bit vague. I got blown out of a jeep when it hit a mine at night."

Mr Rutherford credits an order to place sandbags on the floor of the jeep with saving his legs - and his life.

"There wasn't much of the jeep left ... and I was standing by it."

He served with the 8th Field Engineers who fought in North Africa and Italy, and attended the 60th anniversary commemorations of Cassino in 2004.

Veterans' Affairs general manager Rick Ottaway said he acknowledged Mr Rutherford's disappointment at not being able to attend.

To be part of the delegation, North African campaign veterans had to meet medical criteria to ensure they were well enough to travel and participate fully in events.

While initially assessed as medically fit to travel, his fall meant he required one-on-one care during the trip.

"With the number of veterans travelling in the delegation and the difficult environment in Egypt, unfortunately this type of care is not practical," Mr Ottaway said.

The Government was fully funding all eligible WW2 veterans to attend a designated major overseas WW2 70th anniversary commemoration linked to their overseas travel, which he could apply for, he said.

Mr Rutherford would also be invited to a New Zealand ceremony to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Battle of El Alamein.

Despite the setback, Mr Rutherford said he would continue to lead an active life because "if you are doing something, you always have a chance of seeing another year".

hamish.mcneilly@odt.co.nz

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