The British Army, which had finally been able to confront Rommel and turn him, had been on the move since October. Now having driven the German forces out of Libya there was a pause for many of the units as they re-equipped. There was time for a formal celebration for the men who had taken part in what was now recognised as a major victory from which the Axis forces in Africa could not recover. At home Britain had celebrated the victory at El Alamein with the ringing of church bells in November – church bells that had not rung since the threat of invasion had begun in 1940. Now there was time for a Victory parade in Tripoli.
The Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Sir Alan Brooke, accompanying Churchill was amongst those who recorded the event in his diary.
At 9.30 am we all assembled and started off by car for Tripoli. It was most interesting seeing the place for the tirst time. The streets and housetops were lined with sentries, who held back the local inhabitants. When we arrived on the main square and sea front we found there the bulk of the 51″ Division formed up on the sea front and main square.
The last time we had seen them was near Ismailia just after their arrival in the Middle East. Then they were still pink and white, now they were bronzed warriors of many battles and of a victorious advance. I have seldom seen a finer body of men or one that looked prouder of being soldiers.
We drove slowly round the line and then came back with the men cheering him all the way. We then took up our position on a prepared stand and the whole Division marched past with a bagpipe band playing. It was quite one of the most impressive sights I have ever seen.
The whole Division was most beautifully tumed out, and might have been in barracks for the last 3 months instead of having marched some 1200 miles and fought many battles during the same period.
After the review we drove out into the country to see some of the Corps troops, Medium Artillery, Field Artillery, Anti Tank, Engineers, etc. In many places the native population cheered and clapped their hands as we went by.
Oliver Leese, the Corps Commander, gave us a most excellent open air lunch after which we examined the various types of mines used by the enemy and the ways of defeating them.
From there we went to the New Zealand Div which was formed up complete on parade, with Bernard Freyberg at its head! He gave a General Salute by microphone and loud speaker which was admirably carried out.
We then drove round the parade and finally the whole Division marched past. We then had some tea and drove to Castel Benito aerodrome for the PM to visit the Air Force.
From there down to the harbour where we did a complete tour of the harbour in a launch and visited the blockships which they are busy clearing. They had just succeeded in bringing in a 2,900 ton ship, the first to get through.
We finished up the harbour by seeing the destruction of the wharfs and quays carried out by Germans and the work we are doing to put it right. The Germans did a very thorough job of it and a great deal of work is required
Alan Brooke: War Diaries
Charles Richardson was one of the soldiers present who heard Winston Churchill address them at the conclusion of the parade:
Mr Churchill addressed us. It was a wonderful impromptu speech :
‘In days to come, when asked by those at home what part you played in this war, it will be with pride in your hearts that you can reply : I marched with the Eighth Arrny.’ He finished: ‘And, remember, you nightly pitch your moving tents a day’s march nearer home.’
There was hardly a dry eye : mine was not one of them.
See General Sir Charles Richardson: Flashback, a soldiers story
Contemporary footage of RAF planes strafing the retreating enemy: