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Peacehaven tank commander celebrates 100th birthday
4:40am Wednesday 22nd January 2014 in News
A former tank commander has celebrated his 100th birthday at his Peacehaven home.
Henry Brettell was part of the General Montgomery’s Desert Rats who drove back German forces in North Africa.
Mr Brettell put his longevity down to eating plenty of fruit and cycling up and over Devil’s Dyke well into his 90s.
He said: “Clean living, that’s what it’s down to. I’ve never smoked and always looked after myself. I used to eat a lot of fruit while I was in the desert during the war. I also did a lot of walking on the Downs as well as cycling.”
Henry Brettell, also known as Harry to his friends, was born in South Shields, in 1914.
Keen to join the services, he lied about his age and signed up to the 8th Armoured Division in the early 1930s.
He found himself in North Africa prior to the start of the war and met his first wife, a Greek woman, out there.
With the outbreak of war, he joined up with Montgomery’s army in the desert as they looked to push back Rommel’s forces.
While driving his crew towards Nazi lines during the battle of El Alamein – largely considered the turning point of the war – his tank was hit by a large shell. Being the driver, and the lowest down in the vehicle, his legs were crushed and he was badly burnt.
But that wasn’t the end of his war. Following a short period in hospital he was back in his tank battling through Italy.
With the Axis on the verge of defeat he found himself in France and was put in charge of transporting important Nazi prisoners to the Americans.
His daughter, Mary Brettell, 74, said: “The war had a huge impact on him as it did for many men of his generation.
“He is a very proud man and something of a war hero in my eyes”.
After being de-mobbed in 1946, he met a Sussex girl and moved to Hangleton in Hove.
He retrained as a painter and decorator and worked for various different employers across Brighton and Hove and Sussex until his retirement.
Mrs Brettell added: “He was always very active. He loves nature and used to love walking on the Downs.
“It was worse than being a dog sometimes, he would drag me out on these long walks to Hassocks and back.
“He was also a keen cyclist and used to go out on his bike over Devil’s Dyke up until he was 96.” She added: “He lived on his own and looked after himself right up until last year. He’s a real hero.”
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