AT the age of 88, Karabar veteran Derek Holyoake will again be shipping out with the military next week to attend official commemorations marking the 70th anniversary of the North Africa campaign and the Battle of El Alamein.
Mr Holyoake will be one of 21 Australian veterans of World War II to attend the commemorative service, and is the only Navy man on the tour.He said he was very much looking forward to the trip, which stops for commemorative ceremonies at Dubai and El Alamein.
"It will be good doing the ceremonies at Dubai and at El Alamein. That will be great. I've never been to either of those places," he said.
Mr Holyoake was last in that neighbourhood back in 1941 aboard the HMAS Hobart, and remembers a steady stream of German air raids as the Hobart went about its mission of harassing the Italian navy in the Mediterranean and bombarding German troop placements as Australian carriers landed troops in North Africa.
"I've seen fireworks displays like you wouldn't believe," Mr Holyoake said.
"The Germans bombing raids were a nightly event, and then you had the anti-aircraft fire returning and it would light up the sky."
One particularly hairy moment came as the Hobart negotiated the narrow Suez Canal, which had been mined by the German navy.
"We didn't know what mines they'd used, whether they were audio sonic mines or what," he said.
"So whenever we neared a mine the word would go out to stop what you were doing and get to the top of the ship as far away from it as you could, and the ship would be in complete silence as we'd glide over the top of these mines," he said.
Temporary relief came when the Hobart made it through the Suez Canal into the calm, wide waters of the Great Bitter Lake.
"While we were waiting on orders to continue to the Mediterranean, the captain ordered all hands overboard and we went for a swim to relax for a bit before heading on," Mr Holyoake said.
The veterans' group will participate in a range of commemorative activities while overseas, including an Australian service at the 9th Division Memorial to honour lost mates, and services at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission El Alamein War Cemetery in Egypt with Allied counterparts they fought alongside 70 years ago.
The El Alamein War Cemetery contains the graves of 7240 Commonwealth burials of the Second World War, more than 1,000 of whom are Australians.