Below is the text of Mr Major’s speech, held at a veterans reunion in Alexandria on Saturday 24th October 1992.
There are moments in life when you get some very pleasant surprises and being invited to speak to you just now is one such moment but it is, if I may say so, a very pleasant surprise.
The first thing I would like to say this evening is to welcome you all here today and say that I believe meeting many of you I can begin to understand how you will feel about the ceremony tomorrow. I can tell you how I feel about it if I may: at the time of the great battle of Alamein, I wasn’t born but had it not been for the people who fought at Alamein and won at Alamein, I wouldn’t be standing here tonight as Prime Minister of a free country speaking to all of you and that is how I feel about that battle. [Applause].
It will, I know, tomorrow be a very emotional moment for many people. I don’t think they should be concerned about their emotion. I believe they have every right to look back on what happened at that time with fond memories and with pride at what they achieved.
Wherever you look back in the whole catalogue of what has been achieved in British history, wherever you look through the battles – whether you start at Agincourt or start before that and come beyond that – in that long catalogue of great battles that form part of our history and left us a free nation, there is no doubt that El Alamein is a battle that deserves to be on that list and will always remain on that list. [Applause].
It will be a unique occasion tomorrow. Fifty years on for many people who actually lived through what that desert war was like. I asked one of them a few moments ago whether at the time he realised quite what he and his colleagues were achieving and he said, no, he didn’t realise what he was achieving but he did know that there was a very special atmosphere at that time, that there was a feeling that this was a battle that we couldn’t afford to lose and that if we did win it, it would make a significant difference. We now know that that instinct from someone I spoke to a moment ago who was a sapper at that time was absolutely right; it was the hinge that swung from a time of defeat and a time of misery to a time of victory and a time of ensuring that we had a free Europe thereafter.
I can find no words – and I think perhaps no-one living can – to actually paint the picture of what it must have been like at that time in realising what that battle would mean for the future. All I can to say to those of you who are here today is when you look back on what happened so many years ago, you may think it is fifty years ago and will people remember it fifty years on? I think I would say to you that in this country they will remember that battle five hundred years on and the part that was played in it by so many brave men from so many different countries in such a remarkable and glorious cause.
Tonight perhaps is a night for memories and not for speeches. The simplest and perhaps the plainest thing that one can say is simply to say on behalf of my generation and subsequent generations “Thank you” to those of you who fought there, perhaps particularly to those of you who fought there and who aren’t here today because they gave their lives on that occasion or who have not lived to see this remarkable fiftieth anniversary. Truly it can be said of those people: “They will not be forgotten! They deserve to be remembered and they always will be!”
Enjoy tomorrow! You deserve it! [Applause].