Train at El Alamein station

Men in uniform standing on and beside train engine and carriages.

The first train to enter El Alamein following the British 8th Army's breakthrough in October 1942 was crewed by New Zealand engineers. In this photograph, the train engine is taking on water at El Alamein station.

These men belonged to the New Zealand railway units that made a major contribution to the North African campaign by surveying, building, maintaining and operating railways in Egypt; some also spent time in Syria, Iraq and Persia. By the end of 1940 there were seven railway units in Egypt, largely made up of experienced New Zealand railwaymen: a construction and maintenance HQ, two construction companies, a railway operating group HQ, two operating companies and a railway survey company.

Their main contrbution to the campaign was the extension and operation of the Western Desert railway, which by early 1942 had been pushed 440 kms westwards from Matruh. The New Zealand crews on this line faced the dangers of operating at night with no lights and no signals, enduring sandstorms and enemy air attacks. From January 1943 the New Zealanders helped maintain railway connections stretching from Beirut to Tripoli, but with the desert campaign over their units were disbanded later than year.

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