World War II veterans and delegates from former foes gathered Saturday in the Egyptian town of El-Alamein to mark 70 years since the decisive battle that sealed the Allied victory in North Africa.
Many on wheelchairs or using walking sticks, the veterans -- most now in their 90s -- wandered the cemeteries where their comrades were buried, handkerchiefs in hand as emotions welled.
With so few surviving World War II veterans, the ceremony could be the last of its kind.
“I already came for the 50th and 60th anniversaries. When you walk here between the graves of these young fellows, when you see names that you knew, you feel sad,” said Joe Madeley, an Australian veteran who also fought in the Libyan town of Tobruk 70 years ago.
The international commemoration, organized by Britain, was held in the Commonwealth cemetery in the Mediterranean town, where more than 7,000 soldiers from the member countries have been buried, as well as around 100 soldiers of other nationalities.
“Together we celebrate all that has been achieved since those days through cooperation with people across the world, especially our reconciliation and friendship with former enemies,” Reverend Mike Parker of Cairo's All Saints Cathedral told attendants.
Dignitaries included New Zealand’s defense minister, Jonathan Coleman, and Gianfranco Fini, president of the Italian chamber of deputies.
Other countries were represented by their ministers for veterans’ affairs.
Separate national ceremonies were also held on the site of the battle, notably at the Italian cemetery where some 5,200 soldiers are buried and the German cemetery, the final resting place for 4,200 German soldiers.
The battle of El-Alamein -- which began on October 23, 1942 -- saw British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery’s forces fight the Afrika Korps of Germany’s Erwin Rommel.
The defeat of the German and Italian forces put an end to Hitler and Mussolini's ambitions to take over the port of Alexandria on the Mediterranean and the Suez Canal.
The battle was a major turning point in the war, halting the advance of the Axis in North Africa before the final victory a year later.