This month’s Object of the Month was chosen by one of our members of staff as his favourite object in the Museum: the Alamein stick.
At first glance an ordinary piece of a camel thorn branch, this unassuming bit of wood was carried by a Black Watch officer through every attack he participated in between the 2nd Battle of El Alamein on 23 October 1942 and the taking of Tunis in May 1943. Lieutenant Colonel William Noel Roper-Caldbeck was in command of the 1st Battalion The Black Watch when he found the stick on the start line at Alamein. Lt Col Roper-Caldbeck carried the stick throughout the North Africa Campaign.
The 1st, 2nd, 5th (Angus) and 7th (Fife) Battalions The Black Watch fought in North Africa during the Second World War. After the capture of the original 51st (Highland Division) at St Valéry, a new 51st (Highland) Division was formed, which included the 1st, 5th and 7th Battalions. The Division was deployed to North Africa in the summer of 1942. Morale was low that summer after Tobruk had been taken by the Italo-German forces commanded by General Rommel, and British power in North Africa was on the verge of collapse. However, after Montgomery took command of the British Eighth Army, the tide turned and the British won a decisive victory at the battle of El Alamein in October that year (where Lt Col Roper-Caldbeck picked up this stick!). The fighting in North Africa continued from that battle with the Allies advancing towards Tripoli, which fell on 4 February, and onwards towards Tunis which fell on 11 May. The fall of Tunis marked the end of fighting in the North Africa theatre of war.
William Roper-Caldbeck retired from the Army in October 1953 as a Brigadier. He donated the stick, along with several other items, to The Black Watch Museum several years before his death in July 1965.