Ordered to ‘fight to the last man and the last round’, they stuck to their guns as their comrades fell around them.
For three days, the brave band of Desert Rats suffered relentless Panzer attacks and mounting casualties as they held the line in North Africa from Rommel’s advancing tanks.
Their heroism during one of the bloodiest battles of the Second World War was later immortalised on canvas.
Now the only surviving ‘Tommy’ depicted in the painting, 93-year-old Ray Ellis, has told of the ‘miracle’ that saved his life.
The helmeted gunner in the foreground of the artwork, he is shown fighting to the end as the bodies of his brothers in arms from the 426th Battery of the South Nottinghamshire Hussars lie all around.
In an emotional moment to be shown on BBC1’s Antiques Roadshow tomorrow, the former sergeant points to the dramatic painting and says: ‘I am that man. I fired the last round.’
Describing the events of the last day of the battle on June 6, 1942, Mr Ellis told how he remained at his 25-pounder gun and witnessed the death of the shirtless comrade beside him.
He said: ‘My regiment had been given the order to fight to the last man and the last round and not to retire, and this painting shows our position after a long day’s battle.