HE was one of the Desert Rats - the British armoured division which helped secure victory over the Axis powers in North Africa while the Second World War raged.

But, just a few weeks after his bravery was celebrated on the 75th anniversary of VE Day, Jimmy Sinclair, from Kirkcaldy, has died at the age of 107.

Tributes have poured in for the Fifer, who was born in 1912 and has been described as “one of the most important voices” heard during the recent commemorations. 

A widowed father of two and grandfather of three, he received regular letters and photographs from Camilla, Duchess of Rothesay, whose own father was a member of Britain’s 7th Armoured Division.

With the Nazis enjoying a stranglehold on most of Europe, the division, nicknamed the Desert Rats, was instrumental to Allied success in Egypt and Libya during the North African Campaign between 1940 and 1943.

It also saw action on the beaches of Normandy as the D-Day landings took place.

Mr Sinclair did not shy away from what he had experienced and spoke with particular vividness about the Siege of Tobruk, which lasted for 241 days.

“My mate from Falkland got killed,” he said.

“We were under fire from German 88s. We were firing 25 pounders – and it lasted a long time.

“We continually came under heavy fire from Stukas.

“They came over every day at dinner time, but they got shot down because they were that slow at taking off.”

He added: “It’s a pity that it all happened. We didn’t treat the Germans as enemies. They were combatants in battle and most of them didn’t want to be there either.”

Mr Sinclair was brought up in Giffordtown, near Ladybank, having been taken in by his grandparents when his mother died just a month after giving birth.

Leaving school to become a slater, he joined the Territorial Army and served with the Newburgh platoon of the Black Watch from 1931 to 1934.

When the Second World War broke out, not long after he was married to his late wife, Elizabeth, he joined the Royal Artillery in Perth and was sent to the south of England to train with the Royal Horse Artillery.

An outstanding soldier, he was awarded medals for his role in the Siege of Tobruk, the battle of El Alamein and the assaults on Monte Cassino in Italy.

His four years in the desert began when he found himself among 3,000 troops aboard the requisitioned liner Britannic and later endured a six-week voyage from Liverpool to Cairo, via Sierra Leone and Cape Town.

Speaking later about the experience, Mr Sinclair explained why he and his comrades became known as the Desert Rats.

“One day, we were in the NAAFI [Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes] and were living in a sandbank dug-out and I put a piece of chocolate in the palm of my hand and showed it to my mate,” he said.

“I said, ‘Come and see this’. And then, a rat came out between the sand bags and took the chocolate and went back in. There was a real desert rat on the palm of my hand. Then, on another occasion, I woke up to find a rat chewing my ear!”

Two years later, after he had been re-deployed to Monte Cassino, he was badly burned and spent eight weeks in hospital.

After the war, Mr Sinclair, who also played trombone in an acclaimed brass band in Fife, served with the Control Commission in Berlin.

Paying tribute, Mark Bibbey, chief executive of Poppyscotland, and Dr Claire Armstrong, his counterpart at Legion Scotland, said: “It is with great sadness we learned... of the passing of Jimmy Sinclair, who fought against Rommel in the north African desert as a gunner with the elite Chestnut Troop, 1st Regiment Horse Artillery, of the 7th Armoured Division.

“We are blessed that so many were able to hear Jimmy’s incredible story over the years and it was no surprise that he received numerous commendations for his service during the Second World War and with the Allied Control Commission in Berlin.

“His was one of the most important voices that were heard as the country celebrated VE Day just a few short weeks ago.”

They added: “We wish to send our sincere condolences to Jimmy’s family at this time, along with his legion of friends and followers. There is no better way to sum up this wonderful man than highlighting that he refused to wear his medals, out of solidarity for those he served with that were lost.”