A 99-year-old Second World War veteran dubbed “the luckiest man in the desert” after surviving being blown up and shot has described seeing the faces of his dead pals every day.

Les Cherrington was a young man when he and his comrades advanced in their Sherman tank towards a line of German guns and Panzers during the North Africa campaign, in 1943.

Their tank took a direct hit from an 88mm field gun and immediately burned up, killing Mr Cherrington’s friends. Knocked unconscious by the blast, he awoke inside the tank amid blinding, acrid smoke, with his left arm nearly severed by shrapnel.

Describing his escape from the wreck, he said: “I looked up and I could see daylight through the (tank’s) porthole.

“So I dragged myself up and out, with one arm. I then slid on my belly, down the front of the tank, and as I did I was hit in the back by three bullets from a machine gun.”

Mr Cherrington, originally from Albrighton, Staffordshire, rolled into a nearby slit trench and sat there drifting in and out of consciousness.

He described nearly bleeding to death during the long, cold night in the desert, watching the blood from his wounds soak into the dust around him.

The former postman and Ministry of Defence police officer said: “I felt myself going in that trench, with all the blood running out”.

Les Cherrington, a 99-year-old veteran of the Second World WarLes Cherrington, a 99-year-old veteran of the Second World War (Aaron Chown/PA)

But the next morning Mr Cherrington – badly burned on his face, hands and body and half-blinded by the cordite in the high-explosive shell – was awoken by an Allied soldier.

However, he was initially mistaken as among the dead when the New Zealander came across him in the trench.

He said: “Somebody poked me with a long-handled spade. It roused me – and I shouted ‘water!’ And I remember, the bloke shouted ‘golly – this bloke’s still alive!’

“They held me up, gave me a syringe, and that knocked me out. I woke up five days later in hospital in Tripoli. I was in plaster from my head down to my waist, with a gap for my mouth so they could feed me.”

Speaking of the friends he lost, he said: “I remember their young faces every day. I think more of the mates I lost and their families, than I do myself.”