IN MEM­ORY OF OUR WORLD WAR VET­ER­ANS

Countryman - - FRONT PAGE - Trevor Pad­den­burg

He’s about to turn 100 and is one of the last sur­viv­ing World War II vet­er­ans known as the “Rats of To­bruk” — but don’t tell JJ Wade he needs a walk­ing stick or shouldn’t drive a car any more.

“They tried to give me a walk­ing stick but I don’t need one,” said Mr Wade, who be­comes a cen­te­nar­ian on Novem­ber 20.

He is one of the few men still stand­ing from the 2/28th Bat­tal­ion, part of Aus­tralia’s leg­endary 9th Divi­sion dubbed the Rats of To­bruk. “I was driv­ing right up un­til April this year but I could still be driv­ing,” Mr Wade said.

Mr Wade lives in Wat­tleup, south of Perth, in his own house on a 4.2ha prop­erty owned by his son, Jim. He bought a new car aged 95 and feels the same way about re­tire­ment homes as he does about walk­ing sticks.

“Not for me. Don’t need one,” he said with a laugh.

Mr Wade reg­u­larly meets a hand­ful of vet­er­ans as pres­i­dent of the 2/28th Bat­tal­ion and 24th An­tiTank Com­pany associations, and he even trav­elled to Can­berra last week for the an­niver­sary of the El Alamein cam­paign.

While age has not dimmed his spirit or his sense of hu­mour, Mr Wade, who served in North Africa and also New Guinea in World War II, said Satur­day would be a som­bre day when he paused to re­mem­ber his fallen mates on Re­mem­brance Day.

“It’s the luck of the draw, isn’t it?” he said. “Sur­viv­ing war is like Lotto. You buy a Lotto ticket and hope for the best. I was luck­ier than a lot of oth­ers.”

The son of a farmer, Mr Wade grew up on a dairy prop­erty out­side Fre­man­tle and later in Yar­loop be­fore ven­tur­ing into wheat and sheep farm­ing at Bun­tine, Three Springs, Narem­been and Corder­ing. It was in Leonora that Mr Wade made the de­ci­sion to join the war, aged 22. It was May 1940.

Mr Wade’s 9th Divi­sion first went to Pales­tine be­fore they were sent to lay siege to the strate­gic city of To­bruk in the Libyan desert in 1941. The city was cru­cial to mil­i­tary sup­ply lines.

From To­bruk, the 9th Divi­sion went back to Pales­tine and then Syria, be­fore word came through that Rom­mel was ad­vanc­ing on El Alamein, in Egypt. It was here that Mr Wade re­ceived shrap­nel wounds that put him in a Bri­tish mil­i­tary hos­pi­tal in Cairo.

“A lot of fel­las were killed and oth­ers badly wounded but the wounds I had weren’t real bad,” he said. “Un­like a lot of other fel­las, I got home. Whether it was pre­des­tined or not, I don’t know.”

Af­ter the re­call of Aus­tralian troops, mem­bers of the 9th Divi­sion were trained in Queens­land for jun­gle war­fare and sent to New Guinea, where Mr Wade took part in the bat­tle of Lae. Again, he sur­vived, though he later con­tracted malaria and was sub­se­quently dis­charged from the army in Novem­ber 1944, re­turn­ing to the fam­ily farm in Yar­loop.

Mr Wade said the key to liv­ing a long happy life was “hav­ing a good woman to look af­ter me most of the time”.

His beloved wife, Pat, died six years ago and Mr Wade said the loss was dif­fi­cult to en­dure but he took great strength from hav­ing his close-knit fam­ily by his side. Up to 100 rel­a­tives are ex­pected at his 100th birth­day party.

Mr Wade said mem­o­ries of the war were al­ways with him but he did not dwell on them.

He said he still had plenty of rea­sons to get up ev­ery morn­ing, adding: “When I was farm­ing, there was al­ways a rea­son to get up. Now I get up and I get the pa­per and I look down the long list of the names (in the obituaries) and make sure mine’s not there,” he said. “If it’s not there, it’s a good day.”

Pic­ture: Daniel Wilkins.

War vet­eran 99-year-old JJ Wade is one of the last sur­viv­ing Rats of To­bruk.

INSET: A fam­ily sup­plied shot of JJ Wade in his younger days.

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