Rats of To­bruk knocked back in push for medal

The Weekend Australian - - 100 ARMISTICE ANNIVERSARY - JAMIE WALKER

De­fence has re­jected a bid by the na­tion’s age­ing Rats of To­bruk to se­cure their own World War II cam­paign medal be­fore the last of the fa­bled sol­diers fade away.

Only 53 of the 14,000-odd Aus­tralian sol­diers who fought at To­bruk in 1941 are known to re­main and the sur­viv­ing vet­er­ans say the recog­ni­tion should hap­pen while they are alive.

The deaths of four orig­i­nal Rats in the past month un­der­lined the ur­gency, with the De­scen­dants of the Rats of To­bruk As­so­ci­a­tion in Queens­land ar­gu­ing that a cam­paign medal struck specif­i­cally to com­mem­o­rate the 242day siege in North Africa was long over­due.

But De­fence stood its ground, in­sist­ing yes­ter­day there was no case for this. “The Depart­ment of De­fence main­tains that the recog­ni­tion of Aus­tralian per­son­nel who served in the North Africa cam­paign, in­clud­ing the siege of To­bruk, should re­main con­sis­tent with the de­ci­sions made by the gov­ern­ments of the Bri­tish Com­mon­wealth at the time,” the depart­ment said in a state­ment.

“De­fence has no plans to pro­pose the in­tro­duc­tion of an of­fi­cial Aus­tralian cam­paign medal for the Rats of To­bruk.”

Bris­bane vet­eran Gor­don Wal­lace, 96, who fought at To­bruk as an in­fantry­man, said the recog­ni­tion was for the fam­i­lies — es­pe­cially those that had lost men in the marathon bat­tle with the Ital­ians and Ger­mans of Erwin Rom­mel’s Afrika Corps.

“The point is we got noth­ing for To­bruk from Aus­tralia and it’s about time this was fixed,” he said. “It’s im­por­tant for the fam­i­lies, not just us blokes, that they have some­thing to re­mem­ber us by when we’re all gone.

“There are 50 or so of us left, but you’re talk­ing 13,900-odd other fam­i­lies who want some recog­ni­tion. They can vote, you know.”

The re­newed push for a cam­paign medal has been mounted by Colin King of the de­scen­dants’ as­so­ci­a­tion, whose late fa­ther was a Rat in the bat­tle-scarred Aus­tralian 9th Divi­sion. “The time is now right whilst some vet­er­ans of To­bruk are still alive to of­fi­cially recog­nise and hon­our their achieve­ments,” he said in a let­ter to Vet­er­ans’ Af­fairs Min­is­ter Dar­ren Ch­ester.

Yes­ter­day, Mr King told The Week­end Aus­tralian: “I know from con­ver­sa­tions with my late fa­ther and also Gor­don Wal­lace … the 9th Divi­sion re­ceived no proper ac­knowl­edg­ment or ac­cep­tance on their re­turn to Aus­tralia.”

On Septem­ber 18, Mr Ch­ester told Mr King it would be un­fair to other vet­er­ans to give the Rats their own medal. “With great re­spect to the Rats of To­bruk, to sin­gle out their ser­vice for spe­cific medal­lic recog­ni­tion could be seen as un­just to the ser­vice by many other brave Aus­tralians who also fought in sig­nif­i­cant bat­tles in World War II,” the min­is­ter wrote.

De­fence said the Rats were still en­ti­tled to cam­paign medals such as the 1939-45 Star, the Africa Star, pos­si­bly with the Bri­tish 8th Army Clasp, the War Medal 1939-45 and Aus­tralia Ser­vice Medal.

They pride them­selves on be­ing the first troops in World War II to with­stand the on­slaught of the Nazi war ma­chine.

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