Rats of Tobruk knocked back in push for medal
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.