A new memorial to recognise the bravery of Australian soldiers during a key battle of World War II has been unveiled in Townsville today.
The Rats of Tobruk were soldiers of an Australian-led garrison that held the Libyan port of Tobruk against the Afrika Corps during the Siege of Tobruk 80 years ago.
Townsville Mayor Jenny Hill said the memorial adjacent to the entrance of the Tobruk Memorial Baths on The Strand commemorated the lives of the thousands of Australian soldiers that fought during the siege.
“The Siege of Tobruk is a key moment in Australian history and with this new memorial we commemorate the 14,000 soldiers who fought for their country and held the Libyan Port 80 years ago,” Cr Hill said. “The siege began on 10 April 1941 and lasted 242 days, finally coming to an end on 7 December in 1941. During these 242 days, 832 soldiers were killed, 2177 were wounded and 941 were prisoners. Townsville is a proud garrison city, and I think it’s fitting that we memorialise the bravery of our soldiers with this rose garden that includes No Surrender roses that have been gifted by the Descendants of the Rats of Tobruk.”
Bruce Muller, the son of Arch Muller (Arthur George Muller, QX3048) who was a Rat of Tobruk, and the driving force behind the installation of the memorial said he was grateful for the support for having a memorial to the Rats of Tobruk.
“I am truly humbled by the level of support and commitment by Townsville City Council to my submission to recognise the Rats of Tobruk for the 80th Anniversary of the Siege of Tobruk, there are just 17 known surviving Rats,” Mr Muller said. “It is both fitting and very moving that this memorial is dedicated in Townsville and by Townsville City Council as the first public memorial in Australia to be dedicated to those who fought in the Tobruk Campaign was right here by Townsville City Council at the Tobruk Memorial Baths. The dedication was performed on 26 November 1951 by Major W.J. Windeyer who was a senior officer at Tobruk. The roses in this garden were especially bred and dedicated to the Rats of Tobruk, and named “No Surrender”, the motto of the 9th Division. These roses have been donated by the Descendants of the Rats of Tobruk Association.”
Community and Cultural Development Committee chairperson Ann-Maree Greaney said the memorial rose garden was a beautiful addition to the Tobruk Memorial Baths.
“I’m sure that many people in our community will appreciate the gesture and what it signifies,” Cr Greaney said. “I’d like to thank Bruce for coming to Council with such a meaningful suggestion and I’m grateful we could play a role in commemorating the legacy of the Rats of Tobruk.”
The name Rats of Tobruk came from a broadcaster of Nazi propaganda, William Joyce (or Lord Haw-Haw), who often referred to the men defending the garrison as being “caught like rats” and as “poor desert rats of Tobruk”.
The Australian soldiers loved the term Rats of Tobruk and adopted it in defiance of the comments made about them – turning it into a badge of honour.