THE HON WARREN SNOWDON MP
Minister for Veterans’ Affairs
Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on the Centenary of Anzac
10 April 2011
The Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Warren Snowdon, today acknowledged the contribution of more than 14,000 Australian servicemen on the 70th Anniversary of the Siege of Tobruk.
In 1941 Australian service personnel, along with British, Indian, Czechoslovakian and Polish troops, held off the might of the German and Italian armies in a battle that has become as much a significant part of our wartime history as the Gallipoli landings, Mr Snowdon said.
The group, known as the Rats of Tobruk, withstood terrible conditions, enduring the heat and the dust of the desert as they bravely held Tobruk and dealt the Germans their first defeat on land in the Second World War.
Facing repeated ground assaults and almost constant bombing and shelling over the 242-day siege, Australian soldiers resolutely defended the town, digging tunnels underground to take shelter.
German propagandist Lord Haw Haw (William Joyce) derided the tenacious defenders as ‘rats’, while intended as an insult; the soldiers embraced the name Rats of Tobruk as a badge of honour.
Today, the name conjures images of resilience, tenacity and strength in the face of great adversity.
Mr Snowdon attended a commemorative service in Canberra, while other services have been held around Australia to mark the anniversary.
Even with the constant bombardment by a formidable foe in the dry desert, with freezing nights and sweltering days, these men never gave up. They are an outstanding example of the Anzac spirit.
It is important we always remember the sacrifices made by our servicemen and women. We need to ensure younger generations of Australians are aware of contributions like the one the Rats made, to help ensure that we can enjoy the freedom and rights we now take for granted, Mr Snowdon said.
The 70th anniversary of the Siege of Tobruk is also being marked by a new exhibition at the Australian War Memorial. For information on this exhibition and Australias service in North Africa visit www.awm.gov.au
Editors note: Online-quality historical images of the Siege of Tobruk and a media backgrounder are available for download from the DVA Media centre at www.dva.gov.au/media.
For images of the commemorative service in Canberra, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Interview opportunities are available with participants from the commemorative service in Canberra and veterans of the Siege of Tobruk from the ACT, NSW, QLD, SA and WA. Please call DVA Media for contact details.
Minister Snowdon: Alice Plate 0400 045 999
Department of Veterans’ Affairs Media: 02 6289 6203