News

Meet the Rat of Tobruk who dug for mines with a bayonet

PAYING RESPECTS: Second World War veterans Lloyd Jones and Tom Smith attend the 2015 Anzac commemoration service at the grounds of Fromelles Manor.
PAYING RESPECTS: Second World War veterans Lloyd Jones and Tom Smith attend the 2015 Anzac commemoration service at the grounds of Fromelles Manor. Marc Stapelberg

ANZAC DAY came early for residents of Fromelles Manor in Lismore.

General manager Matthew Ashby said many residents were unable to attend the regular commemorations in town so the residential care centre holds its own annual service.

One of the residents in attendance was Tom Smith; one of only 10 of the Rats of Tobruk still alive in NSW.

Mr Smith grew up in Kyogle and was originally due to be shipped out to Singapore with the 8th Battalion, but a soldier died in his barracks with a mysterious disease before he was deployed. He was therefore quarantined and fate sent him instead to the Middle East.

Tom Smith was a sapper (combat engineer) whose main role was clearing mines in front of the artillery regiments. He described the process of crawling around on his hands and knees, poking at the ground with a bayonet.

"We knew just how far to push it in," he said.

At the Battle of El Alamein the mine clearers were two kilometres in front of the tanks and the rifles, leading the way in a campaign that turned out to be a major turning point for the Allies in Egypt.

At Tobruk, he was one of 14,000 Australians that held the Libyan port for months "without relief" from the German-Italian Afrika Korps.

Mr Smith said he used to go to Sydney to march with the other 'Rats', but he has been unable to for the past four or five years.

Anzac Day commemorates not just the landing of Australian troops at Gallipoli in 1915, but also marks the 100,000 Australians who have died in all wars.

But Mr Smith has his own Gallipoli connection, with his uncle Harold Hayes killed in battle there and mistakenly buried in the New Zealand cemetery.

Another uncle, Mark Hayes, was awarded a Military Cross for services in France.

Topics:  anzac-centenary, anzac day, rats of tobruk, veteran




Join the Community.

Get your local news, your way.

Stay Connected

Update your news preferences and get the latest news delivered to your inbox.

Water trigger covers all gas mining: Labor

Shadow Environment Minister Mark Butler and Labor candidate for Page Janelle Saffin announcing a Labor government would extend Water Trigger legislation to include shale and tight formation gas projects as well as CSG.

“This would ensure... Federal Government Minister has the final say"

Women 'touched inappropriately' while walking in Byron Bay

Byron Bay lighthouse. Photo Mireille Merlet-Shaw / Northern Star

Police launch investigation after reports of women being assaulted

‘Crucial’ redesign planned for $20m Ballina service centre

The site of a proposed highway service centre at Ballina.

Developers confident of securing tenants in the near future

Latest deals and offers

Janelle Saffin and Mark Butler make gas announcement

Shadow Minister for the Environment, Climate Change and Water, Mark Butler and...

IBAC Evidence Police Bashing 5

Officers drag the woman back to her cell

In this video the woman drinks water from the toilet.

IBAC Evidence Police Bashing 4

In this video the woman asks for water as the tap in the room is broken

Coastal development keeps young people on Northern Rivers

Wes Bale is a 27-year-old born and bred Lennox Head local who is an example of the demographic shift in the region.

Young Northern Rivers residents are looking closer to home

We’ve found 8 rentals available on the Northern Rivers

2/22 Sunnybank Drive, Ballina

It's obvious there is a rental shortage on the Northern Rivers