Tuesday, July 29, 2008

[Image] The Baby Faced 'Rat of Tobruk'

11th May, 1942. Beirut, Lebanon.

NX21849 Pvt. Elson Evered Bell on leave, aged 18 years.

If you are thinking that Pvt. Bell of the 2/17th Infantry Battalion looks young, that's because he was. Following in the time honoured Australian tradition of not being entirely truthful about your age to go to war Pvt. Bell bumped up his age by 5 years to meet the strict age requirements of the Second A.I.F.

Being only 16 years, 7 months old when he enlisted on 27th May 1940 (the day before my Grandfather) Pvt. Bell was the youngest man Mentioned in Despatches (MiD) at Tobruk.

The Australian War Memorial writes "Private K E Bell, A Company, 2/17th Infantry Battalion ... was aged 17 years when he was Mentioned in Despatches for bravery at Tobruk. During an offensive patrol he carried in his officer although wounded himself. The officer later died."

The Australian War Memorial credits this photo as being of Pvt. K. E. Bell of the 2/17th Battallion. My personal research has led me to believe that the baby faced Rat of Tobruk was actually Pvt. E. E. Bell who was, like the AWM states, a member of A Coy. 2/17th Battalion who was Mentioned in Despatches and wounded in Tobruk.

The nominal roll of the 2/17th Battalion shows only one soldier with a surname of Bell who was wounded at Tobruk, and no soldier with a name of K.E. Bell. The nominal roll of the 2/17th lists his service number as NX21849 and also mentioned was the fact that he was wounded not only at Tobruk, but also Alamein and New Guinea. He was discharged on 30th November, 1945 having just celebrated his actual 21st birthday the month before. How bizarre to think that Pvt. Bell fought a World War for 5 years and won all before his 21st birthday.

They don't make 'em like him anymore.

image 024225 Australian War Memorial

Nominal roll research from "What we have, we hold - A history of the 2/17th Australian Infantry Battalion", 2/17th Battalion History Committee, Sydney.

[Quote] QX11512 Pvt. John Joseph Alman

Whilst reading a travel website about tours of Tobruk I came across a link to the NineMSN Travel website where the journalist, Kim Wildman, travels to Tobruk to attend this year's dawn service at the Tobruk War Cemetery.

At this service she reads a prepared speech that her Grandfather (a member of the 7th Division's 2/9th Infantry Battalion attached to the 9th Division for the duration of the siege) is to read at a similar service back in Australia. It's final moving paragraph is this;

"While remembering our mates and their bravery and dedication sometimes it is so easy to forget just how young these men were and what they did for their country. It makes you feel so proud to be an Australian."

- QX11512 Pvt. John J. Alman 2008.

Sadly Pvt. Alman passed away not long after his Grandaughter read his moving words to a small gathering of expats on Anzac Day, 2008. At the time of his death Pvt. Alman was 87 years old.

To read the article by Kim Wildman click here http://travel.ninemsn.com.au/article.aspx?id=452426

[Slang] "To draw the crabs"

Australian slang is famous, especially when coupled with the dry humour of the Australian soldier at war. One famous saying used often in Tobruk was to "draw the crabs".

Draw the crabs -

"to perform any action in the front line, deliberate or not, that results in a rapid offensive response from opposing German forces, usually in the form of sniper, machinegun, mortar or artillery fire."

Example - #1

Digger A : "Mate, what did ya do that for? It was nice and quite out here with Gerry snoozing."

Digger B : "I was bored mate. Thought I'd draw the crabs for a bit."

Example - #2

Digger to mate: "Better put that smoke out mate, wouldn't want ya to draw the crabs."

[Image] Tobruk's Anti-Aircraft Guns welcome the Luftwaffe

Tobruk, Libya, 1941.

With powerful searchlights lighting up the night sky the Anti-Aircraft batteries of Tobruk Garrison open up with a barrage of flak and tracers to lay a protective blanket above the besieged city.

At the time of the siege, Tobruk was one of the most well defended cities from air attack in the world yet at the same time one of the most bombed. The immense cloud of splintered metal flak bursting at bombing altitude made accurate targetting of the harbour and city area as difficult as possible for the Luftwaffe, the German Air-Force.

Just as the Luftwaffe did significant damage to the city with their bombing sorties the besieged allied forces inside the defenses shot down their fair share of attacking planes. The fighters of the R.A.F. when available would also account for German losses.

German planes brought down inside the perimeter were high profile targets for the scavengers and souvenir hunters of the 9th Division. Within no time the Australians would strip a downed plane of anything of military value and have the captured guns working against the next bombing sortie to fly over.

Metal, especially aluminium, was in short supply and anything that fell to earth was quickly scrutinised for what value it could add to the defense. crash sites were also popular spots for those lucky enough to have access to a camera to take happy snaps for the folks back home.

image p00150.001 Australian War Memorial.

[Quote] Lieutenant-General Morshead

On the 22nd December, 1942 the Commander of the 9th Division, NX8 Lieutenant-General Morshead addressed the Division at Gaza Airport, Palestine in their final parade before embarking for home and the war in New Guinea. Lieutenant-General Morshead said;

"The battle of Alamein has made history, and you are in the proud position of having taken a major part in that great victory. Your reputation as fighters has always been famous but I do not believe you have ever fought with greater bravery or distinction than you did during that battle when you broke the German and Italian armies in the Western Desert."

- quote: Barton Maughan, "Tobruk and El Alamein", Canberra, 1966, p. 752
- image p03014.003 Australian War Memorial.