A Rat of Tobruk
A Digger’s Lost Images of the Siege
North Melbourne: Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2020
Paperback 108pp. RRP $29.95
Reviewer: Neville Taylor, July 2020
This is another monograph written by the son of a Second World War participant, who, like so many, did not discuss his war experiences. Lieutenant John Rosel was an avid photographer rather than a diary keeper, and over 600 photographs (many annotated) of his campaigns have survived, but his war letters to his future wife have not.
Mike Rosel has been able to access letters and diaries of those who fought beside his father at Tobruk to wrap an appropriate narrative and soldiers’ recollections around the photographs from the 2/24th Battalion AIF’s initial training in Bonegilla (Vic), sailing to the Middle East, desert training and the Siege of Tobruk. As commander of 14 Platoon, John was awarded the Military Cross for holding the strong point S10 with six of his men on 30th April 1941 after having being surrounded and down to less than 1000 rounds of ammunition. A message torn from his diary to D Company of the adjoining battalion (2/23rd) has become a classic document of the battle included by R P Serle in 2/24: A History of the 2/24 Australian Infantry Battalion, Brisbane: Jacaranda Press, 1963. Private Harry Fraser, a Swan Hill cornet player, was posted to John’s platoon in April 1941, and his 181 letters to his parents have provided a very colourful, sobering and personal account of the ‘Rats’ at this time.
John returned to Melbourne in 1942, married, and went on to Infantry Training battalions in Australia before finishing his service at Tarakan in Borneo.
An extremely generous collection of photographs has been imbedded in the text, quite often with John’s notes accompanying them. A brief Bibliography and Sources precedes an Index.
While many Australians are aware of the ‘Rats of Tobruk’, few probably know where Tobruk is, let alone the adversity facing our troops there in the Second World War. This is an exceedingly readable picture of the Australian military action in the treeless desert waste that pushed Tobruk against the Mediterranean Sea.
The RUSI – Vic Library thanks the publisher for making this work available for review.