I rise today to commemorate a South Australian hero, Vale William Thomas Corey OAM, aged 101. Sadly, on the 10th October 2018 we lost one of the last Rats of Tobruk. Mr Corey served in the Middle East, North Africa and the Pacific Islands. He was loved by many including the veteran’s community and his family- children Don and Dianne, and his grandchildren- Julia, Michael, Matthew, Keyte and Lee.
Mr Corey was born in Riverton and later worked as a butcher, before enlisting in the army in 1940 at the age of just 22. Here, he became an original member of the 2/43rd Battalion. Notably, in August 1941, Mr Corey took part in the siege of Tobruk. This battle was crucial as it provided a port which was used as a route of supply. This was a vital component in continuing into Egypt and controlling the Suez Canal. The Australian War Memorial described Tobruk as being ‘all that stopped the Germans’ march on Egypt.’
soldiers who fought in Tobruk are fondly known as the ‘Rats of Tobruk’. During the War, a Nazi propaganda broadcaster and former British citizen, William Joyce, scoffed at the soldiers in Tobruk defending the garrison as being ‘caught like rats in a trap’. In true Aussie humour, as Mr Corey spoke fondly of in his biography, these derogatory comments were worn as a badge of honour. The defenders of Tobruk to this day are still recognised as the ‘Rats of Tobruk’.
The Tobruk garrison was surrounded by Italian and German forces for eight long, terrifying months. These men withstood the unimaginable- daily bombings, artillery barrages and tank attacks. They survived dust storms, chilling cold at night and the deserts agonizing heat. These soldiers lived in dug-outs, crevasses and caves. Here, it is where Mr Corey formed bonds with his fellow soldiers. In his bibliography, Mr Corey spoke fondly of the bond he formed with fellow soldiers. He described it as being that of brotherhood. To use Mr Corey’s words, ‘Eventually [we] became like brothers and even to this day we have a special feeling for each other that can’t be found in ordinary life and I guess that would apply to anybody who faced so many extraordinary dangers together.’ It is incredible that in such travesty and suffering, these men were able to form such a long-lasting friendship. In true Australian mateship and comradery.
I would like to share a story with the Chamber that Mr Corey spoke of in his biography. Whilst this is a sombre moment, this is also an opportunity to celebrate the life of a great man, and many great men. I believe that this excerpt of his bibliography captures Mr Corey’s great ability to remember the good in every bad situation, and the great Australian spirit and humour.
“Towards the end of our stay most fellows became a little edgy thinking I’ve been here all this time, hope I make it out. Around this time, I was on the back of a truck with 4 or 5 other chaps and half a dozen empty 44 gallon drums (used for water) we were returning from the fig tree area on a pitch black night, turned onto the road, then immediately tipped over the edge, the drums went flying and so did we. Fortunately, none of us were injured, but we had to walk about 4 or 5 miles back to our area. Fortunately, the Germans couldn’t have been listening because they had this position set with their guns, all they had to do was fire and they were spot on.
On the way in some Polish troops called us to halt and they wanted to know the password which none of us knew or remembered. Things weren’t going too good until one of the lads started swearing, when one of the Poles said “Aussies, Aussies, OK”. Fancy an Australian being recognised by swearing.”
I would like to take this moment to thank Mr Corey for his service to our great nation. Not only as a soldier, but for giving back to our community upon his return in which he shared his life experiences with school groups. I would like to acknowledge Mr Corey’s sacrifice, bravery and strength.
On behalf of the Chamber and the people of South Australia, I would like to express my deep condolences to Mr Corey’s family. Mr Corey was a real-life hero.
Lest we forget.