Australia lost two of its oldest war heroes this week following the death of World War II veterans and Tobruk survivors, Bill Corey, 101, and John ‘JJ’ Wade, 100.
The two men served in World War II and fought in the famous Tobruk battle of 1941, battling the Germans and Italians in the unforgiving desert sands of Libya.
Both Bill and John enlisted as young men. Bill signed up when he was just 22, and a year later John enlisted, aged 23. Just months later they were sent to Tobruk where they would endure eight months of tank attacks, artillery barrages, and daily bombings at the hands of the enemy.
The Australian soldiers who fought in Tobruk earned themselves the nickname the Rats of Tobruk after surviving in dug-outs, caves, and crevasses during the intense battle as they braved the desert’s searing heat, bitterly cold nights and hellish dust storms.
Bill and John passed away within days of each other this week.
Family, friends and officials have paid tribute to the men who will long be remembered for their fierce bravery.
Speaking to The Australian, John’s daughter-in-law Leonie Wade described the veteran as a real family man who upheld a strong resect for his mates both fallen and surviving from the war.
“There was a mateship from all the guys that survived Tobruk absolutely,” she said. “And even with the sons of his mates that had passed away, they would always ask him about their fathers to find out about the men they never knew, and what had happened to them.”
Australian War Memorial director Brendan Nelson told the publication the veterans were part of “the greatest generation the country has every produced”.
Others showed their respect via social media with Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan posting a touching message on Twitter.
“John ‘JJ’ Wade took nothing for granted. A Rat of Tobruk from WWII, JJ kept active in the veterans community for decades,” he wrote. “When I asked if he considered himself lucky, JJ’s response was ‘every day’s a bonus’. Humble, sharp-witted, a truly great Western Australian.”
John 'JJ' Wade took nothing for granted.
A Rat of Tobruk from WWII, JJ kept active in the veterans community for decades.
When I asked if he considered himself lucky, JJ's response was "every day's a bonus".
Humble, sharp-witted, and truly a great Western Australian. Vale. pic.twitter.com/V5o0RqCYpI
— Mark McGowan (@MarkMcGowanMP) October 9, 2018
South Australian Premier Steven Marshall followed suit, sending his condolences to the family and friends of Bill.
“We owe Bill and his fellow servicemen and women a great debt of gratitude for the sacrifices they made so that future generations could enjoy the freedom and way of life we have today.”