I recently became Chaplain to The Rats of Tobruk and had the pleasure of attending with Dorothy and some of the remaining "Rats" their 71st "Seige Remembrance Service" in Brisbane, Australia.
In the Brisbane "Courier Mail" QWeekend magazine April 21-22, 2012 there was an article called "IN THE NAME OF THEIR FATHERS: Honouring Queensland's forgotten Rats of Tobruk", by Mike Colman which details something of what the "Rats" were involved in back in 1941. http://www.newsspace.com.au/qweekend
The following is most of what I said at the recent luncheon I attended as their new Chaplain:
Let us come before God to read His Word & pray.
We find the following in Psalm 124,
“If it had not been the LORD who was on our side,” Let Israel now say—
2 “If it had not been the LORD who was on our side, when men rose up against us,
3 Then they would have swallowed us alive, when their wrath was kindled against us;
4 Then the waters would have overwhelmed us, the stream would have gone over our soul;
5 Then the swollen waters would have gone over our soul.”
Blessed be the LORD, Who has not given us as prey to their teeth.
7 Our soul has escaped as a bird from the snare of the fowlers;
The snare is broken, and we have escaped.
8 Our help is in the name of the LORD,
Who made heaven and earth."
These words were read to you last year as you celebrated the 70th Anniversary of the Siege of Tobruk. The Chaplain who read them, Rev. Archie McNicol, a friend of yours & mine, has recently, as you know, gone to be with his Lord like so many others from our group over the years.
Let us pray: Almighty God, Maker of Heaven & Earth & all therein, who gave His Son Jesus Christ to redeem all who would believe in Him, who gave us the Holy Spirit to enable us to believe, we thank You for Your grace & mercy towards us.
On this the 71st Anniversary of the Siege of Tobruk we thank You for all who served there in the cause of freedom & justice. We thank You for the gallant fight these men gave in the face of evil & insurmountable odds. For those who were wounded & maimed in their bodies, those who were afflicted in their mind & soul, we thank You that You in Your Word provided them with hope of a better, safer & peaceful future.
For those loved ones who remained at home during these stressful times, mothers & fathers, sisters & brothers, sons & daughters – we also acknowledge the pain & suffering they went through & while praying for You to protect their loved ones as they sought to cut off the ugly head of evil that was raised in that foreign & sun-blistered land.
Lord, war is Hell – Hell for those on the front lines & Hell for those who keep the home fires burning. Father, we long for that Great Day when You will cause all wars to cease!
We pray for health & continued safety for all involved with the Rats of Tobruk. We pray for all the innocent who are suffering from the effects of wars. Ease their burden. Heal their wounds. Comfort the grieving. Be with the widows & orphans. And, today, be especially with those who are remembering fallen mates, family members, dearly loved ones. We come before You through Jesus Christ our Lord & Saviour. Let us pray together the words the Lord taught has us:
Our Father, which art in heaven,
Hallowed be Thy Name. Thy Kingdom come.
Thy will be done, in earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive them that trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation, But deliver us from evil.
For Thine is the Kingdom,
the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.
I was greatly honoured to be invited to be a Chaplain for the Rats of Tobruk. I told my wife Dorothy & she said, “How can you not do this?”
I must admit that my knowledge of the Rats was limited, extremely limited. In fact I had to wrack my brains. I don’t wish to make light of anything, & I hope I’m not rushing in where angels fear to tread, but I remember seeing a movie when I was a lad in the 60s called “The Desert Rats” starring Richard Burton & some Aussie actors. I haven’t seen the film since then but I believe that it was made in 1953 with the usual Hollywood disclaimer of not letting all the facts get in the way of a good story! – things like the “Desert Rats” name itself actually referring to the British 7th Armoured Division.
O, anyway I’m sure most of you have discussed these sorts of things & other smaller & larger historical inaccuracies many, many times. However, I merely wish to make the point that books, movies & documentaries, along with word of mouth, all serve to keep the flame of freedom burning in Australia. Lest we forget!
Regarding the movie I have alluded to, when I was a lad, I thought I was going to be watching something like “Tales from the Riverbank” or perhaps some documentary about rodents. For, are “Desert Rats” not Gerbils by another name? But what about the Aussie connection? It may be technically incorrect, but tongue in cheek & in layman language, are desert rats, gerbils not really kangaroo rats! A definite Aussie connection! But regardless of what kind of rats they were these men were true, blue Aussies! We give thanks from the bottom of our hearts for their sacrifice as they sought to defend our freedom, the freedom we enjoy at home.
“Australians all let us rejoice, For we are young and free” – thank you Rats of Tobruk! Thank you for your sacrifice, your service to your country, its people and our Christian values!
I read somewhere that these brave men of Tobruk “Lived like rats but fought like lions.” I get stressed when the kettle boils & the phone rings at the same time. One can only imagine how stressful it would have been to face the danger of cold steel bullets & hot shrapnel for eight months in front of an agitated & heavily armed enemy. Shells exploding. Bullets cutting the air. Sand in your eyes. Sand in your ears. Sand in your mouth. Sand in your weapons. Sand in your rations. Sand, sand, sand! They lived like rats but fought like lions! Thank you!
Yes, war is Hell. There is no glory in it & neither should it be glorified. Men merely did their duty. Many paid the ultimate price. Life is a precious thing when you only have one life to live, one life to give. But defending Tobruk was a noble cause. And we humbly honour & gratefully acknowledge the immense courage displayed by these defenders & lovers of freedom. Regrettably, freedom only ever comes at a very great price!
We honour all who would seek to protect & defend our Australian values, our freedom. “A fair go!” “Mateship!’’ And what are these things other than the teachings of Jesus who says, “Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you”? That’s the “Golden Rule”. In other words He wants us to love God & our neighbour as ourselves. Paradoxically, sometimes war is necessary to bring about peace! Jesus Christ laid down His life to bring us peace, i.e., peace with God & our neighbour.
Scripture refers to Jesus Christ as the Prince of Peace. “Of the increase of His government & peace there will be no end” it says in Isaiah. When we pray in the Lord’s Prayer the words, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” we are praying for the increase of the Prince of Peace’s government & peace throughout all the earth.
Let me conclude by reading Isaiah 2:2-4 that clearly illustrates this:
“Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the LORD’s house
Shall be established on the top of the mountains,
And shall be exalted above the hills; And all nations shall flow to it.
3 Many people shall come and say,
“Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
To the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways,
And we shall walk in His paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth the law,
And the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
4 He shall judge between the nations,
And rebuke many people;
They shall beat their swords into plowshares,
And their spears into pruning hooks;
Nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
Neither shall they learn war anymore.”
May the Lord be pleased to bring this promise to pass in the very near future! Amen.