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Rat of Tobruk honours mates killed in sand

Bob Semple, one of the last surviving Rats of Tobruk, will address the Anzac Day national service.Carved in cursive writing on the back of the violin he took to war are the names of Bob Semple’s gun crew.

More than 70 years on, his violin case still contains grains of desert sand from his time serving in Libya in north Africa.

It’s the same sand in which 10 of his mates were buried, after they were killed by a single shell.

One of the last surviving Rats of Tobruk, Mr Semple, who turns 98 next month, reflected on his experiences in the World War II at the Anzac Day national service in Canberra on Wednesday.

“May I humbly say, Anzac Day remains sacred to all of us… let us continue to make reference to the past, but go forward into the future, with honour and courage,” he told the service.

He brought his beloved violin to Canberra from his home in Melbourne and joked his skill level had waned over the past 75 years.

Mr Semple said anxiety and the fear factor was overcome as experience increased with each engagement.

“I vividly recall the experience and the strength and loyalty and faith experienced on occasions at El Alamein (Egypt). Coming under German bombing, and periodic shelling of the position by enemy, taking refuge in the skinny slip trench, adjacent to the gun pit, holding hands across the shoulders and muttering, if this is it, we all all go together.”

Western Australia’s new governor and former defence minister Kim Beazley will also address the gathering.

Governor General Peter Cosgrove, who served in Vietnam and East Timor, and went on to become chief of the defence force, was among the dignitaries at the service and reviewed the parade of veterans marching.

A riderless horse led the march.

This year marks the 103rd anniversary of the landing at Gallipoli in Turkey and the centenary of the Battle of Villers-Bretonneux on the Western Front in France.

Tens of thousands of people turned out to watch the service on a sunny Canberra morning.

Australian Associated Press

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