ONE OF the last ‘Rats of Tobruk’ Bill Corey has died in Adelaide, aged 101.
The news of the Digger’s death was announced by South Australian Premier Steven Marshall on Wednesday afternoon.
As a young man in 1941 Mr Corey took part in the famous Siege of Tobruk. More than 3000 Australians lost their lives at the Libyan port city. Another 900 became prisoners of war.
In 2016 he cut the ribbon to officially open Adelaide’s Anzac Centenary Memorial Walk.
"There could not have been a more fitting person to represent the veterans' community at that wonderful occasion," South Australian Premier Steven Marshall said in a statement.
"Bill Corey typified the humble nature and selflessness of our diggers,and was very generous with his time in speaking with members of his community and many schoolchildren about the Anzac legacy.
"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."
Veterans SA described Mr Corey, from Adelaide, as an “incredible South Australian” who will be deeply missed”.
“The thoughts of the veteran community are with Bill’s family, particularly his devoted children Don and Dianne and grandchildren Julia, Michael, Matthew, Keyte and Lee, and many friends at this difficult time,” it said.
Born in Riverton, Mr Corey grew up in Walkerville and went to Adelaide High. He was working as a butcher when he enlisted in June 1940, aged 22.
In August 1941 he took part in the famous Siege of Tobruk, a small town on the Libyan coast that was central to much of the fighting that took place in the Western Desert during World War II.
The soldiers who held the garrison of the port of Tobruk during fierce fighting became known as the ‘Rats of Tobruk’.
An unfailingly positive and optimistic gentleman, Bill has inspired thousands of children and adults alike.
He went on to serve with the 2nd/43rd Battalion in El Alamein and Syria before returning to Australia in 1943 to fight against the Japanese in New Guinea before taking part in the campaign to re-capture Borneo from the Japanese in June 1945.
The first nuclear bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on 6 July 1945, the day before Mr Corey’ 28th birthday. He says it was that day he knew he would be going home.
He took part in every Anzac Day march since his return in 1945.
“Bill was always willing to visit school children and talk to them about his life’s experiences describing himself as a ‘bridge between generations’,” said Veterans SA.
“An unfailingly positive and optimistic gentleman, Bill has inspired thousands of children and adults alike.
“Just three weeks ago Bill made his final school visit to St Michael’s College, where his talk and answers to questions held the history students captivated. His passion for passing on his life’s experiences to the younger generations remain with him until his final days.”