Century of memories

AS Australia commemorates the centenary of the Gallipoli landings, Colin Thomas also turns 100.

The Rat of Tobruk was one of 14,000 Allied soldiers who withstood the five-month German and Italian bombardment of the Libyan city between April and August, 1941.

Forced to dig in to the North African city, the Allied troops were likened to rats by German propagandist William Joyce, a name they proudly adopted.

The Dianella resident was one of the last to reach Tobruk by road ahead of the attack and said he and others emerged differently months later.

�We had so many air raids in five months. The bombs got bloody close sometimes, you couldn�t take your mind off it,� he said.

�When they�re bursting around you, you just concentrate on staying alive.

�You�ve got to understand we went up as rookies; very few of us had been through anything like that before.�

Mr Thomas worked during the night, collecting supplies from the harbour and transporting them to several bases around the city.

He said that although war produced unparalleled camaraderie, he was apprehensive to make friends.

�You had a few mates around but you weren�t game to have a good mate all the time because he could disappear,� he said.

�The world didn�t matter to us, the only thing that mattered to us was staying alive.�

The 100-year-old also lost his cousin during the five-month ordeal.

�He was driving out in an ambulance to get someone,� he said.

�The Germans used to put over two shells and then stop, and then sometimes put a third one over, and that third one got him.�

Evacuated by the British Navy under nightfall, Mr Thomas was sent to Egypt before serving in Papua New Guinea as Japan descended through the Pacific.

Mr Thomas said he adjusted reasonably well from the war, picking up work as a tailor in Melbourne in 1945, before moving to Perth with his wife four years later.

The former bookkeeper has an intrinsically Australian outlook on war, and the lessons it provided him and others.

�The days were the same as here, you get up in the morning, you have brekkie, you clean your rifle, go outside, climb into a truck and go off to your job,� Mr Thomas said.

�The war teaches you some things, mainly how not to get shot.�

Although the shell blasts have faded in his memory, Mr Thomas said he would never forget what he saw.

�Human nature allows you to forget things very easily, but the war will always remain in the background of your thoughts,� he said.

�The army were your family, you joined up to fight, you did your best to stay alive, that�s about it really.�

Mr Thomas will commemorate Anzac Day along with several soldiers at the Maurice Zeffert Aged Care Facility.