Vale Lawrence 'Jack' Calder, the Riverina's last Rat of Tobruk

“I’m not here to glorify war,” was the first sentence of Lawrence ‘Jack’ Calder’s Anzac Day address in 2013. 

VALE JACK: Lawrence 'Jack' Calder gave an honest and revealing keynote address at the 2013 Anzac ceremony in Wagga. Picture: Michael Frogley

VALE JACK: Lawrence 'Jack' Calder gave an honest and revealing keynote address at the 2013 Anzac ceremony in Wagga. Picture: Michael Frogley

“You could hear a pin drop in that garden. There was dead silence,” his daughter, Karen Knox, said. 

With his notes, typed on recycled paper, he went on to give the most memorable address many present had ever heard. 

“He held all of his emotion in his body, but our bodies are just bursting with pride,” Mrs Knox said. 

Mr Calder never spoke about the war.

A deeply humble man, it wasn’t until the later years of his life some of the stories of his experiences as a legendary Rat of Tobruk and his internment as a prisoner of war (POW) were shared. 

Born in Leongatha in Victoria, Mr Calder put his age up to join the Citizens’ Military Force in 1939. On April 19, 1940 he was posted to the Middle East with the Australian Imperial Forces. 

Diverted to England before being sent into North Africa, he was eventually sent as part of the 2/32nd battalion into the besieged Tobruk, Libya. 

Labelled ‘rats’ by the Nazis and claiming the term in typical Aussie humour, the garrison withstood daily bombings, tank attacks and artillery barrages, holed-in for eight months and successfully defending the port against the Afrika Corps. 

Mr Calder spent five gruelling months, from May to September, among the many Australians at Tobruk. It’s believed he was the last surviving ‘rat’ in the Riverina.

On July 17, 1942, he was reported missing and later confirmed as a POW. 

One can only imagine the horror he experienced in POW camps in Italy and Austria, which Mr Calder avoided talking about until later in his life. 

Mrs Knox said he couldn’t eat rice due to the memories of the guards and his own starvation as prisoners fought over minimal rations.

Growing up, she said “there was no such thing as praise because of the hardships he grew under.” 

He was a strict disciplinarian, but also a dedicated father. 

“He was very knowledgeable, kind, generous and appreciated absolutely everything he got,” she said. 

Mr Calder moved to Wagga in 1991, joining the RSL sub-branch in 1995 where he went on to mentor young soldiers at Kapooka. 

He died peacefully at 95 on June 14 with a funeral held on June 19.