Vale William Thomas Corey OAM
It is with deep regret that we advise of the passing of beloved ‘Rat of Tobruk’, William (Bill) Thomas Corey OAM. Bill recently celebrated his 101st birthday.
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.
Born in Riverton, Bill 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’.
Bill 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 Bill’s 28th birthday. He says it was that day he knew he would be going home.
Bill’s military service is best summarised in his own words:
“Mateship is a big deal to me and always has been. However, after the war (World War II), I looked at mateship and Anzac Day differently. It was different because no longer was it a commemoration of the diggers of World War I, but to me it meant that I was going to see mates and chaps that I lived with for five years.
For the first few years after the war, Anzac Day was always hard for me, it brought back memories of my service, I even found it hard to sleep a couple of nights before the day. In those early days is wasn’t so much about remembering the war, but meeting up with all the old chaps. But as time has passed Anzac Day has changed again for me. It has turned into a bitter sweet time as over the years most of them have passed on and I am just about alone.
I don’t think I am anything special, but I think I am a link between now and that past. I get quite a lot of pleasure out of people asking me if I knew their father or grandfather who served with me in World War II. Talking to these people about their relatives gives me a lot of satisfaction and they think it’s wonderful as well. I also talk to school children often, they love hearing the war stories, but I only talk to them about our living conditions and what we ate etc.
When I joined the army we were a mixture of all different backgrounds and it was terrific how we just all melded into one and became good mates. A lot of chaps, who had life tough before the war discovered they were as good as someone else. I found everybody has good in them.
When I returned home I became a butcher again and eventually went into my own business. For 25 years I ran a butcher shop on Glen Osmond Road. Looking back I think getting back into work straight away helped me to deal with the war because I didn’t have time to think about things. It was a good way of recovering.
In myself I am just Bill, but I do serve a purpose, seems as though I have been kept alive all this time to be a bridge for history in time.”
Bill 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’. Bill would speak to children about being descended from the ‘Pioneers’ who settled South Australia, his mother and father’s World War One generation and what life was like for him as a child and then his reflections on his time as a ‘Rat of Tobruk’ with the 2/43rd Battalion during World War Two and his own life when he returned from the war. Including descriptions of the positive impact post World War Two European migration had on Australia, which was something he took a keen interest in as the local butcher on Glen Osmond Road.
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.
When the Anzac Centenary Memorial Walk was opened on 23 April 2016, Bill was chosen to join then Premier Weatherill and His Excellency, the Governor of South Australia, the Hon Hieu Van Le AC, to cut the ribbon and officially open our State’s major contribution to mark the Anzac centenary.
On Monday 7 August 2017 Bill was joined by his family at a morning tea hosted by His Excellency at Government House to celebrate his 100th birthday.
Bill was an incredible South Australian and will be deeply missed.
Funeral details will be provided in the coming days.
Lest We Forget