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Townsville Rats of Tobruk
The first general meeting of the Rats of Tobruk Association, Townsville sub-branch, was held at the R.S.S.A.I.L.A. club rooms. A good roll-up of "local rodents" attended. Major Jock Geddes occupied the chair in the absence of the president, Mr. L. H. Halvorson, who is enjoying a well-earned holiday.
The Tobruk Memorial Baths was a subject of keen interest at the gathering, and the favourable, progress being made was noted. Pleasure was expressed at the fine edifice that will commemorate the memory of Australians who died for the Empire, and the cause of all freedom-loving people in World War II. The Tobruk Baths, the city's fitting memorial, situated alongside the Anzac Memorial of World War I, is a very significant symbol, for history has revealed and forever sealed that the Tobruk siege was the Anzac of World War II.
The fact that so far no indication of the name Tobruk Memorial Baths has appeared yet on the building caused concern to some. The meeting was assured that the baths would be inscribed appropriately in nicely embellished terra cotta tiling. The meeting expressed a desire to erect a suitably inscribed commemoration stone from the Local Rats' Association to be affixed on the baths as from those who fell, and in keeping with the Association's motto, namely "We Will Remember Them." It was moved that the City Council be approached for permission for this.
Padre Hohenhouse told the meeting of incidents at the erection of the first commemoration monument which he dedicated, at the express wish of the fortress commander, General Moreshead, at the conclusion of the siege.
Tobruk Memorial Baths were commenced in 1941 and completed in 1950. An initiative of the Townsville City Council, the baths were intended initially simply as a civic amenity, to replace older city baths. In December 1941, however, the Council decided to name the baths in honour of the Australian servicemen who had taken part in the Siege of Tobruk [Tubruq].
Tobruk Memorial Baths were erected on a site associated with sea bathing since at least the 1870s. The first European settlement at Townsville was concentrated in the area of Flinders Street East and The Strand, and The Strand and Cleveland Bay foreshore developed as one of the earliest recreation venues in Townsville. As early as 1866, Townsville's more affluent residents were constructing homes along the beachfront, and by 1872, three hotels had been erected opposite the present Anzac Memorial Park. The Strand was unformed at this time, being little more than a track along the foreshore, and there were no shade trees, but the beach was popular with bathers (mainly male) from at least the late 1870s.
Work on the baths commenced in late 1941, as a City Council initiative to provide Townsville with an Olympic standard pool. At the time there was considerable public opposition to the use of Council finance for such an amenity during a war, and a petition was raised to the State Government to have the project stopped. Cabinet found that the Townsville City Council had complied with the necessary formalities in relation to war-time building restrictions, the petition was rejected, and work went ahead until headquarters for the allied offensive in the Pacific War shifted to Townsville in the first half of 1942.
In December 1941, at the height of the controversy, the Townsville City Council decided to name the baths as a memorial to the Australians who had fought and died during the Seige of Tobruk [Tubruq], in the Libyan desert campaign against Germany's 'invincible' General Rommel. In one of the most famous sieges in Australian military history, Australia's Ninth Division joined British forces in holding Tobruk against the German advance for 8 months. The Australian infantry, raiding and patrolling by day and night, dominated the no-man's land surrounding the Tobruk perimeter and took many prisoners.
After the war, work on the baths re-commenced, but was hampered by labour and materials shortages. Tobruk Memorial Baths finally opened to the public on 14 October 1950, and were opened officially on 26 November 1951 by Major-General WJ Windeyer, who was a senior officer at Tobruk. At the time, it was the only public memorial in Australia dedicated specifically to those who had participated in the Tobruk campaign. Inside the main entrance, the Townsville Sub-Branch of the Rats of Tobruk Association erected a marble plaque with the inscription:
This memorial stone is dedicated to the sacred memory of fallen comrades who served with the Navy, Army, and Air Force during the memorial siege of Tobruk, Western Desert, Great War II, from April 9, 1941 to December 13, 1941. We shall remember them.
Courtesy of the Queensland Heritage Register.