One of the surviving Rats of Tobruk, Sutherland Shire resident James Leo (aka Lee) Denman, will turn 100 on June 15.
As Anzac Day (April 25) approaches, Australians are reminded of soldiers like Lee, who, as a Rat of Tobruk, was part of the Australian-led Allied garrison that held the Libyan port of Tobruk against the Afrika Corps during the Siege of Tobruk in World War II.
Lee served in the Bombardier 9 Battery, 2/3 Australian Anti-Tank Regiment, Australian Imperial Force (AIF), Regimental Number NX53574.
He was born in 1921 and raised in the St George area, where he went to Marist Brothers High School in Kogarah.
Because Lee's father was an electrical engineer with the Tramways Department and later with Sydney County Council (SCC), his first job was as a clerk with SCC - although he always wanted to be a salesman.
He secured a position with AMP Society, selling life insurance. After 12 months, he started on furniture sales on a freelance basis, selling furniture for several manufacturers.
Lee enlisted in the AIF in 1940, aged 19, firstly into 7 Division, then into 8 Division. His Regiment was transferred into 6 Division to go to the Middle East.
He was transferred into Corps Troops training in Palestine, then off to Tobruk on April 8, 1941, as an Anti-Tank gunner into the front-line at Post 35 to support the Infantry on April 9, 1941.
The troops at Tobruk were the first troops in the world to defeat Rommel in battle, even though they were under-armed against highly-armed and -trained German troops with air supremacy.
Lee's unit remained at Tobruk until October 1941, when they handed over to South African and Polish units. Lee spent a few weeks in the hospital because of Yellow Jaundice, caused by poor and unreliable food and lack of water. Eventually, the 2/3 Anti Tank Regiment made their way to a little village called Bsarma, outside Tripoli, Lebanon.
After a period of recuperation, they were sent south on their way back to Australia (they all hoped), but on reaching the Suez Canal, they were turned right instead of left and went through Cairo to another holding camp, then off to El Alamein for another six months battle before returning to Australia.
Lee then undertook training in an aircrew role, but this was not completed. He was Discharge on the grounds of ill health on July 13, 1944.
Lee married Mavis (known as 'Snow') on April 14, 1945. They have three sons and one daughter.
Snow passed away in 2016. Lee still lives in The Palms Aged Care facility in Kirrawee.