The Rats of Tobruk exhibition is proudly presented by the Memorabilia Department of Box Hill RSL. This exhibition comprises of nine “Rats” and a portrait of an Italian soldier who fought in the campaign albeit on the opposing side. The paintings you see of the nine Veterans of the Rats of Tobruk, were painted by Peter Wegner, Archibald Prize winner 2021. The same artist who painted the Sir John Monash painting which hangs proudly in our RSL.
The Rats of Tobruk series began around twelve years ago. Peter recently organised additional ‘sittings’ for some siege veterans he had not yet painted. It was such an honour for Peter Wegner to be able to spend an afternoon with the diggers and be welcomed into their homes. All the paintings were completed from life with no alterations.
14,000 Australian soldiers were sent to Libya and the last surviving digger is Tommy Pritchard who turned 110 this year.
Peter Wegner’s Uncle Les was a Rat of Tobruk, and it was from this that the idea of recording the Diggers came about. Les was Peter’s mother’s brother who served as a cook throughout the siege. Les died in the early 50’s and it was also Peter’s way of trying to connect with an uncle he never meet.
These paintings are a link to the past and at the same time connect with the long-time tradition of recording the human condition. They are homage to the soldiers who came back from the war as well as a reminder of the Western Desert Campaign.
This exhibition is the first shown of the Rats of Tobruk at Box Hill RSL. When our display finishes it will be moved to the Shrine of Remembrance. They will exhibit it for others to see and reflect on what our WW2 Soldiers went through to secure a world free from any aggression and allowing us to live in a free and safe country today.
Brian Tateson – Curator of Memorabilia