Drive-by tribute honours Alice’s Rat of Tobruk

An estimated 750 cars and vehicles took part in an Anzac Day ‘drive-by tribute’ past the home of Alice Springs veteran and Rat of Tobruk, Syd Kinsman.

9 July 2020

The drive-by, which will be long remembered in the town, was organised on social media as a tribute to the town’s oldest veteran. Mr Kinsman, who’s 99 in July, was among a group of five young men who enlisted in 1940 and were soon on their way to the Middle East with the 2/48th Battalion. After serving in Palestine they went to Libya and were among the first into Tobruk. He said: ‘We won the Tobruk stakes, it was a race with Rommel.’

He proudly remembers the 2/48th Battalion, which saw out the full nine months of the siege, as a highly decorated unit, with four Victoria Cross recipients in its ranks.

After Tobruk, Mr Kinsman went to Syria following the fall of Crete, and then the battalion was ordered to Egypt and El Alamein in July 1941 where he was taken prisoner of war. He was held in Benghazi, Libya, until he was sent to Italy a year later. In September 1943, he and two others escaped to Switzerland from their work camp near the Vercelli rice fields in Italy’s north, hiking at night across the Monte Moro Pass in the Italian Alps.

Following the war, Mr Kinsman trained as a builder in Adelaide but went to Central Australia shooting kangaroos for RM Williams to make some money.

‘That was fine for a time, but it started to slow down, there were still plenty of roos but the money slowed down,’ Mr Kinsman said.

‘In 1949 there were contracts going to build houses in Alice Springs so I started building houses. So I built a lot of houses in the town.

‘I only came up [to Alice Springs] for a few months and 72 years later, I’m still here.’

Mr Kinsman said due to the COVID-19 social distancing restrictions, he made an Anzac Day tribute in his front garden.

‘We’ve got a tall pine tree trunk in our front yard we use for a Christmas lights display,’ he said. ‘About a week before, the family came around and put up a scrap of timber on it.

‘It had the ode on it with one of my Akubra hats and a lot of poppies down below and on the tree.’

The day started with a driveway dawn service with his children, grandchildren and two great grandchildren distanced across the road. They listened to the national dawn service and another service pre-recorded by the local ABC Radio, in which Mr Kinsman recited the ode.

The parade was led by a Kenworth prime mover painted with Passchendaele scenes and a large red poppy.

‘It was unbelievable, it brought tears to your eyes,’ Mr Kinsman said.

‘They say there were more than 750 cars. It’s a symbol of what’s wonderful about the Alice Springs community that people turn out like this.

‘There were cars of all different shapes and sizes, cars you only see at displays and the fire brigade, you had to be here to believe what was going on. It was a wonderful recognition for all veterans.’

Alice Springs bugler, Peter Gilham, played the Last Post during the Kinsman’s dawn service, and he was joined by Alice Springs piper, Neil Ross, at 11am to play again during the drive-by.

Donations from people in the vehicles at the assembly area raised more than $2,000 for Legacy.

Daughter Tricia Bruce said her father had been sad at being unable to remember his mates in his usual Anzac Day fashion but ‘the day evolved into something we will all never forget.’

An elderly World War Two veteran man named Syd Kinsman alongside his home-made Anzac Day 2020 tribute. The tribute is fixed to a tree trunk. There are red poppies at Syd's eye level, an excerpt from the poem ‘For the Fallen’ by Laurence Binyon and an Australian flag and another bunch of red poppies on top.

Syd Kinsman with his Anzac Day tribute to fallen comrades and veterans and their families. (Photo: Moogie Curtis).