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World War II veteran and Tobruk Rat Sydney George Kinsman dies in Alice Springs, aged 100

A World War II veteran who was one of Australia’s last living Rats of Tobruk has died aged 100.

Sydney George Kinsman was among 35,000 Allied soldiers, including 14,000 Australians, who held the Libyan port of Tobruk against the German Afrika Korps in 1941 in a pivotal battle for Allied forces.

His death in Alice Springs on Wednesday came about a month before what would have been his 101st birthday, and has left the close-knit community – where he was a much-loved figure – in mourning.

Born in Adelaide in 1921, Mr Kinsman enlisted in the Army in 1940, just two weeks after his 19th birthday, and joined the 2/48th Infantry Battalion.

He served with the unit in North Africa and fought in both the Siege of Tobruk in Libya and the First Battle of El Alamein in Egypt.

Chris Clarke, head of Alice Springs’ RSL division, said the eight-month siege of Tobruk had been a standout battle for Australian soldiers.

†[The Tobruk soldiers] were the first people ever to stop the German Afrika Korps in North Africa – until then the Germans had marched all over North Africa totally undefeated, and no one could even slow them down,” he said.

“Even [German Africa Corps commander] General Rommel praised [their] combat capability.”

A black and white photograph of a young man dressed in an Australian military uniform.
Sydney Kinsman as a young soldier. Delivered: Virtual War Memorial Australia

Captured by the Germans in 1942 during the First Battle of El Alamein, Mr. Kinsman spent time in three different POW camps in Italy before escaping with several other soldiers about a year later.

“Over the course of several months he climbed the Alps and made his way to Switzerland,” said Mr Clarke.

“He was there just 12 months before the Allies caught up where they were, close to the border, so they could cross back over and rejoin the Allies, and get back to his old unit.”

Mr Kinsman was repatriated to Australia in 1944 and discharged from the army the following year.

He remained an active member of RSL Australia for many years and was recently made a lifelong member of the organization.

Mr Kinsman previously told the ABC about the harsh conditions troops had faced during the siege of Tobruk.

“It was pretty dusty in the desert, digging your grooves when you had to dig them, and it was rocky…so you couldn’t go [too far] down,” he said.

“You had your minefields, but you had your pass to go through them, [and] you already had your trip wire… and barbed wire… they were everywhere.

“There was no continuous trench system… It was never a continuous trench system like in World War I.”

A WWII veteran wears a hat and his Australian flag insignia.
Sydney Kinsman moved to Alice Springs not long after leaving the military.ABC News: Mitchell Abram

Alice Springs’ “Living Treasure”

Mr Kinsman was well known in Alice Springs, where he was the last living veteran of World War II.

On Anzac Day 2020, after COVID-19 restrictions canceled ceremonies across the country, hundreds of residents paraded outside his home to pay tribute to his service; and later that year, he and his wife were inundated with community donations after their annual Christmas lights were destroyed.

Last year, the municipality erected a monument in his honor in honor of his 100th birthday.

Mr Kinsman moved from Adelaide to the Red Center in the late 1940s, initially to work as a kangaroo shooter, but soon moved into the construction industry where, with a few friends, he built many of the city’s residential and commercial buildings .

He was also a strong supporter of the Alice Springs RSL and was involved in a number of the town’s sporting and social organizations.

Sydney Kinsman waves to the residents of Alice Springs.
Sydney Kinsman was “almost in tears” after a local motorcade in his honor on Anzac Day 2020. ABC News: Samantha Jonscher

Mr Clarke said Mr Kinsman would be greatly missed by the Alice Springs community, who were shocked by his death.

“The respect that man had… [here] – it spans multiple generations and all kinds of industries and social groups, and the outpouring of emotions was just amazing to watch.

“People just thought that this day wouldn’t happen, that Syd would always be there.”

Posted updated

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