Unofficial Rats of Tobruk medal

Place Africa: North Africa, Libya, Cyrenaica, Tobruk Area, Tobruk
Accession Number RELAWM20120
Collection type Heraldry
Object type Medal
Physical description Enamel, Silver wash, White metal
Location Main Bld: World War 2 Gallery: Gallery 1 - Mediterranean: Tobruk
Maker Michsaf
Place made British Mandate of Palestine: Palestine
Date made c 1942
Conflict Second World War, 1939-1945

Die struck circular white metal medal with suspender. At the centre is a gilded image of a rat, surrounded by a purple background. Around the edge is 'RATS OF TOBRUK / 1941' in raised letters. There is some 'shadowing' on the letters of the words 'OF' and 'TOBRUK', where the die slightly moved during the manufacturing process. The medal has the remains of silver plating around the border. On the reverse is imperfectly impressed 'MICHSAF / MADE IN PALESTIN[E]'

History / Summary

Two accounts exist regarding the design and production of this medal, which was designed and originally made during the siege of Tobruk.

The first, best known, version was recorded by the Military History Section and published in an abridged fashion in Australian newspapers in 1942. This account states that the original of this medal was designed and struck by a Queensland corporal, QX1193 Leslie Harold Dufton, serving with the 2/13th Field Company Engineers in Tobruk. With TX1170 Corporal Roy Allison Costello and QX7003 Sapper Frederick Roy Bignill, Dufton worked on the medal over three evenings. They made the original medals using aluminium from a wrecked German aircraft and copper from the driving bands of shell cases.

At first they were planning to make medals for themselves as a souvenir, but as others in their unit saw them, they asked for more to be made. So, with the support of their commanding officer, QX6024 Major August Shaw Gehrmann, they decided to make one for each man in that field company. Later, with the approval of VX250 Lieutenant Colonel Jack Mann, the commander of the Royal Engineers, a decision was made to create a die or dies so that the medal could be mass produced and available for purchase for every member of the 9th Division Engineers that served in Tobruk.

This is an example of one of the medals struck by a jeweller in Palestine which was collected by The Military History Section in March 1942. The exact number of medals manufactured is unknown, but at least 500 were made. The 1954 The Courier Mail recorded that the medal die was destroyed after the medal was deemed to be illegal.

The other account of the creation of this medal credits the original design and manufacture to a dental officer, VX28600 Arthur Barton Pilgrim Amies. This account states he designed the medal and had it cast by a dental technician from melted down florins and that the engineers later created about 300 for issue to men from that unit.

There also exists a sand cast version of this medal, made entirely from white metal and of an inferior quality to this. That version may have been made in Palestine from one of the die struck medals after the die/s were destroyed.