The story of Sir Arthur William McIlveen
Perhaps one of the most memorable and well known people amongst the Rats of Tobruk was Salvation Army Brigadier Sir Arthur William McIlveen.
As an unofficial padre to the 2nd/9th Battalion of the Australian Imperial Force, he gained his reputation for selfless service in his ministry to the Australian soldiers, as well as the captured German and Italian troops.
The Rats of Tobruk was the name given to the soldiers of the garrison who held the Libyan port of Tobruk against the German Africa Corps, during the Siege of Tobruk in World War II.
Born on 29 June 1886 at Brodies Plains, near Inverell, NSW, Arthur experienced firsthand how tough life can be when he and his brother supported their family while his father was ill.
At the age of 14 Arthur left the local school to join his father as a tin miner at Tingha. In a bush camp in 1910 Arthur made a commitment to serve the Salvation Army and he trained in Melbourne where he was awarded dux of his session of 132 cadets.
On 12 January 1916, Arthur married Elizabeth Mary Mundell, a fellow officer at Camberwell Corps in Melbourne.
With a strong desire to serve his country, Arthur asked permission from headquarters to serve with the Australian Imperial Force in World War I but was refused. Taking matters into his own hands he enlisted on 9 July 1918, however the war ended while he was on a troop ship bound for England.
Following his discharge in January 1919, he was appointed to Dubbo, New South Wales, where he and his wife assisted families suffering from Spanish influenza. Postings to other country towns in New South Wales followed before they eventually make their way to Queensland in 1928 earning admiration for their dedication and generosity wherever they went. Arthur was promoted Brigadier within the Salvation Army in 1938.
On 26 February 1940 Arthur was appointed Welfare Officer to the 18th Brigade. He sailed for Britain in May and reached Egypt in December, forming close relationship with the 2nd/9th Battalion where he served as an unofficial padre.
During the siege of Tobruk, he attended to the welfare of Australian servicemen, and Italian and German prisoners of war. He was known for playing his records on a battered phonograph, and for braving enemy fire to visit soldiers in the trenches and perimeter posts. The phonograph and collection of records were later donated to the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.
In 1967 Arthur was awarded The Salvation Army’s highest honour, the Order of the Founder and in 1970 received a knighthood as a Knight Bachelor of the British Empire for distinguished services to servicemen.
Brigadier Sir Arthur William McIlveen passed away on 1 May 1979 and received a funeral with full military honours. His grave stands today in Woronora Cemetery in the southern Sydney suburb of Sutherland.
At the Maroochy RSL Military Museum we are lucky enough to have a hand printed citation that was awarded to Sir Arthur William McIlveen by the Tobruk Rats of Queensland on display.