VERY few people have a war medal like the one that Maurice Aldous, of Alstonville, has kept safe for 70 years.
It was made by hand in a cave at Tobruk in Libya in 1941, using melted-down bullet shells.
Mr Aldous, who is now 91, was one of the famous Rats of Tobruk.
Between April and August 1941, around 14,000 Australian soldiers were besieged in Tobruk by German and Italian forces.
Tobruk was subjected to repeated ground assaults and almost constant shelling and bombing.
During that time 559 Australians were killed, 2450 wounded and 941taken prisoner.
As a medic during World War II, Mr Aldous spent more than seven months in the searing heat and freezing cold of Tobruk, undertaking dangerous missions to evacuate injured soldiers and bring in new supplies.
“One day our unit got called out to go to a cave where there was an engineer and this chap who had a fire going in a cave,” he said.
“I asked him what he was doing and he said he was making a Rat of Tobruk medal. He only made a few.
“There wouldn’t be many of these around.
“I’ve had it for 70 years now. I’ve always kept it. In 1948 we got an official Tobruk medal, but nothing compares to this.”
Mr Aldous was in Tobruk for more than seven months.
“The destroyer would only come in when it was dark because we had no air support,” he said.
“So it would be about midnight. Then the German airplanes would come over and we would have to stop everything.
“The hospital was bombed to pieces, there was no civilian population because everyone had been evacuated. We could only live in caves or trenches.”
Anzac Day is an emotional time for former ex-service men and women like Mr Aldous.
He admitted the day was “pretty big”.
“It’s very important to us,” he said.
One of his carers, physio aide Di McClung from Maranoa in Alstonville, said Mr Aldous had only recently started telling her more and more about his time as one of the Rats of Tobruk.
“They were surrounded by the enemy,” she said. “They lived a lot in the ground ... it was another one of the reasons why the Germans called them rats, but they loved the name and took it up.
“Maurie was a medic and his team would wait in caves for ships to come at night.
“They even built a tunnel from the hospital to the water, but they’d still have to unload and load really quickly.
“He sometimes gets tears in his eyes when he starts talking about it.”