City farewells one of the last Rats of Tobruk

FAREWELL: Ipswich said farewell yesterday to one of the last surviving Rats of Tobruk Vernon Hansen of Brassall.
FAREWELL: Ipswich said farewell yesterday to one of the last surviving Rats of Tobruk Vernon Hansen of Brassall. David Nielsen

HE was remembered as a war hero and a compassionate man.

One of our last surviving Rats of Tobruk Vernon Hansen was farwelled on Friday afternoon with the Last Post, his coffin draped in the Australian flag and covered in poppies.

About 100 family, friends, staff from Brassall Retirement Village, Mayor Paul Pisasale and members of Ipswich RSL filled Len Russell Funeral Chapel at West Ipswich to say goodbye to a true hero.

Mr Hansen's health deteriorated after a trip to Canberra in April as one of 25 remaining Rats of Tobruk to mark the 75th anniversary of the siege. He passed away early on Monday, aged 96.

Pastor Siaosi Semaia said his bravery shone through to the end.

"In the last two weeks I visited Vern in hospital at Greenslopes. I asked him how he was feeling and he said 'I'm feeling good, but I'm sure there is another place that will be a lot better than this one," Pastor Semaia said.

"He was a great man ... Vern had a great gift of friendliness, compassion and a warm personality, such a very gentle person, a family man, he served his country well and was a great Christian."

Peter Hansen paid tribute to his father as "a brother of a very large family, a student, farm hand, post office employee, soldier, husband, father, bricklayer, farmer, friend, community worker, a volunteer ... and a veteran".

"Anzac Day at Forrest Hill next year will be different," he said. "He was a hero in my mind. He was a hero in the true sense of the word. He put his life on the line many times for his country, for us, all of us.

"There were dark times and in the darkest of those times he wrote on the back of a photo of Mum he was carrying, 'I'm sending your photo back, I wouldn't want it spoilt'." He married while recovering in Warwick after being evacuated when he was injured in fighting in Borneo. He later returned to face the Japanese again in Papua New Guinea.

"The story goes mum's father said I don't think you should marry Vern," Peter Hansen said. "She said 'why not' and he said 'he's going to get killed'. She said 'he might live and he might die but I want you at the wedding. It's going to happen one way or the other'."

Vernon Hansen fought in the siege of Tobruk and was in one of Australia's most elite battalions, the first to stop Rommel's tank attacks, but it was facing the Japanese in Borneo that his son John Hansen said Vernon faced his darkest days and later on the Kokoda Track .

"That was part of the war that gave Dad nightmares for quite a long period after," he said. "In the north coast of New Guinea, Japanese forces were dug in after they were pushed back along the Kokoda Track. When they got there, their strength was about 700. When the final battle was over, their strength was 66, that included wounded and sick."

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