Tom after he had been in Tobruk for about six months.
Tom after he had been in Tobruk for about six months.

Long life for Tobruk Rat

THOMAS Gordon Baldwin was born on July 7, 1916 at Matron Bee’s Birthing Rooms in Toowoomba. Matron Bee obviously did a good job because he lived for 95 years and 10 days until he passed from this life at the Warwick Hospital on July 17.

At four years of age Thomas moved with his family to the Granite Belt. He always recalled the day they left Toowoomba, mostly because it was his first ride in a motor car.

He left school at the end of Year 6 and went to work in the family orchard.

Looking around the place in his spare moments he noticed an attractive young girl just over the road at Jock Middleton’s General Store and by the outbreak of WWII, Tom Baldwin and Jean Middleton were something of an item.

As it did to many couples, the war intervened. Tom joined up but they were engaged before he left for the Middle East on December 22, 1940 where he would become a part of the legend of the Rats of Tobruk.

Tom was a modest man but he did consider his dugout was one of the flasher in Tobruk, being completely lined with cypress pine he acquired from around the place. He was “dugout proud” and was offended one day when a real rat decided to take up residence. A quick shot with his revolver put an end to the sharing arrangement, but left him with tinnitus which he tolerated until his dying day.

Tom and Jean planned to marry while he was on leave in March and April of 1943, but sadly Jean’s mother Lily was extremely ill and plans had to be put on hold.

Tom embarked once more, this time to New Guinea, not to return until March of 1944. He and Jean married, and in April that year Tom left again, this time for Borneo. Tom was discharged on October 22, 1945 with a total of 1923 days of service.

In 1947 his bravery and ingenuity was recognised with a Mention in Dispatches.

Tom and Jean bought a farm at Cottonvale which became Tom’s home for 60 years until he reached the age of 90.

His first daughter Margaret was born in 1947, then Jennifer in 1949 and son Robert in 1953. His children remember him as a hard worker. He ran an orchard, a petrol depot and an agricultural chemical agency for many years. It was common to wake in the morning to the sound of the old grey Fergie roaring past, pulling a plough or a spray cart. Often it would still be going at night when the kids went to bed. He was happy to welcome family at any time. Nieces and nephews visited, and he displayed endless patience with them.

Tom always had trouble with his lungs and at 58 he became ill and retired. He recovered and in his 60s was able to start a second career – goat herding. One of Tom’s joys was watching the goats mooch past his sunroom.

In these years also he welcomed his daughter Jenny and her son Cameron back home and Tom embarked on a second round of being a father figure.

Sadness came Tom’s way but he stoically soldiered on through the loss of his wife Jean to a cruelly debilitating disease in 1991, and daughter Jenny in 2006. Throughout his trials, Tom remained as he always was – patience, kind and thoughtful.

He was a good husband, beaut dad, and a great grandpa to his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

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