World War II Wallaby Turns 100

World War II veteran and former Wallaby prop forward Eric Tweedale’s 100th birthday was celebrated this week by RSL NSW President Ray James and the Merrylands RSL sub-Branch.

Eric is well known for making sure those who have passed on are not forgotten, whether it be commemorations for the fallen in war or attending reunions to remember his Australian teammates and encourage the next generation of Wallabies. It was fitting then that his birthday was celebrated by his fellow veterans, including many who made the trip from his base sub-Branch of Merrylands in Sydney’s west to the Central Coast where he now resides.

He first played rugby less than two years before World War II began. He played ten caps for Australia – his first international was in 1946 against the All Blacks in Australia’s initial post-war Test. He was part of one of the most famous touring teams, the 1947-48 Wallabies, who did not have their line crossed in internationals against Scotland, Ireland, Wales and England.

While Eric has long been recognised as the oldest living Wallaby, including this interview with rugby commentator Gordon Bray last year, his service to the country in the Second World War, and 72 years of service to veterans as a member of RSL NSW, is less well known.

When war was declared by Prime Minister Robert Menzies in September 1939, Eric applied to join the Royal Australian Navy. After training at Flinders Naval Depot for convoy duty, in 1942 he was deployed in Sydney when it was attacked in May by Japanese midget submarines. To honour the dead, he served as a pallbearer at the military funeral for the dead Japanese captured in the midget subs. Eric was then drafted to escorting merchant ships up and down the Australian coast.

His first night out at sea was on board the SS Iron Knight in a convoy of 14 ships, of which one was sunk that night. As a convoy signalman, his role required using Morse code and flags to communicate between the fleets to ensure all ships sailed at the same time. As the war progressed north, he moved to Queensland protecting merchant ships carrying iron ore and coal – primary resources from being destroyed by the Japanese.

Eric has been a member of the League since 1949 and is now one of several RSL NSW members who are 100 or more years of age and served in the Second World War. We thank them for their service and dedication to helping their fellow veterans over so many years.

Image: RSL NSW President Ray James congratulates Eric Tweedale on reaching 100 years of age.