• The Thomas Brothers - together in peace

A rather sad looking grave in need of some repair is an unusual find in the St Kilda Cemetery in Victoria – buried together are three of the four Thomas brothers who served in WW1. All three were married men in their early thirties, when they enlisted within around a month of each other in 1916. Sons of Samuel Devine THOMAS & Mary PALMER, they were born in Wail, a small country town on the Western Highway between Dimboola & Pimpinio, not far from Horsham in Western Victoria. Sydney William Stevenson THOMAS, the eldest of the three at 34, was the first to enlist on the 7th March 1916. A commercial traveller, Syd had married in 1909 and had two young children. Syd’s enlistment was followed by 32 year old Percival Frederick THOMAS on the 28th March. A chemist in civilian life he had married in 1911 and also had 2 young children. A couple of weeks later on the 14th of April, Ernest Arthur THOMAS also enlisted. Ern was younger than Perc by almost 2 years and he had followed the trade of an electrician, and like Syd, had also married in 1909. Ern & Syd joined the 1st Australian Wireless Squadron which was destined for the Mesopotamian campaign, to serve in support of the British forces commanded by General Maude. After a brief time in signal school, they embarked together on the RMS Morea at the end of May 1916 – Ern as a Staff Sergeant and Syd a Corporal. The Morea only took them as far as Colombo, where they re-embarked on the SS Novara for Bombay, and from Bombay they boarded their final ship the Ellenga, which took them to Basra. As soon as they landed, Syd was admitted to hospital with mumps, where he stayed until the end of July. Meanwhile, the arrival of their squadron allowed a re-organization of the Wireless Units to take place, and together with the 1st Australian Pack Wireless Signal Troop which had been stationed here since March, along with a New Zealand unit, they formed the 1st Anzac Wireless Signal Squadron (1st AWSS), under the command of Major Alexander Sutherland. The wireless stations which they operated were mostly mobile and allowed essential, reliable communications between the British forces, as well as intercepting enemy communications. Although the signalers were relatively protected by the cavalry whom they traveled with, they didn’t escape the illness & disease that came with the harsh conditions, the unbearable heat, the flies & the mosquitoes. By October when the 1st AWSS was preparing to join the main British action on the Tigris, Major Sutherland had already been invalided home, and Syd wasn’t far behind. Having only been promoted to Sergeant on the 8th of October, he found himself in hospital 5 days later with conjunctivitis. On the 16th he boarded the hospital ship Oxfordshire for India, and after being transferred to Egypt, he received a new diagnosis of trachoma and was sent home on the Euripides in the January of 1917. Ern remained with his unit throughout 1917 and was possibly amongst the first troops to enter Baghdad when the British took it in March. Towards the end of 1917 the NZ wireless troops were replaced by Australians & the unit became known as the 1st Australian Wireless Signal Squadron. In mid April 1918 Ern proceeded on 1 months leave to Australia for family reasons. He never returned to the front and was eventually discharged at the end of September 1918. A couple of months after his own homecoming, Syd had recovered from his eye problems and returned to duty on the 20th April 1917. He remained in Australia attending various signal schools until the March of 1918, and then set sail once more. This time however, he was destined for the Western Front, and landed at Liverpool a week after Ern had begun his journey home. After a month in England, Syd crossed to France in May and joined up with the Australian Corps Signal Coy (A.C.S.C) on the 5th of June. During his first month with the A.C.S.C., Syd was listed as supernumerary and under training; he then attended a signal school in July. Towards the end of August he was given a weeks’ leave in Havre, and 2 days before armistice he was fortunate enough to receive 2 weeks leave in Paris. Finally he spent a couple of weeks on leave in the UK before once again sailing for home at the end of February 1919. Perc meanwhile had joined the Medical Corps (AAMC) as a Corporal and went into camp at Royal Park for 6 weeks, before being transferred to Williamstown for 5 months. He was then stationed at No. 11 Australian General Hospital in Caulfield until mid-way through January 1917, when he was transferred to Medical Stores at the Central Base Depot. Finally at the end of October 1917, he was promoted to Staff Sergeant and boarded the Aeneas for England. At the Base Depot at Tidworth he continued his work in Medical Stores until the 18th February, and then was transferred to the ABDM Stores at HQ in London. Unable to escape the raging influenza virus, Perc was admitted to the 1st Australian Auxilary Hospital at Harefield on the 28th of October 1918. So while his brother Syd celebrated in Paris as the war officially ended, Perc was lying ill in hospital. His luck was in however, and unlike so many who succumbed, he pulled through and was discharged on the 14th of November. On the 4th of December Perc was marched into No. 2 Command Depot at Weymouth, where he remained for 8 months. He was then given leave from the 8th of August until the 22nd, at which time he embarked on the Anchises on duty as a member of the nursing staff, for his return to Australia. Back home Perc remained on duty until he was eventually discharged at the end of May 1920. A month after armistice while Syd & Perc were still overseas, their father Samuel passed away. Twenty years later, almost to the day, Ern was the first of the three brothers to be interred in their shared grave at St Kilda, when he died at the Caulfield Repatriation Hospital (previously No. 11 AGH) on the 8/12/1938. His widow Mary remarried in 1940. Perc, who had been living separately from his wife Jeanie since sometime in the 1930s, joined Ern in the July of 1961. And three years later, Syd, who had divorced and remarried also in the 1930s, completed the trio. Their younger brother Stan (5216) is buried elsewhere. Endnotes: Sgt S.W.S. Thomas, 14326, 1st A Wireless Sqd / A Corps Sig Coy (1881 – 1964) Staff Sgt P.F. Thomas, 18987, AAMC (1883 – 1961) Staff Sgt E.A. Thomas, 14321, 1st A Wireless Sqd / 1st AW Sig Sqd (1884 – 1938) 4th Brother: Cpl S.R.P. Thomas, 5216, AGBD (1890 – 1955) Heather (Frev) Ford, 2011
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