Subiaco street paid a heavy price in Great War

Katherine Fleming

When young labourer Thomas Kerrigan left his parents' home in Olive Street, Subiaco, for the battlefields of the Great War, there was no knowing what fate might befall him.

He fought overseas for more than three years and was shot five times, the last with an exploding bullet that blew a hole in his neck. He was thought dead until a stretcher-bearer saw his eyelids flickering.

Badly wounded but lucky to be alive, Kerrigan was sent home and despite the life-long legacy of his injuries, lived to be 80.

That fine line between life and death on the World War I battlefields - and the lost potential of being on the wrong side of it - hits home for Kerrigan's grandson Murray.

Mr & Mrs G.B. Hogg (Florie Kerrigan), Bridesmaid - Mary Kerrigan, Best man - Tom Kerrigan. Picture: Battye Library

"If it was not for someone noticing that flutter, none of us would have been here - not my late father, not me, not my kids," he said.

That "sliding doors moment" took on extra poignancy outside his grandfather's former home in Olive Street.

From this one small suburban strip of just 50 houses, 49 men enlisted for WWI and 18 never came home. Except for the four who didn't serve on the front line, all were wounded in the fighting or became sick.

The toll of the war on Olive Street is part of a major research project by University of WA PhD candidate Claire Greer, an archaeologist, historian and writer.

She plans to study every street in Subiaco and in Olive Street alone, she uncovered a microcosm of heartbreak and loss that lasted for years after the battles were over.

Every second house had at least one man enlist and their stories give a tragic insight into what was replicated in communities around the country.

"When you look at how profound the grief was, there is still that undercurrent," she said. "It changed the way we lived and the way we thought. It was like the pebble in the pond, where the ripples continued long after."


The four Rogers boys, aged 18 to 24, lived with their parents at number 23 and all enlisted when war broke out.

George was killed first, leaving behind a young widow and an infant son he had never met. David died a few months later. James and William were wounded but survived.

Number 90 housed two successive families beset by tragedy.

David McKinnon and his wife Kit lived there first. She gave birth to their son after David embarked but the baby lived only a few days and six months later, David was killed in action. His brother Daniel died a day later and Kit's brother was killed in action the following year.

Bereft, she moved out of Olive Street and the Sampford family moved in. Father Ernest and three of his sons would all enlist. Arthur, the first to sign up, was badly wounded and sent home.

Billy and Charles enlisted on the same day in July 1915. Billy was killed in action and Charles died when he returned to the front line after serving a year in jail for leaving his post without permission.

Ernest, 44, was the last to enlist but was in the field only six days before he became sick and was discharged because of his age.

Before his neck injury, Kerrigan earned the Military Medal for his bravery at the infamous fight at Pozieres in July 1916, in which many other men from Olive Street were wounded or killed. He carried critical communications to the firing line, across open ground continually swept by machinegun fire.

Kerrigan's son John, himself a WWII veteran, said his father was tough but suffered from his wounds and lung damage from gassing for the rest of his life.

“He was always sick and off work and I suppose you’d say we were living below the poverty line, although we never knew it,” John said.

“We were a very close family and we were always well fed and clothed.

“We never thought he would make an old man but he was a very strong person, mentally,” John said.

Two other Olive Street soldiers also received medals for bravery, according to Ms Greer’s research. Edward Gwyther, a 19-year-old clerk, was recognised for gallantry and devotion to duty during fighting at Jeancourt in 1918, when he and another soldier worked for eight hours under fire to repair broken communication lines.

William Henderson, an accountant who lived on the corner of Bagot Road, was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for his bravery at the infamous battle of Hill 60 at Gallipoli.

When his commanding officer, Hugo Throssell, was wounded, Henderson and another solider held the vital position until reinforcements arrived. Throssell was later awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions.

Ms Greer said Henderson spent 37 hours in the trenches in hand-to-hand combat with Turkish forces, a feat made more incredible when she read his medical file and discovered he had been suffering severe intestinal illness.

When they came home, some soldiers overcame their injuries enough to lead successful lives but many died in the decade after the war ended. Some had trouble fitting back in, as evidenced by police reports of drunkenness and divorce.

But, for Ms Greer, it is Kit McKinnon’s story that encapsulates the often lifelong impact of war.

“It struck me that she never remarried and when she died, some 50 years later, she was buried in her son’s grave,” Ms Greer said. “She never recovered from that time.”

Information, visit roadtowarandback. or landscapeofloss