Anzac poets approach to hard times
Man of many talents: Pte Thomas Henry Wilson. Picture: AWM

He was a surveyor, draughtsman, timber worker, prospector, miner, woodchopper, labourer, journalist and well-known writer of his day.

And also a rather unusual World War I Digger.

As a writer he was known by his pen-name, Crosscut.

But Chris Holyday, a researcher with Hesperian Press, revealed much more about the life and military career of Pte Thomas Henry Wilson.

For starters, it seems Pte Wilson was rather casual with facts about his life, with his age being one of the most elusive pieces of information.

Writing in Wartime, the magazine of the Australian War Memorial, Mr Holyday said Pte Wilson had claimed to have been born in Kent, England, but actually hailed from Sydney.

And although on the enlistment form he signed in August 1914 he gave his age as 39 years and six months, Pte Wilson was close to 50.

Mr Holyday wrote that Pte Wilson, said to have been a mate of bush poet Henry Lawson, had arrived in WA in 1895 looking for gold, and was soon published in the Sun, a Kalgoorlie paper, and Perth's Sunday Times.

His first attempt to join the war, when he was assigned to the 11th Battalion and sent to camp at Blackboy Hill, Greenmount, ended mysteriously. His war records show he was listed as being absent without leave in October and then declared a deserter.

Exactly what happened is not known, but Mr Holyday has noted that the Sun reported on November 15, 1914, that Pte Wilson had "an accident at Blackboy Hill" and had been "unable to leave with the First Expeditionary Force".

Mr Holyday has speculated in another analysis that perhaps Pte Wilson had just had second thoughts about being a soldier.

Whatever the case, Pte Wilson reappeared in the records in March 1915, re-enlisting and giving his age as 40 years and two months.

He sailed from Fremantle aboard the transport ship Chilka in June 1915.

Mr Holyday wrote Pte Wilson reached Gallipoli on August 2 and later recounted his experiences.

This included his description of a battle on Sari Bar Ridge.

"My rifle barrel was so hot that I could hardly hold it," Pte Wilson wrote. "I knew also men were dropping round about me and I expected to be hit myself sooner or later."

He went on to describe how he saw a young solider hit by Turkish fire and he saw the victim's "face disappear, the features blown clean away", replaced with "a gaping cavity like a hole scooped in a watermelon".

But it was not long before Pte Wilson's time at Gallipoli came to an end. His records show he "reported sick" at Gallipoli on August 26, 1915, was "absent from camp" for a day in September and was admitted to hospital in Greece in late September, diagnosed with rheumatism.

After the evacuation from Gallipoli in December he ended up in hospital in Egypt in early February 1916 with bronchitis.

By March he had been declared unfit for service "owing to old age" and was sent back to Australia the following month to be discharged.

A Medical Board report noted Pte Wilson had "a marked tremor" and "general debility".

Mr Holyday noted Pte Wilson's writings mixed realism with larrikin humour and satire, including a poem titled How I Won the VC, published in a book of soldiers' own observations published in 1916.

The piece took the view of a boastful veteran, who told how he had overwhelmed a Turkish position and finished off his foes by tossing them some of the Anzac tins of salty bully beef and waited while they died of thirst.

Pte Wilson also wrote movingly of burying a dead Turkish soldier who was clutching a photo of what seemed to be his son. On the photo the son had written a message.

Mr Holyday told how the verse said Pte Wilson had laid the photo on the soldier's chest before covering him with dirt.

"And I fashioned his mansion as best I could and patted it even and smooth and fair.

"And stood to attention and raised my hand in a last salute as I left him there."

Mr Holyday wrote Pte Wilson died in 1925 when he was aged 60, just 10 years after his war service, and was buried in Karrakatta Cemetery, in section "VC".

Hesperian Press is working on a book of Pte Wilson's war writings, expected to be published before Anzac Day next year.

The West Australian

Popular videos

Our Picks

Follow Us

More from The West