Stories of Remembrance

Army, First World War (1914-18)A young man of the times,My father, one of the last ANZACs

Tom could not have imagined the horrors of war but he did realise that an opportunity to escape from his restrictive environment presented itself.
Patricia English, daughter

In 1915, Thomas Raymond Gray enlisted at Pyramid Hill and joined the 4th Light Horse. He was nineteen years of age. Tom was born in Lake Boga in 1896 and the family later moved to a farm in Terrick’s Forest, near Pyramid Hill. He was the eldest child and had six siblings.

Dad, in May 1915, epitomised the Australian soldier as expressed in the Ode of Remembrance. He was a fit, intelligent, strong young man of nineteen years of age, of tall stature and filled with a spirit of adventure. Tom already had training in the Light Horse Cadets at Pyramid Hill in Victoria. He considered he was an excellent shot with a rifle and a good horseman. Tom loved sport and being a country lad from a farming background he was inventive. He was also a bit of a larrikin, privately critical of “fools” and did not always agree with the decisions of authority figures as expressed in a letter written when he was eighty. This generation lived in very different times to the youth of today.

Tom had little formal education but he attended a rural school for a basic education in literacy and numeracy. It was a few kilometres away and he had to walk, carrying his boots to save shoe leather. He respected the authority of his elders or received punishment as children had few rights. Tom had little opportunity to experience a different life. There was some exposure to newspapers but this may not have enabled him to gain much knowledge of world affairs. The local paper, The Pyramid Hill Advertiser, has compiled a book titled Remember, Respect, Rejoice that will feature letters and news items of the area found in the papers of the day. They will paint a useful picture of the knowledge and opinions of the times.

These were the early days of Federation and to serve King and country was an expectation. Tom could not have imagined the horrors of war but he did realise that an opportunity to escape from his restrictive environment presented itself. Many of the country lads like dad enlisted, sensing adventure. On a lighter note, Tom also was aware that girls were attracted to a man in uniform.

The methods of warfare were redefined in the First World War and the riding skills of the Light Horse were not suitable for the Gallipoli terrain. So the horses remained in Egypt and Tom’s other skills were utilised. He was a sniper, runner, stretcher bearer and performed all duties that were requested.

He only had a few weeks at Gallipoli and his group was sent to Ryrie’s Post to relieve other members of the Light Horse stationed there. Nevertheless, Tom was left with horrendous memories of an unforgiving terrain, poor food, water and shelter, atrocious weather and conditions, and of course, the horrors of death and injury which comes with war. Being brought up in the country, he had not been exposed to many childhood diseases and he succumbed early in Gallipoli to mumps. He remembered the bitter cold, the lice, poor hygiene conditions, all the terrible hardships faced by these brave men.

Tom, like others, gained an admiration of the Turkish soldiers and Ataturk who ensured after the war that Gallipoli remained a sacred site honouring the service of the men in this terrible campaign. Naturally, Tom came to value the mateship and trust of his fellow troopers. His particular friend was Cliff Kelly. They enjoyed each other’s company and the pranks they planned to relieve the horrors surrounding them.

Tom was very proud that when he was on duty, no attack occurred on his watch. He was proud of his ability as a sniper at his post. Tom related only amusing stories of his time at Gallipoli. He remembered the stress he felt when he thought he saw a Turkish hat moving on the horizon. Should he fire and alert the troops? It was a difficult decision but it turned out to be a marauding rat! He kept other difficult decisions to himself.

The 4th Light Horse left Gallipoli on the 11 December and they eventually returned to Egypt. At Gallipoli, these brave young men experienced the horror of war. Their innocence was lost and they came to realise what the future could entail.

It is often expressed that the young Australian soldier railed against deferring to British commands and the arrogant way they were given. Tom often mentioned this as part of his war experience. The difficulties faced by these young men cannot be easily imagined. Tom and many thousands of others sacrificed over four years of their young lives, living in nightmarish circumstances when they answered the call to war, a battle fought on faraway foreign shores and for foreign powers. Thousands were severely maimed and thousands made the supreme sacrifice and did not return; but they did ask to be remembered.

Tom faced nearly three years of gruelling conditions on the Western Front. He had been assigned to the 2nd ANZAC (XXII Corps) Mounted Regiment and posted to D Squadron. He was stationed near Ypres and was deployed in a number of battles around this area. He recalled that bullets were still flying ten minutes before the armistice. Tom also remembered riding through London in a celebration parade. After the war was finally over he was assigned to the 13th Light Horse Regiment. Yes, they were,” staunch to the end.”

Tom spoke with joy about his leave and the feeling of relief that he felt. He travelled at some stage to Scotland and England. His most treasured and memorable experience was climbing the Pyramids in Egypt and exploring Cairo. This was a long way from Pyramid Hill.

Tom returned to some of life’s adventures during the Roaring Twenties. He loved his time dancing at the Green Mill, studying engineering at RMIT and living in Melbourne, away from his farm. He did not really enjoy farming but after a few years his mother recommended that he return to manage his land. Tom joined in the community and sporting activities of Pyramid Hill. He especially loved tennis. Tom eventually married Eileen in Bendigo and had two children.

Tom endured the Great Depression and crippling drought which caused him to lose his farm. The family had to start again in Melbourne during the Second World War and its difficult aftermath. Life was certainly not easy for this generation. Words cannot express the adversities confronted by these fine Australian men. Dad said that his experiences of war were ‘a world apart’ from normal life. I consider his generation was a breed apart.

Tom lived until he was a hundred. He was one of the last ANZACS alive in 1995 and has a chapter in the book called The Last Anzacs. We celebrated his 100th birthday at the Watsonia RSL, in 1996. 

Tom led part of the ANZAC Day procession in a jeep in 1996 and we were very proud of him. Tom’s face lit up when he saw the soldiers on horseback wearing the uniform of the Light Horse. The family of his friend, Cliff Kelly heard his name and made contact with him in the following week. It was a moving experience for all. Tom died in October, 1996. I am very proud that he was my beloved father.

Lest we forget.

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