Enlisting in 1914, Thomas Gorman ultimately joined the ranks of a lost generation of the Great War.
Repatriation Department files held at the Australian National Archives in Brisbane tell the story of a life defined by the Great War and the Great Depression and later blighted by alcoholism.
A labourer, Thomas was 27 years old when he enlisted at Longreach on December 19, 1914.
Born at Wellcamp near Toowoomba, Thomas was the first of three sons of John Gorman to enlist in the AIF. His younger brother, William Gorman, survived the war but his older brother, Patrick Gorman, was killed in action on the Western Front.
Thomas sailed for the Middle East with the 4th reinforcements of the 5th Light Horse Regiment on the HMAT Star of England, from Brisbane on April 8, 1915.
At Maadi, on July 28, 1915, Thomas was appointed a Driver with the 5th Light Horse Regiment which, after Gallipoli, was involved with the defence of the Suez Canal.
He was admitted to hospital with mumps in 1916 and after leaving hospital the next month was transferred to the 13th Field Artillery Brigade at Tel el Kebir.
In May, Thomas was taken on strength with the 5th Divisional Ammunition Column which had begun forming in Egypt in February. Its departure for the Western Front was delayed by the difficulty in assembling artillery for the 5th Division and it was June 20 before Thomas left Alexandria on the Huntsend as part of the British Expeditionary Force, arriving in Marseilles10 days later.
The next entry in Thomas’ service record shows he forfeited 10 days’ pay for neglect of duty on August 26.
Thomas was taken ill with influenza on October 12 and travelled by ambulance train to hospital at Boulogne. He rejoined his unit on November 18, 1916, as conditions in the field continued to deteriorate and France entered its worst winter in decades.
Artillery played a defining role in the Great War, causing death and destruction on a previously unimagined scale, with more soldiers killed by exploding shells and shrapnel than any other weapons during the conflict.
Feeding the field guns was a mammoth logistical task involving rail as well as motorised and horse-drawn transport, each division having its own ammunition column to supply the artillerymen at the front. The sheer scale of the effort is highlighted by estimates that, during the Battle of the Somme in 1916, almost 1.8 million shells in total were fired at the German lines in one week alone.
For the drivers of divisional ammunition columns, who supported the artillerymen on the front line, it was back-breaking work that was both dreary and dangerous, particularly when it involved horse-drawn wagons laden with high explosive shells.
In July 1917, Thomas was admitted to hospital suffering scabies and boils. He rejoined his unit the next month but in September forfeited seven days’ pay for drunkenness. When apprehended by military police on September 14, he was without boots, socks, leggings or cap and had the value of the lost property deducted from his pay.
Thomas Gorman’s record shows that he served for more than two and a half years on the Western Front, but it does not tell of the horrors of the battlefield, the horrendous winters in mud and snow on the Western Front, or the herculean task of carting tonnes of ammunition along roads reduced to a quagmire.
At the war’s end, Thomas returned from France to England, arriving at Southampton on January 1, 1919. With other soldiers who had served since 1915, he had priority for return to Australia and left Southampton on the Kashmir on March 9, 1919.
The trip home was not all smooth sailing and at sea on March 14 Thomas was fined four days’ pay for disobeying a ship’s order by smoking on the deck and for making a false statement to his superior officer. A few weeks later, he was admitted to the ship’s hospital suffering a scalp wound.
Arriving in Melbourne on April 23, Thomas was discharged from the AIF in Brisbane on July 2, seemingly suffering no ill effects of his war service. In the 1950s he would blame the war for his deafness, with doctors finding it “not attributable to his war service”.
‘Civvy street’ proved a hard road for Thomas and his post-war repatriation file is filled with applications for sustenance payments and employment assistance.
In the 1920s, as Australia suffered the economic crisis of the Great Depression, Thomas put his name down for work as a cane cutter, fencing contractor or “general bush work”. For a time he worked as a farm hand at a soldiers’ settlement at Beerburrum on what is now known as the Sunshine Coast.
In the ensuing decades, Thomas became a chronic alcoholic. He never married and lived in Brisbane with a sister, Mrs A Patterson at Wharf Street in the city, during the early 1960s.
Thomas suffered numerous health problems, including peripheral vascular disease, which demanded the amputation of a leg. He had been fitted for a prosthetic limb and, according to a note in his file, had been looking forward to spending more time reading.
Sadly, Thomas passed away in Brisbane on September 28, 1966, nine days after the operation.