Before Thomas Lawton was a Rhodes Scholar or a famous footballer, he was briefly a Gunner in the 12th Field Artillery Brigade during the last weeks of the Great War.
Tommy, as he was known during his sporting career, was a medical student who put his university course on hold to enlist on January 12, 1918, four days before his 19th birthday. Born at Waterford, he was the seventh child of Lahey’s sawmill manager, James Lawton, and Ruth Lawton and, as he was under 21, needed the consent of both his parents to enlist.
Tommy Lawton’s name is listed on the Canungra war memorial between those of his much older brother, John Lawton, who joined up in September 1915, and his cousin John Harry Lawton, who enlisted in October 1916.
Tommy left Brisbane by train on April 23, 1918 to travel to Sydney, where he embarked on the Osterley on May 8, 1918, with the Queensland reinforcements bound for England.
He arrived at Liverpool on July 10 and went to Sutton Veny for further training. Initially allotted to the 9th Battalion on July 20 as a Private, Tommy was remustered as an artillery Gunner on July 23.
It was October 4 before he finally proceeded to France, joining the 12th Field Artillery Brigade on October 14. However, the last action of Australian troops on the Western Front had been the capture of Montbrehain, a position beyond the Hindenburg Line, on October 5, before the war ended with the Armistice of November 11.
Tommy returned to England on January 28, 1919 and left Devonport for Australia on the HMAT Anchises a month later. He arrived home on April 13 and was discharged from the Army on May 4.
Tommy resumed his medical studies at the University of Sydney in 1920 and was elected Queensland’s Rhodes Scholar – a first for Canungra.
According to the Australian Dictionary of Biography, he entered New College, Oxford, in 1924, and represented the university in Rugby, swimming and athletics.
Back in Australia in 1927, Tommy Lawton was selected for an eight-month tour of Britain, France and Canada with the Waratahs.
After settling in Brisbane he helped to reinvigorate the Queensland Rugby Union organisation and in 1929 captained the Australian team which defeated the New Zealand All Blacks in all three test matches. The following year he led a victorious Australian team in its first test against the British Isles.
His last appearance on the football field was in a drawn series against New Zealand in 1932, when Tommy Lawton was declared “still the master at 33” by a sports writer among the crowd of 28,000. He married Maude Archibald in Sydney the following year and they moved to a small farm near Brisbane were they raised two sons and a daughter.
Tommy Lawton passed away in 1978 at the Greenslopes Repatriation Hospital in Brisbane. In 1983, his grandson and namesake, Tom Lawton, made his debut as a Wallaby and went on to play 41 test matches during 11 overseas tours.