Private Tom Sharp was mortally wounded near Villers-Bretonneux exactly two years to the day after his older brother, Jim Sharp, was almost killed during a German bombardment in northern France.
Crossing into ‘no man’s land’ to rescue an injured comrade on April 20, 1918, Tom was cut down by enemy fire and was retrieved by another Digger.
He was taken to the 20th Casualty Clearing Station at Vignacourt with shell wounds to the abdomen and arm, but died on April 21 and was buried that day.
A letter dated October 25 from Base Records to his father, Matthew Sharp, at Beechmont – then known as Beech Mountain – states:
“The utmost care and attention is being devoted, where possible, to the graves of our soldiers. It is understood that photographs are being taken as soon as is possible and these will be transmitted to next-of kin when available.”
While most of the graves of Australia’s fallen from the Great War are inscribed with the words ‘Lest we forget’, from Laurence Binyon’s ode, Tom Sharp’s family specifically requested ‘Not dead but gone before’ as his epitaph.
Thomas Sharp’s namesake, Tom Sharp, has stood at his great uncle’s grave on the Somme and reflected not so much on his death at 23 but the ‘life that should have been’.
Born on July 6, 1894 at Torbanlea to Matthew and Magdalene Sharp (nee Rankin), Tom Sharp was about eight years old when the family moved to Beechmont from Horse Shoe Bend, Gympie, where their neighbour had been future Prime Minister and champion of the Digger during the war to come, Andrew Fisher.
Tom grew up on the family’s dairy farm, The Outlook, on Binna Burra Road, with its commanding views to the east.
Tall, at 180 centimetres, slim, and blue-eyed, he stated his occupation as farmer when he enlisted on October 17, 1916, following his older brother, Jim, who had joined up the previous year.
He left Sydney on the HMAT Wiltshire on February 7, 1917 as part of the 7th reinforcements of the 42nd Battalion and arrived at Devonport on April 11.
Once in England, Tom was transferred from the 42nd Battalion to the Machine Gun Corps and trained at Grantham from late June, 1917.
From there, he wrote a letter home to say that he and his cousin Stanley Garrick, who was also a cousin of George Rankin and Bill Rankin, were ‘in the same draft’ with Hector Cowling and ‘a good battle mate’, Tom Sullivan.
“I hope we can stick together – we are trying to get into the same company as Bill (Rankin) and Ossie (Oswald Slingsby) – but in the machine guns, not the infantry,” Tom wrote.
On October 3, 1917, Tom left for France via Folkestone and was assigned to the 7th Machine Gun Company/2nd Machine Gun Battalion with, as he had hoped, his mates Hector Cowling and Tom Sullivan. However, his cousin, Stanley Garrick, was drafted into the 24th Machine Gun Company/4th Machine Gun Battalion.
The men of machine gun companies served in crews operating the trusty tripod-mounted Vickers guns from fixed positions.
The Vickers’ water-cooled barrels meant they could deliver blistering rates of fire – up to 450 rounds of .303 a minute, or a staggering 10,000 rounds an hour – at ranges of up to 3000 yards (2.7 kilometres).
Tom Sharp has been remembered down the generations for his sunny disposition and his reluctance to burden others with his problems.
So it was hardly surprising when he wrote home from France on February 24, 1918, after some five months in action, that he spoke less of the war than about friends and family.
“We are still out having a spell, when we left the line we were told that we were going back into a civilised part of France but if this is civilised god help the uncivilised portion. We are camped about fifteen miles from Boulogne in a bit of a village that has more dogs and wells than people,” wrote Tom.
“Since I started this letter Nell I have been for a walk up to the Btn where Bill is but he was out. I saw him yesterday also a couple of days ago. I have met him several times at the Brigade sports, also Ossie – they were both looking splendid.
I had a letter from Stan & he was saying he had a letter from Hec written the night before he boarded the boat for Aussie. If such is the case he has the luck of the devil – dinkum. Old Hec has more than done his cut tho. I think it is up to him to get home.
I think after a few more stints either old fritz or us will be throwing in the sponge. They can’t last much longer without something or someone giving in.”
Tom did not live to see ‘old fritz’, the Germans, ‘throw in the sponge’ and sign the Armistice in November, 1918.
The day Tom died, April 21, the 24th Machine Gun Company to which his cousin, Stan Garrick, was attached claimed credit for shooting down the German air ace, Manfred von Richthofen, the celebrated Red Baron.
Less than four months later, on August 10, 1918, Stan Garrick died of wounds received in action and was buried in the same Vignacourt British War Cemetery as his cousin and best mate, Tom Sharp.
The selection of land which had been set aside for Tom Sharp on his return from the war was named Vignacourt in remembrance of his final resting place in France. A century later, it remains in the Sharp family.