Thomas Edward BULCH


BULCH, Thomas Edward

Service Number: 1149
Enlisted: 29 March 1915, Geeolong, Victoria Australia
Last Rank: Sergeant
Last Unit: 23rd Infantry Battalion
Born: Ballarat, Victoria, Australia, November 1888
Home Town: Armadale, Stonnington, Victoria
Schooling: Not yet discovered
Occupation: Dredge hand
Died: Died of wounds, Armentieres, France, 20 June 1916
Cemetery: Bailleul Communal Cemetery Extension, Nord
Plot 11, Row E, Grave 188
Memorials: Australian War Memorial, Roll of Honour
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World War 1 Service

29 Mar 1915: Enlisted AIF WW1, Geeolong, Victoria Australia
10 May 1915: Involvement AIF WW1, Private, SN 1149, 23rd Infantry Battalion
10 May 1915: Embarked AIF WW1, Private, SN 1149, 23rd Infantry Battalion, HMAT Euripides, Melbourne
20 Jun 1916: Involvement AIF WW1, Sergeant, SN 1149, 23rd Infantry Battalion

Sgt Thomas Edward “T. E.” Bulch

From Ballarat & District in the Great War

Sometimes it can be the simplest moments that lead you to find the most unexpected things. When a friend and musical colleague, Jeremy de Korte, posted a photograph of a rather beautiful presentation conductor’s baton on Facebook, I was intrigued. The exquisite workmanship of the piece was one thing, but it was the name engraved on the baton that immediately grabbed my attention: “T. E. Bulch”. Now, I’m rather fortunate to have an excellent memory for the names of “my boys”, and I know that the surname of Bulch is not that common in Australia. All I needed to do was link the two together, but even I wasn’t prepared for the complicated story it brought to life!

Thomas Edward “T. E.” Bulch was born in New Shildon, County Durham – brass band country in the north of England. He was born into a family of musicians and quickly showed that he was particularly gifted.

Having already begun to establish himself in his home county, T. E. decided to migrate to Australia; he arrived in Sydney 2 Jun 1884, when he was just 21. There is some conjecture as to whether his relocation was to take advantage of greater musical opportunities or because the cleaner air would benefit his health. Whatever the reason, T. E. began to attract attention immediately when he was named as bandmaster of the old 3rd Infantry Battalion band. He also became bandmaster of the Allendale and Kingston Brass Band around the same time.

‘…The Allendale and Kingston Brass Band, under
the able leadership of Mr T. E. Butch, performed
in the rotunda, to, the. delight of many
hundreds of persons, who testified their approval
by loud clapping of hands. Mr Bulch, who is the
bandmaster to the Ballarat Militia, is a musician
of a high order of merit, and like nearly all German
artists, he possesses a wonderful command over
the instrumentation which he performs. It is no
matter for surprise, then, that his Allendale and
Kingston band are so perfect, and it is little wonder
that a number of musical critics should on Saturday
night applaud them…’

This was also the first indication that his surname would confuse people into mistaking his origins. Whist this was not an issue in 1884, thirty years later it would cause him considerable grief.

On 8 April 1885, T. E. married Ballarat-born, Eliza Ann Paterson, the daughter of one of the major mine managers in Crewick. The death of their first child in infancy was a source of great sadness, however, they then welcomed the safe arrival of five more children. Their eldest son, Thomas Edward, was born at Ballarat on 11 November 1888.

Whilst T. E. had trained as a fitter in the Shildon Locomotive Works, he had come to Australia determined to make his living through music. He opened a music store in Sturt Street, Ballarat, selling sheet music and instruments, wrote prolifically – under his own name and several pseudonyms – conducted bands, taught successful cornet students, and adjudicated in band contests across the State. As well as selling his own music, T. E. also founded the Australian Brass and Military Band Journal.

After a dispute with the commander of the 3rd Battalion in 1886, T. E. left the Band and established Bulch’s Model Band. As bandmaster, he led the band for five years, achieving a fine reputation and successes in numerous competitions across the country. This band was to be the forerunner of the Ballarat City Brass Band.

In this rather rarefied atmosphere, young Tom apparently flourished. Like so many good musicians, he started early and became a fine cornet and bugle player. Given that the family lived in Bond Street, Ballarat East, it seems likely that Tom went to either the Mount Pleasant or Golden Point State Schools, but his name does not appear on their Great War Rolls of Honour.

Tom did, however, find himself in a spot of bother with the local constabulary in June 1904, when he and two mates, George Reed and John Shackles, were charged with playing street football. It was alleged that the trio ‘took possession’ of the Haymarket (site of the Ballarat Civic Hall) on market day. There had been a number of complaints from locals regarding boys playing football in the streets, but because Tom and his friends had disturbed the horses at the market, it was deemed more serious. When the boys promised ‘not to offend again’, they were released without charge.

In June 1905, the Bulch family moved to Albury, and T. E. took over as bandmaster of the Albury Town Band. Young Tom played cornet with the same band.

Tom had not turned 20, when, on 15 September 1908, he married Ivy Mae Veronica Cozens. It was a quiet wedding celebrated at Albury’s St Matthew’s Church by the Reverend Canon Bevan. Their first child was born at Albury on 15 December 1909.

The young family then moved to St Kilda, where Tom worked as a tram conductor. By 1910, they had moved across Melbourne to the suburb of Clifton Hill. It was there that their second child, Eric Leslie was born. Sadly, the little boy was still just a toddler when he died on 10 October 1912. The birth of their third and final child, Frederick Norman “Freddy”, in 1913, completed their family.

In 1914, Tom, Ivy and the children had moved to Geelong, where Tom’s parents had been living for several years, and T. E. was conducting the Geelong West Municipal Band.

When war was declared, married men were not expected to volunteer, however, many took the opportunity of an excellent, steady wage in uncertain times. Tom had been working as a dredge hand when he made the decision to enlist. He presented himself at the Geelong Recruitment Depot on 29 March 1915.

After undergoing the standard physical examination, the medical officer recorded that Tom was 5-feet 9-inches tall, weighed 9-stone 3-pounds and had a 35½-inch chest; he also had a fair complexion, with blue eyes and blonde hair. Not having any previous military training was no detriment to him being immediately accepted into the AIF.

Tom went into camp at Broadmeadows, where he was posted to the newly raised 23rd Infantry Battalion and assigned to the unit’s band. He was soon named as bandmaster, and carried out extra duties with the 23rd Battalion’s medical corps section.

When the troopship Euripides sailed from Port Melbourne on 8 May 1915, Tom was included in the Headquarters Staff.

Meanwhile, the war was having a profound impact on his father. Anti-German feeling was growing rapidly across the country, and Bulch was considered too German-sounding a name for people to trust. This wasn’t helped by all his sheet music being printed by the finest printing houses in Liepzig. Sales at his music shop plummeted when customers staged a boycott, and T. E. was forced to prove his British heritage.

Tom spent two months in Egypt before finally embarking to join his countrymen on the Gallipoli Peninsula. He sailed from Alexandria on 3 August…on board the SS Southland.

Now, history tells us that the Southland was torpedoed in the Aegean Sea on 2 September as it made its way towards the Dardanelles. For those living on news via second and third hand information at the time, it was a particularly worrying experience. For T. E. Bulch, rumours made it even worse. On 29 October he wrote to the Minister of Defence pleading for news.

‘…It is reported throughout Geelong that a transport with the 23rd Batt onboard was torpeoed (sic) on its way to the Front and also that my son, Bandsman Thomas E. Bulch, No1149 23rd Battalion Band…was on board & drowned, & as we have had no word from headquarters would you kindly let us know if there is any truth in this report. Hoping to have an early reply as we are all terribly anxious…’

The minister passed the letter onto Base Records; the reply was brief and blunt: ‘…no official report had been received and as such it was to be assumed that he was with his unit…’

Fortunately, Tom was safe – he had survived the torpedoing and had indeed continued on with his unit to Gallipoli. He served at ANZAC until the evacuation in December.

After arriving back in Egypt, and on 10 January 1916, it was confirmed that he was promoted to sergeant-bugler in the Canal Zone. Tom was then one of the earlier AIF transfers to the Western Front – he sailed for Marseilles on 19 March.

The 23rd was occupying trenches in the Rue-du-Bois sector on 19 June, when the enemy artillery unleased a fierce bombardment – with over 800 shells slamming into the line. Tom Bulch was amongst the casualties. He was admitted to the 6th Field Ambulance and immediately transferred to the 2nd Casualty Clearing Station suffering multiple shrapnel wounds. He had been struck in the right hand, left knee and suffered a catastrophic wound to the back of his skull.

The medical staff made him as comfortable as possible and Tom lingered for several hours before he died at 3am on 20 June. He was buried in the Bailleul Communal Cemetery Extension later the same day.

Ivy Bulch was named as the sole beneficiary in Tom’s Will. Although she was granted a pension, she was left to raise their children alone. She never remarried and died at the Westmead Hospital, Sydney, on 25 October 1982. She was 92.

Sadly, Tom hadn’t lived to see his father’s most unique connection to Australian music.

Many years later, T. E.’s eldest daughter, Adeline, recalled hearing soldiers returning from the war whistling a popular song that sounded remarkably like her father’s march, Craigielee. The popular version of the story is that a young Queensland woman, Christina MacPherson, had heard the piece being played at the Warrnambool races. She had returned home and played the music from memory. A. B. ‘Banjo’ Paterson then wrote words to the tune and Waltzing Matilda was born.

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23 Battalion

Rank - Sergeant

Son of Thomas Edward and Eliza Bulch; husband of Ivy Mae Veronica Bulch, of 10, Victory Square, Armadale, Victoria, Australia. Father of Thelma Evelyn Bulch and Frederick Norman Bulch