Thomas William (Tom) WILSON


WILSON, Thomas William

Service Number: 3309
Enlisted: 3 August 1915, Newcastle, NSW
Last Rank: Private
Last Unit: 55th Infantry Battalion
Born: Hull, East Yorkshire, England, 1885
Home Town: Torbanlea, Fraser Coast, Queensland
Schooling: Howard State School, Torbanlea State School
Occupation: Miner
Died: Killed in Action, Belgium, 24 September 1917
Cemetery: No known grave - "Known Unto God"
Memorials: Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour, Howard War Memorial, Menin Gate Memorial (Commonwealth Memorial to the Missing of the Ypres Salient), Shire of Howard Roll of Honour, Torbanlea State School Roll of Honour
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World War 1 Service

3 Aug 1915: Enlisted AIF WW1, Private, SN 3309, 17th Infantry Battalion, Newcastle, NSW
20 Dec 1915: Involvement AIF WW1, Private, SN 3309, 17th Infantry Battalion, Third Ypres
20 Dec 1915: Embarked AIF WW1, Private, SN 3309, 17th Infantry Battalion, HMAT Suevic, Sydney
24 Sep 1917: Involvement AIF WW1, Private, SN 3309, 55th Infantry Battalion, Third Ypres

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Biography contributed by Ian Lang

#3309  Thomas William WILSON  55th Infantry Battalion

Son of William WILSON and Hannah nee TWIDDLE
Tom Wilson, the elder brother of Charles Wilson who is also listed on the Howard memorial was born in Hull, East Yorkshire. His parents, Hannah and William, made the move to emigrate to Australia prior to 1890. It is more than likely that both brothers attended school at Howard or Torbanlea before gaining employment in the Burrum coal fields.
Before the outbreak of the Great War, Tom had moved to Newcastle NSW where he continued to work as a coal miner. Tom enlisted in Newcastle on 3rd August 1915. He stated he was 29 years old and single. His father had died some time previously and Tom named his mother, Hannah Wilson, of Torbanlea via Maryborough Q as his next of kin.
Tom spent some time in a depot battalion at the camp at Liverpool before being assigned as a reinforcement for the 17th Battalion. The reinforcements embarked for overseas in Sydney on 23rd December 1915 and arrived in Egypt in the middle of January 1916. At that time, the AIF was going through a huge expansion with a virtual doubling of divisions; being created by splitting the Gallipoli veterans of some existing battalions to form the core of a new battalion. The new battalions were then brought up to strength by assigning reinforcements from the camps in Egypt.
Tom was taken on strength by the newly raised 55th Battalion on 16th February 1916 at Tel el Kabir. The new battalion, which was part of the 14th Brigade of the 5th Division AIF, continued to train in Egypt before being shipped to France to join the rest of the Australian Forces. The 55th arrived at Thiennes on 29th June and went into billets. No sooner had the division arrived and organised itself than plans were being made to put the entire division up against German defenders at Fromelles on the 19th July. Fromelles would prove to be one of the worst planned and executed operations of the entire war. The 5th Division was reduced to half its fighting strength just one week after entering the trenches. Most of the junior officer corps was killed, missing or severely wounded. It would take almost twelve months to rebuild the division to the extent that it could be considered to be operational.
For Tom, the experience of Fromelles resulted in gunshot wounds to his head and shoulder no doubt sustained when the 55th was exposed to enfilading machine gun fire as the battalion survivors crawled back to their start line. Tom was loaded on an ambulance train and taken to the 25th General Hospital at Rouen where he remained until the 12th August. He rejoined his battalion in the rear areas three days later. The 55th Battalion had not been as severely cut about as other battalions in the 14th Brigade at Fromelles in July but it was considered prudent to keep the battalions out of the forward fighting areas for the rest of the Somme campaign in 1916. Soon after re-joining his unit, Tom was sent to a school of instruction in England for three weeks. The battalions of the 5th Division were primarily tasked with carrying and fatigue work, interspersed with training as the brigades began to build up numbers with new reinforcements and men returning from sick or wounded. The battalion war diary recorded that in early May, the battalion took out two first places and a third place at the Divisional Horse Show for best cook wagon and limbered general service wagons; mule team and horse team. The light duties were coming to an end.
In May of 1917, the 14th Brigade was brought into the line for the first time since Fromelles. In the spring of 1917, the Germans on the Somme began a strategic withdrawal to a heavily fortified position some miles to their rear. The British forces followed the withdrawal in an attempt to keep touch with the enemy. The 55thBattalion was tasked with relieving a sister battalion from the brigade at Noreuil. While holding the line on the night of 19th May, Tom was hit in the eye with a shell fragment. He was gassed at the same time.
For the second time, Tom was transported to a hospital at Rouen. The gassing was probably the more serious of his wounds and he was marked for evacuation by hospital ship to England. On 20th June, Tom was discharged to a two week furlough; after which he reported to the base depot at Perham Downs. Tom was shipped back across the channel at the end of July but he did not make it back to his battalion until the 18th August 1917.
The thrust of the British effort on the Western Front in 1917 shifted from the Somme in France to Belgian Flanders and the fields to the east of the ancient city of Ypres. By the time that Tom rejoined the 55thBattalion, the 14th Brigade was preparing to go into the battle of Polygon Wood. The battalion moved up into the reserve and support lines on 18th September where it remained until relieving the 56th Battalion. The brigade war diary recorded that the battalions in the reserve and support lines near Glencourse Wood were heavily shelled on 24th September. One of the casualties was Tom Wilson.
There is very little information in the records about Tom’s death. His file simply states Killed in Action and it appears that his body was never recovered. Tom Wilson is commemorated on the Menin Gate Memorial at Ypres, along with 54,000 other British and Dominion Troops who perished in Flanders and have no known grave. To honour their sacrifice, the citizens of Ypres hold a commemoration service every evening at 8:00pm; and have done so since 1928.