Thomas Gardner

Private Thomas Gardner at Broadmeadows Camp, First World War.

Rank

Private

Roll title

7th Battalion, AIF

Convoy ship

HMAT Hororata

A sea of tents at Broadmeadows Camp, Victoria, 1914.

Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial P03024.029

Private Thomas Gardner was a 33-year-old miner from East Melbourne who, according to his niece, Janet Morice, was ‘a wanderer [who had] tried many jobs, working mainly with his hands, in almost every state of Australia …travelling from town to town’.

He enlisted in the AIF at Broadmeadows, Victoria, on 1 September 1914.

In a letter to his mother, he described their training at Broadmeadows Camp:

We have had nearly all our stuff issued to us: singlets, underpants, boots, shirts, overalls, razor, belt, muffler and a host of other things, so we shall be comfortable enough. We get plenty of hard work and I feel in the pink of condition.

We were up yesterday at the usual time, 6.15 am, and marched out a long way to meet the ‘enemy’. We returned to camp for dinner, marched out again and never returned until 10.30 at night … We have white bags like pillow slips for the boats, but they are too small to hold everything you want.

Private Thomas Gardner (left) at Broadmeadows Camp, Victoria, September 1914

Courtesy of Janet Morice

Members of C Company, 7th Battalion at Broadmeadows Camp, 1914

Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial DAX2543

HMAT Hororata.

Courtesy of the Western Australian Museum MHK D1 573

Less than seven weeks after enlistment, he embarked from Melbourne with the 7th Battalion on board HMAT Hororata.  

Gardner and the 7th Battalion arrived in Albany around dusk on 27 October 1914, the ship pulling into the pier to take on water and provisions. They joined the First Convoy, departing for Egypt on 1 November. He described their voyage from Melbourne, their time in Albany and their departure for Colombo in letters to his mother and sister:

Dear Mother, just a line to tell you I am still on this planet. We got away from Port Melbourne very quietly on Sunday, anchored in the bay and left on Monday morning. We have had beautiful weather. There are over two thousand of us on board, so it is rather cramped as we have a number of transport horses on board and they take up a lot of room on the deck, so we can’t get much exercise. We sleep in hammocks and I find them very comfortable. We get good food but not too much of it … Our ship is a beauty. She is very roomy; sea-sickness has been conspicuous by its absence.

Dear Mabel, there are about twenty-three ships here [Albany] so far and it presents a grand sight. The HMAS Melbourne has also arrived. I don’t know when we are leaving here. They have only let officers ashore here so far, but there is some talk of us going on a march just to stretch our legs a bit.

Dear Mother, at last the embargo is removed and we can seal our letters … when we left Albany it was a great sight. There were thirty-eight ships and we all steamed out one after the other, then afterwards going three abreast. We got away on Sunday exactly a fortnight after leaving Melbourne. We were a fortnight going from Albany to Colombo. The run across was uneventful – smooth weather being the general things all the way.

Thomas Gardner, Letters, October-November, 1914

Egypt

On 4 December 1914 the Hororata anchored overnight off Alexandria, Egypt. The troops disembarked the following day.  At Mena Camp, the 7th Battalion men endured daily route marches in the hot desert. Leave was readily available, and Cairo just a short distance away on the local tram.

Victorian troops embarking on HMAT Hororata (left) and HMAT Benalla at Port Melbourne.

Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial C02793

Australian troops on parade at Mena Camp, Egypt, 1915.

Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial H02719

Thomas Gardner’s statement of service from his service record.

Courtesy of the National Archives of Australia: B2455, GARDNER T

On 25 April 1915 Gardner’s battalion landed on Gallipoli in the second wave of the main force. In the confusion, the men became scattered, mostly across the western edge of Plateau 400. Here the battalion dug in. On 8 May, the 7th Battalion took part in the unsuccessful attack on Krithia towards the southern end of the peninsula, near Cape Helles. The hasty advance, over open poppy-covered ground, under constant Ottoman fire, resulted in heavy losses for the battalion. The 7th’s withdrawal, three days later, was equally costly: bullets tore up the ground while men rushed for cover.

Lone Pine

Gardner was lucky to have survived thus far. More than half of the 1,023 men in his battalion had been killed or wounded in the fortnight since the landing. Sickness, caused by the terrible conditions, also took a toll. On 4 June Gardner was hospitalised with influenza and rheumatism, not returning until 7 August. Two days later, the 7th occupied the recently captured trenches at Lone Pine.

Here it desperately resisted a series of Ottoman counter-attacks. Four of the battalion won Victoria Crosses in just 24 hours. After this, the exhausted and heavily depleted battalion was relieved and sent to garrison trenches at Phillip’s Top. The stalemate continued.

Gardner described life in the trenches at Lone Pine and Phillip’s Top and his recovery in a letter to his sister Mabel: 

Dear Mabel, I suppose they have published a list of casualties. I have lost my captain (McKenna) and all the other officers. Every one of the occupants of the tent you visited in at Broadmeadows are all wounded. You know that fellow whose mother used to come and visit him – poor fellow got killed at Cape Helles. Things are just about the same. Very slow this trench warfare. I will be heartily glad when it is all over (if I live through it). When we came back to Gaba Tepe … we landed under the usual conditions. Three or four shrapnel blasts from Beachy Bill [a Turkish field gun] with a ‘how-do boys’ and we were back again. Only one chap caught it in the leg. We got up the gully and rejoined our units. ... We are in a trench now that was captured off the Turks [Lone Pine], most elaborately built with overhead cover ... When we went to the trench first there were dead bodies lying all over the place. The ones we could get at we buried, but the others that were lying in the open we had to leave. The stench was unbearable. I heaved and heaved and was very sick. Looking through the periscope you can see a lot lying about which we can never get to – a lot of our own poor fellows who were killed in the charge. We were so close to the Turks that we could talk to them and throw a bomb at them too … It is fun sniping Turks with a periscope rifle. You look through mirrors. They cannot see you and it is just as well. I was looking through a periscope the other day when bang, John Turk caught it with a bullet. He smashed the top glass to pieces – a small piece hit me on the head but did no damage. Some of them are splendid shots. They throw bombs into our trenches and we do likewise. One quiet night the Turks were in good humour and were having some joke among themselves, laughing away, when one of our chaps threw a bomb in amongst them saying ‘Have this between you all!’, which needless to say broke up the concert. There is some talk of us going for a spell, but it is a long time materializing. I can assure you that some of the fellows need it badly enough. Trench work is very monotonous and nerve-racking. The Turks have a good sense of humour. If you see a fellow’s head and fire and miss him, they will wave a shovel signifying a miss, and various jokes. The weather here is very hot and the flies drive one mad … A lot of us chaps have been bad with diarrhoea. I have been pretty weak this last fortnight. I sit in my dugout and look out to sea, and think … [P]ieces of dirt fall down the back of my neck, on the blankets, in my mess tin, in fact it falls everywhere … I am getting heartily fed up with myself, but when I see my comrades ‘hanging their armour up’ and one is all right, one has a lot to be thankful for. Goodbye for the present, best love to you all. Your loving brother, Tom Quoted from Thomas Gardner, Letters to sister, Mabel, August and September 1915, in Morice, J 1985, Six Bob a Day Tourist, Penguin Books Australia, Ringwood

Thomas Gardner’s statement of service from his service record

Courtesy of the National Archives of Australia: B2455, GARDNER T

Phillip Schuler’s image of Anzac Cove from the sea.

Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial PS1472

Australian troops in a captured Ottoman trench at Lone Pine, August 1915. Thomas Gardner is thought to be the bareheaded soldier in the centre.

Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial G01126

A page from Gardner’s service record detailing his hospital admissions during the war.

Courtesy of the National Archives of Australia: B2455, Gardner T

Gardner’s battalion was evacuated from Gallipoli and returned to Egypt. On 24 February 1916 he transferred first to the newly formed 59th Battalion and then to the 5th Pioneer Battalion, where he was promoted to corporal.

Soon afterwards Gardner was admitted to hospital with venereal disease, but re-joined his battalion in time for their deployment to France on 29 May. On 11 August he was admitted to hospital in Étaples with ‘nervous depression’. Possibly as a result of his condition, he was arrested in Étaples a month later ‘for drunkenness while on active duty’; he was court-martialled and reduced in rank. Gardner returned to the unit on 1 November, but within a week had been readmitted to hospital with severe rheumatic fever. A few weeks later he was evacuated to Birmingham in England.

In a letter to his mother dated 11 December, Gardner wrote, ‘It is preferable to France with all its horrors. By jove, I am full up of soldiering; it is a useless game’. On 27 January 1917, after a period of leave in Weymouth, he was posted as a mess orderly to No. 4 Command Depot, Wareham, Dorset, as part of his convalescence.

Throughout 1917, ongoing bouts of myalgia (muscular soreness) of the back hampered Gardner’s recovery at Wareham. He was admitted to Sutton Veny Military Hospital on 18 January 1918, returning to the depot a week later.

Still hampered by bouts of back pain, Gardner eventually re-joined his battalion in France on 16 April 1918, but was again admitted to hospital in France on 19 May 1918. His nerves were gone.

Gardner (right) in England recuperating from rheumatic fever, 1917.

Courtesy of Janet Morice

Thomas Gardner, England, 1917.

Courtesy of Janet Morice

Gardner was admitted to hospital in France on 19 May 1918 suffering from a nervous collapse. That day, he wrote to his sister Mabel: ‘My nerves are rotten now, all little ends, but I suppose my health has something to do with it’. Two weeks later he wrote, ‘I am so nervy I can’t bother about anything’. He was evacuated to a hospital in Weymouth on 19 June 1918.

He was diagnosed as suffering from ‘neurasthenia’ or shell shock and on 31 July 1918 was sent back to Australia ‘for a change’. The Medical Review Board in Melbourne stated that he suffered from ‘sleeplessness and headaches. Has fatigue after exertion and is unable to concentrate his mind’. Gardner was also found to have ‘tachycardia [a fast or irregular heart rate] and a tremor of the head and hands’. They stated that ‘he is evidently war weary’, something they attributed to ‘active service strain’. He was discharged from the AIF as ‘permanently unfit’ on 14 October 1918.

Four years after enlistment, at the age of 37 years, Gardner found himself seeking employment. In late November 1918 he travelled from Melbourne with two friends to a position on a farm near Lake Charm. He stopped en route at Kangaroo Lake and while swimming, drowned. Could it have been suicide? Gardner was sober and a strong swimmer. The Coroner ruled that his death was the result of an accident while bathing. The report stated that ‘the state of his [Gardner’s] kidneys warranted the belief that he had had a fainting fit and was unable to keep himself from sinking in the water’.

Gardner was buried in Kerang Cemetery on 26 November 1918, two weeks after the War ended. 

References

Austin, R 2004, Our Dear Old Battalion: The Story of the 7th Battalion AIF, 1914-1919, Slouch Hat Publications, Rosebud

Australian War Memorial, Embarkation, Honour and Nominal Rolls, http://www.awm.gov.au/

Bean, C 1936, 5th edn, Official History of Australia in the War of 1914 -18 Vol. I, Angus and Robertson, Sydney

Morice, J 1985, Six Bob a Day Tourist, Penguin Books Australia, Ringwood

National Archives of Australia: Australian Imperial Force, Base Records Office; B2455, Gardner T, First Australian Imperial Force personnel dossier, 1914-1920; GARDNER T, 1914-1920

Medical report from Gardner’s service record, stating that he was suffering from ‘neurasthenia’ (shell shock), 25 July 1918.

Courtesy of the National Archives of Australia: B2455, Gardner T

Anonymous

THANKS FOR YOUR YEARS OF ARMY SERVICE.

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Mackenzie s

Thank you for fighting for a free country.

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Anonymous

I will remember you.

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Anonymous

May we never forget their gift to us. May peace be the objective at all times. Understanding of all who live on this earth with us. May your God keep you safe.

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tessa

You are a very inspirational man. So brave to go through your life.

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Anonymous

I think your life was very interesting, but very sad that you drowned.

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Riley

I am so sorry for your loss. You were a brave soldier.

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di c

Well done mate - you did us proud.

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Duncan

Thank you for your service.

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Matilda

You were amazing. You served this country greatly.

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jaime

You were very good at what you did and am happy that you got picked for me.

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Anonymous

Thank you for your service.

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Anonymous

Thanks from all the Johnsons.

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Anonymous

Not forgotten.

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Anonymous

I learnt all about you. You had a tough life.

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ayden

Thank you for service.

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Anonymous

Thank you for your service.

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Anonymous

I know you suffered. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

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callum

Thank you for fighting in the war.

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xander burling

At least you made it through the war. Thank you.

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kobi

I will always remember you so thank you for your bravery and courage.

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patricia longbottom

I hope you have a great afterlife.

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Matt

Thank you for everything you did for us.

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Anonymous

You served our country. We will remember you.

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rowan

Rest in peace.

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pineapples

Hope you are safe!

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patty

A life well lived.

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madi

You did it!

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Lynda

Thank you for your bravery and making future generations of Australians safe.

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Anonymous

How sad to survive the war and tragically pass away on return to Australia.

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Anonymous

I'm glad you survived the war.

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Anonymous

Why did you want to even be involved in the war? I know you're fighting for your country but wouldn't it be better to just live a normal life instead?

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Anonymous

Thank you for fighting for our country and telling your story.

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Anonymous

I'm sorry that you had to go through so many sicknesses, and that you drowned so suddenly.

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Anonymous

I read your story and I think you were very brave to fight. People will always remember you. RIP.

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Anonymous

You were a strong fighter. I am glad you fought for our country. May you rest in peace.

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Anonymous

Thank you Thomas.

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Anonymous

Thomas, Know that your sacrifice in serving during the war was not in vain. To you I say thank you and rest in peace. Regards, Darren Martin.

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Eli

Thank you for fighting the bad guys.

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ray wemm

What magnificent and brave people. We have no idea. So sad.

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Anonymous

Thank you for your contribution to making our country free. We love you.

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Shane

You did your country a great service. Thank you.

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Anonymous

RIP TOM Gardner.

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val sinclair day

A true Anzac. My deepest respect to you.

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Anonymous

Thank you for your sacrifice.

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Lauren R

Thank you very much for your service! We could never begin to imagine the horrors you have seen! RIP.

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anon

RIP - the fight was not in vain.

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CHERYL KINNA

My Great Grand Uncle, Arthur Hector O'Halloran, was in 7th Battalion with Thomas but sadly, was killed on 8th May, 1915 near Cape Helles. It is wonderful that we can read Thomas's story through his letters, but what a terrible waste of young men's lives war is. Thank you to all the men who served their country so we could be free.

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Anonymous

You were very brave for fighting in the war, braver than I am. RIP.

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maureen

Saying a prayer for you.

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