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Larrikin a national hero

Although Trooper Thomas O’Leary was not the most well-behaved soldier, he certainly was a national hero.
Although Trooper Thomas O’Leary was not the most well-behaved soldier, he certainly was a national hero.

A HUNDRED years ago to the day, Anzac troops heading from Egypt to France were ordered by 1st Earl Kitchener to be prepared to help the British infantry with an assault on Turkey.

Three days later on February 19, allied warships shelled the Dardanelles for the first time.

There were no Australians involved yet, but this first attempt to push through the Dardanelles and attack the heart of the Ottoman Empire ultimately lead to the ill-fated Gallipoli campaign.

One local Anzac hero who fought in Egypt was Trooper Thomas O'Leary.

Thomas was born in Sandy Creek near Tiaro in 1882 and spent his early years near Winton in western Queensland as a station hand.

In 1915 he enlisted in the Defence Force and was sent aboard the HMAT (His Majesty's Australian Transport) A1 "Hymettus", to where he was posted in Egypt and surrounding areas in the 3rd and 4th Light Horse Regiments and the 4th Machine Gum Squadron.

According to charge sheets and court martial documents, Trooper O'Leary was a bit of a larrikin.

He fronted his superiors on several AWL (absence without leave) and drinking charges, and called a warrant officer a "gold-toothed bastard or words to that extent".

Although Trooper O'Leary was not the most well-behaved soldier, he certainly was a national hero.

His greatest known moments during the war happened during the charge at Beersheba.

The aim of the charge was to capture a well in the city of Beersheba where the Allies horses could drink.

The city was surrounded by heavily manned trenches, 1000 rifles, nine machine guns, three batteries of artillery and two aircraft.

The mission looked almost impossible, but without the wells the horses would die.

Trooper O'Leary and another Scout Trooper Alfred Healy bolted ahead of the charge and single-handedly captured 30 enemies.

Trooper O'Leary then jumped the trenches and was the first into Beersheba.

For his actions that day, he was awarded the Military Medal for bravery in the field.

He was also recommended for a Victoria Cross, six Distinguished Service Order medals, four Military Cross medals, four Distinguished Conduct Medals and 11 Military Medals.

Trooper O'Leary returned to Bundaberg in Australia in 1919 due to poor health.

After returning home from the war, it is assumed he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and moved away from Bundaberg, his family eventually losing track of his whereabouts.

His medals were presented to his father in 1920 and were dedicated to the Australian War Memorial in Canberra by his great niece.

It wasn't until recently that Trooper O'Leary's body was discovered in an unmarked grave in Townsville.

The Townsville RSL placed an official memorial headstone on his grave and held a dedication service with full military honours.

Topics:  anzac-centenary, bundaberg




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