Courtesy of Michael Houlihan
Lieutenant Thomas Francis Houlihan
Born: 4 March 1888 - Warburton, Victoria
Enlisted: 14 August 1915 aged 27
Unit: 3rd Divisional Signal Company (SERN: 10626)
Served: Western Front
Died: May 1964 - Pakenham, Victoria
Known as “Tom”, Thomas was born at Warburton Victoria in 1888, the son of James and Margaret Houlihan. In the 1890s, the Houlihans selected scrub land on the northern edge of the Swamp, along what is now Five Mile Rd. There, they pioneered a dairy farm called “Nenagh”. When he enlisted in August 1915, Tom was a 27 year old dairy supervisor with the Department of Agriculture. Two of his brothers were already serving; one (John) was later killed at Polygon Wood. Tom was assigned to the 3rd Divisional Signal Company as a Sapper, and promoted to Sergeant prior to embarking for England in May 1916. After further training he proceeded to France in November. Tom’s leadership capability was quickly recognised with further promotions and in 1917, he was sent to the Signal Service Training Centre at Bletchley England as an officer cadet. Tom was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in November 1917 and promoted to the rank of Lieutenant in February 1918 (1). Shortly thereafter, the Germans launched their last ditched “Spring Offensive” on the Western Front and Australian units were in the thick of the action that turned the tide. In late August 1918, Tom’s unit was supporting Australian artillery batteries near Bray, but the lines of communication between the 8th Australian Field Artillery (AFA) Brigade’s headquarters and the batteries were repeatedly cut by enemy shell fire. Tom displayed “conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty” by re-establishing communications with the artillery batteries. He did so under heavy shelling, disregarding his own personal safety. As a result, the artillery was able to break up an enemy counter-attack before it could be launched. The Commanding Officer, 8th AFA recommended Tom for the prestigious Military Cross, but this was not awarded (2). Tom thought this may have been due to opposition from his own commanding officer (3). A couple of months later, he contracted influenza whilst on leave in England and was repatriated back to Australia on a hospital ship, arriving in Melbourne in February 1919. His commission was terminated in April 1919 (4).
Tom returned to the Department of Agriculture, before taking over “Nenagh” and becoming one of the district’s leading dairy farmers. He played a prominent role in local and state cooperative farming initiatives and was a founder of the Victorian Dairymen’s Association. Tom was active for many years in the local ANA, RSL, Pakenham Racing Club and the Catholic Rural Movement. In 1927, Tom was presented with a testimonial from the people of Pakenham in recognition of the “amount of good work he is doing for the district and the electorate generally” (5). He stood unsuccessfully as the Labor candidate for West Gippsland in the 1929 State Election, campaigning strongly for primary producers (6). In 1934, Tom married Mary (Molly) Raftis and the couple had three sons. From 1944 to 1956, Tom represented Iona Ward on the Berwick Shire Council, and was Shire President in 1949. The flag on the Shire Chambers was flown at half mast when Tom died in May 1964. Councillors and the RSL provided the honour guard for Tom’s coffin at Pakenham Cemetery (7), while Alan Chatfield played a moving rendition of the “Last Post” (8).
The assistance of Tom’s son Michael Houlihan and daughter-in-law Marie is gratefully acknowledged.
(1) & (4) NAA B2455 HOULIHAN T F
(2) AWM28 2/77 Honours and Awards (Recommendations) T F Houlihan
(3) & (8) Information provided by Michael Houlihan
(5) SBMJ 19/5/1927 p. 5
(6) The Age 19/10/1929 p. 22
(7) PG 22/5/1964 pp. 1 & 14