Private Thomas Fahey +
St Patrick’s Catholic School Roll of Honour
Born: 1890 - Pakenham, Victoria Enlisted: 21 July 1915 aged 25
Unit: 3rd Battalion, 11th Reinforcement (SERN: 3289B) Served: Egypt & Western Front
Killed in action: 18 November 1916 - near Montauban, France
Thomas, who was born in Pakenham and educated at St Patrick’s Primary School, was the third Fahey brother to enlist. He was a 25 year old miner when he volunteered at Liverpool NSW in July 1915. Thomas served with the 3rd and 55th Battalions in Egypt before being transferred to the 5th Pioneer Battalion and sent to the Western Front (1). The pioneers were trained as infantry, but undertook light engineering works at the Front, including digging trenches, dug-outs and drains; laying communications cables; constructing strong points; laying light railway tracks and clearing away rubble and wreckage. This was often highly dangerous work within range of enemy fire. Thomas’s first experience of the Western Front came in July 1916, when the 5th Pioneers were working near Fromelles, laying signals cables and light railway tracks to the Front. During the actual Battle of Fromelles which took place on 19 and 20 July, two companies (A and D) from the 5th Pioneers took part in the Australian attack. A Coy was engaged in digging a “sap trench” across no-man’s land, while D Coy maintained “VC Avenue”, a communication trench in the face of enemy barrage. Meanwhile, some of C Coy was engaged supplying water to the infantry. After the Australian attack on the German trenches failed, parties from the 5th Pioneers were sent out to help repair trenches, parapets and other positions; to salvage rifles and other weapons from the battlefield; rescue wounded soldiers from no-man’s land and to bury the dead. The rest of the unit undertook drainage works, and dug defensive trenches at Bois Grenier, which they then garrisoned for a few days (2).
In late 1916, the 5th Pioneers took part in the Battle of the Somme. Stretching over several months, this was the largest offensive on the Western Front, and one of the bloodiest military campaigns in history. The 5th Pioneers were engaged in maintaining and extending trenches and roads in what eventually became little more than a sea of mud because of the heavy autumn rain. At times, the Pioneers were also exposed to heavy German shelling (3). On November 18 1916, the last day of the Somme Offensive, Thomas was killed in action. According to the Unit’s diary, the “Carlton Trench” near Longueval was shelled badly by the Germans during the night, with three men buried in a dugout and killed (4). Thomas may have been one of them. The ultimate death toll in the First Battle of the Somme was staggering with more than a million men killed or wounded. Thomas was buried in the Quarry Cemetery at Montauban, France (5).
Thomas’s war service was commemorated on the St Patrick’s Catholic School Roll of Honour, which was unveiled in April 1918. His mother also had a memorial dedicated in Pakenham Cemetery commemorating Thomas and his brother Patrick, who was also killed during the War. For some reason, this mistakenly lists Thomas’s date of death as being 19 November 1916.
(1) NAA B2455, FAHEY, T
(2) Carter (ND) A Condensed History of the 5th Australian Pioneer Battalion, AIF, 3 March 1916 - 15 May 1919 (Roseville NSW), pp.3 and 4. Also see AWM 4 14/17/5 Unit War Diary - 5th Pioneer Battalion - July 1916
(3) Carter (ND) pp. 5-6
(4) AWN 4 14/17/9 Unit War Diary - 5th Australian Pioneer Battalion - November 1916 p. 2
(5) Narre Warren & District Family History Group (2016), p. 39 & https://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/245269/fahey,-/