Private Thomas McEvoy
Pakenham & District War Memorial
Born: 2 April 1890 - Dublin, Ireland
Enlisted: 24 February 1916 aged 25
Unit: 8th Battalion, 19th Reinforcement (SERN: 6074)
Served: Western Front
Died: 28 March 1943 - Leongatha, Victoria
Also known as “Tom”, Thomas was a 25 year old labourer at Pakenham when he enlisted on 24 February 1916 (1). On his attestation papers, Tom stated that his parents were deceased and listed his uncle Thomas McEvoy of Dublin as next of kin (2). At the Ballarat Army Camp, he was assigned to the 8th Battalion 19th Reinforcement as a private. Tom embarked for overseas on 28 July 1916, and was taken on strength with the 2nd Training Battalion after arriving in England He was then assigned to the 39th Battalion and proceeded to France in late November 1916. Less than three months later, on 10 February 1917, Tom was wounded in action in France. He was wounded in action again on 7 June 1917, this time by poison gas at Messines, but rejoined his unit seven days later. On 2 August 1917, Tom received a wound to his back. Initially he hospitalised at Camiers France, but was later invalided to England (3).
After recovering, Tom was transferred to the 46th Battalion in France In May 1918,. Following a severe attack of influenza, it became apparent that Tom was still suffering from the effects of the earlier gas attack. It was noted that he suffered from severe exhaustion on marches and had to fall out, although his company commander stated that he was a “good trier”. Tom was also found to be suffering from other symptoms, including noises in the head (which he later described as sounding like a motor engine in the distance), insomnia and heart palpitations (4). Tom was transferred back to England in late November 1918 classified as “Class B.1’ (fit for light duties only). He left England for Australia on the “Tadaka” on Christmas Day 1918. After disembarking in Melbourne in early February 1919, Tom was discharged from the Army on 23 March 1919 as medically unfit due to gas poisoning (5). He was presented with a gold medallion by the Pakenham community in October 1919 (6). Tom then obtained work as a labourer and a horse driver in the district.
Tom’s transition back to civilian life though, was seriously impaired by the continuing ill-health he suffered. In addition to the symptoms described above, Tom also suffered from pain in the shoulder / back when working, which was attributed to the gunshot wound he had received during the War. He was also afflicted with nervousness, memory loss and what he described as a “discontented sort of feeling”. Tom apparently worried and brooded over small things or events from the past. Doctors expressed concerns about his mental health (back in 1920, he had been placed into care for a short period of time). Perhaps because of his unsettledness, Tom moved around a lot, obtaining jobs for relatively short periods of time in places as far afield as Shepparton in Northern Victoria, Warwick in Queensland and Gunning in NSW, before moving to the Koo Wee Rup and Leongatha districts. In 1934, Tom was admitted to the Caulfield Military Hospital suffering from “neurasthenia” (nervous prostration). In 1938, Dr Lavery of Meeniyan wrote to the Repatriation Department recommending that Tom be re-examined at Caulfield, as his condition was worsening (7). Today, he would probably be diagnosed as suffering from a post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or a mental illness.
Despite his health issues, Tom managed to enlist for service in WWII as a private (V5841). He served in Australia from 2 September 1940 to 3 October 1942, including with the 17 Garrison Battalion (8). Tom was discharged due to neurasthenia and advancing years (8a). Tragically, Tom died in Leongatha on 28 March 1943 following an incident the previous night in the nearby town of Meeniyan, where he was then living. The incident involved a set of drums being minded by a youth outside a cafe. According to the youth, he told Tom not to touch the drums, at which Tom became “excited” and “threw his arms about”. The youth then punched Tom, which caused him to fall and strike his head on the concrete footpath. Tom fractured his skull and began to bleed. He later died in the Leongatha Bush Hospital. The youth was charged by the Police with manslaughter, but claimed to have acted in self defence. This was accepted by the jury, which acquitted him (9). It is interesting to note that from Tom’s medical records, he was nervous around people and concerned that they may hurt him. So his response to the situation that fateful night may well have been a direct result of his medical condition. Tom, who never married or had any family in Australia, was buried in Leongatha Cemetery, where he lies in an unmarked grave (10).
The assistance of Carolyn Connor; and Lyn Skillern of the Leongatha Historical Society is gratefully acknowledged.
(1) AWM8 23/25/5 - 8 Infantry Battalion - 13 to 23 Reinforcements (Dec 1915 - Nov 1916) Embarkation Roll.
(2) (3) & (5) NAA B2455 MCEVOY T
(4) (7) NAA B73 M47337
(6) Pakenham Gazette 17/10/1919 p. 3
(8) WWII Nominal Roll - www.ww2roll.gov.au
(8a) NAA B884 V5841
(9) Argus 29/4/1943, p. 9.
(10) Leongatha Cemetery website: http://www.leongathacemetery.com.au/lists/mc.htm