Legendary tunneller remembered

Ron Smith will be remembering his dad, Thomas Henry Smith, during Anzac Day commemorations.
Ron Smith will be remembering his dad, Thomas Henry Smith, during Anzac Day commemorations. BRUCE THOMAS

RON Smith will never know the extent of the horrors his dad endured on the Western Front in World War I.

Ron, who lives at Bonville, says his father Thomas Henry – better known as Harry – never talked about the war.

“The reply would always be ‘you don’t want to know’,” said Ron, who turns 79 this year.

“And he never went to an Anzac Day march.”

Ron rarely misses Anzac Day commemorations, when his thoughts are firmly focused on his father and the sacrifices he and other young Aussies made for their country.

Sapper Thomas Henry Smith was one of the legendary Australian tunnellers at Belgium’s Hill 60, a famous battle which has now made it to the big screen.

His life started out in the blissful surrounds of Bowraville in 1888 and on reaching adulthood he was a labourer and roadmaker before he enlisted with the Australian Imperial Forces at the age of 26.

In March, 1916, he set sail for England where he was attached to the 1st Australian Tunnelling Company for duty to proceed to France.

In August that year he was hospitalised in France with mumps but rejoined his unit the following month.

In April, 1917, he was admitted to a rest station with kidney trouble and transferred to a war hospital in England with trench fever. He returned to active service in June but the following year he was again admitted to hospital in France with mustard gas poisoning and sent back to England.

He would return to duty but was again gassed on June 1, 1918. He was sent back to England and then home to Australia, arriving in May, 1919. Harry died in 1957 at the age of 68, a life well lived.

“He was a top bloke and he had a thing about food. The house was always full of food,” Ron said.

Ron was raised at Casino and was one of 15 children – his brothers Michael and Noel would go on to serve their nation in World War II. Michael fought in New Guinea and Noel was with the motor regiment which laid barbed wire on Boambee Beach.

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