Back in October 2014 I wandered in on way from City of Sydney council after collecting my “We wish we’d known you grandpa” photographic entry. It had been on display in Hyde Park in the Australian Life Photo Prize as part of the Art & About festival. Somehow I got talking to Karen, the woman in the shop, and it turned out her grandfather had served in WWI, and so I told her about my project to honour our grandfathers.
Karen remembered that Athol Robinson, her grandfather, served in Gallipoli, and that he was wounded and survived, and then married an English nurse while recuperating in England. She also thought there was a tree in Melbourne somewhere dedicated to her grandfather. She couldn’t remember where he was buried. The family story also goes that her grandfather played cards with Squizzy Taylor, a notorious Melbourne underworld figure. An intriguing story!
So in March this year, whilst visiting Melbourne to celebrate our daughter’s 30th birthday, I decided to do some research into Athol’s service. At first all I could find was another Athol who was killed at Gallipoli. After talking to Karen again I discovered that Athol enlisted under his middle name Thomas because he was under age and didn’t have his parents’ consent to sign up. A much repeated occurrence for many young men during WWI.
Meet Private Thomas Robinson born in 1895, a 19 year old labourer from Broadmeadows, who enlisted in the 7th battalion on 9 November 1914, service number 1412. He may have regretted signing up that day, when he found himself landing at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915! Athol was one of our original ANZACS! He survived the landing that fateful day but was seriously wounded in the leg by a bomb during action at Lone Pine on 8 August 1915 and evacuated to Malta and then by hospital ship Carisbrook Castle to England, and eventually to the 4th London General hospital in Denmark Hill to recover.
Whilst recovering this is where he met nurse Gladys Brackenborough, a young woman of substance from a well to do family. The two young lovers got married but once recovered young Thomas was sent back into the battlefields in France where he was wounded three more times. No doubt wishing to be reunited with his wife, one of the wounds was self-inflicted, as was the case with many men trying to escape the horrors of the muddy bloody Western Front. A telegram to his family notes he was wounded for the fourth time in France in August 1918.
Thomas eventually returned to Australia on ship Bremen and disembarked on 25 July 1919. He continued to work as a labourer and he and Gladys went on to have six children. When he died at Heidelberg on 7 February 1976 Thomas was accorded a military funeral.
Taking a punt that he may be buried near his family home of Broadmeadows I found Thomas’s grave listed on the William Fawkner Memorial Cemetery burial listing and we visited his grave which had been renovated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. The Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne also has Thomas listed in their Books of Remembrance. During our visit to the Shrine I discovered that the tree Karen had mentioned was actually a tree planted to honour the 7th battalion and is on the approach to the Shrine.
According to a letter on his service file, on 4 April 1967 Athol (Thomas) Robinson wrote making an application for an Anzac medallion stating that he was at the 25 April landing at Galllipoli with 7th battalion. Sadly, the family have declined to be photographed with Thomas’s medals. Lest we forget!
Extract from Books on War Australia, an AIF 7th battalion history book:
The 7th Battalion was among the first infantry units raised for the AIF during the First World War. Like the 5th, 6th and 8th Battalions, it was recruited from Victoria and, together with these battalions, formed the 2nd Brigade. The battalion was raised by Lieutenant Colonel H. E. "Pompey" Elliott within a fortnight of the declaration of war in August 1914.
After a brief stop in Albany, Western Australia, the battalion proceeded to Egypt, arriving on 2 December. It later took part in the ANZAC landing on 25 April 1915, as part of the second wave. Ten days after the landing, the 2nd Brigade was transferred from ANZAC to Cape Helles to help in the attack on the village of Krithia. The attack captured little ground but cost the brigade almost a third of its strength. The Victorian battalions returned to ANZAC to help defend the beachhead, and in August the 2nd Brigade fought at the battle of Lone Pine. While holding positions captured by the 1st Brigade, four members of the 7th Battalion, Corporal A. S. Burton, Acting Corporal W. Dunstan, Lieutenant W. Symons and Captain F. H. Tubb, earned the Victoria Cross - Burton posthumously. The battalion served at ANZAC until the evacuation in December.
The 7th Battalion’s next major action was in France at Pozières in the Somme valley where it fought between 23-27 July and 15-21 August 1916. Following on the Battalion fought at many of the major WWI battles including the Somme in 1918, Bullecourt Hindenburg Line 1917, Ypres 1917, Menin Road, Polygon Wood, Broodseinde, Poelcappelle, Passchendaele, Hazebrouck, Amiens and Albert during latter part 1918. There was a high human cost to gain the 7th Battalion's Battle Honours - 1045 members were killed with over 2000 7th members wounded.