Letters tell horrors of war

LIEUTENANT William Thomas ‘Tom’ Abbott survived trench fever, a machine gun bullet ‘parting his hair’ and a burst appendix to return home from World War I.

Tom enlisted in the army at Randwick in Sydney on April 25, 1916 - Anzac Day - with 14 other mates from the Gloucester and Stroud area including good friends Andrew Laurie, Alex and Oscar Gorton.

Aged in his early 20s, Tom had grown up on ‘Ram Station’ a large beef property between Dungog and Stroud.

After enlisting, he was sent with his unit to Seymour in Victoria where the new recruits were trained as machine gunners.

Tom’s unit sailed on the ‘Orontes’ from Melbourne on August 16, 1916 and arrived in England on October 2, just under two months later.

The recruits were sent to Parkhouse Camp near Salisbury and later Belton Park Camp at Grantham.

They continued their machine gun training, but also learned about grenades and how to use gas masks.

The unit was shipped out to France in December 1916, but it would be another month before Tom arrived in the country.

The unit was moved by train to the Albert area and came under heavy artillery fire for the first time at High Wood.

On January 26, 1917 - Australia Day - the unit arrived on the Western Front.

There they were met by shells, shrapnel, machine gun fire and saw planes doing battle in the skies above.

Tom would spend almost 10 months on the frontline. Here’s a small excerpt from a letter sent to his future wife Muriel from the Western Front on June 21, 1917:

‘Heavy gun fire going steadily, it resembles the thunder of a distant storm; the only difference, it rains steel instead of water. Did I tell you about stopping a piece of shell on the helmet? I owe my today to the old steel helmet; the force of the blow knocked me down. After a time I sat up and felt for blood but could only find a bad headache and see stars floating around. Four out of five in my gun crew came out of Bullecourt with damaged helmets so you can see they save many lives.’

During his time on the Front Tom was part of the push that saw the German forces retreat.

After suffering a wound from a machine gun bullet at Pozieres, he was evacuated to England and did not return to France until April 1918.

In June of that year he was removed from active service to attend an officer’s training camp at Cambridge University.

On July 14 he was again in hospital, this time with a burst appendix.

It would be another four months before he returned to France as a lieutenant.

Tom remained in France and Belgium until the end of the war in a peacekeeping role and left Europe on May 31, 1919 aboard the ‘Aeneas’.

He arrived back in Australia in July.

Tom married Muriel Young on June 2, 1920.

Muriel was the daughter of HE Young who owned the first store in Stroud.

The couple had four children, Bill, Margaret (both deceased), Ruth and Judith.

Tom took over the running of Ram Station in 1930 following the death of his father.

He remained there until his own death in 1969 at the age of 76.

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