Tom Kelly’s tale is living history

IN THE SADDLE: Larrikin lighthorseman Tom Kelly.
IN THE SADDLE: Larrikin lighthorseman Tom Kelly. Contributed

Mr Kelly as a young soldier.

Compiled by Dorothy Haig, as told to her by Tom Kelly:

I WAS born in Killarney in 1922 and I think the first memory I've got of the house is what we called Ballards Old Place at the Condamine turnoff. Then we moved to what they called Halls Old Place. They were all old places in those days.

Then I first went to school at Mountain View.

I left school when I was 14. I was going to school here. Anyway, we lived at Ballard's. My parents built a house at Spring Creek up near the school. Next door was a chap had a market garden Wym Pullen, Killarney bloke. So Wym gave me a job, 10 bob a week, 10 shillings a week, helping him with his market garden. That was my first job.

The Japs had tunneled into it and they had mountain guns that they used to wheel out and fire a few shots and wheel back in again and of course we had to take them facing those guns.

He wasn't doing very well so he went out of it. He just walked off, but he got me a job with Homan's Dairy Farm.

Then one of the Homans bought a property up on Spring Creek Mountain. There wasn't even a decent track up there then. He took me up there to help him and we were milking more than 23 cows, this is by hand mind you, 23 cows and about four hundred hens.

I'm just a little bit over fourteen and living in this hut on my own. He never came back at night so I had to milk these cows and collect the eggs and in those days we had to wash the eggs. He'd leave me a loaf of bread and eggs and he was paying me 10 shillings a week and keep, and that was keep. So anyway I was working about 28 hours a day. I got a bit fed up I in the finish and I threw a couple of buckets of eggs into the creek - they got well washed.

Then I went to work for High O'Farrell, he's an Irish one up on the Condamine. He was going to pay me a pound a week and keep.

He had us up every morning at four o'clock, that's alright we were finished in the evening by at least five o'clock and through the day we didn't do much at all, so it was a good job.

I joined the army, joined the Light Horse here, that's the photo up there, when I was 15.

You had to be 19 or have your parent's consent. Well my father gave his consent, but Mum wouldn't.

You see she lost two brothers in the first war and anyway she wouldn't give her consent.

And then Uncle Jim, he was a First World War digger too, but he was an awful mess when he came home, gassed and God knows what.

What happened there was Jim happened to be visiting at the time. Him and Mum got on very well together, and Jim told her "You might as well sign them Dot, because if you don't he will probably go somewhere else and join up under an assumed name".

So Mum relented, she gave in, and well we went to two camps in Warwick, no - one in Warwick, and one in Carbarlah. Then they decided horses were no good in the jungle and sent them home. We owned our own horses in those days.

Then they put us into the anti-tanks and they were death traps, but we were only in there for about three months and they decided they were no good in the jungle too. So that was the happiest day of our lives, the saddest day when they took us out of the light horse.

Anyway we went from there to Widgee Crossing up near Gympie.

We were there for a while and the blokes were coming home from first spats, coming home from New Guinea and we were sent as reinforcements for the second 10th infantry battalion AIF, and that was good.

I went around Australia in 1972. They were a South Australian mob. Well everywhere I went pretty well, I met up with one of the old second 10th mates. But even though we were infantry, PBI they called us - poor bloody infantry - they were a great mob and when we weren't in the front line we had a good time. We were all mates. And if I had to go to war again I'd go into the infantry.

Anyhow, the first battle (for me) was in The Ramu Valley in New Guinea and the second in the Markham Valley, and the third was in the Finisterre Ranges.

That was one of the bitterest, I suppose, and then [I] went to Shaggy Ridge. Well the Japs had tunneled into it and they had mountain guns that they used to wheel out and fire a few shots and wheel back in again and of course we had to take them facing those guns. Well that was a bit of a horror stretch too. Next one was Lae.

Well, we were in the jungle there for nine months. We were there about 12 months all together. George Vacy was our Commander, General of Seventh Division. When we were deployed to Shaggy Ridge his orders were, "You will take this feature but you will do so in single file, otherwise you will fall off the bastard". He was the only general I ever saw at the front line. Then we embarked for Morotai, which is only a small island, I just forget how far from Borneo. Anyway that is where we got off the ships to go into Borneo at Balikpapan. It had been blown up by the Aussies and the Yanks. They blew hell out of it. So the Japanese dug in. They'd been there a couple of years.

Anyway we chased them out of there and we got to this particular position 10 minutes before we should have. We saw these planes come in - oh they're Yanks, they'll be alright and then they dropped these bombs on us. That's why I'm deaf - [my] ears bled. And the bloke down in charge of the landing craft, he got in touch with a bloke up on top and told him we were there only to hear: "I've got orders to bomb this God damned hill and bomb it I will", and he came back and bombed us again.

This is an extract from the book mentioned above left.

Topics:  anzac day war

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