O’NEILL, Thomas Leslie

NAME:  Thomas Leslie O’NEILL                                                                                                                   

SERVICE NO:  4281

YEAR OF BIRTH:  1887

PLACE OF BIRTH:  Dunolly

DATE OF ENLISTMENT:  13 July 1915

PLACE OF ENLISTMENT:  Melbourne

AGE AT ENLISTMENT:  28

UNIT:  6th Battalion

EMBARKED: 29 December 1915

TROOPSHIP: HMAT A64 Demosthenes

FATE:  Killed in Action – 26 July 1916 – Pozieres, France

Born at Dunnolly in 1887, Thomas O’Neill was a son of Laurence Mark O’Neill and Mary Camilla Faulkner. Laurence O’Neill died in 1894 at Dunnolly when Thomas was seven.  In 1902, Mary moved her family to Eden Cottage in Scoresby Street. She advertised her services as a piano and organ teacher in the Hamilton Spectator and advised she was starting a preparatory school.   By that time Thomas was sixteen. 

Thomas better known as Tom played football and in 1906 was elected as joint secretary of the Federals Football Club. In 1908. he captained the junior team of the Federals Football Club.  In 1909, Tom was employed by Messers. Young Bros. of Ararat and prepared to leave Hamilton.  The Federals Football Club gave the “very popular” Tom a send-off.

In 1910, Tom married Ruby Timmins of Ararat. The same year, a son Jack Maurice was born.  Another son Russell Frederick was born in 1913.  Tom continued with his football in Ararat and was involved with the formation of the Ararat Stars Football Club in 1914 of which he was the inaugural secretary.  He was also secretary of the Loyal Ararat Lodge of Oddfellows.  

When war broke in 1914, Tom attempted to enlist but was rejected due to his teeth. His brother Lawrence enlisted in March 1915 and left for Egypt soon after. Tom tried again on 13 July 1915 after enlistment requirements were relaxed and he was accepted. He must have been confident as he was given a send-off in Ararat the day before he left for Melbourne to enlist. Thomas was sent to officer training school at the Melbourne Showgrounds but contracted meningitis. He was admitted to the Alfred Hospital It was in the midst of a widespread outbreak in Victoria of the disease.

Tom recovered and left for Egypt on 29 December 1915 with the 6th Battalion. Three months later he was off to France but it was 5 June before he joined the 6th Battalion in the field. They moved on to Belgium before returning to France in early July. At 8.00am on 25 July, they took up a position north-east of Pozieres.  At 1.00am on 26 July, there was heavy shelling and the heavy artillery from the 6th Battalion bombed the German trenches.  It continued until 7.00pm when the German shelling stopped. At 7.30pm a message was sent to Headquarters requesting relief for the 6th Battalion. At 8.00pm the German shelling resumed, heavier than before.  It was 3am on 27 July 1916 before the 6th Battalion was relieved. Nineteen men were killed and 169 wounded up until that time.  One of those killed was Thomas O’Neill.  He was buried in an area just south of Pozieres.

POZIERES, FRANCE APRIL 1917. Image courtesy of the Australian War Memorial https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C43223

On 14 August 1916, Reverend Noltenius of the Holy Trinity Church, Ararat received a telegram from the Defence Department advising him of Tom’s death.  He promptly passed on the news to Tom’s wife Ruby. The flag at the Ararat Town Hall was lowered to half-mast. By that time Tom’s mother Mary lived in Mildura.

Tom’s possessions were sent home to Ruby but there were some special items missing so she sent a letter to the Defence Department enquiring about them. “I have two little boys who would perhaps treasurer them when they grow up.”

Image courtesy of the National Archives of Australia https://discoveringanzacs.naa.gov.au/browse/records/309060/12

Ruby remarried in 1921 to Charles Tait and lived out her life in Ararat. Of Tom’s sons, Russell remained in Ararat while Jack lived most of his life in Horsham. Russell enlisted for WW2 and served for four years with the 8th Battalion.

Thomas O’Neill was remembered on the Borough of Hamilton Honour Roll and the Christ Church Anglican Church Roll of Honour.

ONLINE SOURCES

Australian War Memorial – 6th Australian Infantry Battalion Unit Diary

Australian War Memorial – Roll of Honour – Thomas Leslie O’Neill

Australian War Memorial – WW1 Embarkation Roll – Thomas Leslie O’Neill 

Discovering Anzacs – WW1 Service Record – Thomas Leslie O’Neill

Newspaper Articles from Trove – Thomas Leslie O’Neill 

The AIF Project – Thomas Leslie O’Neill