Sunday, 28 December 2014

Thomas James Gadsby 1889- 1953 -Career Soldier

Thomas James Gadsby as a young man

Proudly he set off wearing his tall black furry hat and red uniform.....He was a career soldier.
Thomas James Gadsby b 1889 would have joined the “Busby's” as they were called around 1905.  This was after their return from South Africa to England in 1905. Officially they were known as the 7th (Queens Own ) Hussars. They also had the nickname “The Saucy Seventh “.

When Thomas enlisted they were to spend  a fairly quiet 6 years in England before the Regiment returned to the subcontinent of  India for another tour of duty.  A world war was a long way off.

Thomas was the eldest of 14 children born to Thomas and Selina Gadsby. At the time he left for the Army he had not even known all his siblings. By the time he was reunited they would be living in another country on the other side of the world, Many years would pass and a Great War would intervene.

At the start of World War I in August 1914, the 7th Hussars were stationed at Bangalore later, moving to Secunderabad in February 1915 with detachments keeping order in Delhi.
Having been in the Asiatic theatre of war since 13/9/1915 the 7th Hussar regiment  were  keen sail to the River Tigris near Basra in November 1917 to fight against the Turks. They then moved to Baghdad from where the first attack was launched in March 1918 against the enemy in Khan Baghdadi. 

The 7th had the role of cutting off the enemy retreat, which  is said to have been managed very efficiently. They first destroyed the baggage column, then routing the enemy division in fifteen minutes. With the Turks withdrawal there was little happening around Baghdad.
Another offensive was undertaken  by the British where they encircled the enemy at Sharquat. The 7th executed a brilliant piece of fire and withdrew. On the 30th October, as they were preparing to attack again, news came through that Turkey had surrendered. The 7th remained as an occupying force not arriving home until May 1919.

All memebers of 7th Hussars were issued the British War Medal & Victory Medal and Acting Sergeant Thomas Gadsby of the 7th (Queens Own) Hussars Corps was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal. This  was gazetted on 15/1/1920. 

By the end of the War three Gadsby boys had done their bit for the war effort. John returned home from the Army a little worse for wear having been gassed in France  and Harold who had been on HMAS Australia joined his father as a bricklayer. They began to anticipate the arrival of their brother Thomas who would be returning after his long spell in the army  in India and Mesopotamia.

Thomas was reported in the Sydney Morning Herald as arriving in Sydney on 9th August 1919 on the Steamer Janus from Calcutta.

Upon his arrival after this long absence from his family he was greeted by his sisters who had become women complete with war time boyfriends and his brothers who had also had their own war time experiences. Edie, his little Australian sister was 5 years old when he met her for the first time. 

A few adjustments had to be made. He had joined the Army when he was a boy. He was 22 when the family had come to Australia and now he was 30. Having led a life for 10 years or so in the Army in India, he was used to having servants to attend to his needs. He saw no problem with getting the same treatment at home and felt that his little brother William and little Edie could fill in as “servants” when he left his shoes out for them to shine. This created much resentment amongst the littlies.

Meanwhile Thomas, a deeply religious man was not happy with what he saw when he returned to the family. His mother had taken up with his sister Lena’s ex-fiance, Ben, Lena was left to tend to the girls and the younger children. He told his sister Julia, before her wedding in 1921 that he wouldn’t see any of his family again. True to his word, he didn’t and amazingly given his beliefs, in 1921 he married a young divorcee, Violet Emma Harrison, and moved with her to New Zealand.

You can’t help but think that Thomas’ life and relationship with his family would ever be the same again when he arrived in Australia in 1919 after a long stint in the Army. A new country and previously unknown siblings who resented cleaning his shoes would have been difficult enough. His other brothers and sister were almost strangers after his long absence away from the family. 

The Great War had changed everyone. Perhaps Thomas’ family would not have approved of his new love- a divorcee in the 1920s. Certainly this was at odds with his opinion of his mother’s carry on with his sister’s ex-fiance.  Perhaps his mail never quite caught up with a constantly moving family and contact could not be made. 

History can be unravelled but not undone. There is a kind of comfort in knowing that he lived a long life in Waikumete NZ and although childless he had created a good life with Violet probably living through the memories of all the parts of the world he had visited and experienced.  Not bad for a poor kid born in London in 1889!


  1. A curious little note came to light recently. It was written to a relative in about 1976 by Thomas' little sister Grace. According to Auntie Grace, Thomas went to NZ which we now know. She commented that her sister Maude said she had received letters from him indicating that he had come back to Australia and was living in Australia - "this would have been more than twenty years ago". We know he died in 1953 in NZ. Perhaps he did come back but returned.

  2. The London Gazette 15/8/17 reports that his services were brought to the notice of Lieut Gen Sir Stanley Maude KCB, Commander in Chief of the Mespotamian Expeditionary Force as deserving of special mention.