Tom Carmody a reluctant hero

Name: Tom Carmody
Date: 1916-1918
Unit: 69th Squadron, 3rd Squadron, Australian Flying Corps
Location: Somme, France

The propaganda of the time pressured all young men to do their duty for King and country. On 8 September 1916, Tom Carmody enlisted in the AIF and sailed for England on the Ulysses A38 on 25 October 1916.

His diary of the war years is extant and gives a detailed account of this young colonial seeing foreign places, such as Durban and Cape Town, for the first time, the hardship of being anchored for 15 days at Sierra Leone and the danger of being on a troop ship with submarines likely to attack.

He arrived at Plymouth on 28 December 1916 and were attached to the 69th Australian Squadron, Royal Flying Corps. After a course in wireless mechanics, the new technology of the time, and experience in putting wirelesses into planes, he was sent to France where he was in the thick of the fighting on the Somme. The spirit of the man is seen in his writings, speaking of the Fritz (German) air attacks he writes:

"He has promised to wipe out every aerodrome in this vicinity within the next few weeks, but so far has only been successful in one attempt, as far as we know. A squadron a few kilos from here was bombed the other night. There were twenty-one killed and several wounded, besides their machines being knocked about, so it is on the cards he may give us a turn yet, I hope I am out visiting when he sends his card down, bombs generally get the best of an argument if you get too close, however a man wont be shot if he is to be drowned, all the huts are being sand bagged and dug-outs got ready for shelter."

It was at this time he heard his brother Larry had been hit by a shell and killed at Ypres (Ieper). Later he went in search of his grave:

"I went through Ypres yesterday ... scarcely one stone left on top of another. I went through it out on the Menin Road about a kilo on the other side to search the cemetery in the hopes of finding Larry"s grave...We had been searching around for about fifteen minutes when two shells came over, one just on the edge of the cemetery and the other right in the centre of it. We had to get down in both cases and got covered in dirt, but luckily escaped injury. We waited for no more."

In March 1918 he wrote about the plight of the civilians.

"I went back to Balleul this morning to salvage a hut we left behind; the town was turned up properly last night with shells, bombs and machine gun fire. The roads are choked with refugees, men, women and children making their way along with their belongings as best they could."

Tom was the only man in the Australian forces to receive the Bar to the Meritorious Service Medal (MSM). His diary of 29 July 1917 mentions receiving information of the award for rescuing an RFC pilot from a burning plane.

His diary ends before he was cited on 5 November 1918 to receive the second award for "great gallantry and devotion to duty". The citation states that in spite of

"a mass of flames and ammunition exploding in all directions" he prevented the fire in an aircraft hanger from spreading, organised men and machinery to be removed from the area with no further damage and the fire to be put out, at great personal risk to himself."

He spoke very little about the war after he returned to Australia but did say that he was at the airfield where the famous German Ace, Baron Von Richthofen"s plane was brought down on 21 April 1918. He had crawled out on his belly to salvage a piece of outer skin from the plane. A square patch of red fabric from the Red Baron"s plane has been kept in the family.

After the war Tom remained in England for some months to complete another course and left England on HMAT Kaiser-i-Hind in May 1919. He was discharged as A/Sgt/Mechanic in July 1919.

His father wanted to parade him as a hero, but Tom would have none of it. He was out of uniform and back in civvy street as soon as possible, working as a linesman for the Post Master General"s Department (PMG).

Tom had some problems readjusting to life at home. His son Larry Junior, was now three years old. His first words to his father were:

"Do you know who I am?" to which Tom replied "Do you know who I am?".

Tom bought a house in Malvern, a Melbourne suburb, and his wife Elsie gave birth to another four children, three boys, Alan, Frank and Tom, and finally a girl, Joan. When Joan was born Tom rang his step mother and said:

"The baby's arrived but it's not the same as all the rest."

The family moved to Canberra in June 1933 when Tom took a job with the Patents Office.


Three of Tom's sons served in World War II, joining the AIF and then transferring to the RAAF. Joan was too young to join up but wore the uniform of a VAD in the Feminist Detachment. She later became a nun.

Tom became an instructor in the Air Training Corps. He was appointed Director of Manpower and moved to Sydney on the day Pearl Harbour was bombed.

The family settled in Sydney and Tom died in 1955. He is buried in Canberra.

The original material for this article was compiled by Julie Carmody, written by Sister Joan Carmody, Tom's daughter, and supplied by Julie Carmody of the Australian Capital Territory

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DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) ( ), Tom Carmody a reluctant hero, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 9 December 2023,
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