Tuesday, September 14, 2010

8. Thomas Francis Sheridan

Above: The birth certificate of Thomas Francis "Tom" Sheridan, the eighth child of Nicholas Sheridan and Bridget McGrath.

Thomas Francis Sheridan (above) was born at Carisbrook on May 22, 1880, the eighth child and sixth son born to Nicholas Sheridan and Bridget McGrath. Tom was educated at the Convent of Mercy Catholic School, Yarrawonga, after his family moved to the town in the mid-1880s.
In 1902, aged 22, Tom joined the Royal Australian Artillery at Queenscliff. Five years later he was transferred to Queensland after a promotion to Sergeant.
On June 30,1908,at the Church of Sacred Heart, Highgate Hill, Perth, Thomas Sheridan married Teresa Emma Warren. Their first child John Sheridan was born two years later on June 16, 1910,in Perth. John married Daisie Waterson, and had one child -John Alexander Sheridan. John Snr was a carpenter, and died at Heidleberg Repatriation Hospital c.1982, aged 72.

Two more sons followed, both of whom died young. Thomas Alfred Sheridan was born prematurely in August of 1912,at 225 Inkerman Street, St. Kilda, and survived just 54 hours. He died on August 22, 1912, and was buried in the Spring Vale Cemetery.His father Thomas Sheridan registered his son's death, and gave his occupation as a military instructor.

On the 11th of May, 1914,Teresa Sheridan went into premature labour with her third child, again with tragic results. William Sheridan lived for only one and a half hours,his cause of death being recorded as 'prematurity and heart failure'. Teresa had gone into the Carlton Women's Hospital to give birth to William, but sadly not even their expertise could save him.
Daughter Allison was born two years later on April 5, 1916.

"BIRTHS: SHERIDAN: On the 5th April at 34 Greville Street, Prahran, the wife of Lieutenant T.F. Sheridan, of the 8th Brigade, on active service abroad, a daughter."
-from The Argus, Saturday, April 8, 1916.

Allison Sheridan never met her father...conceived just prior to Tom’s departure overseas, she was born three months before his death on the battlefields of France. As an elderly woman, Allison wrote to me of the loss of her father:
" Wars do a lot of damage in people's lives. I'm not bitter over the loss of my dad. I felt it when I was at school, and envied the other children with fathers."
Allison was born in her family home at 34 Greville Street, Prahran. She worked as a straw hat machinist from 1932-1937, up until she married her husband Robert Gerard Fenner, on September 9, 1937. Robert was a boiler-maker in the Newport Workshops for 35 years until his death from cancer in 1957, aged 56. Allison and Robert Fenner had two children- Helen Frances and Raymond Francis.

The following newspaper article appeared in the Queenscliff newspaper, date unknown:

" Thomas Francis Sheridan joined the Royal Australian Artillery at Queenscliff in 1902. In 1907 he was transferred to Queensland. After seven months in that state, he qualified for the rank of Staff-Sergeant Major A & I Staff. At the inauguration of compulsory training he was transferred as Staff-Sergeant Major to the 49th (Prahran) Infantry and worked in the formation of this new regiment.
At the outbreak of War he offered his services to go overseas, but his services were retained by the Defence Department.
In August of 1915, he was one of eight specially selected from the A & I Staff for service abroad, an opportunity of which he availed himself, and was appointed Lieutenant in the 8th Brigade. He embarked on November 10, 1915, on the troopship "Ascanius". He saw several months service in Egypt then was sent to France where he was promoted to captain in June, 1916.

While leading his Company over "No Man's land" in an attack at 'Fleurbaix', he was severely wounded, but succeeded in getting into the enemy's trench. With a small party he pushed on to capture a 'strong point', but no member of the party returned."

Thomas Francis Sheridan died on July 20, 1916, fighting for his country on France's bloody battlefields, aged 36 years.

Tom Sheridan has always seemed to me to have been a kind, compassionate man. I have several postcards sent by him in the Middle East to his young nieces back home in Australia that depict a soldier who bothered to sit down amongst all of the horror and carnage of war to pen a few words to the little girls of his brother Paddy. One of them reads:
"My Dear Bridget,I received your very nice letter also the pretty birthday card that you sent me which I received yesterday. I thank you very much for your thoughtfulness in thinking of me over here. With fondest love from Uncle Tom XXX 30. 5. 1916"...written just a month and a half before his death.

Following is the information given on the AIF Project website
( http://www.aif.adfa.edu.au) regarding Thomas Sheridan:

Thomas Francis SHERIDAN

Place of birth: Carisbrook, Maryborough, Victoria
Religion: Roman Catholic
Occupation: Soldier
Address: 34 Greville Street, Prahran, Victoria
Marital status: Married
Age at embarkation: 35
Height: 5' 10"
Weight: 148 lbs
Next of kin Wife: Mrs Teresa Emma Sheridan, 34 Greville Street, Prahran, Victoria
Previous military service: Served in the Royal Australian Garrison Artillery (5.5 years, still serving); Instructional Staff (8 years, Staff Sergeant Major)
Enlistment date: 28 August 1914
Rank on enlistment: Lieutenant
Unit name: 29th Battalion, A Company
AWM Embarkation Roll number: 23/46/1
Embarkation details: Unit embarked from Melbourne, Victoria, on board HMAT A11 Ascanius on 10 November 1915
Rank from Nominal Roll: Captain
Unit from Nominal Roll: 29th Battalion
Fate: Killed in Action 20 July 1916
Place of burial: No known grave
Commemoration details V.C. Corner (Panel No 1), Australian Cemetery, Fromelles, France
Panel number, Roll of Honour,
Australian War Memorial 116
Miscellaneous information from cemetery records:
Parents: Nicholas and Bridget SHERIDAN;
Wife: Teresa SHERIDAN, 26 Mason Street, South Yarra.
Native of Carisbrook
Other details War service:
Egypt, Western Front

Embarked Melbourne, 10 November 1915; disembarked Suez, 7 December 1915.

Promoted Captain, Moascar, 1 June 1916.

Embarked Alexandria to join the British Expeditionary Force, 16 June 1916; disembarked Marseilles, France, 23 June 1916.

Posted missing in action, 19/20 July 1916.

Placed on Seconded List, 20 July 1916.

Struck off strength of 29th Bn, 20 October 1916.

Court of Enquiry, held in the field, 23 August 1917, pronounced fate as 'Killed in Action, 20 July 1916'.

The circumstances of Tom Sheridan's death- like all the instances of the men who were killed in the appalling carnage inflicted upon Australian troops in the Battle of Fromelles- were heartbreaking. The Files of the Red Cross, as made available on the wonderful Australian War memorial website, fill in the gaps of what happened to Tom by providing statements by eyewitnesses who were amongst the last to see Tom alive. The family of Tom had written to the Red Cross asking for assistance in determining what had happened to him. Because his body was not retrieved by Australian forces, there was no record of his burial, and rumours started to circulate back in Australia that he was not dead at all, but missing in action and probably a Prisoner of War held by the Germans.

Following are statements contained in the Red Cross File concerning Thomas Sheridan's investigation:

Statement, 2035 Pte H.R. FLEMING (?), 29th Battalion (patient, No 2 General Hospital [Palais]): August 1916: 'At Laventie about midnight of the 19th Aug. I saw the Captain sitting in the first line German trench. He was wounded. We were attacking the German lines and took two lines and were driven back to our trenches. I heard nothing more of him.'

Statement: Pte W.A. Tait, 1254, 29th Australian I.F, 1st London General Hospital, Camberwell, London. Home address Croydon, Australia.
"August 1916. Informant states: "I knew captain Sheridan, he was missing July 19/16, not August as stated. he was seen wounded at Fromelles, but did not return."
Eye Witness: No

Statement, 2166 Pte J.G. WILSON, D Company, 29th Bn (patient, 3rd Western General Hospital, Ninian Park, Cardiff, Wales. Home address: 3 Collins Street, Geelong West, Victoria.), 5 December 1916: 'Captain Sheridan was killed by bullet wound in the chest. I saw him fall, near the German wire entanglements at Flerimel (sic), on the Levantie Front.'

Statement, 193 Pte J.W. BONNICK, 29th Bn (patient, 3rd London General Hospital, Wandsworth, England. Home address: Horseferry Road, Westminster), 7 December 1916: 'Informant says that Capt. Sheridan was in the German trench when the order came to retire. The artillery fire from the enemy's guns was too heavy for our men to hold the trench and Informant thinks Capt. Sheridan from the position he was in would not be able to get out. This was at Fromelles.'

Statement, 2157 Sapper W.I. WILKINSON, D Company, 29th Bn (patient, Harbourne Hall VAD Hospital, Birmingham, England. Home address: Sydney Street, Kilmore, Victoria), 16 March 1917: 'I knew Capt. Sheridan, he was badly wounded in No Mans (sic) Land, near Fromelles July 19-20th, 1916. He never came back, and even had he fallen into the enemy's hands wounded, and survived, something would have been heard of him before now.'

Statement, 752 Pte M, ANDERSON, 29th Bn (patient, No 11 Stationary Hospital, Rouen), 27 March 1917: 'Informant states that he was told by Pte. Clinton pf B Co. that he had seen Capt. Sheridan lying wounded in the German trenches at Fleurbaix on July 19th. These trenches were not occupied by us.'

Statement: 543 A.H GROVES, 29th Battalion, A.I.F, Dartford, March 12, 1917.
"Cpt. T.F. Sheridan, Missing 19.7.16. Refer to Cpt. Caldwell Smith (Adjutant) who will tell you he was killed and that his body probably fell into the enemy's hands. This was at Fleurbaix."

Statement: 638, Sergt. C.A. TAYLOR, B Coy, No. 6 General, Rouen. March 27, 1917.
" Capt. Sheridan was in A Coy. At Fromelles, on this date, he was 2nd in Command to Capt. Mortimer who was O.C. A Coy. We are all certain that they are both killed. The last I saw of them, they were together with a strong firing party. If they had been taken prisoners, we should have heard, as some Sergeants were taken and have sent a list of Prisoners of War."

Statement: Pte J. LOCKE, 2194, No. 20 General. "I know that one of the men in the battalion has heard from Australia from Capt. Sheridan's people stating that he is a P/W. He had been wounded, but was progressing satisfactorily. I do not know the name of the man who received the letter."

Thomas Frances Sheridan was certified as having been killed in action on the 19-20th July, 1916 by A.I.F Headquarters on 12 September, 1917.

One of the statements given by Sergeant C.A Taylor concerning Tom Sheridan's last sightings mentioned that Tom was Second in Command to Captain Mortimer of A Coy, 29th Battalion, and the last Taylor had seen of them, they were together with a strong firing party. I investigated this Captain Mortimer, and what I found was heart-wrenching...he was only 20 years old when he died, and adored by the men whom he commanded.

Captain Kenneth Malcolm Mortimer, 29 Battalion, AIF, was born in 1895, the son of David Horn Mortimer and Florence Mary Mortimer, of Leneva West,near Wodonga, Victoria. Kenneth was educated at the Wangaratta Agricultural High School, Victoria, and at the Royal Military College, Duntroon. He graduated from Duntroon Military College in 1915, and was appointed Lieutenant in AIF 1 July 1915, being posted to the 29 Battalion.He was promoted to Captain on the 20 February 1916. (A brother, David Horn Mortimer, served in the AIF, was severely wounded, but survived.) Kenneth Mortimer was killed in action on 20 July 1916 during the Battle of Fromelles...his age at time of his death was 20 years 9 months.
The statements given by various men during the inquiry into his death reveal how revered Captain Mortimer was by his fellow soldiers...
"Statement: Sergt. Chapman 199, 29th Australians, Northumberland War Hospital, Ward 18, Newcastle.
Informant states that on July 19th at 6 p.m. at Fleurbaix an attack was made and two or three lines of trenches were taken. They were only held till the early morning. The battalion retired then on its original front trench and Captain Mortimer was last seem in the German 2nd line. He had been wounded, and was trying to crawl along.The ground that he would have had to cross to reach our trenches was under very heavy fire, but some men who were wounded with him got back.
One of these men was Sgt. Whitlock A Coy, who on his way back saw Captain Mortimer. Informant cannot say how severe captain Mortimer's wound was as his great idea was to get his men back safely and he would not let anyone stay to help him.
Informant cannot say enough for him; "A fine fellow" he calls him. "You could not meet a nicer man in a day's walk".
he says that he was so much liked by all, and is terribly missed. He had been in the same Coy as a Lieut. and was extremely popular then. Then he was taken away from the Coy for a time and served as a signals Officer, and informant says that the whole Coy was so delighted when he came back to it as O.C." Written 18/10/1916."

Statement: Pte Matthews 1190, Ward 12, Harefield. Re. 29th Battn AIF. Moertimer Capt K.H, and Sheridan Capt T.F. "In the raid of German trenches near Armentiers, 19th July, both of these officers were in the German trenches. I was talking to Captain Sheridan. We were not in the trenches more than half an hour when there was a counter attack and we had to retire. Neither of them came back with us."

Statement: Captain M. Coats, 29th Battn AIF, 3rd London General Hospital, Wandsworth Common, S.W. Home address 97 Victoria Street, Footscray, Victoria.
Informant states that on the 18th July at Fleurbaix near Armentieres at 6 p.m. the 31st and 32nd Batt. commenced the assault by gaining the enemy's 2nd line. The 29th Batt acted as General reserve and at about 8 p./m. Captain Mortimer's Coy was ordered up to firing line and was in 2nd line of German trenches the greater part of the night. They were bombed and machined gunned on the flanks and rear and some of those who returned said they were ordered to retire by Captain Mortimer who was then seen to move forward evidently with the object of ascertaining whether any other members of his Company had been left in the front trench. He has not been seen since."

Statement: Meeking 259, Ward 16, Harefield Hospital: "I saw him in German trenches badly wounded."

Statement: P. Towner 2133; B Coy, No. 11 General,Staples. 24/10/1916. "I saw him in the German lines. He went back from the German front line to their second line. Corp. McGregor of A Coy was the last to see him. He was wounded then. We had to retire and a terrible lot of our fellows were captured."

Statement: Captain Chapman, 29th Battn, AIF. " He led men on the night of the 19th July in the charge and never returned. The date in the Blue Book is wrong. He was seen encouraging men in the German trenches between 1 and 2 a.m., then unwounded but his clothes were very torn; when we retired in the morning at about 3 or 4 a.m. he was missing. The trenches were reoccupied by the Germans."

The last statement comes from a fellow soldier in the 29th Battalion who was captured as a prisoner of war and gave his statement whilst still interned: Private William George Edwards, 2016, 29th Battn, same Contingent, interned at Frankfurt; dated 10/12/1918: " Having read the list of missing, am sorry to say that I seen Captain Mortimer of the 29th Batt., AIF, wounded on the 19th of July, 1916, in the trenches at La Vantie."

As I write this blog, Thomas Sheridan is being investigated as to whether he is one of the unknown soldiers who was buried by the Germans in a mass grave at Fromelles in July 1916. DNA testing is to be carried out on two males, one of whom is descended from Tom's brother Paddy Sheridan, and the other who is Tom's grandson, and two females who are descended from his eldest sister Rose Annie. It would be simply amazing to be able to give Tom Sheridan a final recognised resting place after 94 years lying in an unknown grave.

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