Friday 8 August 2008 by Kerrie Leech. 5 comments
Personal Stories, Collection, First World War, Private Records

Studio portrait of Tom Richards in 1917 (from Gold, mud 'n' guts by Greg Growden).

With Olympics fever upon us, I was prompted to look through the Memorial’s collection to see what material we held on Olympians.  One collection in the Private Records area caught my eye.  It was created by Lieutenant Thomas James Richards, MC who won a gold medal for rugby at the 1908 London Olympics.  Before joining the Army, Richards played rugby first in Queensland, then in South Africa and England. 

He enlisted in the AIF in August 1914 at the age of 31 and was with the 1st Field Ambulance at the Gallipoli landing, where he served as a stretcher-bearer.  In 1916 he was sent to the Western Front and was awarded a Military Cross for his actions near Bullecourt in May 1917.  The citation reads:

“For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty.  He was in charge of a bombing party, and despite strenuous opposition, succeeded in extending the line 250 yards and holding a strong post.  He set a splendid example throughout.”  (recommendation for the award)

Amongst all this action, Richards found time to record his experiences.  The diaries in the Memorial's Private Records Collection (2DRL/0786) consist of four bound volumes, originally kept as 23 individual diaries.  They are very detailed and extensive and cover the period from 1914 through to 1916.  In total they measure 21 cm in thickness – a massive read which is made a little easier by the inclusion of corresponding typescripts.

Thomas James Richards is just one of the Memorial’s fascinating characters with an interesting story to tell.

Further reading on Tom Richards

Australian Dictionary of Biography entry

Gold, mud 'n' guts: the incredible Tom Richards, footballer, war hero, Olympian by Greg Growden (2001)

Lieutenant Richards - service dossier


Ian K

Another Olympic medalist who served in the 1st AIF was Lt Cecil Healy who was killed in action near Peronne on 29 August 1918. He won gold and silver medals for swimming at the 1912 Stockholm games. He's probably the only Olympian - or at least the only Olympic medalist - on the Roll of Honour.


This posting reminded me to encourage people to visit the excellent AWM travelling exhibition on War and Sport. It is currently at the State Library of Victoria.

Kerrie Leech says:

Thanks Liz. And for those interested in the Sport and War travelling exhibition, the travelling schedule as well as a "highlights" recording by the exhibition curator can be found here . Information regarding the Memorial's other travelling exhibitions is also available .

Bob Meade

As an aside, you also have some holdings about another Olympian. General George S. Patton, Jr. He represented the U.S. Army and the U.S.A. in Pentathlon at the Stockholm games of 1912.


Tom "Rusty" Richards was a great front row forward and played all around the world. He gained notariaty and won his first Australian cap by playing for an English club side against the South African national team. He had palyed in South Africa and learnt Afrikans so when playing for the England club side he listened to the line out calls of the South Africans which was spoken in Afrikans. The South Africans lost every line out. When he returned to Australia he was coached by Blair Inskip Swanell an international player himself who had played for the British lions team and the Wallabies (a dual international). Swanell enlisted in the AIF and was killed on 25 April 1915 whilst advancing on Baby 700 at Galllipoli.