The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (WX7802) Private Thomas Gray, 2/16th Battalion, AIF, Second World War.

Accession Number AWM2020.1.1.310
Collection type Film
Object type Last Post film
Physical description 16:9
Maker Australian War Memorial
Place made Australia: Australian Capital Territory, Canberra, Campbell
Date made 5 November 2020
Access Open
Conflict Second World War, 1939-1945
Copyright Item copyright: © Australian War Memorial
Creative Commons License This item is licensed under CC BY-NC
Copying Provisions Copy provided for personal non-commercial use

The Last Post Ceremony is presented in the Commemorative area of the Australian War Memorial each day. The ceremony commemorates more than 102,000 Australians who have given their lives in war and other operations and whose names are recorded on the Roll of Honour. At each ceremony the story behind one of the names on the Roll of Honour is told. Hosted by Gerard Pratt, the story for this day was on (WX7802) Private Thomas Gray, 2/16th Battalion, AIF, Second World War.

Speech transcript

WX7802 Private Thomas Gray, 2/16th Battalion, AIF
KIA 6 July 1941

Today we remember and pay tribute to Private Thomas Gray.

Tom Gray was born on 14 April 1905 to Richard and Ida Vickers of Onslow, Western Australia. His father was a labourer and horse breaker in the district. His mother was an Indigenous woman whose family lobbied for recognition of citizenship for Aboriginal people. His father died when he was eight years old, and his mother later remarried. Ida was a strong advocate of education as a way to gain acceptance in Australian society.

Tom, the third of her seven children, developed a deep love of poetry as a result. He could reportedly recite more than a hundred different poems. Tom Gray became a drover and bushman, and he continued writing poetry, often on the sides of water tanks or old windmill blades.

By the mid-1930s Tom Gray was working at Anna Plains station and was a respected racehorse trainer. He was a gentle and patient with the horses, and was in demand in the district for his droving skills. Unusually for someone of Aboriginal descent at that time, Tom Gray became a relatively affluent man and a popular member of society in northern Western Australia. He had three children with two different women, making his home with Yarni at Anna Plains. Tom was well known for “his generosity of spirit, sense of humour and [his] philosophical bent.”

Tom Gray enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force in August 1940. To commemorate the occasion, he wrote a poem, part of which reads:
We’ve finished now with riding
Down those lonely cattle trails,
We’re through with swapping stories,
Watching riders from the rails;
The moelskins and the leggings,
That were sweaty, old and torn,
Are discarded for the glory
Of the khaki uniform.

Private Tom Gray underwent a period of training at Northam in Western Australia before leaving for active service overseas with reinforcements to the 2/16th Battalion. He was a popular camp-mate, and his comrades later recalled him reciting poetry, such as The Man From Snowy River, and playing two-up.

Gray arrived in the Middle East in May 1941, where his battalion was playing a largely defensive role along the Egypt–Libyan frontier. Shortly after Gray arrived, the battalion was withdrawn to Palestine to prepare for participation in the invasion of Syria and Lebanon.
On 8 June 1941, the 2/16th Battalion took part in an attack against well-entrenched Vichy French troops. By early the following month, the battalion had fought its way to Damour in Syria. On 6 July 1941, the 2/16th Battalion took part in an operation to capture the Vichy-held town and nearby fortified positions. In the early hours of the morning, under a heavy lifting artillery barrage, the men of the 2/16th attacked at El Atiqa, and despite a stubborn defence were able to capture their objectives.

As the advance slowed, Private Tom Gray was escorting some prisoners to the rear when he was spotted by an enemy machine-gun. He was fired on and killed instantly. Tom Gray was buried in the Beirut War Cemetery, where his remains lie today under the words, “In loving memory. Sadly missed by mother, brothers and sisters.” He was 36 years old.

A poem written by Tom, Crosses, was published in the AIF News after his death, and was repeated in some of the newspapers in Western Australia. It reads in part:
Each life has its crosses
And a soldier gets his share
From a trip across the ocean
To that envied Croix-de-Guerre.

There are crosses by the censor,
Far too many so it seems.
There are crosses in the letters
From the girlfriend of his dreams.

There’s a cross that’s worn by heroes
Who have faced a storm of lead.
There’s a cross when he is wounded.
There’s a cross when he is dead.

Tom Gray’s name is listed on the Roll of Honour on my left, among almost 40,000 Australians who died while serving in the Second World War.

This is but one of the many stories of service and sacrifice told here at the Australian War Memorial. We now remember Private Thomas Gray, who gave his life for us, for our freedoms, and in the hope of a better world.

Meleah Hampton
Historian, Military History Section

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