|Object type||Last Post film|
Australian War Memorial
|Place made||Australia: Australian Capital Territory, Canberra, Campbell|
|Date made||15 March 2021|
Second World War, 1939-1945
Item copyright: © Australian War Memorial
This item is licensed under CC BY-NC
|Copying Provisions||Copy provided for personal non-commercial use|
The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (SX7964) Lieutenant Thomas Currie Derrick VC DCM, 2/48th Battalion, Second World War.
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 Craig Berelle, the story for this day was on (SX7964) Lieutenant Thomas Currie Derrick VC DCM, 2/48th Battalion, Second World War.
SX7964 Lieutenant Thomas Currie Derrick VC DCM, 2/48th Battalion
DOW: 24 May 1945
Today we remember and pay tribute to Lieutenant Thomas Currie Derrick VC DCM.
Thomas Derrick was born at Medindie, South Australia on 20 March 1914, the oldest of seven children born to David and Eva Derrick.
Growing up, Derrick attended Sturt Street Public School, often travelling barefoot as his parents were unable to afford shoes. He went on to attend Le Fevre High School in Port Adelaide.
Young Derrick loved sport, particularly Australian Rules football, but also cricket, boxing and swimming. His exploits in the Port River are believed to be the origins of his nickname, “Diver”.
Derrick left school at the age of 14 and went to work as a baker’s assistant in Port Adelaide. To supplement his income he repaired bicycles and sold newspapers.
During a dance at Adelaide in 1932, Derrick met his “one true love” Clarance “Beryl” Leslie. The pair were married at St Laurence’s Catholic Church in North Adelaide on 24 June 1939.
When the Second World War began, Derrick did not join the initial rush to enlist. However, after France fell to the Germans in June 1940, he enlisted on 5 July, joining the newly-raised 2/48th Battalion.
While he took to soldiering well, he initially found military discipline difficult to deal with.
The 2/48th Battalion paraded through the streets of Adelaide in October but the unit’s embarkation for service abroad was delayed. The battalion boarded the transport ship SS Stratheden on 17 November and sailed for the Middle East.
When the ship made a brief stop at Perth Derrick broke ship and went sightseeing in the city. He was confined on board for his trouble and after release he was charged and fined after punching a fellow soldier who taunted him over his confinement.
After arriving in Palestine, the 2/48th Battalion was sent to El Kantara where the men began training for desert warfare. The battalion held sports carnivals during breaks in training and Derrick often won the cross-country races. He also became well known for running a book on the outcome of each race.
Offsetting his larrikin nature was a more sensitive side. He collected butterflies and wrote poetry. He also maintained a diary during his service and wrote frequently to Beryl.
In March 1941 the 2/48th Battalion joined the 9th Division in Libya. Shortly after arriving, it was forced to fall back to the port town of Tobruk as part of the withdrawal in the face of an Axis offensive.
Arriving in Tobruk in early April, over the next six months, Derrick was involved in actions against Italian and German forces seeking to break the siege. After being withdrawn from Tobruk in October, Derrick’s battalion was sent to Syria where it performed garrison duties.
In June 1942 General Erwin Rommel’s forces broke the Allied line and advanced on Alexandria. The 2/48th Battalion was rushed back to Egypt and went into action at Tel El Eisa on the morning of 10 July. Derrick was prominent in the action, taking out three Italian machine-gun positions and capturing around 100 prisoners.
Later that day the battalion was ordered to recapture a position that had been lost to the Germans. Over the next two hours Derrick damaged two tanks with sticky bombs and led his men with courage and determination. He was given much of the credit for the successful action and was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal. According to his company commander, Captain Robert Shillaker, Derrick’s citation omitted much of what he had done.
Derrick was promoted to sergeant in late July and at the end of October, his battalion was once again in the thick of battle, this time at El Alamein. Derrick was wounded in the arm and buttock, but returned to the battalion just days later.
The 2/48th Battalion sailed for Australia in February 1943, arriving in Melbourne towards the end of the month. Derrick returned to Beryl in Adelaide as soon as he was granted leave.
In Australia the battalion underwent reorganisation and training as the men prepared for jungle operations. After sailing for New Guinea in August and after a brief period of training at Milne Bay, the men took part in the landing near Lae. The battalion was then involved in capturing Finschhafen and holding it against a determined Japanese counter-attack.
By November the Australians had resumed their advance and the 26th Brigade, to which Derrick’s unit belonged, was ordered to capture Sattelberg, a small town at the top of a densely wooded hill. Fighting for the hill began in mid-November and both sides suffered heavy casualties.
On 20 November, Derrick, who had been acting company sergeant major, was given command of 11 Platoon, B Company after all but one of the company’s leaders had become casualties. Four days later, he led his platoon in the final attack on Sattelberg for which he would be awarded the Victoria Cross.
Having made many attempts to clamber up the slopes to its objectives, the company had been repelled by machine-gun fire and grenades. With light fading and having received the order to retire, Derrick requested a last attempt.
The citation for his award describes how,
Moving ahead of his forward section he personally destroyed, with grenades, an enemy post which had been holding up this section. He then ordered his second section around on the right flank. This section came under heavy fire from light machine-guns and grenades from, six enemy posts. Without regard for personal safety he clambered forward well ahead of the leading men of the section and hurled grenade after grenade, so completely demoralising the enemy that they fled leaving weapons and grenades. By this action alone the company was able to gain its first foothold on the precipitous ground.
Not content with the work already done, he returned to the first section, and together with the third section of his platoon advanced to deal with the three remaining posts in the area. On four separate occasions he dashed forward and threw grenades at a range of six to eight yards until these positions were finally silenced.
In all, Sergeant Derrick had reduced ten enemy posts. From the vital ground he had captured the remainder of the Battalion moved on to capture Sattelberg the following morning.
The Japanese withdrew during the night and at 9 am on 25 November, the 2/48th Battalion occupied Sattelberg. Derrick was given the honour of raising the Australian flag over the town.
Derrick was later posted to an officer cadet training unit at Portsea in Victoria, where he shared a tent with Reg Saunders. The pair gained their commission with the rank of lieutenant on 26 November 1944. Derrick requested to return to the 2/48th Battalion, and this was granted after intense lobbying by his commanding officer.
The 2/48th Battalion was sent to Morotai in April, and on 1 May was involved in the landing on Tarakan, part of a wider campaign to regain control of the Tarakan oil fields.
On 22 May the battalion encountered fierce Japanese resistance on top of a geographical feature known as Freda. Derrick’s platoon was involved in savage close quarter fighting, and he was wounded in the stomach and thigh. Corporal O’Connell, a mate of Derrick’s since Tobruk, enquired how Derrick was and received the understated reply “She’s right – how are you?” O’Connell had been wounded in the same action.
Derrick was still organising the platoon as medics were preparing to evacuate him and was angry when the platoon was ordered to pull back to allow an airstrike to be made on the hill.
Despite undergoing surgery, Derrick died the following day.
News of his death devastated those who knew him and cast a pall among the wider AIF. He was initially laid to rest in the 2/48th Battalion’s cemetery on Tarakan, but was later reinterred in the Labuan War Cemetery. He was 31 years old.
His 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 Lieutenant Thomas Currie Derrick VC DCM, who gave his life for us, for our freedoms, and in the hope of a better world.
Historian, Military History Section
Video of The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (SX7964) Lieutenant Thomas Currie Derrick VC DCM, 2/48th Battalion, Second World War. (video)