Sergeant Thomas Derrick


Sergeant Thomas Derrick, 1943, AWM 067887

Thomas Currie Derrick (nicknamed “Diver” by his mates after he dived out of his boat to retrieve a lost oar) married his long-time sweetheart, Beryl Leslie, in 1939, and the following year enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force. Posted to the 2/48th Battalion in 1942, Tom received the Distinguished Conduct Medal for demonstrating inspirational leadership and courage during the battle of El Alamein in Egypt.

Returning to Australia in 1943, Tom began jungle training in preparation for the war against Japan in the Pacific, and in late November the 2/48th Battalion took part in an attack at Sattelberg in New Guinea. For two hours Tom and his mates struggled up a muddy cliff face, through thick vegetation and past hidden machine-guns. Time and again they were met with intense enemy fire and grenades, which forced them back. Finally, at dusk, they were ordered to withdraw.


Sergeant Thomas Currie “Diver” Derrick DCM hoists the Australian flag near Sattelberg in New Guinea, 1943, Neil Brown, AWM 016246

However, Tom was certain the battalion could reach its objective by attacking the position one last time. Without waiting for permission, he returned to the action and scrambled ahead of his men, scaling a cliff face that would challenge a professional climber. As his men came under heavy fire, Tom pushed forward, throwing more grenades, until the enemy fled. He fought on through the pouring rain, destroying more enemy posts. The rest of the battalion captured Sattelberg the following morning. For his actions, Tom was awarded the Victoria Cross.

Read more about Thomas Derrick here.


  1. Tom was wounded by machine-gun fire while fighting in Borneo in 1945, and died the following day. After his death, his mother’s greatest wish was to see this painting of him hanging at the Australian War Memorial. Why would this have been so important to her?

Ivor Hele, Sergeant Thomas (“Diver”) Derrick (1944, oil on canvas, 91.4 x 76.4 cm, AWM ART24071)

  1. This work depicts the 58th/59th Battalion taking the old Vickers position on Bobdubi Ridge in New Guinea. What mood has Hele tried to create? Looking at this painting, what would have been the advantages and disadvantages of wearing “jungle greens” in the Pacific?

Ivor Hele, Taking old Vickers position, Bobdubi Ridge, 28 July 1943 (1960, oil on canvas, unframed: 153.3 x 275 cm, AWM ART27543)

  1. The photograph below is of the burial ceremony for Tom Derrick. Several of the men he served with attended the service. What does this say about Tom as a leader? Do you think he was well respected?

The burial ceremony of Lieutenant Thomas Derrick, 110th Clearing Station, Tarakan, Borneo, 1945, AWM 044970

Last updated: