Harry Thorpe

Corporal Harry Thorpe, c. 1916.

Harry Thorpe was born to William and Lilian Thorpe at the Lake Tyers Mission Station near Lakes Entrance in Victoria. His father was a member of the Brabuwooloong tribe. He attended the local State School, helped on his father’s property, and then found work as a labourer. He fell in love with and married Julia Scott in 1905 and had two sons, one of whom did not survive childhood.

On 12 February 1916, Harry travelled to Sale, Victoria, to enlist with the Australian Imperial Force. Two months later he boarded the troopship Euripides in Melbourne with the 17th reinforcements to the 7th Battalion. In July, Harry joined the rest of his battalion in the field on the Western Front. The 7th Battalion was in close reserve during the fighting at Pozières, one of Australia’s earliest and most costly campaigns on the Western Front. After two weeks of fighting Harry was evacuated with a gunshot wound to his leg and shell shock.

After recovering from his injuries, Harry was promoted to lance corporal in January 1917. He went on to fight in the battle of Bullecourt, where he was again wounded, this time suffering a gunshot wound to the shoulder. That same year, Harry was involved in the operations near Ypres in Belgium. He assisted his company commander in the dangerous job of seeking out German infantry hiding in dugouts and pill boxes. His great courage and leadership earned him a Military Medal and a promotion to corporal. His citation read, “By his splendid example and disregard of all danger he inspired those under him.”

On 8 August 1918 the Allies began their major offensive for 1918. The day after the advance began the 7th Battalion was hurriedly moved forward to join the fight at Lihons Wood in France, where Harry Thorpe was wounded for the third and final time. The battalion had moved forward so quickly that they had trouble getting medical assistance, and Harry was found later by a stretcher bearer, lying on the battlefield with a bullet wound in his stomach. He died just hours later. He was 34.

Corporal Harry Thorpe is buried in the Heath Cemetery in France, alongside his friend and fellow Indigenous soldier Private William Rawlings, another Military Medal recipient who was killed on the same day.

 

References

The Australian War Memorial, Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of Corporal Harry Thorpe, https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C1376740  <accessed 6 February 2020>.