Fifty Australians - Harry Thorpe
An Aboriginal soldier decorated for bravery. An experienced infantrymen, Thorpe led his men with courage and example until killed in action in the Somme fighting of 1918.
Corporal Harry Thorpe, MM (1886–1918)
Harry Thorpe was born at the Lake Tyers Aboriginal Mission Station near Lakes Entrance, Victoria. He was married and working as a labourer when he enlisted in the AIF in February 1916. Posted to the 7th Battalion, he joined the unit in France in July. He would become an accomplished front-line infantryman.
In his first action, Thorpe went into the terrible fighting at the battle of Pozières and was soon seriously wounded. The following year he was again wounded in action on the Hindenburg Line but was able to rejoin the battalion in time for the third battle of Ypres.
Thorpe was a brave soldier and distinguished himself during the successful capture of Broodseinde Ridge on 4–5 October 1917. Here he showed a disregard for danger in leading his men in the mopping up of enemy dugouts and pillboxes: “He inspired those under him.” For this he was recommended for the Distinguished Conduct Medal, although he received the Military Medal, “for bravery in the field”, instead.
The 7th Battalion fought in the Flanders region until mid-1918, when it returned to the Somme to join the rest of the Australian Corps in the great August allied offensive. Corporal Thorpe went into the battle of Lihons on 9 August but during the fighting he was seriously wounded in the stomach. Stretcher-bearers reached him, but his wounds proved to be fatal and he died shortly afterwards. He is buried in the large Heath Cemetery near Harbonnières, a few kilometres from where he fell.