Digitised@SLQ: James Toohey Collection 1916-1955

Portrait of James Toohey wearing his military uniform, Acc. 28848/5

Portrait of James Toohey wearing his military uniform, Acc. 28848/5

Last year, State Library digitised and transcribed the collection of James Toohey, a young Post Office telephonist from Brisbane who served as a gunner and linesman on the Western Front. Toohey's collection contains two diaries, a notebook, various cards and photographs, and an embroidered souvenir cloth from Egypt.

Embroidered cloth - Souvenir of Egypt 1915

Embroidered cloth - Souvenir of Egypt 1915

When Gunner James Toohey left Brisbane in 1915 he was only 19. He celebrated his 20th birthday in France where he was deployed to establish and maintain communication services with the 1st Australian Field Artillery Brigade. His war diaries describe the voyage from Brisbane to Egypt in 1916, and his experiences in France. Toohey became proficient in the use of semaphore, flags and signal lamps, Morse code buzzer or heliograph, as well as field telephones and switchboards. His duties as a gunner also included exercising and feeding the horses, subbing as a kitchen orderly, as well as relieving in the firing lines.

James Toohey's 1916 diary, which describes his journey from Australia to Egypt on board the RMS Osterley and his war service in France and Belgium, including the Battle of Pozieres on July 22, 1916.

James Toohey's 1916 diary, which describes his journey from Australia to Egypt on board the RMS Osterley and his war service in France and Belgium, including the Battle of Pozieres on July 22, 1916.

In his diaries he notes being in the front line for three weeks, and it "being much more interesting" than remaining with the battery. The Brigade was continually on the move, relocating masses of ammunition and supplies, finding new billets and mending and laying new lines. He spent many hours in forward observation posts monitoring both the enemy and the allies’ positions and reporting back to HQ.

James Toohey's 1917 diary

James Toohey's 1917 diary

Toohey was engaged in highly volatile positions, in the midst of intense fighting and in constant danger of being wounded. In July 1916 while on lookout near the village of Poziers - "a shell burst just handy and a piece of high explosive struck my steel helmet and knocked it flying".

Despite these dangers, Toohey returned home a decorated soldier. In July 1918 he was awarded the Military Medal for his courage and devotion to duty and in October of the same year, was recommended for the DCM.

James Toohey and family at Greenslopes Queensland 1946

James Toohey and family at Greenslopes Queensland 1946

On his return home in 1919, Toohey took up a 'temporary job' as postman that lasted over 30 years. He married Nora Burke in 1924 and had ten children; he retired aged 60 to take up farming.

Portrait of James Toohey in his later years

Portrait of James Toohey in his later years

Gunner James Toohey was one of 25 Queenslanders included in the Distant Lines: Queensland voices of the First World War exhibition held at State Library of Queensland in 2015. Toohey's embroidered souvenir cloth from Egypt will soon be on display in the Talbot Family Treasures Wall, Level 4, in 2016.

Robyn Hamilton - QANZAC100 Content Curator, State Library of Queensland

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