Digitised@SLQ: Joseph Cecil Thompson collection
State Library has recently digitised and transcribed the collection of Joseph Cecil Thompson, a young farrier from Childers who served at Gallipoli and on the Western Front. The collection includes a diary, paybook, postcards and letters, photographs, and a wonderful Besson cornet, presented to Thompson in 1919 after the War.
Cecil was just 22 years old when war broke out. With three years’ experience with the Wide Bay Infantry Regiment already under his belt, he enlisted immediately at Maryborough, and travelled down to Enoggera training camp in Brisbane as a new member of 9th Battalion.
Although shoeing horses was his usual occupation, Cecil was a capable young man of diverse interests, and his particular talent was music. Bound for Egypt on the H.M.A.T. Omrah on 24th September 1914, Cecil embarked as a cornet player with the 9th Battalion Band.
In combat situations, bandsmen are traditionally deployed as stretcher bearers, and Cecil soon found himself promoted to Corporal, then Lance Sergeant, leading a team of stretcher bearers through the hillside trenches and dugouts of the Peninsula. For Cecil, comradeship and teamwork were important, and saw him through the grim reality of his duties. Collecting men from the battlefield exposed him to horrific injuries on a daily basis, but photographs he took in Gallipoli and Egypt depict comrades in the trenches, and intimate scenes of camp life.
Having survived several months of front line action, a bout of typhoid in August 1915 meant evacuation to Egypt, and he re-joined his unit on Lemnos just before the withdrawal of troops from the Dardanelles.
In France and Belgium Cecil continued as both stretcher bearer and bandsman, surviving gas attacks and several bloody actions as he and the men in his charge performed the difficult, dangerous and often fatal task of retrieving the wounded from the muddy battlefields of the Western Front.
After a long war, Cecil was granted extended leave in December 1918 – 75 days “special 1914 leave” for those who had served through the first year of the conflict. He returned to Australia on the Sardinia in June 1919, and in 1921 applied for and was granted a 340 acre selection in Isis.
Sergeant Joseph Cecil Thompson is one of 25 Queenslanders included in the Distant Lines: Queensland voices of the First World War exhibition currently on at State Library of Queensland until 15 November 2015. His cornet, presented to him as Bandmaster of 9th Battalion band in 1919, will be on display in the Talbot Family Treasures Wall, Level 4, in 2016.
Robyn Hamilton – QANZAC100 Content Curator, State Library of Queensland