Heath Thomas Robert (Tom)
|Type of person||Individual|
|Date of birth||1915|
|Place of birth||Tumby Bay Eyre Peninsula S.A.|
|Date of death||2006|
|Place of decease||Mallala|
Thomas Robert (Tom) Heath was born on 12th November 1915 at Tumby Bay on Eyre Peninsula South Australia. Tragically his father Robert and his eldest brother both died of pneumonia only three months prior to the birth. The disaster left his mother a widow with six children and a seventh soon to be born. The next eldest brother Eric was 16 years of age and he took over the responsibility of running the farm with the help of his mother.
In 1914 Robert Heath senior and his eldest son had been allotted by the government, 1,000 acres of land at Pygery (Section 27 Hundred of Pygery) Some acres had been cleared before they died but most of the area was still covered in scrub. In 1919, when baby Tom was three years of age the family made the move from Lipson to Pygery. Robert Heath senior had built a shed which held some basic accommodation at one end. The floor was of rammed earth covered in linoleum. Wheat bags washed with calcimine made the partitions and a stove provided cooking facilities plus warmth. There were four x 2,500 gallon tanks on the property but no reticulated water which was to prove a problem in drought years. Most necessities were sent by train from Pt. Lincoln. The neighbours were friendly and helpful and offered good advice. Some provisions were purchased from Wudinna but the closest doctor was at Elliston – 50 miles away.
The older children walked the four miles to attend school at Wudinna. When Tom was five years of age he also attended school and stayed to complete his qualifying Certificate at the end of Grade seven, prior to assisting in work on the farm. After some years, mother had saved some money and it was decided to build a house. The three brothers quarried and carted the stone and with the assistance of a builder they erected a comfortable home. His older sister died at the age of 18 years in 1927.
The brothers cleared the land, sowed crops and fenced paddocks. They carted the wheat in bags by horses and wagon to the Pygery railway siding. Tom said “ By the mid 1920’s everything was going well at home and the eldest brother Eric purchased a farm at Kyancutta. However in 1928 the depression hit and life became difficult.
He loved sport and football was his first love. He played junior football but at age 15 he was playing in the men’s team and the association consisted of Wudinna, Pygery, Yaninee and Minippa. There was great excitement when they played in a football carnival at Pt Lincoln.” Tom won a Mail Medal and Association Medal in 1939, and best and fairest for Pygery in 1939 and 40. He was invited to play for West Adelaide but felt he couldn’t leave home. The young girls and men traveled in the back of trucks to basketball and netball and would stay on for tea and a dance evening.
Tom says; “It was a big decision for me to decide to join the Army in June 1941 and do what I thought was my duty to help defend my country. Mother was saddened and brother Doug said that he would do his best to keep things going on the farm as Fred had also enlisted. I traveled to Adelaide to enlist and became Private T.R. Heath S X 13506. Following training at Woodside it was off to Melbourne to get a passage on the old Dutch ship “The Marnix” and we had a very rough passage in the bight as we traveled to Freemantle W.A. We then continued on in the” Marnix” as we headed for Egypt. We were in a convoy of four boats and in early 1942 we arrived at Port Tuwfig at the head of the Gulf of Suez. I was drafted to “A” company of the 2nd/48th Battalion. I was chosen to attend transport school and learnt to drive and maintain a truck. I obtained a license for this and also to drive a Bren Gun carrier.
In January 1942 they received an order to move quickly to Syria where their duties were to guard the oil wells and other strategic locations.”
Japan was entering the war and the men expected to be sent home to defend their country; however they were directed to North Africa where they were pushed into some of the worst battle spots of the war including Tel Elisa and El Alamein.
Tom continued “'I can’t talk about El Alemain. The 48th went into battle with 1,000 men and came out with 48. I do not know how I survived. Fred was injured.'”
Eventually America came into the war and the remaining Battalion was sent back to Palestine. Tom drove a truck all the way and the men stayed there for quite a while so that all the wounded could recover a little.
Tom said “ Eventually I drove an old Ford truck back to Port Tawfic and the boats were ready to leave for home. 12,000 men boarded the ‘Queen Mary” and I was one of 8,000 who boarded the “New Amsterdam.” Air cover was provided during the first half of the trip by the English and the rest of the way by the Australian RAAF.” On arrival in Melbourne Tom then went by train to Adelaide and was given a 10 day leave pass to go home to Pygery. The love of family and friends helped him push back the horrors of war. It was during this time that he went to a local dance and met his wife to be Maureen Wood.''''
The leave was over and it was time to head to Townsville in Queensland to be trained in jungle warfare. They marched and practiced mock attacks in the jungle and Tom also had time to play a little football and represent his platoon.
Eventually the time came when they had to board the boats at Trinity Beach near Cairns and head to Lae in New Guinea to confront the Japanese. While he was in the islands Tom came down with his first bout of Malaria and was quite ill. This troubled him for many years. Tom was in the islands for about 8 months before being shipped out due to his ongoing health problem.
Once again Tom said how lucky he was to survive the skirmishes against the Japanese in New Guinea and to be home with his family. There were to be more severe bouts of Malaria and hospital stays as well as another stint with the army at Townsville.
Tom continued: “The war was coming to an end and the army was discharging any men with poor health. I was surprised one day to be called into the Orderly room and told to pack my bags and return to Adelaide to be discharged. Imagine my delight! I was indeed happy to be going home – this time for keeps and to see my lovely girl who was to become my wife.”
The war ended on August 15th 1945 and every one celebrated Peace at last.
Thomas Robert Heath married Maureen Antonette Wood on 23rd July 1946 at St Andrews Church in Balaklava.
Tom and Maureen had a difficult start to married life when Tom’s health was not good after the war, nor could they find land at Pygery to share farm and housing was difficult to obtain.
Eventually Tom obtained some share farming at Riverton in the mid north of South Australia and this was a turning point in their fortunes. Tom and Maureen were happy farming at Riverton and adored their children as they arrived
Following their move to Calomba, Tom continued his love of football and involvement with sport by managing some Mallala Football teams when his own boys started playing and showing interest and talent on the field. He had a B grade premiership and also an A grade premiership during that time. Christopher, Gerald and Basil were all playing A grade together for Mallala at one stage.
In 1981 Tom and Maureen moved from the farm to live in a house they purchased on Dublin Rd Mallala. Tom continued to be involved in the Mallala branch of the R.S.L. and enjoyed watching the Crows play football.
Tom concludes his memoirs: ” I am coming to the end of my story and I must say that I am always grateful for the love and support that Maureen has given me and how grateful I am to have such a wonderful family – a loving wife, four sons and a daughter. They all treat me with respect. What more could a man ask?
"I am Thomas Robert Heath from Pygery to Mallala.”
Tom and Maureen shared over 60 years of marriage together.
Tom Heath died in the Mallala Hospital on 23rd October 2006 and is buried in the Mallala Cemetery.
Please note. This story is an abbreviated version of the memoirs by Thomas Robert Heath. The book can be viewed at the Mallala Museum. For additional information on family life and farming please view the article on the Museum wiki site titled “Maureen Heath”.
- Tom Heath's memoirs
- The family of Tom and Maureen Heath