Thomas Louch

Thomas was born the son of an archdeacon in Geraldton, Australia in 1894. He worked as a law clerk in Albany, Western Australia until war broke out. As soon as he could he joined the Australian Imperial Force (AIF).

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Meanwhile one brigade of the Australians was moved closer to the entrance of the Dardanelles, the narrow straits between Europe and Asia. After the Ottoman empire joined the war, the Royal Navy had commenced operations intended to force the straits and knock the Turks out of the war. It was felt that some supporting troops would be required to occupy the ruins of the forts defending the straits. Among the Australians despatched to the area was Corporal Thomas Louch of the 11th (Western Australia) Battalion.

"On 28 February we gathered together all our belongings, and marched to the Kasr-el Nil Barracks in Cairo where we piled our rifles in the square and sat about until it was dark. Then we marched to the station and entrained for Alexandria. There I posted a card to say that we had embarked on SS Suffolk – a rotten old tub, not nearly as good as the Ascanius – but no doubt we shall survive! It was to be our home for the next eight weeks.

We sailed with three other ships carrying the rest of the 3rd Brigade and arrived some days later at Mudros, on the island of Lemnos. There we found a large harbour, with a narrow entrance; a suitable assembly place for a large fleet. But when we arrived it was empty, except for one or two small naval vessels."

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Meanwhile one brigade of the Australians was moved closer to the entrance of the Dardanelles, the narrow straits between Europe and Asia. After the Ottoman empire joined the war, the Royal Navy had commenced operations intended to force the straits and knock the Turks out of the war. It was felt that some supporting troops would be required to occupy the ruins of the forts defending the straits. Among the Australians despatched to the area was Corporal Thomas Louch of the 11th (Western Australia) Battalion.

"On 28 February we gathered together all our belongings, and marched to the Kasr-el Nil Barracks in Cairo where we piled our rifles in the square and sat about until it was dark. Then we marched to the station and entrained for Alexandria. There I posted a card to say that we had embarked on SS Suffolk – a rotten old tub, not nearly as good as the Ascanius – but no doubt we shall survive! It was to be our home for the next eight weeks.

We sailed with three other ships carrying the rest of the 3rd Brigade and arrived some days later at Mudros, on the island of Lemnos. There we found a large harbour, with a narrow entrance; a suitable assembly place for a large fleet. But when we arrived it was empty, except for one or two small naval vessels."

 

January 1915

Corporal Thomas Louch of the 11th (Western Australia) Battalion was engaged in practising ‘fire and movement’ style tactics in the sands of the Egyptian desert. Here the Australian Imperial Force was training ready to be sent to the western front – or so they thought.

 

"We now began field training, based on the supposed lessons of the Boer War. Day after day we made frontal attacks on an imaginary enemy supposed to be occupying some bit of desert. From afar we approached in company column until we got within the supposed range of the enemy guns, when we broke down first into platoons and then into sections. When told that we were within rifle range, we did the old business of advancing in short rushes until about 100 yards from our objective. We then fixed bayonets and lay down, firing lustily while reinforcements came from behind to thicken the attack.

When there were no more reinforcements to come from behind, and the mystic moment arrived, someone carried away by the lust of battle would cry “Charge!” and all would, thereupon, dash forward making offensive noises until the enemy position was overrun. That accomplished we sorted ourselves out again into our proper sections, platoons and companies and then marched home. But before we left the scene of battle, numerous small boys would miraculously appear from nowhere to sell us: “Oranges, big ones, two for a half piastre!”

At this stage the Australian troops had never heard of the shores of Gallipoli where they would be first ‘blooded’ in real warfare against the Turks.

 

 

December 1914

In December 1914, Thomas Louch was serving with the 11th (Western Australia) Battalion where he had attained the rank of corporal. After some basic training in the Blackboy Hill Camp, the AIF were shipped off to Egypt to complete their training. Here they encountered the men of the 42nd (East Lancashire) Division who had been sent out to replace the British regular army units.

 

"There are a lot of Lancashire Territorials here, and they do look a diminutive lot beside our fellows, but we get on very well with them – much better than we do among ourselves, for there is a lot of inter-state jealousy.

What really staggered us about the Tommies was their vocabulary – or lack of it! One four-letter word with variants provided verbs, nouns and adjectives – the staple of their conversation. The men in my section were not particularly strait-laced, but only swore in a mild way when exasperated."

The Australians were placed in Mena Camp right alongside the pyramids – providing a tempting opportunity that Louch did not fail to take advantage of.

"On Wednesday last, another chap and I had a guide and did the pyramids and Sphinx thoroughly. We visited the tomb in the third pyramid, which is some 80 feet underground and you have to crawl down a narrow passage on your hands and knees.

You get down inside and then you have to pay a piastre for a candle to enable you to see your way; then when you get into the tomb of King Mycron (or some such name as that) you pay another 5 piastres for the guide to light some magnesium wire, so that you can see the beautiful roof. Then you pay a boy 1 piastre to mind your boots, which you have been obliged to discard, and finally another boy 5 piastres to pour water over your hands to wash them! We then went to the temple of the Sphinx."

The Australians developed a reputation for irreverence towards those in authority, as the officers of the 11th Battalion soon discovered.

"Our 11th Battalion officers were mostly from the militia or the senior cadets; some had been area officers and others school teachers. Two had been at the Boer War, but few, if any, had ever served in the ranks. Not all were popular at that time, and anyone who had given particular cause for dislike might find himself ‘mentioned’ in the early morning despatches.

Newsboys arrived with the daily paper at reveille, and for a piastre or two they could be induced and tutored to go up and down the lines calling “Egyptian Times, very good news. Major ‘X’ (or as the case might be) Dead!” Sometimes the personal announcement was in terms that could hardly be repeated in a drawing room.

The newsboys were excellent mimics, though they had no idea of the meaning of what they were paid to say."

 

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