Thomas Richard Keating was the third of seven surviving children, and was their eldest son of Janet and Richard. Tom was born while the family were living in St Marys, but to date there is no documentation confirming his date of birth. Due to this, there are slight inaccuracies across various records, as well as contradictions as to how old he was at the time of his death. Cemetery office records also differ from his headstone. However, Tom was most probably born in mid-August, 1892.
After having spent his first years at St Marys, Tom’s family returned to the inner city suburbs, and his childhood years were spent living at Erskineville, Darlington and Newtown.
The Croydon Years
Soon after her Janet’s mother’s death in 1898, the Keating family left Newtown for the leafy western suburb of Croydon. This allowed Janet to keep an eye on her widower father, who lived nearby in Holden Street Ashfield. Tom was around seven at the time. While living at Croydon, nineteen year old Tom commenced working in 1911 as an apprentice for H.J. Cohen Tailors & Mercers at 65 Market St in the city. In the winter months, Tom enjoyed accessorising with scarves. Tailoring was not only an occupation that would run in the Keating family; throughout his life, the people that surrounded him seemed to also be in that industry.
The family remained in Croydon until Tom was 20 years old. Times were tough, money didn’t come easy, and there were seven children to raise – so Janet would have to wait until she was 44 years old before finally having a place to call her own.
Richard and Janet purchased a large block on Sharpe Street in Belmore, and built a beautiful Federation-style home. The property was registered in Janet’s name on 26th June 1912. They named their home “Kilarney” after their Irish roots. The house still stands today, over 100 years later. Family memories of “Killarney” include: an open fire in the kitchen, huge paintings of stag hunting and waterfalls in the living areas, and religious pictures in the bedrooms. A piano graced the loungeroom, along with lace doilies on lounges and rugs over polished floor boards.
By now, Tom had grown into a confident and self-assured young man. He was the handsome lad who liked to have fun; a bit on the wild side, cheeky by nature and a real larrikin.
Tom was very fit with an athletic build. He was devoted to and exceptionally good at boxing, with a host of trophies and championships under his belt as a featherweight boxer. Family albums reveal that Tom may have been ambidextrous; he seemed equally adept in the use of both his left and right hands. He was also a very good horseman. This skill would be advantageous when deciding on an unexpected career change in the near future.
The year was 1915, and Tom was now 23 and had been working for H.J. Cohens for four years. Tom was also in a steady relationship with auburn-haired Kitty O’Brien, whom he had met through his sister, Dorothy. Kitty lived in Godfrey St Lakemba, a convenient suburb away from “Killarney”.
Like many thousands of men at the time, Tom contemplated serving his country. He was initially held back from signing up due to the strict conditions in place; amongst other things, men had to be at least 5’ 6”, which automatically ruled Tom out. These requirements were considerable relaxed as the war progressed.
Serving overseas meant that Tom would have to say goodbye to everything; his parents, his family, his girl Kit, his friends, his job and his country. But Tom’s sense of adventure, patriotic duty, and more importantly, his sense of mateship (friends would also apply) were enough to see him go through with his application, and time would reveal that his instincts in becoming a soldier – and a good soldier at that – would be correct.
Kitty would have been heartbroken at the thought of her Tom fighting in a war so far from home. They no doubt discussed their future, and both decided to hold on to what they had, which indicated they eventually wanted a future together despite the uncertainty ahead. There was the general belief throughout Australia that the war would not go on for too much longer, so the couple hoped that Tom would be back home before too long.
After having applied for active service abroad, Tom was called up to attend an interview and medical exam at Victoria Barracks, Paddington, on Friday, 14th January, 1916. Within two weeks he was accepted, and officially joined the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) on 31st January, 1916. Like nowadays, the boys had a choice of what they wanted to do. Tom signed up as a Driver for Regimental Transport until four months after the end of the war. Tom was never known as Private Keating; at that time, the term ‘Driver’ was both an Army occupation as well as a rank for members of the artillery who dealt with horses.
Most of Tom’s enlistment papers were written in his own handwriting. WWI Army service records did not contain photographs, however, he described himself as having brown eyes and black hair, a fair complexion, and being 5’4½”. He notes ‘Killarney’ as his address, and his father, Richard, as next of kin. Under the heading, ‘distinguished marks’, he wrote that he had a scar on his chest area, under his left armpit.
WWI enlistment papers did not ask for date of birth (which may explain why boys were able to lie about their age when signing up), but enlistment papers did ask the boys for their age. On 14th January, 1916 Tom wrote that he was 23 and five months old; this is the only reliable record that enables us to estimate that his date of birth must have been mid August of 1892. (This date also matches with how old Tom said he was at the time of his future wedding).
Upon reporting for his first day of service, Tom became Driver Keating and joined A.S.C. Reinforcements. It is highly likely that Tom transferred to the regimental transport unit because he was already a skilled horseman.
After six weeks in Sydney, Tom was finally transferred to his battalion in Armidale. There weren’t many men of Tom’s trade in his Battalion, although his boxing background would have enabled him to fit in with the tough miners, stockmen and labourers of New England. Like so many other battalions, the 33rd’s coming together would break down any barriers between the classes once they were on the battlefield: Catholics and Protestants, educated college boys, larrikins and country boys were all united to the cause, and mateship reigned supreme.
Little did Tom and the boys realise at the time that their coming together would form one heck of an amazing battalion. War historians would later write about this group of every day Australians who would become a tour de force to be reckoned with.
Now that the Battalion had been assembled, it was time to turn these country lads into soldiers. Amidst much fanfare, the Battalion left Armidale for training at Rutherford Camp, Maitland in early 1916.
After months of training, it was now time to set sail from Sydney and leave for war. The Battalion left Rutherford Camp on 3rd May, 1916 at 8am and proceeded to Sydney by train. A great crowd gathered in Maitland to see Tom and the boys off. They were presented with many flags and ribbons – which stood out very conspicuously while travelling down through different stations, where they received great ovations from the country folk.
A review of the Battalion and a march-past took place at Prince Alfred Park in Cleveland Street and another at Moore Park. The boys were then allowed leave until 11pm that night. It may have been during this free time that Tom went home to say his final goodbyes to Kitty and his family.
When it came time for Tom to say farewell to his family, they accompanied him to Belmore Station. After heartfelt goodbyes, they stood on the bridge over the station watching his city-bound train pull away from the platform. Janet kept her eyes on it until it turned the corner and was out of sight – for she may never see her son again. The landing at Gallipoli had taken place just 12 months before, so she was well aware of the dangers that awaited him. On that day, she said she felt she had buried Tom right then and there.
With Tom now gone, the Keating family was certainly feeling the void created by his absence, however, he left behind a keepsake for them to remember him by. Before sailing, Tom had arranged for a studio portrait (see image) to be taken, which featured him in uniform – complete with his great coat collar stylishly turned up about his neck. Janet hung her son’s portrait in the ‘Killarney’ dining room, thus ensuring a part of him remained with them – despite the miles that were now slowly widening between Tom and his family.
On the 4th May 1916, Tom, aged 23, embarked Sydney on the H.M.A.T. Marathon. After his two month voyage, Tom disembarked at Devonport on 9th July 1916. No sooner had he settled in to the safety of the army camp, when news broke from across the Channel that a great battle had taken place in Fromelles, with 5533 Australians being lost in a single night (the battle of Fromelles remains the bloodiest 24 hours in Australia’s military history). As news of this battle filtered home to Australia, Janet would now have more reason to worry about her son. Tom continued as planned, and spent the next 4 ½ months training at Larkhill Camp on Salisbury Plains.
On leave in London
“Went to London on four days leave. Went through the British Museum, St Paul’s Cathedral and other places. We stayed at Peel House – which is sort of a W.M.C.A. for overseas soldiers, and it’s more like home than any other place I have yet been in. Hundreds of our boys stay there. It is cheap and in the centre of attractions. We also visited and went through the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, Waxworks and all the other important places in London. Altogether, we had a bosker time, and were sorry to have to go back to camp.”
As focussed as the boys of the 33rd were, being absent without leave was common. So it’s no surprise to see that two months into his posting at Larkhill, Tom was one of them! Perhaps, like many, he and the boys were in London and found it hard to return to camp just yet. Nevertheless, he was caught out:
“Offence between 10pm on Saturday, 9th September, 1916 to Sunday, 9am on 10th September, 1916. Went absent without leave (AWOL). Award: 8 days pay, and 7 days FP No 2, Total Forfeiture”.
Surprisingly, this incident and attempting to bring alcohol on board “Marathon” in Fremantle, were the only two offences recorded during Tom’s years in the AIF. These incidents give us a glimpse into Tom’s cheeky personality. Either his whole attitude seems to change once he was on the Front, or he learnt how to not get caught out. In any case, what would soon show through was the larrikin away from the Front Line, but the soldier in it.
The Aussies had to quickly adapt to the intensity of conditions on the Western Front. Tom’s arrival coincided with the most severe winter that Northern France had experienced in nearly 40 years. The rains which fell throughout October and November were the wettest on record at the time, followed by a bitter winter of continuous frost and snow.
On the home front, Kitty continued to wait for Tom’s return. She was often told by those around her that she should get on with her life. Unless Tom was seriously injured, there was no chance of him returning home any time soon. His enlistment conditions noted that he was to remain over there until four months after the end of the war. Kitty was adamant she would wait for Tom. She most probably visited “Killarney” during wartime to get strength and support from Richard and Janet. She also had more reason for concern: her older brother, Eugene, had enlisted seven months after Tom, and was now serving on the Westrn Front with the 59th Battalion. The 59th frequently fought alongside Tom’s 33rd. Like Tom, Eugene was also 23 and had been a tailor for 5 years prior to enlisting. Eugene was still dating Tom’s younger sister, Dorothy, so his Army portrait also hung in the “Killarney” dining room alongside Tom’s.
No doubt the English ladies would have noticed dashing Tom. He may well have joined the boys on excursions and dances with the English girls, however, he seemed content to return to Australia a single man – despite the uncertainly of when that might be. In all probability, after years of mud, men and uniforms, he would have been grateful to be amongst female conversation, lace and perfume. However, their presence wasn’t enough to sway his heart; like Kit, he too remained committed to their relationship.
‘Messines – Belgium’
In mid 1917 the 33rd marched into Belgium. After having spent their first months in France, they were now on their way to their first major battle at Messines in Belgium. Along the way, the 33rd marched through the Menin Gate at Ypres. Two large stone lions stood silently guarding either side of the gate as they witnessed Tom and the boys marching through them. In time, this gate would become a significant war memorial. – look for image on AWM
As for Tom’s 3rd Division, planning for the battle was meticulous, and Monash covered every aspect with his usual thoroughness. They gathered to study a large contour model of the Messines battlefield – which gave them knowledge of the area over which they were to advance the following morning. The Australian attack at Messines opened on 7th June, 1917 with the detonation of 19 massive mines exploding over a 20-second period. It was the largest man-made explosion in history at the time, and could clearly be heard on the English mainland 60 miles away. After the explosion, it was time to go in. Tom and the boys had formed a new front line in a remarkably short time. They held the ground captured during the battle for several days afterwards, but were subjected to intense artillery bombardment. As one of the 33rd put it, “Holding the line at Messines was far worse than taking it.” The offensive lasted for six days, from 7th – 12th June, 1917.
Official figures show that the Battle of Messines cost the 33rd 390 casualties. For the Battalion, the battle for Messines claimed a heavier toll in casualties than any other during the war.
‘Passchendaele’ – Belgium
The Battalion’s next major battle was around Passchendaele.
The battlefield, though, had been deluged with rain, with thick mud tugging at the advancing troops. The boys themselves called it the ‘Battle of Mud’.
After Belgium, the Battalion backtracked through the Menin Gate, by now just two great shattered walls, and made its way down to France.
‘Road Wood’ – France
John Edwards explains (reference?): “The 33rd Battalion could achieve such a victory only by acts of outstanding bravery. The fact that 600+ Germans were ousted from so strongly-held positions by only 187 of our men (101 machine guns were also captured) is nothing short of phenomenal.”
‘Villers-Bretonneux’ – France
12,000 gas shells were pumped into Villers-Bretonneux in just one day. The trenches and the whole countryside were drenched in mustard gas and phosgene to such an extent that it saturated the boys’ clothing, causing the painful effects to become unbearable – especially in the more tender regions of the armpits and crotch. 61 men in Tom’s ‘D’ Coy were taken to hospital. The next day the Germans repeated their assault, resulting in the whole of the 33rd having to be temporarily relieved by the 36th Battalion. Amongst the wounded was Colonel Morshead, who experienced two weeks of blindness and was away from his Battalion recuperating in hospital for two months.
The Battalion eventually re-captured Villers-Bretonneux, and the townspeople were extremely grateful to the Australians. To this day, they still hold Australians dear to their hearts, and have many reminders of our boys’ presence there. The Australian National Memorial is located at Villers-Bretonneux.
‘Hindenburg Line’ – France
The breaching of the Hindenburg Line (which forced the Germans back to their original line) was the breakthrough the Allies needed, leading to the end of the war. This was the first time that United States troops had ever participated alongside Australians.
Because of Tom’s outstanding service during the ‘Hindenburg Line’ operation, he was recommended for the Distinguished Service Medal. Interestingly, it was the American allied forces who put Tom forward for this honour. The Distinguished Service Medal is the highest non-valorous military decoration which is issued for exceptionally meritorious service to the US or other uniformed services. Tom wasn’t to know that this would be his last battle, or that the war would be ending the following month.
The Australian War Memorial in Canberra records Tom’s bravery:
“For Conspicuous Good Service and Devotion to Duty: During the attack on the Hindenburg Line near Bonx, between the 29th September and 2nd October, 1918, this N.C.O. was employed as a runner between Battalion Headquarters and the Regimental Transport lines. He displayed the greatest courage and initiative under heavy machine gun and artillery fire, moving backwards and forwards through the barrage, as a guide for ammunition and ration carrying parties. Lance Corporal Keating has at all times been a splendid example to his comrades. 25th February, 1919.”
How does a soldier manage to perform such duties when he knows that any step could be his last? Before becoming a soldier, Tom already had the advantage of possessing a quiet courage that enabled him to become a successful boxer. He knew how to manage his fear, and keep it under control. Tom was also driven by two things:
- He was a soldier, and a soldier learns to follow orders from the very beginning of his training – despite human rational demanding that one should keep themselves out of harm’s way, and not run into or through it.
- He was guiding the ammunition and ration carrying parties up to soldiers that depended on those supplies; soldiers that he had served alongside for over 2½ years, his mates – a bond that had grown through training and fighting together. The success of getting supplies through depended on him doing the job without thinking of his own safety, and being driven by intense comradeship – as many of them were.
Tom’s Own Experiences
As for Tom’s own personal experiences, his log book (as well as some of the experiences that he shared with his brother, Dick) enable us to know the following:
Transporting to the Front Line:
Amongst other duties, Tom would be required to transport shells and ammunition in wagons up to the Front Line. This had its hazards, especially when the Germans were flying overhead looking for targets to fire at. Once a bombing raid flew over, Tom would only have limited time to get the wagon up to the Front Line. Knowing that the planes would eventually circle and return for another raid, Tom would only have a small window of opportunity to hurry on with his load.
“On my knees begging for it not to be true,
But it was you they told me who was in trouble,
I couldn’t breathe on the other side of the world,
And there was nothing I could do to help you …
I wish you were here.”
Tom spent time away from the Front Line due to being hospitalized during the first week of November 1917. Some of the 33rd’s families back home were fortunate enough to be notified when their men had been hospitalised for serious injuries, however, feelings of helplessness only added to their anxiety.
Tom was sent to a hospital located in the northern French port of Boulogne – where most of its patients were battle casualties. It was a large tented hospital, and Tom was there for a week. Not long after, he was transferred to a rest camp for a further two months of recuperation. Tom’s log book doesn’t offer the reason for him being hospitalised, but it seems to have kept him from the Front for 2½ months. The following two entries appear in his log book:
- “To hosp sick”, on 1st – 8th November, 1917.
- “Rejoined Battalion from sick” on 16th January, 1918.
It is not known how many times he was injured, as many of the wounded literally returned to active duty after being patched up, however, the above log book entries must have been significant enough to have kept Tom from active service for so long. He was fortunate though; many were mutilated beyond hope of further involvement and sent home, or they would die slow and painful deaths in the hospitals of France and England.
Becoming A Local
Having spent two years in France, Tom and his Battalion acquired knowledge of the French language through lessons provided by the AIF. French children living out on the land would also enjoy teaching our diggers the local language.
Having served for two years and five months, Tom was promoted to the rank of Lance Corporal on 3rd July, 1918.
Representing the 33rd’s Rugby Team
Tom represented the Battalion’s rugby team in France in late 1918/early 1919. The official Battalion diaries documented a few of the matches that he played as the war neared its end. Being part of the rugby team was a positive, as it showed that he was still mentally and physically in a good place. The writer of the Battalion diaries (reference?) would point out key players – with Tom being mentioned in every game he played:
“2.11.18, Citerne. In the afternoon, the first round of the matches in the Brigade competition was played. The 33rd Battalion played the 9th Field Ambulance. Great interest was taken in the match, and a large crowd assembled to witness it. Lieut. Hayman kicked the goal, making the score 9 to 6 in favour of the 33rd. Shortly afterwards, the full time whistle blew. Sgt Blair played a fine game in the forwards, and Lance Corporal Keating did good work in the backs…”
“9.11.18, Citerne. Fine day. At 14:45 the second round of the Brigade Football Competition was played. The 33rd Battalion played the 34th. The 33rd kicked off with the sun in their faces. From the scrum, Keating passed to Sawtell, to Fulmer, to Bentley – who crossed close to the corner. Scores 20 to nil in favour of the 33rd when the full time whistle sounded. Lance Corporal Keating played his usual good game…”
“16.11.18, Citerne. Fine day. In the afternoon played our third round of the rugby competition. Owing to influenza, etc, our team was six short of the team that played the previous Saturday including Lieut. Hayman, Lance Corporal Keating and Dvr Smith out of the team…”
Leave in England
For men in the AIF, leave to England offered the greatest chance of respite from the war. After having endured 16 months of trying conditions on the Western Front, Tom finally took 2½ weeks’ leave between 18th March to 5th April, 1918 and went to England for some well deserved normality.
News From Home
As the war neared its end, it was also around this time that Tom received news from home of the death of his grandfather. Janet’s father, Thomas Scahill, had passed away at ‘Meath Cottage’ in Holden Street, Ashfield on 1st October, 1918, aged 89.
The Guns fall silent
At 11o’clock on the morning of 11th November, 1918, the guns at last fell silent. The war had ended after 1560 days of fighting. The 33rd were at Citerne on Armistice Day. There was little rejoicing amongst Battalions, with diaries revealing their uncertainty and disbelief that the war could really be over. Tom continued with what was already planned for that day, being: representing the 33rd at a rugby match, then marching to Hallencourt with the boys for a long-awaited bath. Upon Tom’s arrival at Hallencourt, he would find great rejoicing amongst the French population.
As per Tom’s enlistment conditions, he stayed on in France for another five months to oversee the nation as it prepared to return to normality by patrolling, keeping order, and “mopping up” any pockets of German resistance.
Au Revoir to France
Tom finally sailed to Southampton on 21st April, 1919, then spent the next two months at Codford Army Base (10 miles from Larkhill) while waiting for passage back home to Australia.
The 33rd Battalion disbanded in May 1919. Monash wrote of Tom’s Division:
“The sense of duty was always very high, and so also was the instinct of comradeship. A soldier, a platoon, a whole battalion would sooner sacrifice itself than let down a comrade or another unit”.
How the 33rd is remembered
For its service, two men received the Victoria Cross, and the 33rd Battalion received the following battle honours:
- Messines 1917
- Ypres 1917
- Ancre 1918
- Polygon Wood
- Albert 1918
- Mont St Quentin
- Hindenburg Line
- Somme 1918,
- St Quentin Canal
- France & Flanders 1916-1918
The 33rd Battalion lost 451 men. This is an astonishing figure when we realise that other Battalions lost so many that they were disbanded – with their remaining men joining on to other battalions. The 33rd also had a further 2,052 wounded (including gassed). 46,000 Australian soldiers died on the Western Front – which had seen the most prolonged and intensive fighting of the First World War.
33rd Battalion Stats
- Average age of personnel: 25.6 years
- Married: 14.5%
- Single: 84.5%
- Widowers: 1.0%
Tom was decorated with a British War Medal and a Victory Medal (images provided, examples only)
The British War Medal was Instituted by King George V in 1919 to mark the end of World War I and record the service given. The medal is cupro-nickel with the effigy of George V on the obverse.
The reverse has an image of St George on horseback trampling underfoot the eagle shield of the Central Powers, and a skull and cross-bones, the emblems of death. Above this is the risen sun of victory. The years 1914 and 1918 are contained on the outside edge medal. The ribbon has a wide central watered stripe of orange, flanked by two narrow white stripes, which are in turn flanked by two black pin-stripes, further flanked by two outer stripes of blue. The colours have no particular significance.
The Victory Medal
The Victory Medal was authorised in 1919 to commemorate the victory of the Allied Forces over the Central Powers. Each of the Allied nations issued a ‘Victory Medal’ to their own nationals. Each nation used the standard ribbon but used different designs on the medal to reflect national identity and custom. A number had the figure of Victory on the obverse. Australians were awarded the medal issued by Great Britain.
The Victory Medal was awarded to prescribed classes of persons who entered a theatre of war on duty between 5 August 1914 and 11 November 1918.
The medal is bronze with a winged figure of Victory on the obverse. The reverse has the words ‘THE GREAT WAR FOR CIVILISATION’, all surrounded by a laurel wreath. The ribbon has a ‘two rainbow’ design, with the violet from each rainbow on the outside edges moving through to a central red stripe where both rainbows meet.
Tom finally sailed home on ‘H.M.A.T. Themistocles’ on 12th June, 1919 – seven months after Armistice Day. He was one of the fortunate ones; the last Australian soldier wouldn’t return home until the Christmas of 1920.
After having served for three years and three months overseas, Tom finally set foot on home soil on 10th August, 1919. After years of anxiety, we can only imagine the relief that Richard, Janet and the Keating family felt upon seeing their son and brother safely home.
From the time of Tom’s enlistment in January 1916, Kitty had waited nearly four years for Tom’s return. She never gave up hope, and was there with the Keating family to welcome him home to ‘Killarney’. Many probably hoped they would now go on to get married.
The neighbourhood certainly knew when one of its boys had returned! Tom’s family had lovingly decorated the front of ‘Killarney’ with flags of all sorts, and the 33rd Battalion’s green & black colour patch was displayed above a ‘Welcome Home’ sign. The atmosphere continued inside with the dining room being decorated with streamers and little flags. Tom’s framed Army portrait that had hung on the wall through the war years was now decorated with ribbons and palm leaves, and the dining room table had been beautifully prepared for Tom’s first meal with his family in nearly four years.
Tom would have been introduced to the new family members who had been born during his time away, and he also would have noticed how his younger siblings, Monica (who was now a young woman) and Victor, had grown. Upon his arrival, Tom returned to ‘Killarney’ to live.
Tom undertook his final medical examination prior to being discharged. It noted that he had a disability due to military service, but that it was not permanent – with total improvement anticipated, along with the ability to return to his pre-enlistment trade. After nearly four years of serving in the AIF, Tom was discharged on 18th October, 1919. He was 27 years old.
Three days after being discharged, welcome home celebrations took place over at the O’Brien household in Lakemba following the return of Eugene on 21st October, 1919. Kitty was no doubt relieved to see her brother home safely, and Dorothy Keating would also have experienced feelings of relief and excitement in seeing the man she had waited two years for.
Tom did share some of his experiences with his brother, Dick, but in general, the Keatings would have little knowledge or understanding of what Tom had been through during those war years – not even of his triumphs, such as his recommendation for the Distinguished Service Medal or of the brilliant Battalion that he had been a part of.
Outwardly, Tom seemed to have been able to rise above his experiences during the war, maybe due to his positive outlook on life. Representing the 33rd’s rugby team, being a focussed soldier to the end, not having to wait too long for a ship home, and coming home relatively uninjured were all positives for him.
However, like all soldiers who served in the war, Tom found it difficult to return back to civilian life and not be affected by his war experiences. He found it hard to re-adjust because of feelings of restlessness. While he slept, his mind would return to the battlefields: Tom’s brother, Dick, whom he shared a bedroom with at ‘Killarney’ would wake at night to find Tom jumping over the end of the bed calling out, “Over the top!” For Tom, his mind was taking him back to when he was jumping out of the trenches at zero hour to launch an attack on the Germans.
Killarney’s Glory Days
Life hadn’t been easy for Janet, but she could breathe easier knowing that her son had been counted as one of the fortunate ones who had survived the war. With Tom now living back at ‘Killarney’, she was so grateful to have him in her everyday life again. Upon leaving the Army, Tom returned to his previous profession as a tailor.
Dick was also happy to have his older brother home. Those were the days! With Tom now home, the two handsome brothers made up for those lost years apart, and clearly enjoyed socialising together with friends.
Planning A Future
On 5th August, 1921 (less than two years after leaving the Army), Tom purchased a large double corner block of land on Sharpe Street, Kingsgrove – located just a kilometre down on the same street as ‘Killarney’. The back of the property was kept cool and shady by a large, established camphor laurel tree. Buying this land would give Tom that sense of independence he was used to when living away during the war years, and he no doubt planned to build there once the land was paid off.
Tom didn’t acquire the Kingsgrove property through a land grant, but instead bought it with his own savings – which ensured he remained within close reach of the family and area that he loved.
Three months later, the 33rd Battalion held its first re-union. Colonel Morshead became President of the Battalion Reunion Committee. The ‘Sydney Morning Herald’ ran the following story on 29th October, 1921:
“The 33rd Battalion held a re-union on Wednesday evening in the ‘Highland Society’s rooms. The hall was filled with returned men of the Battalion, and the gathering included Colonel Jack Massie, Major Chaplain Richmond, and several of the inmates of the Prince of Wales Hospital, Randwick.”
Meanwhile, Richard and Janet had just purchased the adjoining land next door to ‘Killarney’, and had turned this area into a tennis court. Tom and Dick were now arranging tennis days with their friends. Everyone would dress in their tennis whites and the two brothers enjoyed the social aspect of bringing friends together.
Tom often came across as an affectionate type of person, with the family albums often revealing him embracing family and friends with his natural warmth (as in the above left photo).
With Tom and most of his siblings still living at home, ‘Killarney’ would become the scene for a game of tennis, sing-along’s around the piano and fancy dress parties (including Tom & Kit dressing up as clowns). Every family gathering for any occasion was held at ‘Killarney’.
By now, Tom and Kit had been dating for some time. Like so many other couples who had held on through the war years, they eventually decided to go their separate ways. Perhaps this was, indirectly, another casualty of war in that too much time apart had changed things. In this and many future wars, couples would hold on to their undying love for one another while apart, but found that things were different once they tried to settle back into their normal lives again. This must have been a difficult decision for the couple, as they had loved one another enough to have held on through those four uncertain years.
With Tom’s sister, Dorothy, eventually marrying into the O’Brien family, Kitty and Tom’s paths would continue to cross at significant family occasions – such as Dorothy & Eugene’s 1923 wedding at St Patrick’s Church Hill.
Amidst the backdrop of radical changes in the 1920s, life in the Keating household carried on, and the parties and sing-along’s around the family piano at ‘Killarney’ continued. There were also picnics, days at the beach, dressing up for parties, trips to Kangaroo Valley, Fitzroy Falls, the Kiama Blow Hole and horse riding at Bundanoon – and all the while the two brothers would have fun playing up to the camera with their magnetic charm.
New Lives for the Keating Children
In the years that followed, all of Richard & Janet’s children would go on to start their own families – with the exception of their youngest son, Victor, who never married and remained at ‘Killarney’.
Another Battalion Re-union
Preparations for another Battalion re-union were again underway, with the ‘Sydney Morning Herald’ running the following story on Thursday, 30th April, 1925:
“The re-union of the 33rd Battalion will be held at the ‘Café Ecossais’, 89 Phillip Street at 7 o’clock on Saturday. This date has been fixed to mark the anniversary of the departure of the 33rd Battalion.”
A girl called Mona
Some years later Tom met a young lady by the name of Mona Marie Sedgwick. At the time she met Tom, Mona described herself as a tailoress, so their paths most probably crossed through work. Before long they decided to marry, and their 1926 wedding took place at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Randwick.
Their wedding was a small, simple affair. On the day, Tom’s brother, Dick, signed the Marriage Certificate as a witness, as did Mona’s mother, Mary. Mona’s father also stated on the Certificate that he gave his consent to the marriage.
With Mona being fond of the Randwick district, Tom set up home in a terrace house at nearby Coogee. 238 Belmore Road was just a block from the beach. In the mid 1970’s, the four terrace homes were demolished to make way for a car park, and today the Coogee Village Shops stand on the site.
A Son Is Born
On 11th May, 1927, Mona gave birth to a son, Richard, and as expected, the couple named him in keeping with the Keating family tradition of in turn naming their sons ‘Thomas’, then the next generation ‘Richard’. His parents affectionately called him “Dickie”.
11th May, 1929: (Tom’s death)
The showers that hung around Sydney that day did little to dampen the celebrations being held on the Georges River. Australia’s longest bridge, the ‘Georges River Bridge’ (later to be called ‘Tom Ugly’s Bridge’) was being officially opened, thus linking the Sutherland Shire to the rest of Sydney. The opening of the bridge would have been welcomed by the Keating family, as this would significantly cut the travel time when visiting the Conyards at Port Hacking.
However, today the family had something else to celebrate: Dickie was turning two today, so the extended family were making their way to Tom and Mona’s Coogee home to celebrate the occasion. Mother’s Day was the following day, so it may have been a double celebration. Day soon turned to evening. Just like the days at ‘Killarney’, Tom and the family were gathered around the piano enjoying a sing-along … when there was an unexpected knock at the door.
John Sauga, a friend of Tom’s, had turned up with the new motor bike he’d just purchased, and asked Tom if he had time for a ride. John knew that if anyone would want a ride on the back of his new motor bike, it’d be Tom.
Normally Tom would have jumped at the chance, however, this evening he was the host. Tom’s sister recalls him being concerned about leaving, but John insisted, “C’mon Tom, just a few minutes around the block.” And so it was. As the winds of change blew cold down Belmore Road that night, they briefly left the party as John drove off with Tom on the back…
In the brief time they were away, John’s motor bike was involved in a serious accident, resulting in both men being rushed to St Vincent’s Hospital at Darlinghurst by ambulance. News of the accident would eventually reach the Coogee home, where the party was still in full swing, and life – as everyone knew it – would soon be changed forever.
The family had an anxious wait throughout the night, and they hoped and certainly prayed that Tom would pull through. As the new day dawned, it brought with it Mother’s Day … and the news of Tom’s death later that afternoon.
The ‘Sydney Morning Herald’ ran the following story the day after Tom’s death:
‘Man Killed At Coogee’
“As the result of a collision between a motor cycle and a motor car in Belmore Road, Coogee, on Saturday night, two men were seriously injured, and one of them – T.R. Keating, 35, of Belmore Road, Coogee – died in St Vincent’s Hospital yesterday afternoon. A motor cycle was being driven by John Sauga, 43, tailor, of Bunnerong Road, Maroubra, who had Keating as a passenger. The cycle and a motor car collided, and Sauga and Keating were thrown to the ground. The Eastern Suburbs Ambulance took the injured men to St Vincent’s Hospital, where they were admitted by Dr Barry. Keating received concussion and other injuries, and died yesterday afternoon. Sauga received a fractured left leg, fractured left hand, concussion, and lacerated wounds to the legs, hands, and head. He had slightly improved yesterday.”
Tom was only 36 years old. He left behind his young family: his wife, Mona, and his two year old son, Dickie.
On the afternoon of Tuesday, 14th May, 1929 (just two days after his death) an inconsolable Janet – along with a wife and family still in disbelief – attended Tom’s funeral at his former parish of St Joseph’s Catholic Church, Belmore. Ignorance was sweet for two-year-old Dickie who was oblivious to the day’s sorrow, and happily played with a toy during the service.
Fittingly, the funeral procession then proceeded along Sharpe Street, allowing Tom to pass by ‘Killarney’ one last time. At 2pm it continued the long journey south across the newly-opened ‘George’s River Bridge’, then continued on to Sutherland – where he was laid to rest at Woronora Cemetery. The wake was held at ‘Killarney’.
Mona decided to sell Tom’s Kingsgrove property. Tom’s sister Monica, and her husband Hubert purchased the block from her. The proceeds from the sale of the land (plus everything else that Tom had worked for) would give Mona the funds to assist in raising Dickie. On 20th February, 1930 (nine months after Tom’s death) the land was transferred over to Hubert – thus keeping Tom’s property in the family.
Whether consciously or unconsciously, it was around this time that Mona began to make a fresh start – as she still had the rest of her life ahead of her. It is uncertain whether Janet could see the writing on the wall, but sadness was about to strike her life again. A family get-together was being held at ‘Killarney’. Janet had lovingly arranged the table by bringing out her silver cutlery and lace table cloth (similar to the presentation that awaited Tom when he returned from war), and the table had been beautifully presented with food.
The family had invited Mona and Dickie, and were awaiting their arrival. As the afternoon wore on, the family were sitting around the untouched food while checking their watches. They eventually realised that Mona wasn’t going to turn up that day, and the family had to commence the meal without them. Janet was heartbroken; she would now realise the possibility of them not returning to ‘Killarney’ again. This was heartbreaking for the family too, because along with Mona’s absence went Tom’s son, too.
Janet would never see Dickie again. In time, the family realised that Mona had decided to re-make her life elsewhere, but over the years the Keating family would be ever wondering what became of their grandson, nephew and cousin, Dickie Keating.
Richard remained at ‘Killarney’ until his death. He passed away in the front left bedroom on 23rd August, 1947 aged 81. Janet passed away nine years later on 3rd December, 1956 while staying with her daughter, Dorothy, at Lakemba. She was 89. Fittingly, they were both buried beside Tom at Woronora. Their youngest son, Victor, remained living at ‘Killarney’ until his death in 1965 – and he is buried with Tom, next to his parents.
Dickie – The Missing Years
But what became of Tom’s son, Dickie? The last time the Keatings saw him he was only three or four years old – so he may not have recalled his visits to ‘Killarney’ in those early years. The Keating family had sadly resigned themselves to realising that Dickie had remade his life elsewhere … but they would never forget about him. His aunt Monica would recall him as being, “a dear little boy”, and that’s all the next generation had to go on.
After months of searching (and not knowing if his surname had been changed), it was a blow to learn that Dickie had passed away aged 80.
After Tom’s death, Dickie and his mother eventually settled at 40 Helena Street, Randwick. At the time, Mona described her occupation as ‘domestic duties’.
On 24th January, 1939 when Dickie was 11, 32-year-old Mona married bachelor Sidney Gordon Smith, a 34-year-old motor driver from Epping, at the District Registrar’s Office in Randwick. One of the witnesses attending the wedding was Mona’s younger sister, Beryl. As a result of that marriage, Dickie’s surname was changed from Keating to Smith.
They moved to the northern NSW town of Bingara in the New England area, (600kms north of Sydney) where Sidney managed the Imperial Hotel, with Mona assisting in home duties. Dickie enjoyed the rural life, and often assisted at the hotel. At age 16, Dickie decided to return to Sydney to commence an apprenticeship, and studied to become a design draftsman.
One wonders whatever happened to Tom’s war medals. Regrettably it seems that they have been lost to time. Did he leave them with his family at ‘Killarney’ or take them with him to Coogee? We’ll probably never know.
Also the Army portrait that hung in ‘Killarney’ for 50 years has also disappeared.