Just over 100 years ago, two young men were among the thousands who enlisted in the 1st Australian Imperial Forces in 1915. One was Thomas Sinclair Burgess, aged 25 and his younger brother Robert Alexander aged 23. Thomas Sinclair is the grandfather of Graham Burgess, Jenny Salanitri (deceased) and Kathy Adams. The Burgess brothers enlisted at Chermside, Brisbane on the 11th of August, and the given sequential regimental numbers of 1160 (Thomas) and 1161. Thomas was passed fit and took the oath of service on the first of October, and was posted to the 6th reinforcements of the 11th Light Horse Regiment, part of the 4th Light Horse Brigade. The Light Horse fought as mounted infantry. The smallest unit was a group of four men, when in action, the men dismounted and one man held the reins of all four horses.
Thomas was 5 foot 10 ½ inches, weighed 154 pounds and of fair complexion, blue eyes and brown hair. He gave his occupation as “farmer”. His place of birth was near Tenterfield, and his parents’ residence as a property, “Lochiel” near Warwick.
Luckily for these young men, they were too late for the 11th’s action in Gallipoli, and they were posted to Palestine. Their departure vessel and date of arrival is unclear, but Thomas was “taken on strength” which is Army jargon for the commencement of pay, on 22.2.16.
His service record shows he faced the hazards of many a young soldier, wounds and sickness. In late November 1915 he was hospitalised with mumps at Abbassia Hospital, Cairo, which was a hospital attached to the barracks located there. He was discharged fit for service on 30.12.15. His service record notes he was posted to A Squadron of the 11th Light Horse Regiment on March 12th, 1916.
Later that year, between the 24 hours from 1300 on December 16 to 1300 December 17, 1916 Tom Burgess was A.W.L. (absent without leave). While this invites speculation, there is no record of his activity during this period. However, he was confined to barracks for a fortnight and lost two days pay.
In September 1917 both Tom and Bob Burgess received training on the Hotchkiss machine gun. Tom graduated as a first class gunner in September. The Hotchkiss was a type of portable machine gun that could be carried into battle, the other more famous example is the Lewis Gun, which was favoured by the infantry.
In December that year, the Burgesses of “Lochiel” received the following cyptic telegram “Reported that Pte Thomas Burgess will advise anything further received”. Seven days earlier, on 1.12.17, Tom had been wounded in action in Palestine. The nature of the wound is unclear, but it appears to have resulted in a torn left ankle that became septic.
My unfamiliarity with the cryptic nature of military records makes it difficult to determine what happened immediately afterwards, but it seems he was once more admitted to Abbassia Hospital, then sent to a rest camp in February 1918. Near the end of the war in October 1918, he was again readmitted to Abbassia, this time with malaria.
On 20/7/1919, Tom boarded the “Morvada” at Kantara, Egypt for the journey home, arriving five weeks later on August 30. One month later on October 29, he was discharged from the army. He had signed on for the duration of the war, plus four months, in all he had just over four years of military life. Bob also returned home safely, his service record notes a wound to the left shoulder, and a similarly worded telegram received by his parents.
The 11th Light Horse Regiment took part in many actions in Palestine during the war, and in 1942, the history of the regiment was compiled by E. W. (Wally) Hammond. Bob appears to have been the family member who purchased it for 5 shillings, then it came into Tom’s possession. As Tom’s oldest son, Graham Sinclair, then took possession, and one hundred years later, Graham passed the book to his younger surviving brother, James (Jim).