BALLYMENA 1914-1918

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From Labourer to Lieutenant

Lieutenant Thomas Tennant, a boy from Harryville's back streets who was promoted for gallantry in the Australian Forces. He is pictured here with his wife Margaret. Note his Australian Bush Hat. You can read his story below. 

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Thomas Tennant and his Wife

Tommy Tennant grew up in the little terraced houses of Francis Street in Harryville, Ballymena.

In pre-1914 days when the class structure was very much a feature of everyday life, Tommy would never have dreamed that one day he would become an officer ... and a gentleman.

Tommy emigrated from the narrow little streets which had grown up around the dominating Braidwater Spinning Mill just six years before the outbreak of the Great War. Like many of his countrymen, he took the boat to Australia which in those far off days was, in most cases, a one way ticket which would see him leave Ballymena and Ireland behind forever.

But Tommy did get a chance to tread his native soil again. In fact, he married an Ulster girl but their life together was all too short and she, like so many women of 1914-1918 vintage was left a widow at an early age.

However, that was in the future.

When Tommy arrived in Australia he was among many thousands seeking employment in the vast country which was developing rapidly and where a sense of nationhood was growing. And, like so many who had hoped for an improvement in their personal circumstances, he was to be a little disappointed. On the day he signed on for the Australian Imperial Forces, Tommy gave his occupation as 'labourer' - no trade, no skill, no office job had opened up for the Harryville man.

The Embarkation Rolls for the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force Recruiting for the AN&MEF opened on 11th August 1914, in New South Wales only,  and Thomas enlisted on that day.

The vast majority of the Force enrolled within a few days, and the force, almost unbelievably, sailed out of Sydney on HMAT (ex-P&O Liner) Berrima on 19th August. The unit was formed as the AN&MEF (Tropical Unit), though it was later re-badged as 1st Battalion (Tropical) AN&MEF.

Tommy was in the Machine Gun Section of 34 men under Sgt William Leslie. The Military component of the force was under Colonel William Holmes, a career soldier in the Colonial forces who had won a D.S.O. and a brevet Lieutenant-Colonelcy in the Boer War. He was later a Major General, the General Officer Commanding (G.O.C.), 4th Division, A.I.F, and he was killed in action on the 2nd July 1917 while escorting the Premier of N.S.W. on a visit to the front line.

A quick timeline for the Force:

19/8/14 - Leaves Sydney

11/9/14 - Lands in New Britain

13/9/14 - Rabaul Surrenders

17/9/14 - Terms of Capitulation of German New Guinea signed

17/9/14 - Occupies New Ireland

6/11/14 - Occupies Nauru

19/11/14 - Occupies Admiralty Islands

9/12/14 - Occupies Solomon Islands

On 8/1/15, Colonel Pethebridge took over Administration of German New Guinea from Colonel Holmes, and the Military component started to wind down.

Thomas' details on that embarkation roll:

Regimental List No: 61

Name: Tennant, Thomas

Rank: Private

Age: 26

Trade or Calling: Labourer

Married or Single: S

Address at Enrolment: Port Kembla, N.S.W.

N.o.K. and Address: Mother, Mrs Elizabeth Tennant, 3 Francis Street, Ballymena, Ireland

Religion: C. of E.

Date of Joining: 11.8.14

Aside from his basic pay of 5/- (25p), he was getting 6d (2.5p) per day allowance.

The Australian Official History Vol II, (P420) says:

It happened at this time when these troops [the second wave of recruits making up 5th - 7th Brigades] were being raised the military portion of the force which in the early days of the war had captured German New Guinea was released from service in that territory.

Of these troops, who had been raised in New South Wales, a very large number re-enlisted in the 5th Brigade, of which their commander, Colonel Holmes was appointed brigadier,

The AN&MEF had originally signed on for six months unlimited service, which period had now expired. So like many of his mates, Thomas joined "D" Coy, 19th Battalion of 5th Brigade when it formed. The 19th embarked on the Transport A40 "Ceramic" on 25/6/15.

His details:

Regtl No: 1451

Name: Tennant, Thomas

Rank: Sergeant

Age: 26

Trade or Calling: Labourer

Married or Single: S

Address at Enrolment: Care of Mrs James, Port Kembla, N.S.W.

N.o.K. and Address: Mother, Mrs Elizabeth Tennant, 8 Francis Street, Bellymerra, Austrum (sic), Ireland

Religion: C. of E.

Date of Joining: 12.3.15

Note that the A.I.F. was constituted separately from the AN&MEF, and as such he gets a new joining date, regimental number, etc.

The first drafts reached Gallipoli on 6th August and 19th went into action on 21st August opposite Hill 60 towards the southern end of the Suvla Landings. Tommy was serving at Popes at the time of the evacuation.

In the wake of the Gallipoli disaster, Tommy was posted to France where he was to serve until his death in the late stages of the Battle of the Somme in 1916.

Thomas' death is mentioned in the Official History, Vol III, p. 937n

In November, 2nd Division was tasked with capturing "the Maze", a warren of trenches forming a salient north of Flers, held by III/5th Guard Grenadiers. Pages 928 - 940 give details of the attack, but briefly, stating only that the 5th (1/5th?) Northumberland Fusiliers of 50th Division and 19th Battalion (2nd Australian) took the front line trenches on the west shoulder of the salient on 14th November. 

Thomas was killed in this action it seems, which caused some 1500 British and Australian casualties between 14th and 16th November.

His death was reported in Ballymena as follows:

Lieutenant Thomas Tennant - The Australian Record Office, London, has notified Mrs. M. Tennant of Lothair Avenue, Belfast that her husband, Lt. Thomas Tennant, Machine Gun Coy. Australian Imperial Forces, reported missing in November 1916 is now returned as having been killed in action on the 12th of that month.

Unofficial testimony has also been received by Mrs. Tennant through the Australian Red Cross Society that her husband was killed by a shell during an attack he was leading. One of the men who reports to this effect states that was buried in the field, and adds: He was one of the whitest, and it was a sore blow when he fell.

The deceased officer, who was 29 years of age, was the eldest son of Mr. Robert Tennant of Francis Street, Harryville, Ballymena. He emigrated to the Commonwealth six years ago and on the declaration of war enlisted as a private in the 19th Battalion, Australian Infantry. Before coming to Europe he served in the capture of New Guinea and subsequently in Egypt whence he proceeded to Gallipoli and subsequently to France.

In March 1916, he was promoted to a commission for gallantry and devotion to duty. Three months later he came home on leave during which time he was married to Margaret, youngest daughter of the late Mr. W. Moore, of Tempo, Co. Fermanagh and Mrs. Carrothers of 4 Lothair Avenue, Belfast.

Ballymena Observer, March 23 1917