Morwell firefighter’s courageous sacrifice

One hundred years ago the Morwell Fire Brigade was officially formed.

On 1 January 1915, the brigade became registered with the-then Country Fire Brigades Board.

Although the brigade did not have a fire station until early 1918, the enthusiasm, commitment and tenacity to have an efficient volunteer brigade was undaunted. The same qualities were found in those volunteer firefighters from Morwell on their disembarkation from Melbourne to Europe to help England fight in World War I.

Eight members from the Morwell Fire Brigade enlisted, leaving Morwell at different times.

One of these was Robert Hamilton Thomson.

News of the landing was slow to reach Morwell, although a group of women began collecting goods for those who were expected to go overseas.

This first group eventually became the Morwell Red Cross.

Excitement was brewing among the men eager for a trip overseas to fulfil their patriotic duty.

Mr Thomson was one man who became interested in the war effort. He was described as a “fine young man, very popular throughout town and well respected” for his attendance at Morwell’s Presbyterian Church, for being a secretary of the fire brigade and as a sportsperson.

Mr Thomson was a member of the Morwell Fire Brigade for two years and two months when he enlisted on 31 January 1916 in the 14th Battalion, 18th Reinforcement; he was 24 years and 11 months old.

His application for enlistment shows his birthplace as Yarram although another private document indicates Tarraville.

Mr Thomson embarked on 4 May 1916 from Melbourne aboard the HMAT Port Lincoln A17 bound for Egypt.

Owned by the London-based Commonwealth and Dominion Line Ltd and leased by the Australian government until September 1917, the Port Lincoln weighed 7243 tons and was capable of an average cruise speed of 12 knots.

It was one of a fleet of steam-driven troop transports transporting the AIF overseas and sometimes also carried horses, military stores and goods such as wool, meat, flour and other foodstuffs mainly for English and French markets.

The Port Lincoln completed eight voyages from Australia between October 1914 and 1917.

About 12 months after leaving Melbourne, Mr Thomson was involved in the first Battle of Bullecourt in northern France.

He was killed in action at Bullecourt on Wednesday, 11 April 1917 and buried at Villers-Bretonneux,

Mr Thomson was a student at the Commercial Road State School where he was remembered on an honour board listing all ‘scholars’ from the school “who left for active service abroad for the Great European War”.

Mr Thomson wrote to his mother in October 1916 in what is believed to be his last letter.

Those who read that letter believed Mr Thomson had a premonition about what might happen.

For an in-depth history of the Morwell Fire Brigade, lift out the ‘Morwell CFA 100 years feature’ on pages 25 to 29.