Sunderland historians honour Australian dairy farmer who became a war hero

Rev Ian Davies, chairman of Hendon History Group, with member Pauline Hilton at the restored grave of T.T. Powell at Grangetown Cemetery.
Rev Ian Davies, chairman of Hendon History Group, with member Pauline Hilton at the restored grave of T.T. Powell at Grangetown Cemetery.
0
Have your say

The ultimate sacrifice made by an Australian dairy farmer during World War One is to be marked this week - 99 years after his death in Sunderland.

Thomas Thornton Powell travelled half-way around the globe to fight for King and Country. Tragically, after being wounded at the Somme, he was never to see his homeland again.

Private T.T. Powell and his mother Helena Louisa.

Private T.T. Powell and his mother Helena Louisa.

But members of Hendon History Group have now ensured the 37-year-old’s memory will live on - after raising funds through Sunderland City Council’s Community Chest to repair his tumbledown memorial at Grangetown Cemetery.

A graveside blessing is to be held this Friday, at 11am, to mark the restoration. An open invitation to the service, to be taken by group chairman Rev Ian Davies, has been issued to anyone wishing to pay their respects.

“We wanted to mark the centenary of the Great War, and are thrilled to have completed such a worthwhile project,” said group member Pauline Hilton.

“It was the least we could do for someone who left his homeland and travelled thousands of miles to fight for Britain, only to lose his life.”

“It was the least we could do for someone who left his homeland and travelled thousands of miles to fight for Britain, only to lose his life.”

Pauline Hilton, member of Hendon History Group.

Born in Queensland in 1879, Thomas Thornton Powell - known to his family as Thornton - was the fourth son, and sixth child, of Charles and Helena Powell.

As a young man he made his living as a timber cutter, before buying 116 acres of land at Traveston Station, south of Gympie, to farm cattle.

He went on to serve as a councillor, and later chairman, of Widgee Shire - but, after Britain went to war, Thornton enlisted with the 16th/15th Reinforcements.

The private left Australia aboard the Star of Victoria on March 31, 1916, arriving in Egypt a month later - where he joined D Company, 47th Battalion, of the Australian Imperial Force.

A few weeks of training followed but, less than a month later, the battalion was shipped off to Marseille - leaving Alexandria on June 7 to join the British Expeditionary Force in Europe.

“Thornton fought at the First Battle of the Somme in August 1916, where his unit came under heavy bombardment. Considerable casualties were recorded,” said Pauline.

“Sadly, while on the front line at the Battle of Pozieres, he was shot in the leg and foot. After receiving basic trench first aid, he was sent to an Australian Field Hospital.”

But, such were the extent of his injuries, he had to be transferred via hospital ship to England. At 3am on August 14, 1916, Thornton arrived at Sunderland Railway Station with 100 other wounded.

Ten motor-ambulances were used to transport the injured to local war hospitals. Thornton was admitted to Hammerton House, known as Grey Road Red Cross Hospital, on August 16.

“An article in the Echo stated he had broken both legs while fighting at the Somme. Sadly, just as there was talk of repatriating him, Thornton succumbed to exhaustion and wounds on November 21,” said Pauline.

“He was given a full military funeral, with his coffin borne on a gun carriage from the Royal Infirmary - there being no mortuary at Hammerton House.

“Wounded soldiers from hospitals across the town joined the procession to Grangetown, together with a firing party from the Notts and Derby Regiment.”

Thornton’s widowed mother later received his personal effects which included a belt, knife, pencils, badge, identity disc, matchbox, cigarette lighter, photos and wallet.

It wasn’t until 1923, however, that an official tribute to Thornton’s bravery - a bronze “dead man’s penny” - was presented to his family. By this time, however, his mother had also died.

“Thornton had no direct descendents, but he did have siblings and I have been in touch with his family in Australia. They are delighted with what we have done for him,” said Pauline. “Finally, Thornton has the memorial his bravery deserves.”

Refreshments will be served after the graveside service at the Carnegie Community Corner (former Hendon Library). All welcome.