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Thorpe, Harry (1886–1918)

by Chris Clark

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

Harry Thorpe (1886-1918), by unknown photographer, 1916-18

Harry Thorpe (1886-1918), by unknown photographer, 1916-18

Australian War Memorial, P01695.002

Harry Thorpe (1886-1918), soldier, was born on 7 October 1886 at Lake Tyers Mission Station, Victoria, fourth surviving child of William Thorpe, a labourer and an Aborigine of the Brabuwooloong tribe, and his wife Lilian, née Wilson, who was to die in 1889. Raised on his father's ten-acre (4 ha) farm at Lakes Entrance, he helped to cultivate beans and potatoes and to plant fruit trees, and often supplemented the family food supply by hunting kangaroos and wallabies. He also worked as a labourer; at times he and his father dug graves, at others they stripped wattle bark for sale to tanneries. On 3 August 1905 at Lake Tyers he married with Anglican rites Julia Scott, a domestic servant; they lived on the family farm in a house built from bark and palings. They had two sons, the younger of whom died in childhood. Thorpe trained as a hurdler on a track near his house, coached by his brother-in-law Percy Pepper.

On 12 February 1916 Thorpe enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force at Sale. He embarked for overseas service in April, joining the 7th Battalion in France in July. He was wounded in action at Pozières on 19 August and did not rejoin his unit until November. Promoted lance corporal in January 1917, he was again wounded at Bullecourt on 29 April, but a month later returned to duty. Well regarded in his unit as a footballer and athlete at brigade or divisional sports, he was also noted as a scout.

On 4-5 October Thorpe was conspicuous for his courage and leadership during operations at Broodseinde, near Ypres, Belgium. In mopping up enemy resistance in dug-outs and pillboxes, he displayed initiative and disregard of all danger which inspired the men he commanded. For his 'splendid example', he was promoted corporal on 5 October. He was also awarded the Military Medal, although the recommendation originally sent from his unit had been for the Distinguished Conduct Medal.

During an advance on 9 August 1918 at Lihons Wood, south-west of Vauvillers, France, a stretcher-bearer found Thorpe shot in the stomach. He died shortly after being taken to a dressing station near Bayonvillers and was buried in Heath military cemetery, Harbonnières. His friend, William Rawlings, another Aborigine who had won the M.M., was killed in action the same day.

Select Bibliography

  • P. Pepper, You Are What You Make Yourself to Be (Melb, 1980)
  • London Gazette, 14 Dec 1917
  • Sabretache, Oct 1977
  • Argus (Melbourne), 10 Sept 1918
  • private information.

Citation details

Chris Clark, 'Thorpe, Harry (1886–1918)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 14 July 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

View the front pages for Volume 12

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2020

Harry Thorpe (1886-1918), by unknown photographer, 1916-18

Harry Thorpe (1886-1918), by unknown photographer, 1916-18

Australian War Memorial, P01695.002