Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Thomas George Berry (1920–1981)

by Russell Parkin

This article was published:

George Berry, c.1941

George Berry, c.1941

photo supplied by family

Thomas George Berry (1920-1981), soldier and farmer, was born on 15 March 1920 at Foster, Victoria, elder of twins and sixth child of Victorian-born parents Thomas William Berry, farmer, and his wife Agnes Amelia, née Hoskins. Throughout his life he was known as George Thomas to distinguish him from his father. After leaving Foster State School at an early age, he worked as a farm labourer in the Korumburra district of south Gippsland. On 24 June 1940 he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force; he was then 5 ft 7 ins (170 cm) tall, with blue eyes and brown hair. He was made an acting corporal just nine days after joining the 2/24th Battalion in August.

Arriving in the Middle East in December 1940, the 2/24th was sent to defend Tobruk, Libya, in April 1941. Active service did not begin well for Berry. Dysentery put him in hospital for three weeks in May and in August he received a bullet wound to his left hand in an accident. Hospitalised again, he returned to the 2/24th in late December and was immediately promoted to acting sergeant (confirmed June 1942). He was acting as a platoon commander in October when his unit fought at El Alamein, Egypt.

During an attack on the night of 25-26 October Berry’s personal courage inspired his men to follow him unhesitatingly through heavy fire. He was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for `conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty’. However, these prosaic words concealed the grim reality of close-quarter combat. Berry captured two enemy positions on his own and on reaching his company’s objective, a strong enemy post, he `carried out terrible execution with the bayonet’ until his right arm was severely fractured. He was evacuated to Australia in February 1943. Declared unfit for active service because of his shoulder wound, he was transferred to the 2nd Movement Control Group, Melbourne, where he served from August 1943 to October 1944. After another period in hospital, he was invalided from the army on 17 January 1945.

Settling back into civilian life, Berry married Marie Catherine James, a nurse, on 25 August 1945 at St Paul’s Church of England, Korumburra. He worked briefly as a tram driver, living at Camberwell, Melbourne, where his first child was born. In the early 1950s the family moved to Ranceby, south Gippsland, and Berry became a share-farmer. During this period two more children were born and he applied for a soldier-settlement block at Nyora. Granted a 140-acre (57 ha) property in 1958, he ran dairy cattle and involved himself in community activities, including the school council, a Masonic lodge and the local sub-branch of the Returned Sailors’, Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia. He rarely missed an Anzac Day march.

Berry was a hard worker, a strong disciplinarian, a loving father, a competent public speaker and a sometimes fiery character. He had developed diabetes soon after his discharge and in 1973 ill health forced him to leave Nyora and move to Donvale, Melbourne, where he worked as a storeman. In 1980 he retired to Rosebud. He died of broncho-pneumonia on 10 July 1981 at Southport, Queensland, while holidaying on the Gold Coast. Survived by his wife, and their daughter and two sons, he was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • AWM 119, item A57, part 1 (Australian War Memorial)
  • series B883, item VX31716 (National Archives of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Russell Parkin, 'Berry, Thomas George (1920–1981)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 21 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (Melbourne University Press), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

George Berry, c.1941

George Berry, c.1941

photo supplied by family