VALIANT SOLDIER: Thomas Laity Morgan (centre) was believed to be the last surviving First World War soldier in Gladstone. He died in 1990.
VALIANT SOLDIER: Thomas Laity Morgan (centre) was believed to be the last surviving First World War soldier in Gladstone. He died in 1990. Contributed

Efforts of Gladstone war veterans not forgotten

TODAY marks the beginning of what historian George Kennan called the seminal catastrophe of the 20th century, the First World War.

On this day 100 years ago, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia after Serbia rejected the conditions of an ultimatum sent by Austria on July 23 following the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.

The declaration started a conflict that eventually drew in Australia and men from Gladstone like the late Thomas Laity Morgan, who was Gladstone's last surviving First World War veteran when he died in 1990.

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The 15th Machine Gun Company soldier embarked on HMAT Persic A34 from Melbourne on December 22, 1916.

It may have been a long way to Tipperary, but it was an even longer way to the fields of Flanders from Gladstone for the driver.

Mr Morgan was 17 years old when he decided to join the army with his friend Arthur Teagle, but not before getting his parents' consent.

"My mother wasn't too happy but my father was in favour of it because he had parents in England," Mr Morgan said in a 1989 interview.

When his mate didn't pass the physical, Mr Morgan said: "I'm not going if he's not coming with me."

But Mr Teagle eventually passed and the duo went off to Enoggera in Brisbane to join the "Suicide Club", as the Machine Gun Company was known.

After arriving in England, one of the first people Thomas met was Norm Herbertson, also from Gladstone.

It wasn't long before Mr Morgan heard the whizzing of bullets and banging of shells, when he took part in an offensive at Messines Ridge.

Conditions were tough during the war and Mr Morgan said solders had to "flea themselves".

"I saw these fellows sitting there 'fleaing' and they said, 'Don't worry about it mate, you'll have 'em'," he said.

Historian talks about a WWI digger from Gladstone: Amateur historian Jimmy Harris talks to The Observer about his good friend, the late Thomas Morgan and his involvement in WWI.
Historian talks about a WWI digger from Gladstone: Amateur historian Jimmy Harris talks to The Observer about his good friend, the late Thomas Morgan and his involvement in WWI.

His closest brush with death came when he decided to camp overnight in a hut.

"I said to my mate, 'I don't like the look of this, what if a shell hit the chimney, I'm not going to camp here,' and we ended up staying in a gully," he said.

"The next morning I saw people running and asked what happened and was told that a shell had killed some non-commissioned officers who where staying in that hut," he said.

Thomas came back to Australia in August 1919 and his father put on a big welcome-back dinner for him in Rockhampton.

On his return he found his girlfriend, who he had been writing to during the war, was engaged to another man.

He finally came back to Gladstone in 1920 and joined the waterside workers as a "wharfie".

"Boats were scarce in those days and I would be lucky if I had a quid a week," he said.