I acknowledge the Traditional Owners on whose land I walk, I work and I live. I pay my respects to Elders past, present and future.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Father Thomas Gard MBE

As a community we bask in the reflected glory of those members of our community who have taken heroic and courageous action on some distant battlefield and been recognized and rewarded for that action. One such is Keith Payne W.O. and there are probably few, young or old, who have not heard of him as the recipient of the VC AM. Another less known however is Thomas Gard, the son of Mr. and Mrs Thomas Gard of Victoria Estate.  The family had been long time stalwarts of the St Patrick Parish and it was much to their great pride when their Thomas Jnr. was the first local boy to be ordained a Catholic Priest. Such was the excitement and importance of the occasion to the Herbert River district that a special rail motor ran from Ingham to Townsville on the day of the ordination, December 3 1933, to permit friends and relatives to attend the ceremony held at the Sacred Heart Cathedral.

Less than ten years later, with World War 2 raging, he was released by the Diocese to serve as a military chaplain with the 2/4 3rd Australian Infantry Battalion. During the siege of Tobruk, on August 3 1941, he rescued Australian casualties under heavy shell fire, even venturing fearlessly into enemy German lines.  The way that he achieved the rescue makes a remarkable and dramatic story. An eyewitness recorded that “The enemy recognised his feat of bravery, held their fire, enabled and assisted him to gather in the wounded. They gave him a cigarette, let him have a rest and guarded him safely back to the British lines, where he arrived with his truck filled with wounded.” While another recorded that Father Gard offered a German officer a cigarette while convincing him to allow the removal of Australian dead and injured. However he did not achieve this rescue without the equal bravery of others: Father Tom Gard stood on the running board of the truck driven by Private Keith Pope, while Sergeant Wally Tuit stood on the bonnet of the truck with Red Cross flag flying. Following that episode, he went on to Syria to the Battle of El Alamein, and then served in New Guinea in 1943 to 1944. By 1945 he was back in Ingham to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of his parents, which, as could be expected, given the Gards’ involvement in their parish, was attended by not only Bishop Ryan of Townsville but every priest of Halifax and Ingham parishes. In the same year Father Thomas Gard was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire in recognition of his “gallantry under fire”.

At his funeral held on July 26 1993 he was recalled as “A man’s man of no nonsense, loved sport to the point of being almost a fanatic, feared no man including the Bishop, he was loved by the whole community.  Another of our colourful and outstanding priests…” Even more recently a reminiscence recalled him as “a particularly delightful man with a wonderful understanding of mankind’s follies and faults. Loved a beer and was there every year at the RSL’s ANZAC Day dinner.”
Vidonja Balanzategui, Bianka. Portrait of a Parish: A History of Saint Patrick’s Church and Parish Ingham 1864-1996. Ingham: St. Patrick’s Parish, 1998.
Frazer, Ian. “Bravery under fire.” Townsville Bulletin: Everyday History. Celebrating 150 years since the naming of Townsville. Volume 4, 2016.
The Pub. “Reflection: ANZAC Day 2013: 554 thoughts on Reflection: ANZAC Day 2013.” Comment by Scorpio6to2. April 25, 2013. Accessed July 13 2016.

September 3 1941, The Northern Miner

"New Year Honours," January 1 1945, The Canberra Times

January 2 1945, The Courier-Mail

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