Thomas Ralph Tipton Brain was only 17 when he first enlisted to fight in WW1. He was dispatched to Egypt on board the HMAT A64 Demosthenes to prepare to embark for Gallipoli. Unfortunately, he suffered from dysentery and literally ‘missed the boat’ to Turkey.
Thomas was sent to France to serve and fight in the battles of ‘The Somme’ and Villers Bretonneux. It was in Villers Bretonneux that the Australians distinguished themselves and left behind a lasting, positive memory on the local French residents. After reclaiming the land from the Germans, Thomas and his fellow soldiers helped rebuild the Villers Bretonneux Primary school and to this day, Advance Australia Fair is still sung by children attending the school.
Dawn Dudkowki, Thomas’s granddaughter and Ancestry.com.au member, remembers him fondly as a “Man’s man. He was strong, solid and reliable; made of pioneer blood, guts and determination. He was much loved by his family and all who had the privilege of meeting him.”
A testament to his strength, as well as his luck, he used to tell the story of how a stainless steel mirror saved his life. The tiny mirror was tucked away in his breast pocket when he took a direct hit from a piece of shrapnel. The mirror took the brunt of the impact and gave Thomas a nasty bruise, but ultimately he survived to tell the tale.
Another favourite tale of Thomas’s was the story of his reunion with his father upon his arrival in Port Melbourne after the war. Thomas had really grown over the course of the war, not just mentally but physically too – he had gained several inches and a significant amount of body mass. His father approached him and asked if he knew his son, Thomas Brain. Being the larrikin soldier that he was, he shrugged and told him that there were 1,500 blokes on the ship, and every one of them was a cobber. They continued to make small talk until Thomas shocked his father by pulling out his papers to reveal his identity.
Shortly after returning home, he married his childhood sweetheart Eliza Little and they had four children. He found work building the Great Ocean Road and later joined the Victoria Railways until he retired at the age of 65. When WW2 broke out, he enlisted for the second time, this time as a training officer at Royal Park sergeants’ training school.
In 1990, Thomas returned to Gallipoli with Prime Minister Bob Hawke and attended the 75th Anniversary celebrations. He told his granddaughter that the dawn service was the most moving event of his life. He had lost many friends on Gallipoli whilst he was in the hospital in Egypt. He had never had the chance to say good-bye until then.
In 1993, he returned to France and was one of the last two remaining Aussie Diggers who had been able to make the long trip to lay wreaths and pay respect to his fallen comrades.
He was a proud member of the RSL until he passed away in 1995, just shy of his 97th birthday. Buried with military honours and his beloved Aussie slouch hat, Thomas Ralph Tipton Brain was one of the oldest surviving ANZACs.