The life and times of Thomas Burns

Thomas Lawrence Beirne was born in 1894 in Paddington and was the eldest son of Annie and Thomas Beirne.

He was a gifted sportsman and worked as a carpenter until he enlisted in the AIF in February, 1915. 

He enrolled as Thomas Burns – in fear his real name sounded German – and was only 20 when he set off to Gallipoli in the 18th Battalion aboard HMAT A40 Ceramic on June 25, 1915.

Despite being a small man – standing at 163 centimetres and 60 kilograms – he had no fear and showed the Anzac spirit which we now honour as an important part of our heritage.

Thomas arrived in Gallipoli on 16th August, 1915 mere days after the Battle of Lone Pine where 910 Australians were killed and 1200 were injured in a fierce battle for control of the Turkish trenches and tunnels.

Thomas was soon wounded in action after suffering a wound to his right knee. As a result, he was sent to London General Hospital Wandsworth to recover from his injuries. 

Thomas re-joined the 18th Battalion in June, 1916 in France where he was listed as a private and a bugler. He fought in the Battle of Pozieres – the first battle for Australians on the Western Front – which was located in a small village in the Somme.  

The Battle of Pozieres was an epic battle lasting from July 23rd to August 6th and involved heavy casualties.

12,000 Anzacs were killed or injured as they drove the Germans out of the village.   

Thomas was wounded again in action after being shot in the right forearm, fracturing both his ulna and radius.

He was once again evacuated to England to the First Western General Hospital in Liverpool where he underwent several surgeries.

The injuries did not deter Thomas but he did not regain the strength and rotation in his right forearm and returned to Australia on January 14, 1917 aboard Kanowna.

He disembarked in Sydney on March 8 and was discharged from AIF a month later as he was medically unfit for active service or duties at home.

Determined to defend his country, Thomas – now 23 – reenlisted on August 2, 1917.

Despite a slight loss of power in his right forearm, Thomas had no trouble with his injuries and joined the first division train as a driver.

Tom departed Sydney on October 31, 1917 and arrived in Devonport, England on Boxing Day.  

He continued training there until July, 1918 where he was sent to France, where he remained until January, 1919.

He left England on 17th March, 1919 and returned to Australia aboard Plassy. Thomas was discharged from the AIF on May 26, 1919 as termination of enlistment was complete.

Thomas did not let his war injuries slow him down and on return he signed to play rugby league for 1919 premiers Paddington.

Thomas joined Eastern Suburbs in 1920 and played in the Metropolitan Cup (NRL). That same year he married Dorothy Matilda Parker and they soon settled in Rickard Street, Turella.

In 1921, Tom joined the newly formed St George rugby league team that trained at Arncliffe and played home games at Hurstville Oval.

Tom had the honour of playing as halfback in the first ever St George Rugby League team on April 23, 1921 at Sydney Sports Ground against Glebe – the Dirty Reds would win 4-3 in a close encounter.

Thomas played 62 games for St George between 1921 and 1926, scoring 10 tries in the process.

Thomas was a passionate player and was never deterred by his size.

An example of that was in 1922 when Burns, 'Big Jim' Morris and 'Bluey' George Carstairs were sent off for not agreeing with the referee's decision.

Thomas was much luckier than many Anzacs having lived a long life.

He passed away on November 1, 1987, aged 93. Thomas's ashes were scattered in the rose gardens at Woronora Cemetery next to Dorothy who passed away seven years earlier.

Thomas led a very long and fulfilling life and always gave his best, whether in war, on the sporting field or with his family.

Thanks to the Hurstville Library for their help in compiling this story.