Monday, February 1, 2016

Introducing Tom Lockyer

It was around the turn of the 21st century when I first met Tom Lockyer; a time of big change in my life. I was pursuing my degree in archaeology, learning to tease out the stories of the past, and I was falling head over heels for the man I would eventually marry.
Thomas James Lockyer, c. 1916

That wasn't Tom, of course. He was lost to time, his thoughts and actions ringing out only from the pages of a tattered and mud-smeared diary, dated 1916. But it would be fair to say that, from the moment my grandmother first handed me that much-loved artefact, I fell for Tom, too, and with him one of the most tumultuous times in Australian history: the Great War era.

In the years since I first met Tom, his words have taken me interesting places. I've written First World War fiction, fascinated by the lives, loves and losses of the people who endured those troubled years. I'm working on my PhD in history examining a similar topic, and will soon travel across to France and Belgium to walk in the footsteps of my research subjects.

As for Tom, February 5th marks 100 years to the day since he went into Glen Innes, New South Wales, and signed up to the 33rd Battalion of the Australian Imperial Forces. From that point forward, he faithfully filled in his Collins leather pocket diary every single day without fail. While his words initially seemed brief and routine, closer examination reveals a sharp sense of humour and a keen eye for detail. Combined with photographs, newspaper reports and official documents of the time, his story takes on larger dimensions.

Tom in uniform, 1916
It's one amongst hundreds of thousands of similar stories. Within my family, though, it has always held special importance.

So, introducing Thomas James Lockyer. Born James Thomas in 1895 at Glen Innes to Andrew and Clara Lockyer, he was one son in a very large family of siblings, step-siblings and half-siblings. His father's previous marriage had produced many children, including half-sister Susan Ann Williamson (nee Lockyer), who would be Tom's listed next-of-kin in his military records.

That was because in 1902, seven-year-old Tom suffered the loss of his mother on Christmas Day. Just one year later, his father was also dead, leaving him an orphan. Fortunately, he had no shortage of family and friends to take care of him, and eventually into the circle of close acquaintances came my great-grandfather Charles, his brother Jim, and his sister Lavina, known to all as Vena.

Tom and Jim became firm friends, and Tom and Vena fell in love. They were young, and war intervened before they could marry. By the time he departed for the front, they were engaged, and she was left at home to await his return. Jim went along, too- two mates on the hunt for a new adventure.

Day by day from February 6th 2015, I'll post Tom's diary entries and associated photographs, postcards and documents, following his footsteps from Glen Innes to the Great War.

My family no longer live in Glen Innes, and my grandmother passed away last year. I know there's more to discover from this story than I've been able to track down so far- in particular, I'm certain there's a 1917 diary that picks up Tom's story on January 1st of that year. If anyone can assist with detail on any part of the story, please comment here or on the project Facebook page- I'd love to hear from you!

What I'm telling here is the story as I know it, passed down through the generations. It's by no means complete, but I hope that by sharing it, we'll be able to learn more and piece together the gaps. Though this tale is very specific, it intersects with many others from the Glen Innes district, and I'm also looking forward to understanding more about the war years as my own family experienced them.