Thomas Kennedy Irwin (Senior)

Thomas Kennedy Irwin was born c. 1856/7, Antrim, Ireland to James Irwin and Ellen Thompson (nee). He was known as ‘Tom’ by his family and friends. In his youth he moved to Glasgow where he married Elizabeth McIntosh. Shortly afterwards, they immigrated to Australia aboard Bann and upon arriving in Australia, lived in the Bathurst district where Tom had some relatives. However, around c. 1890 he and Elizabeth moved to 1 “Boston Terrace” Campbell St. Wollongong.[1]

Thomas Kennedy Irwin, seated.

Thomas Kennedy Irwin, seated with his sons William McIntosh Irwin (left) and Charles Duff Irwin (right).

Tom Irwin enlisted on 9 January 1901 in the Boer War (1899-1902).[2] He embarked from Sydney to Western Transvaal, South Africa in February 1902 and was listed in Colonel P.L Murray’s book as ex. No 9 Gunner 1st Queensland Mounted Infantry B Company[3] as well as ex. No 876 1st Australian Commonwealth Horse[4]. Tom Irwin returned to Sydney, Australia in July 1902 following the end of the war. The unit officially disbanded on 19 August, 1902. Subsequently, he received the award: Queen’s South Africa Medal.

In the days of the Garrison Artillery at Wollongong, Irwin was a warrant officer and served with the regiment for many years.  He had been an expert in the treatment of animals and when the Veterinary Surgeon’s Act was passed, he registered as a Veterinary Surgeon.

Irwin family (left to right). William McIntosh Irwin, Thomas Kennedy Irwin Snr, Thomas Kennedy Irwin Jnr, Charles Duff Irwin.

Irwin family (left to right). William McIntosh Irwin, Thomas Kennedy Irwin Snr, Thomas Kennedy Irwin Jnr, Charles Duff Irwin.

Relatives have told Wollongong City Library that Banjo Paterson asked Tom to enlist to look after the horses. On 24 September 1915, Tom complied and enlisted; he registered as 50 years of age when in fact, he was much older. Relatives still have the whip which was given to him by Banjo Paterson.  He was accepted into the army and went to Egypt as part of a Remount section to look after the horses of the Light Horse Regiment whilst they were fighting in the trenches at Gallipoli.

IRWIN2

Thomas Kennedy Irwin Jnr and Snr.

Irwin was the oldest returned soldier at the age of 62. He was sent home after the men returned and could take care of the horses. He disembarked on 22 April 1916 aboard HMAT Seeang Bee and was assigned home defence duties until he was discharged on 17 June, 1916. He was awarded the 1914-15 Star Medal, Victory Medal and British War Medal. According to H.W (Herbert Wrigley)  Wilson in The Great War, Sir General John Maxwell was the Commander of troops in Egypt 1915. Thomas Kennedy Irwin Senior was attached to the first embarkment of men and equipment for Mena Camp in Egypt on 17 October, 1915. These operations were kept secret and lasted five days. The equipment included 9 000 horses, 70 large guns, 3 Infantry Brigades, 2 Light Horse Squadrons, 2 Field Artillery Brigades, Engineers and Signal Companies, Ammunitions and Field Ambulances. [5]

Thomas Kennedy Irwin Snr at Waratah March.

Thomas Kennedy Irwin Snr (marked) at Waratah March.

Tom and his wife had twelve children together although only nine survived. Many followed their father’s steps and enlisted in the First and Second World Wars.

He died on 9 May, 1930 at the age of 74. On the day of the funeral a gun carriage was taken up and down Kenny St. Thomas Kennedy Irwin is buried at Wollongong cemetery.

His obituary states that he was a man of very fine personality, straightforward and manly in all his dealings as well as a good friend. He was always ready to do a good deed, and was never known to have done anything dishonourable or dirty.[6]

Illawarra Mercury, 9 May 1930, p.10.

Illawarra Mercury, 9 May 1930, p.10.

NAA: B2455M IRWIN, THOMAS KENNEDY


[1] ‘Obituary,’ Illawarra Mercury, 16 May 1930, p.5.

[2] Australian War Memorial, Australia and the Boer War 1899-1902, Australian War Memorial Canberra, 2014, <http://www.awm.gov.au/atwar/boer/&gt; viewed 5 February 2014.

[3] Australian War Memorial, Boer War Nominal Roll – Thomas Irwin, Australian War Memorial Canberra, 2014, <http://www.awm.gov.au/people/rolls/R1446219/&gt; viewed 29 January 2014.

[4] Australian War Memorial, Australian War Memorial Canberra, 2014, <http://www.awm.gov.au/people/rolls/R1439891/&gt; viewed 29 January 2014.

[5] Wilson, Herbert Wigley, The Great War: The Standard History of the all-Europe conflict vol. 5, Amalgamated Press, London, 1916.

[6] ‘Obituary,’ Illawarra Mercury, 16 May 1930, p.5.

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