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Maleny’s Forgotten Soldier Remembered

Nov 7, 2019 | Features, History, People

Killed on the bloody battlefields of WWI and without a grave for his family to mourn, Maleny man Tom Lillingstone’s story had almost vaporised from history … until now. Armed with dogged determination, Lillingstone’s niece – Jill Lillingstone – meticulously researched her uncle’s life, producing a raft of documents to finally prove that Tom’s name is indelibly enmeshed with Maleny’s pioneering history

by Judy Fredriksen

In early December 1916, Tom Lillingstone enlisted to serve his country and promptly left for overseas… never to return. 

Tom Lillingstone had arrived in Maleny as a baby in 1884. He was the eldest child of William and Jessie Lillingstone of London and had six younger siblings. Jill’s father William Lillingstone (jnr) was the youngest. 

The Lillingstone family with Tom on the far right.

“Tom’s father built the first school in Maleny and was a schoolmaster in the area for over 20 years. His father also built his own house when they selected land in June 1887,” says Jill who is now retired and living in Melbourne. 

“Then for some reason, my grandfather decided to take the two youngest children and his wife to Vancouver in Canada.

“They were highly regarded here and I’ve got cuttings from the paper how they were losing the hard-working well known pioneers.”

Being Oxford educated, William did the books for Maleny businesses, was a director on the Butter Factory Board and provided advice to the local timber industry. 

“Canada did not work out and they came back in 1912 and re-settled in Maleny.”

Meanwhile, Tom had taken a keen interest in the timber of the area and appears on the 1906 electoral roll as being a ‘dairyman’.

Jill produces an old map of Maleny depicting the names and selections of the early settlers. Among the familiar ones of Dunlop, Scott, Wells, Tytherleigh and Hankinson is Lillingstone.

While the family was in Canada, Tom’s lifestyle became semi-itinerant, a common practice of the era. Possessing abilities as both a dairy farmer and carpenter, he would roll up his swag and take off through the week, working wherever there were opportunities, and coming back home on weekends. 

For this reason, it is not known where he enlisted, but Private Tom Lillingstone, 2837, 41st Battalion 6th Reinforcement refused to fire a gun or kill. 

Tom Lillingstone in uniform

Jill believes he felt it was his duty to serve, even though he told relatives he knew he would not be coming home. Such a heart-wrenching prophecy is hard to imagine. 

“Tom was in advanced first aid,” says Jill. “He didn’t believe in shooting or killing. He was front line – he would take the wounded back…” 

Ironically, the man who refused to kill was killed in the ‘Bloody Battle of Passchendaele’, on October 5, 1917 in Ypres, Belgium. The poignancy of his death was highlighted even further when it was discovered that when he was killed, he had in his pocket a postcard to his mother. The singed edges of the card bear testament to the brutality of the bombardment.

Tom Lilligstone’s Postcard when killed in WW1.jpeg

The Battle of Passchendaele is considered one of the worst horrors of WWI because of the sheer futility of much of the fighting, and the reckless disregard by some of the war’s senior leaders for the lives of the men under their command.

The armies under British command suffered 275,000 casualties at Passchendaele. Among these were 38,000 Australians, 5,300 New Zealanders, and 15,600 Canadians.

One of the few personal possessions returned to the Lillingstone family was the dinner fork that Tom used in the trenches. Clearly etched into the metal are his initials – TL – and it was treasured by the family who had few mementos with which to cherish his memory.

“Dad used that fork every day until he died,” says Jill sadly

Because the exact location of Tom’s enlistment is unknown, his name had been missing from the honour board at the Maleny RSL and also in the Maleny Walk of Remembrance at the Maleny Soldiers Memorial Hospital. 

“The Lillingstone name belongs here and I’d just like to see that acknowledged.”

Well, life is full of surprises. 

On October 10, I accompanied Jill to the Walk of Remembrance, where she was overjoyed to see that Tom’s name had been added to one of the stone bollards. It was a portentous moment when Jill realised that his name had been added on the 102nd anniversary of Tom’s death. 

Also adding to Jill’s delight, Tom’s name is now proudly included in the Honour Roll at the Maleny RSL.

Vice-President of the Maleny RSL Chris Brooker said: “When we were made aware of his service, we realised he deserved to be recognised and added his name to the Honour Roll.”

Overwhelmed, Jill said: “I am very grateful to the Maleny Hospital Auxiliary and the Maleny RSL for acknowledging Tom’s deep connection to Maleny and his dedication to helping the wounded soldiers. 

“The Walk of Remembrance is a wonderful creation that we should be very proud of. There’s peace in this place and I always feel better for my time here.

“I pass under the arbor with its climbing plants, sit on a seat in the tranquil garden to reflect and say a silent ‘thank you’ to those who left our shores and their families, in sacrifice for us.

“It’s so lovely for him to be recognised in time for Remembrance Day.”

We agree Jill.

The Walk of Remembrance is dedicated to the Maleny veterans who left everything they had when they went to fight for their country in WW1. It is open to the public 365 days a year.

Lest we forget.

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