A Lone Light Horseman: A Journey to the Story
Tucked away on a slight incline towards the rear of the Commonwealth War Graves plot at St Mary’s Church, Harefield on London’s western edge is the grave of Sgt Thomas Regan, 8th Light Horse AIF, Age 27, Died July 2nd 1916. Thomas Regan was the third Australian to be buried at St Mary’s and the only Light Horseman. He is one of 111 Australian servicemen buried at St Mary’s. One of the 111 is a nurse. Why had Sgt Thomas Regan been admitted to 1st Australian Auxiliary Hospital, Harefield?
Just short of a hundred years after his death on a summer’s evening in June 2016, my husband Mark and I found his grave bathed in evening sunlight. Reassuringly the inscription on his headstone reads ‘As a token of respect from his comrades in hospital’.
On my return to Australia, when I went to the University of NSW Project website (http://www.unsw.adfa.edu.au), I saw that 196 Thomas Regan came from Camperdown, Victoria where his father had been a labourer. He had enlisted on 26th September 1914 in Melbourne and he had embarked with his unit, the 8th Light Horse Regiment, B Squadron, on HMAT A16 Star of Victoria. He saw service in Egypt and on Gallipoli and his medals included the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal and Victory Medal.
I contacted the Camperdown Historical Society who put me in touch with his great niece who still lives in the district. That way I discovered more about Thomas Regan and that after he had contracted dysentery on Gallipoli, he was taken first to Malta and then on to Harefield Hospital. His story was researched when the ABC did a story in 2015 on the 1st Australian Auxiliary Hospital, Harefield. As my daughter and her family live near Harefield, I shall visit his grave again with the reassuring knowledge that while Thomas Regan might be a lone Light Horseman at St Mary’s Harefield, he is certainly not forgotten. He is a part of a larger Australian story that started in November 1914 with two Australians, Mr and Mrs Charles Billyard-Leake offering their house to be used for convalescent wounded A.I.F. servicemen. This gift was a measure of the depth to which the war effort penetrated this caring community and wider society.