Corporal Harry Thorpe MM, 7th Battalion Australian Army

Posted on 8 June 2021

Harry Thorpe was born at the Lake Tyers Mission Station, near Lakes Entrance in Victoria, to William Thorpe, a Brabuwooloong man, and his wife, Lilian.

He was married and working as a labourer when war broke out in 1914. Although Indigenous men were officially prohibited from enlisting in the Australian Imperial Force, Thorpe successfully enlisted in February 1916, aged 29.

Harry left Australia with the 7th Battalion in April 1916. After a brief period of training in Egypt, he was sent to fight in France.

The 7th Battalion was engaged in the battle of Pozières and the subsequent fighting around Mouquet Farm. The battalion was exposed to some of the heaviest artillery fire seen on the Western Front, and in early August Thorpe was wounded and evacuated with shell shock and a gunshot wound to his leg.

In early 1917, Thorpe was promoted to lance corporal, and in May the 7th Battalion went into action around the French village of Bullecourt. Here Thorpe was wounded for the second time when he was shot in the shoulder.

After another period in hospital, Lance Corporal Thorpe once again re-joined his unit. In battle he proved an able leader, and in October 1917 he was awarded the Military Medal for “handling his men with skill and materially assisting his company commander” in the dangerous job of seeking out German infantry hiding in dug-outs and pill boxes.

His medal citation notes that “by his splendid example and disregard of all danger” Thorpe “inspired those under him”. He was subsequently promoted to corporal.

In August 1918, the 7th Battalion conducted an operation against the enemy at Lihons Wood in France, where Thorpe was shot in the abdomen.

Wounded for the third and final time, he died hours after arriving at the dressing station.

Harry Thorpe left a wife, Julie, and one son, Reginald. He was buried in France alongside his friend and fellow Indigenous soldier, Private William Rawlings, who was killed on the same day.

Corporal Harry Thorpe is listed on the Australian War Memorial Honour Roll, along with more than 60,000 others from the First World War.