Private Richard Tuke, 56th Battalion, AIF

Posted on 9 August 2021

Richard Tuke was born in 1886 to William and Elizabeth Tuke of Cumberland, England. He served with the Royal Field Artillery in the British armed forces for seven years, and later worked as a farm labourer.

In 1912 Richard and his wife Margaret came to Australia and settled in Smithfield, Sydney, where Richard worked as a general labourer, gaining the nickname “Pommy Dick”. Their son, William Alan Knaggs Tuke, known as “Alan”, was born in December 1914.

Richard Tuke enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force in August 1915. After a period of training in Australia, he left for active service overseas on 13 October 1915. Private Tuke first went to Egypt, where he spent some time serving with brigade headquarters, before travelling to France to fight on the Western Front with the 56th Battalion in June 1916.

Tuke was a handy man to have around; a friend described him as “a fellow who would do anything to help us, such as shaving, hair-cutting, cooking etc.” He became very popular in the battalion.

The 56th Battalion first entered frontline trenches on 12 July, and a week later fought its first battle near the French village of Fromelles. The battalion suffered extremely heavy casualties in a battle that is now known as the worst 24 hours in Australia’s military history.

Private Tuke survived the initial attack. However, at about 6 o’clock in the morning, he was firing over the parapet at the Germans. A large piece of shell came over and struck him on the head, killing him instantly.

A friend, Private Emmett, wrote a letter home to his mother, saying, “I suppose you have learned with deep regret the death of our Fairfield hero, poor “Pommy Dick”? ... I was not far from him, and thank God I came out without a scratch. He will be greatly missed by the boys as he was liked by everyone and everyone had a good word for him.”

Richard Tuke is buried in Anzac Cemetery in Sailly-sur-la-Lys in France, under the words chosen by his wife: “He answered his country’s call”. He was 30 years old.

Margaret Tuke never remarried, and her son Alan went on to serve Australia during the Second World War.

Meleah Hampton, Historian, Military History Section