BLUEY; THE ARMY COOK WITH A DEVIL OF A JOB

Somewhere in that crowd is ‘Bluey’ Thompson’ and a Tasmanian devil.

When the troopship Geelong left Hobart on October 20 1914, it carried the  Tasmanian contingent of the 12th Battalion  to Egypt, and  thence to  Gallipoli and France. There was a unique  mascot on board, a Tasmanian devil.  I’m not sure whether the practice  was  officially sanctioned, but many  AIF battalions had Australian native animals as mascots. I believe there was also a wombat and a kangaroo on board the Geelong. A  cook, Private  ‘Bluey’ Thompson, had charge of the devil.

Being the feisty animals they are, it  escaped from its cage during the trip, sending  men running in all directions. A newspaper report in the 1950’s claimed it was destroyed after  being recaptured, but fortunately this wasn’t true.  It landed safely in Cairo and from there was transported to  the  huge army training  camp at Mena, beside the great pyramids.

The mateship  that became synonomous with the ANZACS was fostered by good humoured rivalry  between battalions.  The 12th fashioned a flag in their battalion colours of white over  blue to mark out  their area. (This flag was  later souvenired by a British soldier at Gallipoli and taken back to the UK.   It has since  been carefully repaired  and was chosen as one of the most important exhibits  in the  WWI  centenary exhibition at The Imperial War Museum in London.)

Battaion flag of the 12th Battalion AIF.

A very precious flag.

Mascots were shown off  with pride, but  it was difficult to top a  teeth baring devil.

The Cairo Zoological Gardens wanted to buy the mascot, but ‘Bluey’ knew how fond of it his mates were, and refused.

 

Thirty years after the war a Western Australian veteran of the 12th battalion remembered the  devil very well;

If there is one animal in this old world appropriately named, it’s the Tassy devil. He always appears to have a liver and, unlike most animals, he couldn’t be bribed into a reasonable frame of mind.  One after the other tried his hand at taming it, only to give it up in disgust. So eventually it was left to the tender mercies of a babbling brook  [cook] one Bluey Thompson of D company.

Although the little devil was so unsociable, one and all of the 12th were proud of it.  And all the visitors were paraded to look at this native of the tight little Isle.

After embarkation for Lemnos Harbour  [prior to the Gallipoli landing], we lost trace of it; and as far as I know, it didn’t accompany us on the old Devonha. 

It seems that  the Cairo  Zoological Gardens  were presented with the devil by ‘Bluey’ before the troopship left.

The Devonha was moored off Lemnos.  The cooks, including Bluey Thompson, remained on board to prepare meals for their mates, who were training  during the day on the island.

The Devenha, which became a hospital ship after transporting the 12th Battalion to Gallipoli.

At one point there was a huge kerfuffle when Bluey lost his treasured, well seasoned  pipe. All hands in the kitchen turned to the search, but it just couldn’t be found.   That evening one of the officers went around the mess asking if there were any complaints. ‘Yes’, yelled someone from D Company, ‘I don’t mind trying to eat the stew, but I’m damned if I’m going to eat this!’  He was holding aloft  ‘Bluey’ Thompson’s pipe.

The Tasmanian devil is still the official mascot for the  Royal Tasmanian Regiment, which incorporates the 12th  and 40th Battalions. Its name is  TX666 PTE Bluey Devil IV.     Surely that ‘Bluey’ must be a legacy of ‘Bluey’ Thompson.

But who was  ‘Bluey’ Thompson?   In the various newspaper accounts of him, his first name is never mentioned. Even  L. M.  Newton in his  comprehensive book, ‘The Story of the Twelfth’,  only ever refers to him as ‘Bluey’.

I suspect the reason he  is not mentioned during the rest of the war is that he returned to Australia very early. The only soldier whose details  seem  to fit  ‘Bluey’   is  Clarence George Thompson, a storeman from Launceston  (Service no. 500 ).  He enlisted in the 12th’s D Company aged 29; a widower with one child.  But were cooks also  involved in combat?  Clarence Thompson  was  mentioned in despatches  for ‘ Acts of Gallantry  and Valuable Service’ during the period from  the dawn landing  at Gallipoli on April  25  until May 4.  He was wounded in the thigh in August  that year, and then became very ill with enteric fever  (Typhoid). He was invalided home in October 1915 with the rank of Corporal. He died in 1960.

The other  reason I have some doubt  is that his service record describes him as having fair hair, not red.

The first names have been reversed on the record.

I hope someone reading this story might confirm that  Private  Thompson  was  indeed ‘Bluey’.  It would be great to see a photo of him, or to trace his descendants.

UPDATE – SAPTEMBER 2017  

A photo of ‘Bluey’ Thompson actually holding the mascot has been  posted in the  Facebook group Tasmania -The Great War 1914-1918. It had been published in the Tasmanian Courier in October 1914, when the 12th  Battalion was in training before embarkation.  Many thanks to  Robert Bellenger for his detective work.  My word, few people could safely hold a Tassie devil of that size.

'Bluey'Thompson holding the Tasmanian Devil mascot

The elusive ‘Bluey’ Thompson holding ‘D’ company’s devil mascot

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2 Comments
  1. And what happened to the Tassy Devil, I wonder?
    Fascinating details as ever, Pauline – but I find myself with lump in throat remembering that 102 years ago, the Anzacs were on Lemnos preparing for Gallipoli…

    • Pauline

      It seems the Devil ended up in the Cairo Zoological Gardens, Ann. And yes, soon we will be commemorating another Gallipoli landing. It is becoming more difficult for Australians to visit given the current political situation in Turkey, and recent terrorist attacks.

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