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.)
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.
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.
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.
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