Posts Tagged ‘Telephonist’


Friday, July 18th, 2008

SKEYHILL, THOMAS JOHN (1895-1932), soldier and lecturer, was born on 10 January 1895 at Terang, Victoria, son of James Percy Skeyhill, driver and later aerated waters factory manager, and his wife Annie, née Donnelly. Both parents were native born of Irish extraction. Tom was educated at the local state school and from 1902 at St Mary’s Convent School, Hamilton. At 14 he became a telegraph messenger at Hamilton and later a telephonist. A clever reciter, he was successful in local elocution competitions and was a debater with the Hibernian Society.

Enlisting in the 8th Battalion, Australian Imperial Force, in August 1914, Skeyhill embarked from Melbourne in December and landed at Anzac Cove as a signaller on 25 April 1915. On 8 May, during the advance at Cape Helles, he was blinded by an exploding Turkish shell. He was invalided back to Melbourne in October and later was officially welcomed home at Hamilton Town Hall.

Skeyhill had been composing verse, some of which was published in the London, Cairo and Melbourne press. In November 1915 he appeared at the Tivoli Theatre, Melbourne, in full Gallipoli kit, reciting his compositions. His Soldier Songs from Anzac, published in December, sold 20,000 copies in four months. For two years Signaller Skeyhill, “the blind soldier poet”, toured Australia, lecturing and reciting, raising funds for the Red Cross Society and appearing on recruiting platforms. He was discharged on 28 September 1916.

In December 1917 Skeyhill left on a lecturing tour of North America. He became a sensation - at Carnegie Hall, New York, Theodore Roosevelt praised him as ‘the finest soldier speaker in the world’. Under osteopathic treatment he recovered his sight in Washington in 1918.

Skeyhill speaks of this encounter in the Anzac Bulletin Oct 4, 1918: “Within a few minutes after Dr Moore began manipulating the back of my neck at the apex of the spinal column I experienced a sharp excruciating pain. Then as if by magic, little flashes began to come before my heretofore dimmed eyes, and before I realized just what was taking place I found that I could see.” Skeyhill had been told by various specialists that his only hope for a return of his sight was a miracle.