Sunday 26 March 2017

Proud to be a Dreadnought Boy

We felt the honour of the first story should go to the last surviving Dreadnought Boy, Thomas Joseph Dreha. With Tom’s permission, we are able to share something of his story with you.

Tom Dreha (Courtesy of The Land).

Tom comes from Liverpool in England. He recalls getting around as a youngster there, on his “bike with wooden wheels”. Arising from his own experience in the British Navy, Tom’s father was keen for his son to travel, and often spoke about the Dreadnought Scheme. Encouraged by his father, Tom went down to London in early 1939 and joined the Scheme, embarking on the SS Mooltan.

After the Mooltan got underway to Australia, Tom and the other boys were surprised when a fellow passenger, Mrs Sullivan, took special interest in them. Mrs Sullivan was none other than Annette Kellerman, Australia’s first swimming champion, film star and now fitness guru. They found themselves up on deck at 6 am every morning for physical exercises. She also formed a Bazooka (comb and cigarette paper) Band and had them doing the songs of the day. On Thursday 16 May the Mooltan reached Sydney, and Tom was one of 14 very fit Dreadnought Boys who stepped of that ship.

Life in Australia began for 16 year-old Tom, with three months of farm training at Scheyville near Windsor NSW. This was followed by farm placement in the Belmore River area, east of Kempsey on the Mid-North Coast. Tom spent his days cleaning the dairy after milking was finished and waging war on scotch thistles with the mattock. In due course Tom decided “to hit the trail” to better himself and, following some casual work on a few more farms, went to Sydney. Despite the hard physical work, Tom had good experiences of the farmers wherever he worked.

Tom settled in Sydney and readily found work, but the war had started and he wanted to join up. In 1942 he was able to do this, and served as a gunner in New Guinea with the 2nd/5th Field Regiment. After the war Tom worked with one of his army mates, did ”a bit of boiler-making” and had other jobs. In 1947 Tom married Eileen, his pen friend during the war years.

Recently, Tom told us he felt sad that he was the last of the Dreadnoughts, but as he has often told us before, he is very proud to be a Dreadnought Boy!