Saturday, July 16, 2022



Remembering Heroes – Remembrance Driveway:

The stories behind the names on the signs at the rest stops on the Remembrance Driveway.

Remembrance Driveway starts in Sydney's Macquarie Place with two Plane Trees, planted in 1954 by the Queen and Prince Phillip and ends with three Red Spotted Gums planted in Remembrance Park behind Canberra's Australian War Memorial. Trees were planted all along the Driveway as a living, growing memorial and a symbol of hope. The rest areas are each dedicated to a soldier awarded the Victoria Cross.


Victoria Cross:

The Victoria Cross (VC) is the highest and most prestigious award of the military honours system. It is awarded for valour "in the presence of the enemy" to members of the British Armed Forces and may be awarded posthumously. It was previously awarded by countries of the Commonwealth of Nations, most of which have established their own honours systems and no longer recommend British honours.

It may be awarded to a person of any military rank in any service and to civilians under military command. No civilian has received the award since 1879.

Australia was the first Commonwealth country to create its own VC, on 15 January 1991. Although it is a separate award, its appearance is identical to its British counterpart.

The VC was introduced on 29 January 1856 by Queen Victoria to honour acts of valour during the Crimean War. The metal used to make every Victoria Cross medal has been made from cannons captured by the British at the siege of Sevastopol.



Sergeant Derrick, November 1943


Location of rest stop:

Marulan, NSW

By the way:

Located within the Derrick VC rest stop site is part of the Towrang Stockade, the main penal camp in the Southern part of NSW from 1833 to 1843. This will be the subject of a separate Bytes post in the future.


Early life

Derrick was born in Adelaide, South Australia Australia. The Derricks were poor and Tom often walked barefoot to attend school. Derrick left school at 14, developed an interest in sport and earned the nickname of “Diver” from his diving in the Port River.

He worked at various jobs and often slept rough. On one occasion in 1931 at the Royal Adelaide Show boxing pavilion, he accepted a challenge of staying upright for three rounds with the ex-lightweight champion of Australia. Although he was knocked down in the second round, he immediately got back to his feet and won the bet; albeit at the cost of a black eye, and a few bruised ribs.

In 1939, Derrick married Clarance Violet "Beryl" Leslie, his "one true love".

Wedding Photo of Diver and his wife Beryl (Clarance Violet "Beryl" Leslie)

Second World War:

Derrick did not join up when war broke out in September 1939 but, like many Australians, enlisted in the army after the fall of France in June 1940. He thrived on military life, but found discipline difficult to accept. Posted to the Middle East, whilst enroute he was confined onboard ship for going absent without leave to sightsee. He was subsequently in more trouble, being charged and fined for punching another soldier who taunted him over this incident.

Derrick’s battalion was moved to Tobruk in response to the German Afrika Korps' advance and he spent the following eight months besieged by Axis forces. In 1941, the Axis forces assaulted Tobruk's outer defences and managed to capture substantial ground. In response, Derrick’s battalion was ordered to counter-attack the following evening. After suffering heavy casualties in what Derrick described as "a bobby dazzler of a fire fight", the battalion was forced to withdraw. Derrick was immediately promoted to corporal for leadership and bravery, and recommended for the Military Medal. The award, however, was never made.

Derrick and his battalion were sent to El Alamein, Egypt, to reinforce the British Eighth Army. During the First Battle of El Alamein on 10 July 1942, Derrick took part in the 26th Australian Brigade's attack on Tel el Eisa. In the initial assault, Derrick, against a barrage of German grenades, led an attack against three machine gun posts and succeeded in destroying the positions before capturing over one hundred prisoners. During the Axis counter-attack that evening, the Australian line was overrun by tanks. As the German infantry following the tanks advanced, Derrick's company led a charge against the men. During the engagement, Derrick managed to destroy two German tanks using sticky bombs. Commended for his "outstanding leadership and courage", Derrick was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for his part in the fighting at Tel el Eisa.
We could see Diver standing in the carrier, Tommy gun in hand, the top half of his body exposed. It was like a chap riding a horse into a hail of fire. You could hear the bullets splattering off the metal sides of the carrier. I thought, "God, he'll never come out of that."
-  Private Joe Ratta
Promoted to sergeant, Derrick led a six-man reconnaissance on 3 October, successfully pinpointing several German machine gun positions and strongholds; this information was to be vital for the upcoming Second Battle of El Alamein. The El Alamein offensive was launched on 23 October and at one point during the engagement, Derrick jumped up onto an Allied gun carrier heading towards the Germans. Armed with a Thompson submachine gun and under intense heavy fire, Derrick attacked and knocked out three machine gun posts while standing in the carrier. He then had the driver reverse up to each post so he could ensure each position was silenced. By the following morning, Derrick's platoon occupied all three posts. The members of the 2/48th Battalion who witnessed Derrick's action were sure he would be awarded the Victoria Cross, though no recommendation was made.

For part of 31 October, Derrick assumed command of his company after all of the unit's officers had been killed or wounded in fierce fighting. On 21 November 1942, Derrick was briefly admitted to the 2/3rd Australian Field Ambulance with slight shrapnel wounds to his right hand and buttock.

After training in Australia in jungle warfare, Derrick’s battalion was posted to Papua New Guinea for an attack on Lae. The attack was successful, Derrick being scornful of the Japanese defence of Lae, and writing in his diary that "our greatest problem was trying to catch up" with the retreating Japanese force.


Victoria Cross:

On 24th November 1943 a company of an Australian infantry battalion was ordered to outflank a strong enemy position sited on a precipitous cliff-face and then to attack a feature 150 yards from the township of Sattelberg. Derrick was a platoon commander in this company.

The Japanese positions were elevated with Japanese bunkers on top. As the attack continued and the Japanese slowly gave ground, they withdrew up the slopes. Each side suffered heavy casualties, Derrick was given command of his platoon after the unit had lost all but one of its leaders. Eventually the Australians reached the southern slopes of Sattelberg, holding a position approximately 600 metres from the summit. A landslide had blocked the only road, so the final assault was made by infantry alone, without supporting tanks.

Over a period of two hours many attempts were made to clamber up the slopes to the objective, but on each occasion the enemy prevented success with intense machine gun fire and grenades. It appeared it would be impossible to reach the objective and the company was ordered to retire. In response, Derrick replied to his company commander: "Bugger the CO [commanding officer]. Just give me twenty more minutes and we'll have this place. Tell him I'm pinned down and can't get out." His request was granted.

Moving forward with his platoon, Derrick attacked a Japanese post that had been holding up the advance. He destroyed the position with grenades and ordered his second section around to the right flank. The section soon came under heavy machine gun and grenade fire from six Japanese posts. Clambering up the cliff face under heavy fire, Derrick held on with one hand while lobbing grenades into the weapon pits with the other, like "a man ... shooting for [a] goal at basketball". Climbing further up the cliff and in full view of the Japanese, Derrick continued to attack the posts with grenades before following up with accurate rifle fire. Within twenty minutes, he had reached the peak and cleared seven posts. The demoralised Japanese defenders fled from their positions to the buildings of Sattelberg.

Derrick then returned to his platoon, where he gathered his first and third sections in preparation for an assault on the three remaining machine gun posts in the area. Attacking the posts, Derrick personally rushed forward on four separate occasions and threw his grenades at a range of about 7 metres (7.7 yd), before all three were silenced.

Derrick's platoon held their position that night, before the 2/48th Battalion moved in to take Sattelberg unopposed the following morning. The battalion commander insisted that Derrick personally hoist the Australian flag over the town; it was raised at 10:00 on 25 November 1943.

Sergeant Tom Derrick hoists the Australian Red Ensign at Sattelberg, New Guinea

The final assault on Sattelberg became known within the 2/48th Battalion as 'Derrick's Show'.

On 23 March 1944, the announcement and accompanying citation for Derrick's Victoria Cross appeared in a supplement to the London Gazette. It read in part:
Undoubtedly Sergeant Derrick's fine leadership and refusal to admit defeat, in the face of a seemingly impossible situation, resulted in the capture of Sattelberg. His outstanding gallantry, thoroughness and devotion to duty were an inspiration not only to his platoon and company but to the whole Battalion.
The Premier (Mr Tom Playford), gave a luncheon at Parliament House to Sergeant T.C. Derrick, V.C., D.C.M. From left to right: Sir Herbert Hudd, M.C. (WW1), Sergeant derrick, Mr Playford and Mrs Beryl Derrick.


Later war service:

The 2/48th Battalion remained at Sattelberg until late December 1943, when it returned to the coast in order to regroup. On Christmas Eve, Derrick noted in his diary that the next day would be his "4th Xmas overseas" and "I don't care where I spend the next one I only hope I'm still on deck [alive]".

Reg Saunders and Tom Derrick congratulate each other on receiving their commissions

On 20 August 1944, Derrick was posted to an officer cadet training unit in Victoria in preparation for being commissioned a lieutenant.. He requested that he be allowed to rejoin the 2/48th Battalion at the end of the course; contrary to normal Army policy that prevented officers commissioned from the ranks from returning to their previous units. An exemption was granted to Derrick only after much lobbying. While at this unit, Derrick shared a tent with Reg Saunders, who later became the Army's first Indigenous Australian officer.

Lt Diver Derrick after his Commissioning and prior to his departure for PNG on 01 May 1945

On 1 May 1945, now commissioned, Derrick took part in the landing at Tarakan; an island off the coast of Borneo. Under the cover of a naval and aerial bombardment, he led his men ashore in the initial waves of the landing, where they were initially posted at the boundary of the 2/48th Battalion and 2/24th Battalion's area of responsibility. The Japanese force on the island mounted a determined resistance, and Derrick was later quoted in the Sunday Sun as saying he had "never struck anything so tough as the Japanese on Tarakan".

After capturing their objective – a heavily defended wooded hill codenamed Freda – Derrick and his men dug in to await an expected Japanese counter-attack. At about 03:30 on 23 May, a Japanese light machine gun fired into the Australian position. Derrick sat upright to see if his men were all right, and was hit by five bullets from the gun's second burst; striking him from his left hip to the right of his chest. His runner, "Curly" Colby, dragged him behind cover, but Derrick could not be immediately evacuated as Japanese troops attacked at about 04:00. Derrick was in great pain, and told Colby that he had "had it". Despite his wounds, he continued to issue orders for several hours. When day broke, it was discovered that Derrick's platoon were directly overlooked by a Japanese bunker—though this would not have been visible during the assault late the previous evening.

When stretcher bearers reached the position at dawn, Derrick insisted that the other wounded be attended to first. Derrick was carried off Freda later that morning, where he was met by the 26th Brigade's commander, Brigadier David Whitehead. The two men briefly conversed before Derrick excused himself, fearing that he had not much time left and wishing to see the padre. Stepping back, Whitehead saluted and sent for Father Arch Bryson. At the hospital, surgeons found that bullets had torn away much of Derrick's liver; he died on 24 May 1945 during a second operation on his wounds. He was buried in the 2/48th Battalion's cemetery on Tarakan that afternoon, and later re-interred at the Labuan War Cemetery.

Men of the 2/48th Battalion gathered around Derrick's grave during his funeral.



Tom Derrick was widely mourned. His widow, Beryl, became prostrate with grief on hearing of his death; many members of the Army were affected, with one soldier lamenting it felt as if "the whole war stopped".

The Japanese force on Tarakan learned of Derrick's death and tried to exploit it for propaganda purposes. They printed a leaflet which began "We lament over the death of Lieutenant General Terick CinC of Allied Force in Tarakan" and later included the question "what do you think of the death in action of your Commander in Chief ...?" This leaflet reached few Australian soldiers, and had little impact on them. "Tokyo Rose" also broadcast taunts over "Terick's" death.

To many Australians, he embodied the 'ANZAC spirit', and he remains perhaps the best-known Australian soldier of the Second World War.

Historian Michael McKernan later remarked that, for his war service, Derrick had arguably deserved "a VC and two bars ... at El Alamein, at Sattelberg and now at Tarakan".

In a 2004 television interview, then Chief of the Australian Defence Force, General Peter Cosgrove, was asked "Who was the best soldier of all time?" After a short pause, he replied: "Diver Derrick". This sentiment was endorsed by General Sir Francis Hassett:
From what I learnt; not only was Derrick a magnificent soldier, but also a splendid leader who, immediately he saw a tactical problem, fixed it with either personal bravery or leadership imbued with determination and common sense.
Derrick is also remembered for his personal qualities. He was sensitive and reflective. Despite a limited education, he was a "forceful and logical debater, with a thirst for knowledge". Derrick kept a diary, composed poetry, collected butterflies and frequently wrote to his wife, while on active service . Historian Peter Stanley has compared Derrick's leadership abilities with those of Edward 'Weary' Dunlop, Ralph Honner and Roden Cutler.

On 7 May 1947, Beryl Derrick attended an investiture ceremony at the Government House, Adelaide, where she was presented with her late husband's Victoria Cross and Distinguished Conduct Medal by the Governor of South Australia, Lieutenant General Sir Charles Norrie.

Lifetime devotion.
Derrick's Victoria Cross and other medals are now displayed at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra, along with a portrait by Sir Ivor Hele.

A street in the neighbouring suburb of Campbell is named in his honour.

In 1995, a public park was named the Derrick Memorial Reserve on Carlisle St, Glanville in his honour, and his VC citation is displayed on a plaque there.

In June 2008, a newly built bridge over the Port River on the Port River Expressway was named the Tom 'Diver' Derrick Bridge following a public campaign.

Tom 'Diver' Derrick Bridge, Port Adelaide


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