Griffin Bell McLaughlin, of Tarremah Steiner School, researched his great grandfather, Tom Bell Wheeling, for the Frank MacDonald Study Tour 2019.
Tom Wheeling, of Ipswich, Queensland, was not amongst the first rush of young men to go off to war. It was not until 6 October 1917, when Tom was 29 that he enlisted. By that stage many soldiers had been killed or wounded and the AIF needed reinforcements. Debates about conscription were in full swing and there was pressure on able-bodied men of Tom's age to enlist. Tom enlisted on the same day as his youngest brother, John Walter Wheeling.
During the journey and while in the Middle East, Private Wheeling took photos. One photo was of Armenian refugees who had just arrived in Suez.
A photo of Armenian refugees taken by Private Tom Wheeling in 1918 .Of the refugees, Private Wheeling wrote: "This was a pitiful sight to see. The poor women and children, makes one realise the horrors of war".
The health implications of war
Private Wheeling and his brother, Walter, were part of the reinforcements brought in during the Hundred Days Offensive, in 1918. On 18 September 1918, Tom and Walt joined the 9th Battalion. However, Private Wheeling spent just two days on the frontline as he was wounded on the night of the 21 September 1918 and suffered concussion, bleeding from the ears, nose and throat. Private Wheeling's exposure to mustard gas played a role in declining health after the war and became a contentious issue with implications for the level of support he and his family would receive.
Private Wheeling returned to Australia on 19 December 1918 and was medically discharged from the AIF on 19 April 1919. His Medical Report at the time of discharge stated he was expected to make a full recovery. However, this was not to be.
Griffin's research about Tom Bell Wheeling is a valuable insight into decisions about whether to enlist (or not), war service and challenges faced by World War One veterans upon their return home.
Impact of the story
Researching Tom Wheeling's story for the Frank MacDonald Memorial Study Tour has had an impact on his great grandson, Griffin Bell McLaughlin. Griffin paid tribute to Private Tom Bell Wheeling at the Tincourt New British Cemetery, in France, on 23 April 2019.Griffin admired Tom's values of resilience, gentle natured, and caring.
- Read Griffin Bell's research about Private Tom Bell Wheeling (PDF, 1.05MB)