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Thomas Thrupp

A gifted teacher and Preston Foundation staff member lost to war

In February 1937 the Principal of Preston Technical School, received a letter from the Education Department of Victoria informing him of a number of new appointments to the staff.

One was Mr. Thomas W Thrupp, as Senior Assistant - Grade II – Classes D and C, commencing at 348 pounds sterling per annum.

The school was fortunate to be able to welcome Mr. Thrupp to its staff as a foundational teacher. He was highly educated, with a Bachelor of Science, a Diploma of Education, Diploma of Mechanics and Electrical Engineering, and additional subjects at university level including English A and Engineering Drawing. Through the School of Mines, WA, he also passed Surveying 1 and 2. His trade certificates included Electrician, Draughtsman, and First Class Engine Driver, and his trade experience included electrical fitting, and train driving. To that should be added, nine years experience teaching trades courses in Victorian Technical colleges.

As well as his academic, trade and teaching experience he had a generous spirit, and would turn his hand to whatever needed doing without recompense. This included him doing much electrical work around the school and fixing the vital pie-warmers.

Tom Thrupp was born on September 22, 1903, in the gold mining town of Cue, WA, about 400 km north of Kalgoorlie. Being an only son he worked hard to help to keep food on the table, in power stations, gold mines and as an engine driver when needed. In 1918 he joined the Militia Universal Voluntary Enlistment as a cadet, and received his commission to Lieutenant in 1924. He loved the military life and was still active in the militia when he came to Victoria to study at Melbourne University in 1927. He never stopped studying even while working to provide for his wife Daisy and daughter Rosalie.

He began teaching at Caulfield Technical College where he stayed for 9 years then took a promotion to a position as senior teacher at Preston Technical College in 1937.

 Tom Thrupp was a loving father who firmly believed in a psychology which he called ‘all done by kindness’.
‘Psychology’ was the first word he ever taught his daughter to spell, and he gave her a penny each time she spelt it correctly, which was often. He taught his daughter to swim at the beach in St Kilda on Sunday mornings during the summer, and when the family moved to Preston, they would swim at the old baths in St George’s Rd.

Polio was a scourge in Australia until vaccinations became available in 1956, and in Australia there were major epidemics in the late 1930’s, early 1940’s, and the 1950’s. It is estimated that between 20,000 and 40,000 people were infected. Unfortunately Rosie Thrupp caught polio in 1935, and was hospitalised in the Fairfield Infectious Diseases Hospital. Her dad Tom would ride his bike there from Preston each day to leave her a little card, a pencil or a book, to show her that she was not forgotten while in isolation. These were the years of the Great Depression, when families struggled to survive, and his gifts meant a lot to his little girl. Tom was required to stay home from school for three weeks after Rosie’s diagnosis, until it was thought that any danger of infection would have passed.

When Rosie came home from hospital, she was bound up in metal splints which prevented her muscles from moving, the common treatment for polio at the time. She did not make any improvement, and Tom, who was always studying, focused on Sister Elizabeth Kenny’s treatment for polio victims. She said that muscles should not be bound up and dormant, but forced to move and stretch, with warm baths and massage. Tom freed Rosie’s limbs and went to work. She began to improve steadily. When the hospital physiotherapist visited every day, she was surprised at her progress, but Rosie, who was put back into splints for these visits, was sworn to secrecy. When the truth about her treatment became known there was a row, but Tom defended his right to treat his child as he saw fit, and today, in her eighties, she is a strong swimmer and still lives an active life, thanks to her father’s vision.

Tom enlisted in the army on July 3rd, 1940, two months short of his 37th birthday. Not many men enlisted at that age. Prior to enlisting he had 22 years of cadet training and militia experience, and had been a Lieutenant for 16 years. On enlistment he became the Captain in charge of 51 LAD, Light Aid Detachment, attached to the regiment to provide specialised skills to maintain vehicles and guns in good order.

Tom Thrupp sent frequent loving letters to his wife and child from his posting in Syria. His regiment was not involved in combat at this time, so his wife and daughter were shocked and dismayed to receive a telegram from the government to say that he had died as a result of a bullet wound on the 26th of June, 1941, in Syria. The last letter from Tom to his daughter arrived at her East Preston Primary School after the terrible telegram, and she and her mother read it in tears. Daisy, his wife, would not accept that her husband was dead, even meeting returning troop ships in the hope that he had suffered amnesia and would come home. When the war finally ended, she accepted the bitter truth, but the circumstances of his accidental shooting were not clear.

Staff at Preston Technical School, who had been proud that Tom Thrupp had gone to serve his country, were saddened by his death, and the Technical Teacher’s Association wrote to Daisy to say that he was popular with students and teachers, an active unionist upholding teachers’ rights, and would be deeply missed.
Tom Thrupp was only one among many teachers who went to war to serve their country and preserve our freedoms. His premature death robbed the technical school system in Victoria of one of its most gifted and experienced teachers, a man with a kind and generous heart, a curious mind and a strong sense of what was right. His wife Daisy, and his daughter Rosie, never fully recovered from his loss, and without his loving influence, their lives were never what they had hoped they would be.

His daughter Rosie, with her eldest son Russell, made a pilgrimage to his grave in the immaculately kept war cemetery in Sidon, south of  Beirut, in 2002. She has just completed a biography of her father, ‘Tom Thrupp’s War’. The dedication reads:

‘To his grandchildren, great grandchildren, and great, great grandchildren, who were unlucky enough not to have met him.’  

Rosie Bray, on her father Thomas Thrupp, as told to Vivien Achia.