Harry was a Brabuwoloong man of the Gunaikrnai nation and a courageous soldier enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force at Sale on 12 February 1916.
In 1916 Harry was one of an estimated 800 to 1000 Aboriginal people who volunteered to enlist during World War 1.
Today, the name Uncle Harry Thorpe is inscribed on a memorial in Lakes Entrance, where a street called Thorpe’s Lane is also named in his honour. For his family, Uncle Harry’s is a story of courage that will never be forgotten.
Operation Thorpe is named for Brabuwoloong man, a courageous soldier enlisted in World War 1.
Harry Thorpe was born at Lake Tyers Mission and lived on a 15-acre farm. The farm was owned by his parents and as a young boy he leant a hand with growing crops and tending to the livestock. Harry and his father secured contracts to dig graves, build fences and strip wattle bark for sale to local tanneries.
Harry embarked for overseas service in April, 1916, and in July he joined the 7th Battalion in France. He was wounded in action at Pozières on 19 August and did not rejoin his unit until November later that year.
Promoted Lance Corporal in January 1917, he was again wounded at Bullecourt on 29 April, but a month later returned to duty. Well regarded in his unit as a footballer and athlete at brigade or divisional sports, he was also noted as a scout.
Courage and leadership
In October 1917, during operations to capture Broodseinde Ridge during the third battle of Ypres in Belgium, Harry displayed tremendous courage and leadership while clearing the dugouts and concrete guard posts, known as pillboxes, of remaining enemy resistance. He was promoted to corporal and awarded the Military Medal, although he was originally recommended for the Distinguished Conduct Medal. The military citation commended Harry’s “disregard of all danger” and described him as an inspiration to his men.
During an advance on 9 August 1918 at Lihons Wood, south-west of Vauvillers, France, a stretcher-bearer found Thorpe shot in the stomach. He died shortly after being taken to a dressing station near Bayonvillers and was buried in Heath military cemetery, Harbonnières.