We remember: Syd Thewlis


A century on from the end of World War I we acknowledge their service …
Lest we forget.

Private James Sydney Thewlis
Born: 12 October 1895 Longwood. Died: September 1960 Berwick.
Enlisted: 22 January 1916 aged 20
Served: Western Front

The Thewlis family lived at Longwood near Sale, before settling at Pakenham on a farm called “Sunnyside” (on the Princes Highway, opposite what is now Thewlis Road) around 1910. Syd was 20 and working on the family farm when he enlisted, one of the Pakenham men who volunteered in response to the major recruitment campaign to reinforce the AIF following the Gallipoli campaign.

He embarked for England in late May 1916 and proceeded to France in February 1917. Syd subsequently served as a scout on the Western Front with Sergeant George Edgar Watkins DCM. The scouts undertook patrols into areas such as “no-man’s land” to obtain vital intelligence on enemy positions. This was highly dangerous work.

The 39th Battalion took part in the Battle of Messines in June 1917 and later fought at Broodseinde and Passchendaele. During early 1918, the 39th Battalion was part of the desperate British attempt to stop the German advance through France during their “Spring Offensive”. On 25 August 1918, as the Germans were being pushed back towards the Hindenburg Line, Syd was gassed, which effectively ended his War.

In 1920, Syd applied under the Soldiers’ Settlement Scheme to purchase 110 acres of his parent’s property. This was granted, with the approval stating that “Young Thewlis is a good type of fellow. A good mother. Knows the place and should do well.” He had references from some of the leading figures in the community including Reg Henty and James Ahern (Berwick Shire Clerk).

Syd became a leading Pakenham citizen, lending his time and talents to a wide range of causes, including the Pakenham Agricultural and Pastoral Society, the Pakenham Show Committee, the RSL (of which he served as President for six years) and both the Presbyterian and Methodist churches. Such was his community involvement, that it was said that “If a letter comes addressed to any organisation in Pakenham and does not bear a name, it can be quite safely delivered to Mr Thewlis”.

During WWII, he served as a Lieutenant with the 11th Volunteer Defence Corps. Syd was also involved with the War Agricultural Committee, the local Repatriation Committee, the Comforts Fund and the Food for Britain Drive during and immediately after the War.

In 1951, Syd was elected unopposed to the Berwick Shire Council, representing the Beaconsfield Riding. While on the Berwick Council, he served as the Shire President in 1958 and 1959. Syd would not have been able to give so much back to the community without the support of his wife, Ella, whom he married in 1921. This was recognised by the Pakenham Show Committee, which in 1952 made a surprise presentation to her. Ella was the daughter of George and Elizabeth Bould of Cardinia. The couple raised four children.

Syd died suddenly in September 1960 aged 65. In its obituary, the Pakenham Gazette spoke not just of Syd’s achievements on the land and his community service, but also of his being a role model to others: “Syd Thewlis’s contribution to the life of the community did not begin or end with his conscientious discharge of public duties. More effective than all this in influencing those who came in contact with him was his private life …. his example of clean living, integrity and kindliness taught most eloquently the message which all Christian Churches proclaim … In common with many, many others we mourn the passing of a pal in the fullest sense of the word”.

This is an extract from Patrick Ferry’s book A Century After The Guns Fell Silent – Remembering the Pakenham District’s WWI Diggers 1914-18.
For more details on this and other profiles in the book, head to the website www.pakenhamww1.com

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