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“The souls of the just are in the hands of
These are the words inscribed on a
stained glass window in St Vincent de Paul
Church, Port Wakefield, in memory of the
death of one of the young men from the
parish who fought and died in World War I.
Thomas Alexander Potticary was killed
in the battle of Messines, France, on July
31, 1917. The third eldest of 12 children of
John Henry and Helen Christina Potticary,
Thomas was 24 when he died. He was
eventually buried at Ypres. France.
The Potticary family lived on a farm just
outside of Port Wakefield and were active
members of the then Balaklava parish.
Little is known about the memorial window
and how it came to be, but well-preserved
letters, diaries, photos and souvenirs
belonging to Thomas provide a deeply
touching account of life on the front for the
young South Australian.
The documents, which include the official
notification of his death and a letter from
one of his closest mates to his mother,
have been retained by Raelene Potticary,
the daughter of Thomas’ younger brother
Harold, who was only four in 1917.
The Southern Cross contacted Ms
Potticary, of Beulah Park, after Archbishop
Philip Wilson commissioned a prayer card
featuring the memorial window to mark the
centenary of World War I.
One letter from a Private Harding,
informing Helen Potticary of her son’s
death, reassures her that he and Tom
went to Mass whenever they could and
that Thomas had gone to confession the
Sunday before he died.
“Well Mrs Potticary the only consolation
I can convey to you is that Tom died the
death of a good soldier, and was loved and
is missed by all comrades and officers,”
wrote Private Harding. He enclosed
Thomas’ watch which he had wanted sent
home to his sister Nellie, whom he spoke
of often and was his closest sibling in
age, in the event of his death. The watch
handed down to Nellie is one of the items
in the collection of photos, postcards and
diaries kept by Ms Potticary.
In correspondence from Thomas to his
parents, he talked of the bitterly cold
weather, the snow and mud, and said
his team was the only one to have left
Australia which was still together.
In a letter to his mother, he included a
photograph of his team, after nine weeks
in the trenches, with gas masks, goggles
and bayonets and he expressed his hope
that the war would be over soon.
In a separate letter to his father, he was
more pessimistic and said he thought the
war would continue for at least another
year. He thanked his father for enrolling
him (as a donor) to the Passionist Fathers
at Glen Osmond, further evidence of his
strong connection with the Catholic faith.
His final sign-off on this letter, written
seven weeks before he died, was simply
His notebooks are also much gloomier,
detailing sickness amongst the troops,
the heavy shell fire, and the bombing of
a hospital by ‘Fritz’ (the Germans). He
speaks of being buried by a bomb in the
trenches. “Feb 18th 1917. Early in the
morning Fritz started bombarding with
mumes (sic) killing one man and injuring
two others and lobbing one behind me.
He buried me for some 40 minutes until
my mates got me out. I had hurt my back.
There was a crater some eight feet deep...
Camp,” he wrote.
A recount of his voyage by ship to England
reveals that he contracted measles and
was very sick for the first half of the
journey: “There were ten of us in one small
room. I was 104 for a day or two. One poor
fellow died from sheer neglect but the rest
of us recovered and we went up on deck
after the fellow died where we put in two
weeks and had a very good time after we
got strong again”.
Ms Potticary said Thomas’ memory was
treasured by the family and his letters,
photos and souvenirs were kept safe and
treated with respect and reverence.
“As children we enjoyed sitting around the
big table at grandma’s and looking at the
family photos and listening to stories about
different members of the family including
Thomas,” she said. “He was part of our
“I feel very moved by his letters and the
images they create, the suffering he and
his fellow soldiers went through and the
fearless attitude he presented.”
If your parish has a story about World
War I, please let us know by phoning
8210 8117 or email jbrinkworth@
REMEMERED: A portrait of Private Thomas Potticary in uniform and below,
Raelene Potticary with the watch sent home for Thomas’ sister, Nellie, after his
By Jenny Brinkworth
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