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Derrick, Thomas Currie (Tom) (1914–1945)

from Murray Pioneer (Renmark, SA)

Tom Derrick, c.1940

Tom Derrick, c.1940

Australian War Memorial, 141308

Lieut. Thomas Currie Derrick, V.C., D.C.M., who enlisted in the AIF from Berri, was killed in action at Tarakan on May 23. This advice was received last Saturday by his wife, Mrs. Beryl Derrick, who lives at Mansfield Street, North Adelaide. Lieut. Derrick, who first came to Berri in 1929, was the only South Australian to have been awarded the VC and DCM, and the only South Australian-born winner of the VC in this war.

He was vice-president of the North Adelaide Sub-branch of the RSL. It was in March last year that the award of the highest military honour to the then Sgt. Derrick was announced. The official citation stated that on November 24, 1943, Sgt. Derrick was in charge of an intruder patrol which was ordered to outflank a strong enemy position on a precipitous cliff face and then attack at a spot about 150 yards from Satelberg. It was only possible to reach a kunai patch directly underneath the cliff, and for two hours many attempts were made to climb the slope, but each attempt was met with dense machine gun fire and grenades from the enemy. It appeared impossible to reach the objective, or even to hold the ground already won.

The company was ordered to withdraw, but Sgt. Derrick requested one last attempt to reach the position. Receiving permission he moved ahead of the forward section and personally destroyed an enemy boat with grenades. He then moved the second section around the right flank under heavy fire from the enemy. Sgt. Derrick jumped well ahead of the leading men and hurled grenade after grenade, completely demoralizing the enemy, who fled leaving weapons and grenades behind.

By this gallant action the company was able to gain its objective. Sgt. Derrick then returned to the first section and together with the third section dealt with three remaining enemy positions.

On four different occasions he stormed positions within range of six or eight yards. In all he destroyed ten enemy positions and from the ground he had won the remainder of the battalion moved forward to capture Satelberg on the following morning.

Next to his bravery in his outstanding characteristics was probably Lieut. Derrick's extreme modesty. It was at EI Alamein that he won the DCM. When his wife asked him how he won it, he replied that he had got it in a Comforts Fund parcel. He was just home from the Middle East when this award was announced in March 1943, and reading of it in the paper he remarked to Mrs. Derrick, "I think this is me."

He preferred to give credit for his laurels so richly won to the men under him. When he heard he had won the VC, "Diver" said, "I would have been pleased with something not as great as the VC. I knew there was a possibility that I would get a decoration, but I was surprised that it was the VC, because the 'show' did not warrant it."

In an interview with "The Pioneer" Lieut. Bruce Trigg, of Renmark, since discharged from the AIF, said that the men of the battalion were unanimous in their claim that Satelberg was "Diver" Derrick's show. His coolness under fire, his ingenious tactics, coupled with his ability to lie and wait under heavy fire, and his absolute lack of fear were examples of Australian courage at its best.

Son of Mr. and Mrs. Derrick, of Pt. Adelaide, the late officer was one of the first to leave Australia as an original member of a SA Battalion. He left for overseas in November 1940. He served at Tobruk, Syria, Tel el Eisa, El Alamein, and returned to Australia in February 1943 as a member of the most decorated unit in the AIF. Lieut. Derrick was later posted to New Guinea where the pinnacle of his career was reached in the winning of the VC.

It was last November that he was promoted to commissioned rank. He recently celebrated his 31st birthday.

Lieut Derrick was educated at the LeFevre Peninsula school and started work at 14 as a baker's assistant at Glanville. He was married in June 1939 to Miss Beryl Leslie. He and his wife were living at Berri when war broke out. Lieut. Derrick formerly worked on the fruit property of Mr. R. O. Foreman at Winkie and with the Tarac Co. at Berri.

Before the war "Diver" was a prominent sportsman being a member of the famous Berri football 18, a keen swimmer, boxer, and as his nickname implies, a good diver.

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Citation details

'Derrick, Thomas Currie (Tom) (1914–1945)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/derrick-thomas-currie-tom-9958/text35204, accessed 22 September 2019.

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