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Harris, George Thomas (Tom) (1893–1957)

by Kirsty Harris

Tom Harris, 1916

Tom Harris, 1916

Australian War Memorial

George Thomas Hamlyn Harris (known as Tom) was born at Wermatong Station, Tumut NSW on 2 November 1893, and was the second youngest of the large family of Hamlyn Lavicount Harris and his wife Emily. 

Tom attended Kings College, Goulburn as a boarder from 1907. Tom excelled at maths and qualified in the Junior Public Examination in April 1910. He left college and worked at the Bank of New South Wales, first in Burke, NSW and then other country areas before qualifying in the Senior Public Examination in March 1915. 

He then commenced at the University of Sydney as a medical student for the rest of 1915. Tom enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force in January 1916 as three of his brothers were already fighting in the Middle East. In May 1916, he went to Egypt on HMAT Hororata joining the 1st Australian Light Horse Regiment (1LHR) as a trooper alongside his brothers, Geoffrey, Clement and Vernon. During the campaigns in Sinai and Palestine he participated in action at El Arish, Gaza and in Jordan. Tom was wounded at Romani (August 1916) and later at Beersheba (November 1917). He spent several months in hospital and convalescing in Egypt each time. In August 1918 Tom was sent to officer training near Cairo and graduated as a Second Lieutenant in February 1919. He then returned to Sydney in April on HT Kildonian Castle and resumed his medical degree at the University of Sydney in 1919, living in St Andrews College. Like other returned light horse men, he retained a horse at the college, and rode and played rugby. 

During the war he had met Staff Nurse Bessie (Florence Elizabeth) Proudfoot (later called Betty), a trained nurse with the Australian Army Nursing Service who was posted to the 14th Australian General Hospital in Cairo. Betty and Tom were married on 17 December 1924 at the Manly Presbyterian Church, Sydney and they had two children Ross and Ann. 

Tom finally graduated in March 1926, MB ChM (Bachelor of Medicine/Bachelor of Surgery). He underwent his medical resident’s training at the Western Suburbs Hospital, Croydon then in early 1928 Tom and Betty moved to Smithton, Tasmania and Tom joined Dr Packham’s partnership. Tom and Betty moved to Launceston in 1932 and bought the doctor’s surgery at 17 Brisbane Street from Dr H. J. Orr. Tom worked as a GP. He joined the Launceston General Hospital (LGH) in 1936, working gradually towards taking charge of the outpatients’ clinic for diabetes sufferers. He remained a physician in the outpatients at the LGH until 1950. He also became involved with wider medical affairs, becoming the local British Medical Association treasurer. 

Outside of work Tom had many interests. He was promoted to Lieutenant in the 22nd Light Horse Regiment in the Army Reserve after World War I and happily went off for his two-week camp every year. He was a member of the Launceston RSL from 1941 (on the committee from 1943) until his death. He loved riding horses, and kept up to five horses at one stage. He rode in the Launceston Show and with the Midland Hunt Club for which he was appointed Medical Officer. Tom was inducted into Launceston Legacy on 1 June 1932. He was an active member until 1952 and always maintained a keen interest in looking after the families of those who did not return from the war. 

With the outbreak of World War II Tom was appointed in 1940 as a doctor in the Army (Australian Army Medical Corps Reserve, 6th Military District) as an Honorary Captain. His role was to examine potential recruits for fitness to serve. He was also a member of the Northern Ambulance Board from January 1943. 

After World War II, Tom gained acceptance as a Member of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (MRCOG) in May 1949. As one of only two gynaecologists in his town, ‘Dr Tom’ was very popular and delivered a whole generation of children in Launceston and the wider district. Tom was on the Queen Victoria Board of Management for many years and was the inaugural Chairman for six years; a wing of the hospital was named after him. He retired in 1954 and died on 25 December 1957. His remains and those of his wife Betty are stored in the columbarium wall at St Matthias Church, Windermere, Tasmania.

Original Publication

Additional Resources

Citation details

Kirsty Harris, 'Harris, George Thomas (Tom) (1893–1957)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://peopleaustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/harris-george-thomas-tom-23893/text40639, accessed 8 February 2023.

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