Tom Skeyhill was born on 10 January 1895 in Terang, Victoria, Australia and educated at a local state school and St Mary’s Convent School, Hamilton. At 14 he left school to become first a telegraph messenger and later a telephonist. He was a skilled reciter and debater.
After the outbreak of war in August 1914 he enlisted in the 8th Battalion, Australian Imperial Force on 14 September 1914 and embarked from Melbourne in December 1914. He trained in Egypt as a signaller from January to April 1915, before landing at Anzac Cove on 25 April 1915. During the advance on Cape Helles on 8 May he was wounded and blinded by a Turkish shell that exploded beside him. He was invalided back to Melbourne in October 1915.
Skeyhill had been composing poetry, some of which was published in London, Cairo and Melbourne. In November 1915 he appeared at the Tivoli Theatre, Melbourne, in full Gallipoli kit, reciting his compositions. His Soldier Songs from the Anzac, which he published in December 1915, sold 20,000 copies in four months. For two years he toured Australia as ‘the blind soldier poet’ until he was discharged from the army on 28 September 1916.
In December 1917 he undertook a lecturing tour of North America and recovered his sight in 1918 after which he became a well-established lecturer. He later persuaded Sergeant Alvin York, the First World War’s most decorated soldier, to publish his diary, which Skeyhill edited.
He was killed in a flying accident in the United States in 1933.
Tom Skeyhill’s Poems