Tom Hale looks at a photo of himself at 16 heading to war. Bonalbo.
Tom Hale looks at a photo of himself at 16 heading to war. Bonalbo. Susanna Freymark

Vale Tom Hale: 'He was an unbelievable man'

THREE black, leather stools line the bar at the Dog 'n' Bull Hotel in Bonalbo.

The middle one was where Tom Hale sat every morning at 10am and ordered a midi of beer.

Publican Paul Horne said if anyone wanted to see Tom they would come to the pub where he sat with his mates Bobby and Col.

"He was the local encyclopaedia," Mr Horne's wife Kerry said.

Everyone in Bonalbo knew Tom Hale. And he knew the history of every family and building in Bonalbo and Kyogle.

"If someone came into the bar that he hadn't seen for years, he would know their parents and remember everything about them," Mr Horne said.

"When we lost him and he went to the Tweed (nursing home), it wasn't the same," Mr Horne said.

"He was an unbelievable man.

"I knew him for nine years.

"I met him the first time I bought the pub."

Tom's niece, Kerry Finch travelled to Bonalbo from the Sunshine Coast for Monday's funeral.

"Uncle Tom was kind and thoughtful and a true gentleman," Ms Finch said.

At age 95, Tom was one of the few surviving Second World War veterans.

He lied about his age to enlist in the army.

Ms Finch had a photo of the telegram Tom sent his mother from the recovery hospital in Singapore in October 1945 after he was released from a Japanese prison camp reassuring his family he was okay.

 

Telegram sent by Tom Hale to his mother in 1945, from a recovery hospital in Singapore.
Telegram sent by Tom Hale to his mother in 1945, from a recovery hospital in Singapore.

Ninth in a family of 12 children from Kyogle, Tom met Elsie at a dance in Kyogle.

They married and had three children of their own, Garry, Gayle and Anne, and three step children, Ivy, Pam and Faith.

Ms Finch said Uncle Tom didn't talk about the war to the family.

He shared that with his war buddies, she said.

Tom did say of the war in an interview in 2016: "I was one of the lucky ones. I came home."

The Diggers Motorcycle Club saluted Tom at his funeral in Bonalbo.

Afterwards at the Dog 'n' Bull when everyone toasted Tom Hale, the empty black stool was a poignant reminder of a man much loved by his community.

Born May 31 in 1922 Tom's only surviving sibling, sister Ada Baker lives in Lismore.