Sarah Jane Smith – Norseman mother loses three sons to WW2

SARAH JANE SMITH (nee Leighton) mother to WX8736 ROBERT LEIGHTON SMITH and WX8731 THOMAS ERNST SMITH from the 2/4th Machine Gun Battalion.  Brothers  Bob and ‘Ern’ did not return from war.   Sarah also lost her youngest son WX11520 Edward John (known as Ted) joined the 2/28th.  

When you are feeling a little sorry for yourself – stop to think of WW2 and WW1 mothers who lost not one son, but two or three and sometimes four.  Sarah Jane Smith, who had been widowed twice, now alone had to endure the news that three of her sons would not be returning to Australia – Robert KIA February 1942, youngest son Edward drowned September 1943 New Guinea and Thomas Ernst died illness Sandakan, Borneo December 1944.

Sarah Jane Leighton was born at the Victorian Goldfields, as was her husband Thomas William Smith. They married Bendigo in 1904 and moved to WA Goldfields, where Thomas resumed mining at Norseman. Their first son Alfred was born here in 1905.  His birth was  followed by a further 5 sons and one daughter.

Two years after the birth of youngest son Ted, Sarah’s husband died at the TB Wooroloo Sanatorium in 1920 aged 46 years. He had been sent to Wooroloo with silicosis as the Sanatorium at Coolgardie had closed. Thomas Smith died alone without any family.   Sarah now had 7 children between the ages of 2 years and 15 years to take care of (although it is probable her eldest son Alfred born was working at the age of 15). Bob was then aged 12.



One can’t imagine how Sarah survived as a widow in Norseman. She probably had managed for up to 6 months whilst her husband was ill and dying. She may have had the opportunity of earning an income by providing boarding house facilities.  There were large numbers of single men on the goldfields who sought accommodation.  We will never know.

Four years later Sarah remarried in 1924 to George Blythe Jones, WW1 Veteran. 

Sadly George died four years later in 1928 aged 42 years.

George enlisted WW1 15 March 1915 at Kalgoorlie aged 29 years.   His previous occupation was miner.   He was the only son of Hannah Jones of Mildura Hill.

He embarked 9 June 1915 and disembarked 27 April 1919 at Fremantle.  He served 8th Field Company Engineers.


George Smith’s grave at Norseman.

Below:  George’s property at Grass Patch is advertised in 1929.

Above:  George’s mother dies in 1931.


Both Bob Smith and Thomas Smith (known as Ern, Ernie or Spud)) enlisted in October 1940, joining ‘B’ Company 8th Platoon.


During the battle for Singapore, Bob was KIA at West Manai Hill on 11 February 1942 aged 33 years.   Under the command of Lt. MacKinnon, Bob was one of four men from this platoon to tragically die that day – Sgt Richard Sandilands who was second-in-charge, Don Day and Raymond Carruthers.



Thomas Ernest ‘Ern or Jerry’ Smith, Section Orderly, managed to survive the Battle.  He was taken POW of Japan and incarcerated at Selarang Camp and Selarang Barracks, Changi.  Ern had the misfortune to be selected with ‘E’ Force Borneo which sailed from Singapore on 2 March 1943 to their first stop of Kuching (Sarawak).
At the age of 32 years, Ern died of pulmonary tuberculosis and beri beri at Sandakan on 18 December 1944.
To read further about ‘E’ Force Borneo


Ted was the youngest of Sarah’s large family of seven children.  He was born at Norseman in 1918.  Ted enlisted and joined 2/28th Battalion.

He lost his life on 9 September 1943 at Busu River, New Guinea. Ted was one of 13 soldiers ‘missing’ at  Busu River crossing, his body never found.   A Goldfield’s boy, it is quite likely he never had the opportunity to learn to swim.

Conditions were terrible at that time of the year with raging currents and extremely high water level however the Australians were hard pressed to cross  Busu River to evade the Japanese. Initially as many as 30 Australians were swept away with the current. Those who survived managed to reach the safety of a less deep area, and were forced to hide from the Japanese for several daylight hours before being saved by the Battalion.


Sarah died at Norseman in 1963 aged 78 years, having never left the goldfields of WA.