Pete Bowes has had some comments left on his Somerton Man blog by a certain ‘Margaret Hookham’ (which, trivia fans, was actually Dame Margot Fonteyn’s real name).
In these web-weary days we live in, the default position with posters claiming to drip-feed intriguingly new Somerton Man information is that they should be considered trolls until they can prove otherwise (which has yet to ever happen, as far as I can tell)… or until they provide sufficient disproof that their research is for real. In this case, “Margaret” asserts that “ASIO records show D.D.Thomson was in Adelaide on the night of the 30th November 1948“: which sounds highly unlikely to me, given that ASIO wasn’t actually formed until 1949. Which – as starts go – is far from the best.
All the same, what intrigued me was that – despite the thick layer of apparent trollery – there was also a glimmer of genuine historical interest to be had from her comments, though probably not in the way that was intended.
Specifically: I’m interested neither by her primary claim (which involves the disappearance of Vasily Sherbakov and Miss Bogotyreva from the November 1948 LAPSTONE conference, Jessica Harkness, pregnancy, bla bla bla) nor indeed by her secondary claim (Russian spies, Australian spies, Alf Boxall, Prosper Thomson, cover story, bla bla bla), but rather by her tertiary claim: which is that Prosper Thomson, D.D.Thomson [who she says was Alf Boxall’s boss, and maybe he was, who knows?] and a man called Thomas Leonard Keane were all at the 115th Australian General Hospital (6th RAAF Hospital) in Heidelberg in 1943.
115th Australian General Hospital
Source: Australian War Memorial
It’s certainly true that Prosper Thomson was there (albeit briefly) in 1943. According to his military records (digitized online at the NAA), on 28/6/1943 he was transferred from Prince Henry Hospital to “115AgH” , but discharged two weeks later on 10/7/1943.
Moreover, it’s certainly also true that a soldier called Thomas Leonard Keane was (according to his military records) working there in 1943, presumably as a nursing orderly. And so: given that we have been looking for a “T. Keane”, and that these two men may well have met in the relatively compact setting of Heidelberg Military Hospital, it would seem to be a good idea for us to ask…
Who Was Thomas Leonard Keane?
During WWII, Keane entered the Australian military twice: firstly, in 1939 where he gave his occupation as “Dispatch Clerk”, but lied about his age, claiming that he had been born in Newport, Victoria on 6th November 1905. Having been assigned to the 2/2nd Field Regiment, he was put onto the “X list” (which listed those members of a unit who were absent, typically for medical reasons), asked to be released for “Family Reasons” (not apparently specified in the documents) and was discharged in April 1940 (discharge certificate 13139). His April 1941 application for a General Service Badge was turned down because his discharge wasn’t on actual medical grounds.
His second entry into the Army was in September 1941, where he was assigned to the 115th Australian General Hospital at Heidelberg, but this time giving his date of birth as 6th November 1898. He also gave his job as “Railway Clerk”, and listed his primary school as “St Josephs, Newport” (it was blank in his first application).
Why did he lie about his age? There’s no obvious clue, but I have a suspicion that he had served in WWI and – for some reason – wanted to avoid having that record examined. There’s a link here, service number 33556: whether this was him is no doubt something Cipher Mysteries readers will be able to determine much more easily and quickly than I could.
Finally, we know the second date of birth Keane gave is correct, because we also know when he died: 13th November 1973.
(Courtesy of BillionGraves).
Clearly, he couldn’t have been the Somerton Man. But I’ll come back to that in a moment.
Keane worked as a Nursing Orderly in 115AGH, and served outside Australia for 138 days (in Japan from 11th March 1947 to 26th July 1947), before being discharged on 8th June 1948.
Japan in 1947
This 1998 letter from Captain Barbara Ann Probyn-Smith, RAANC,(Retd), paints an all-too-vivid picture of what was going on Japan at that time.
The Japanese people had many endemic diseases in their bodies, to which we had no immunity. They included TB, HTLV-1, Japanese B Encephalitis (one epidemic in 1948 killed over 3,000) and Haemorraghic Fever.
Up the hill, behind the Kure Hospital, and opposite and above our quarters was a very sordid town, with no washing facilities, no running water, where the Japanese grew fruit and vegetables in fields manured with human excreta. A terrible smell always emanated from it. It had no sewage. They dug open trenches into which they emptied their “honey buckets” of human excreta, before it was taken to the gardens for growing fruit and vegetables. Although there were wooden covers over the trenches, there were many large cracks between the boards, permitting the entry of flies and other vermin.
If I have read his forms right, Kure Hospital was where Keane travelled to on the Manovia.
And What Of The Somerton Man?
We can see Keane’s signature and handwriting many times on the military forms:
Which, of course, we can compare with the writing on the tie in the suitcase:
Is it a match? Possibly, possibly not: the K looks like a plausible match, while the T rather less so. All the same, it’s nice to have them next to each other.
So is that the end of it? Have we driven our Holden all the way to the end of yet another Somerton Man cul-de-sac?
Well… not quite. Thomas Leonard Keane for me is emblematic of what was happening in Australia after WWII: though he had avoided front-line action, his months at the hospital in Japan must have been harrowing in a very different way. And the situation he presumably found himself in mid-to-late 1948 was surely not hugely dissimilar to that of the Somerton Man, as forensically told by his body at the time – fit, well-groomed, yet not necessarily fitting in to post-war society. They were not the same person, sure, but they may well have been “brothers in plough-shares“, or fellow-travellers in some way.
The Suitcase, Once More?
An unwritten assumption of most Somerton Man research is that the suitcase (left at Adelaide’s Railway Station) was only the Somerton Man’s. Yet even though this is a straightforward notion apparently full of common sense, it isn’t entirely as strong as you might think. It contained (if I recall correctly) clothes and shoes of different sizes: a mish-mash.
What I’m getting at here is that there’s a hypothesis that hasn’t really been considered: that the suitcase might have had more than one person’s belongings in. Might it have had some borrowed clothes, perhaps borrowed from an ally (Keane lived in the Reservoir suburb of Melbourne, and there was a good train into Adelaide from there that morning) rather than a friend? Might that person have lent his suitcase and some of his own clothes to a sick, destitute acquaintance as a short-term favour?
And then – upon the Somerton Man’s death – might the original owner of the suitcase have decided to deny all knowledge? After all, what kind of a person really wants to get themselves tangled up with a messy business like that? “Smile and wave, boys, smile and wave”, as a famous military leader put it. Would you have raised your hand?
Oh, And One Last Thing…
Finally, the last page of Thomas Leonard Keane’s file has a surprise for us all: a small sealed folder with the following stamp on it:
What information could a former nursing orderly at Heidelberg possibly have that would require being reclassified as secret until 2028?
Plenty of room for conspiracy theories, sure: but what are the odds that it gets a further thirty years of secrecy added to it even then?