The short life of Thomas “Hāmi” Grace is very much the stuff of legend. The word “brave” seems to have been invented for him, although his unassuming manner is commented upon as much as his courage.
Perhaps best remembered as a rugby player, he was one of the few who played both rugby and cricket for Wellington. Hāmi appears to have been an exciting three quarter who played for both Wellington and North Island as well as touring Australia and New Zealand with the Maori rugby team. He was also a fine cricketer.
A proud product of Wellington College, Hāmi played in the 1st XI there and went on to play two First Class matches for Wellington. His first, against Hawkes Bay in December 1911, saw him have a quiet game, scoring four runs and taking 1 for 34 in a drawn game. He did not play for Wellington again in a First Class match again until January 1914, when, against Otago in Dunedin, he took 4 for 6 in the Otago second innings and scored 16 not out and 28, respectively, in a game that Wellington won by 85 runs. His representative career ended on that high note as the man who Wisden would later describe as “a useful all round cricketer” enlisted in the Wellington Regiment on August 13 1914.
His army training was carried out at Trentham Army Camp near Wellington where he was quickly promoted to sergeant. He left the country in October 1914 for service in Gallipoli. By all accounts he became a very good soldier, quickly winning promotion in the field to lieutenant. On July 17 1915, Hāmi was mentioned in dispatches for displaying coolness and bravery when carrying out a bombing raid on Turkish trenches. Hāmi specialized in ‘anti-sniping’, where New Zealand snipers were used to track down Turkish ones. A persistent story also tells of him commanding grenade throwers because of his skill at throwing a cricket ball!
Hāmi Grace was killed on August 8 1915 in the defence of the trenches gained at the summit of Chunuk Bair. The official Wellington Regiment history describes what happened there as one of “the most intense infantry fights in the whole war”. Of the 760 members of the Wellington Regiment who had gained the summit, 711 became casualties in it defence. Hāmi was one of them. His name is on the Chunuk Bair (New Zealand) Memorial in the Chunuk Bair cemetery.