Sidney Harold Tom Lister

Sidney Harold Tom Lister. Image courtesy

Sidney Harold Tom Lister was born in Orange on 11 October 1895. He was the ninth of eleven children born to Thomas Sydney Lister and his wife Emily Australia (nee Tom).

Sidney was the grandson of Bathurst pioneer John Hardman Lister, who was the publican of The Rocks Inn from 1846 until his accidental death in 1850. Sid’s uncle was John Lister who first discovered gold in the Orange district.

When Sidney was a young boy his family moved to Day Street in Marrickville, and he attended West Marrickville Public School.

When 21 year old Sidney enlisted in the First World War in July 1917 he was working for Sydney Railways as a booking clerk. Private Lister was assigned to the 17th Battalion, 21st Reinforcement and embarked from Sydney for overseas service on 31 October 1917.

Sidney disembarked in Devonport on 26 December 1917 and was marched in to the 5th Training Battalion at Fovant. On 1 April he proceeded to France and on 9 April was marched out to his unit at Beaumarais.

Private Lister survived just five weeks on the Western Front; he was killed in action on 14 May 1918, aged 22 years. He is buried at the Dive Copse British Cemetery at Sailly-le-Sec in France.

Sidney Harold Lister is commemorated on Marrickville War Memorial and on panel number 83 on the Roll of Honour at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

Members of the 21st Reinforcements of the 17th Battalion. Sid Lister is in the back row on the far right. Image courtesy Australian War Memorial.

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Victor Turnbull

Victor Turnbull. Image courtesy Australian War Memorial.

Born in Carcoar in 1898, Victor Turnbull was the first of three boys of Joseph Pearson and Edith Turnbull (nee Baldwin).

When Victor was a boy the family moved to Wellington, where Joseph worked as an engineer for the Co-operative Flour Mill.

On 28 February 1917 Victor travelled to Orange and enlisted at the Drill Hall. He gave his occupation as “farmer” on his attestation papers but, according to Edith, Victor was working as a grocer for Wellington storekeeper A Hossack.

In early March 1917 the Wellington Baptist community gathered at the church to farewell Victor and his mate Thomas Hilton Hubbard prior to embarkation. The pair of friends were gifted an illuminated wristlet watch each.

The following week the staff of Hossack’s store farewelled Victor and presented him with a fountain pen.

Victor and Thomas embarked HMAT A15 Port Sydney on 9 May 1917. They arrived in Suez on 20 June. On 26 July Private Turnbull was marched in to the 2nd Light Horse Training Regiment at Moascar. In August he was transferred to the 7th Light Horse Regiment at Tel-el-Marakeb.

In May 1918, the 7th Light Horse Regiment was operating in the Es Salt area of Palestine when they became the object of an air raid. A bomb landed on Private Turnbull’s unit, killing seven men, including Victor. Thomas described the event in a letter home:

Just retired from a flutter with Jacko. All hands in bivvy, and I think most of them asleep, when I heard a peculiar sound (well known to us), and lifting up the flap of my tent saw a bomb descending — saw it drop into the midst of B Squadron, just where I knew Vic Turnbull ‘s tent was pitched. I rushed over and found poor Vic and six others killed. I can tell you it gave me a nasty turn to see my old mate among the number. Vic was a real white fellow, a good soldier, a good Christian, and a true friend. He was killed instantly and I think while asleep. We buried him next day with military honors. I am truly sorry for his poor mother and father. The loss of such a boy is a loss indeed. I will write them and also send Victor’s Bible (his best friend), which I know his parents will value above all their boy’s possessions, though it is battered.

Nineteen year old Victor was buried the following day in the Jerusalem War Cemetery by Chaplain Milton Reeves Maley.

On 26 May 1917 a large congregation gathered at the Wellington Baptist Church to attend a memorial service for the late Trooper Victor Turnbull and Corporal Edward Arthur (Ted) Hubbard, cousin of Francis John Hubbard. The Wellington Times of 27 May 1917 reported:

the church was suitably draped in purple and white, and the flags of the Allied nations were also in conspicuous places … The hymns for the service and the reading of the texts were selected by the parents of the fallen lads, and Mrs Bamford played appropriate music … The service throughout was of a very solemn character.

The Salvation Army later presented an illustrated testimonial expressing their sympathy to Victor’s parents.

Victor Turnbull is commemorated on Wellington Cenotaph in Cameron Park, the Wellington Baptist Church honour roll, the Bodangora WW1 Roll of Honour and on panel number 6 on the Roll of Honour at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

Thomas Hilton Hubbard survived the war; he returned to Australia in April 1919.

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Charles Throsby Smith

Charles Throsby Smith. Image courtesy

Charles Throsby Smith was born in Carcoar on 26 September 1887. He was named after his paternal grandfather, Charles Throsby, who was a pioneer of the Illawarra district.

Charles Smith was the first of four children born to stock inspector Philip Throsby Life Smith and his wife Mary Beatrice Sarah nee Martyn. The couple had married in Carcoar in 1886, and this was Philip’s second marriage. The marriage only lasted nine years; Mary was widowed in 1895.

Charles was working as a farmer and grazier near Dripstone when he enlisted in Orange on 6 August 1917. His youngest brother, Errol Bathurst Smith, enlisted the same day; the brothers were issued sequential service numbers: 3715 and 3716.

Upon enlistment Charles nominated his mother, Mary, as his next of kin. She was living at Graceville in Lords Place, Orange, at the time.

Charles and Errol embarked together from Sydney on 31 October 1917, arriving in Devonport on 26 December. They proceeded to the 14th Training Battalion at Hurdcott to undertake further training before proceeding to France on 1 April 1918.

Charles was appointed acting Lance Corporal in December 1917 for a period of three months. He continued to serve overseas following armistice. On 21 April 1919 he was transferred from the 56th Battalion to the 4th Traffic Control Detachment, and in July embarked for return to Australia.

Charles disembarked in Sydney on 26 August 1919, and was discharged from the AIF on 18 September.

On 13 April 1925 Charles married Florence Emily Glyde at St Chad’s Church in Cremorne. The couple settled in Cremorne and had one daughter, Kathlyn. They remained in Cremorne for the remainder of their lives. Charles died suddenly on 26 June 1952, aged 64, and Florence on 20 March 1961.

Charles’ brother Errol Bathurst Smith did not survive the war; he died of wounds in France on 4 May 1918.

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William Barrington Rothery

William Barrington Rothery. Image courtesy Barry Jensen.

William Barrington Rothery was born in the manse of St John’s Church, Kite Street, Orange, on 9 April 1883 to Barrington Rothery and Florence Theresa (nee Hosie). He was educated at Barker College near Hornsby and married Edith Ann Harrison on 18 September 1915 at St John’s Church, Parramatta, just over a month after he had enlisted with the AIF.

On 10 August 1915, William enlisted in the AIF. The location of his enlistment is not recorded although his application for a commission mentions him sitting a school at the Royal Agricultural Showground in Sydney. This is also likely to be the place where he enlisted. He was living at Quinton, Dundas, at the time. His job was listed as a Station Manager and Grazier.

William’s commission was formally approved and gazetted on 25 May 1916. He left Sydney with the 5th Reinforcements of the 34th Battalion on board SS Napier on 17 November 1916, one year and three months after he enlisted. The length of time between enlistment and embarkation is very unusual. Perhaps it was due to the fact that he applied for a commission and had to sit for some exams that delayed his departure. His application form shows that he sat for qualification for 2nd Lieutenant at the AIF School in Duntroon, between 22 March and 18 April 1916.

The 5th Reinforcements arrived in Devonport, England, on 29 January 1917 for further training before proceeding overseas to France. They marched into camp for the 9th Training Battalion two days later. On 8 February, William was admitted to the 3rd London General Hospital with fractured ribs and was discharged on 20 February. He was admitted to Fargo Hospital from 12 to 21 April with calluses on his heel.

William attended musketry school at Tidworth from 1 to 24 May 1917, attaining first class qualifications in musketry as well as Lewis Gun training. He returned to the 9th Training Battalion and remained with them until his departure for France on 24 August. He arrived in Le Havre on 26 August and was marched out to join his unit on 31 August.

On 2 September William joined the 34th Battalion, who were billeted in the village of Vaudringhem in the north of France. The 34th were “in training for new offensive in accordance with new formations laid down by GHQ for the attack on enemy’s new system of defence.” William was promoted to Lieutenant whilst in this location.

The battalion stayed in these billets until 26 September when they broke camp and set off for the front in Belgium. The first day saw them march from Vaudringhem to the village of Coubronne, a distance of 21 miles. Day two was a march of similar distance to the village of Godewaersvelde, just north of Hazebrouck on the French-Belgium border. The next day they marched eight miles to the village of Wirnnezeele. Here plans were made to enter the front line south of Zonnebeke.

Lieutenant Rothery was marching into a very hostile environment for his first engagement in the front line. The Battle of Menin Road Ridge had just claimed more than 5,000 Australian casualties, and the Battle of Polygon Wood almost 6,000.

The 34th Battalion’s diary for 1 October records:

Clear and bright. Aircraft very active from 9 to 11.30. The enemy heavily bombarded the 34th Battalion support line were fired on with unpleasant regularity … A cable burying party working in the vicinity of Potsdam were heavily strafed and 51 casualties resulted.

On 3 October the battalion was relieved by the 10th Brigade. The 34th made their way back to the ramparts of the walled city of Ypres for a rest. They had suffered 24 killed and 77 wounded.

The following day the battalion marched south to a tented camp. They stayed in various camps over the next few days, moving back to Ypres on 10 October in readiness to enter the frontline at Passchendaele. Heavy rain had been falling for four days straight and the battlefield was turning into a quagmire with mud knee deep and rain filling shell holes deep enough to drown in. The ground was slippery and perilous. Duckboards were used to try to save the men from sinking into the mud.

At 6pm on 11 October the battalion started their march forward to their “jumping off line” in front of the village of Passchendaele. The obstacles that faced them were tremendous given the conditions of the battlefield and the weather. The battalion diary best describes the events of the day:

During the assembly and right up to zero hour, the Battalion was subjected to heavy fire by 7.7s and 4.2 H.E. The greatest part of this fire appeared to come from S. and S.E. of PASSCHENDAELE, casualties were heavy, principally on the right flank near the cemetery.

At 5.25 am our barrage came down. It was very weak and in many cases it was difficult to determine which was our barrage and which was fire from the enemy. This made it difficult for the men to keep up with the barrage. The greatest obstacle met in the advance was the conditions of the ground, particularly on the left flank. There were many men lost altogether in the bog.

The pace of the advance was slowed up owing to the assistance it was necessary to give men who had sunk into shell holes and who could not extricate themselves without assistance.

The battalion sustained severe casualties during the advance: all officers had been either killed or wounded, the bulk of the organisation fell on the shoulders of the non-commissioned officers who did remarkably fine work.

It’s just as well William was a Transport Officer or he would have almost certainly become a casualty of this battle like his commissioned colleagues.

Over the next few days the exhausted battalion held their line but were constantly subjected to heavy shellfire, adding tremendously to their fatigue. At 6pm on the 14th they were relieved by the 46th Battalion and withdrew to the support lines.

For the next two months the 34th Battalion moved between the front line and various rest camps on the Western Front.

On 2 January 1918, the battalion moved to billets in the village of Meteren. Shortly thereafter William was admitted to the 14th General Hospital at Boulogne with a sore foot which was diagnosed as synovitis. He was discharged to duty on 16 January but was readmitted five days later. On 11 February William was examined by Major General Neville Howse VC, who issued the following report:

I have personally examined Lieut WB Rothery, 34th Battalion and found him suffering from an Osteoma on the Os Calcis. I do not consider an operation advisable nor justifiable.

To obtain a further opinion, I placed Lieut Rothery before the AIF consultants. In their opinion he is permanently unfit for General Service and unfit for Home Service.

Lieut Rothery will accordingly be recommended for return to Australia as an invalid.

William was transferred to England on 20 February to await a transport ship home. On 13 March he boarded the HMAT Durham Castle at Weymouth and arrived in Sydney on 13 May 1918. His appointment as an officer in the AIF was terminated on 16 July 1918.

William went on to live a long and happy life. He lived in many parts of New South Wales including Beecroft, Waitara, Epping, Parramatta and Woy Woy. William Barrington Rothery died on 21 February 1962 at the age of 78 years, in the War Veterans Hospital in Collaroy on Sydney’s northern beaches.

* Peter Benson, 2014

9th Infantry Brigade Crest

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Sidney Charles Woods

On 15 July 1918 the SS Barunga was hit by a torpedo from a German submarine off the coast of Cornwall. Nearby destroyers rushed to the rescue and managed to save all 800 sick and wounded Australian soldiers aboard, who were on their way home from the war. The vessel was also transporting many packages containing the personal effects of soldiers who had died in service for delivery to their next of kin. Among them were the last possessions of Sidney Charles Woods and William Alexander Woods, brothers who were killed on the Western Front nine days apart. When the Barunga sank so too did William and Sidney’s personal effects, never to be recovered.

Sidney was born in Orange in 1889, the youngest son of William and Mary Ann Woods. When he enlisted for service in May 1916 he was living with his mother in McLachlan Street, East Orange, and working as a miner. He was also a member of the Ancient Order of Foresters.

Sidney embarked from Sydney in September 1916, a private in the 2nd Battalion, 20th Reinforcement. He spent several months undertaking further training at the 1st Training Battalion at Perham Downs before proceeding to France in February 1917. He served on the Western Front for a full year before proceeding to England for two weeks leave.

In February 1918 Sidney rejoined his battalion in France. Two months later, on 17 April, he was inside a barn at Sec Bois near Hazebrouck in Northern France when it was hit by a German shell, killing him. Sidney was buried the same day at Outtersteene Communal Cemetery Extension at Bailleul.

According to Sidney’s commanding officer, Lieutenant HW Parle:

Pte Woods was considered by my fellow officers and myself, who he was under for several months, to be a splendid soldier and an example to others. Needless to say his death was regretted by all

Sidney Charles Woods is commemorated on the Ancient Order of Foresters Orange Roll of Honor, the Holy Trinity Church Orange Honour Roll, the World War I Roll of Honour on the southern face of the Orange Cenotaph and on panel number 35 on the Roll of Honour at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

In 1923 the Anzac Memorial Avenue of trees was planted along Bathurst Road to commemorate fallen WWI soldiers. A tree was planted in honour of “Gunner SC Woods”; it was donated by Orange District School. Very few of the trees are still standing today.

Ancient Order of Foresters’ Orange Roll of Honor. Image courtesy Orange City Library.

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Walter Garnett Bennett

Born in Orange in 1885, Walter Garnett Bennett was the second son of Millthorpe newsagent and storekeeper Walter James Bennett and his wife Ellen Selina nee Barnes.

Walter was educated at Millthorpe Public School. He later worked as a bookkeeper and volunteered at the Methodist Sunday School.

On 2 August 1916 Walter enlisted to serve in the First World War. In late October a large group of Millthorpe residents gathered at the Methodist Church to farewell Walter. An evening of speeches and musical items were enjoyed and Walter was presented with a shaving kit and a pocket bible.

He embarked HMAT SS Port Nicholson in Sydney on 8 November 1916, and disembarked in Devonport on 10 January 1917. He was marched in to the 1st Training Battalion the same day and spent the following twelve months undertaking further training in England.

In early March 1918 Private Bennett proceeded to France and was taken on strength with the 1st Battalion. Walter survived just one month on the Western Front; he was killed in action on 16 April 1918.

Walter Garnett Bennett is commemorated on the Methodist Church Orange Honour Roll, the Millthorpe Methodist Church Roll of Honour, the Manchester Unity Oddfellows Millthorpe Roll of Honour, the World War I Roll of Honour on the southern face of the Orange Cenotaph and on panel number 28 on the Roll of Honour at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

In 1923 the Anzac Memorial Avenue of trees was planted along Bathurst Road to commemorate fallen WWI soldiers. A tree was planted in honour of “Pte W Bennett”; presumably Walter. It was donated by Ken Beaton. Very few of the trees are still standing today.

Walter’s older brother Joseph Victor Bennett also served in WWI; he returned to Australia in June 1919.


Harold Charles Crossman

Harold Charles Crossman, 1914. Image courtesy State Library of Queensland.

In the early hours of 15 April 1918 Harold Charles Crossman became the unfortunate victim of friendly fire at Hangard Wood on the Western Front. Harold and three other soldiers of the 18th Battalion, B Company were digging in a machine gun post in no man’s land in front of the allied line in preparation for an advance.

Eyewitness Private Sydney Percival Cox disclosed:

I was on an outpost at Villers-Bretonneux at about 1am on 15 April 1918 and our machine gun accidently killed him. He was sent with a party to dig in our flank and we mistook them for the Germans. He was brought in and buried. He had been killed by a bullet in the stomach.

Harold Charles Crossman was born in Orange in 1888, the second of four children of Charles Crossman and his wife Teresa nee Gleeson. Shortly after Harold’s birth the family moved to Lithgow where Charles, a baker by trade, worked as a miner.

Harold was educated at Lithgow Public School. As a young man he joined the Eskbank Ironworks as a boilermaker. It was around this time that he also became known by the nickname “Peter”, or “Pete”.

In 1910 Harold married Florence Reilly in Bathurst. A daughter, Dulcie Agnes, was born the following year.

In August 1916 Harold renounced his position at the ironworks to enlist in WWI. In early January about twenty of Harold’s co-workers attended a farewell at the Fewins’ Refreshment Rooms in Lithgow. “Peter” was presented with an initialled gold watch and speeches and songs were enjoyed.

Private Crossman embarked from Sydney on 20 January 1916; he disembarked in Alexandria on 26 February. In March he joined the British Expeditionary Force and proceeded to Marseilles. In late July Harold was wounded in action, receiving several gunshot wounds to the right shoulder and scalp. He was transferred to Tunbridge Wells Hospital in England and did not rejoin his unit until late November 1916.

In May 1917 he was wounded a second time and was admitted to the 2nd Australian General Hospital in Boulogne. Again he was transferred to England, this time to Tankerton Hospital in Whitstable. He rejoined the 18th Battalion in France on 15 October 1917.

Following her husband’s death Florence was granted a widow’s pension of £2 per fortnight; her daughter Dulcie, £1. Florence remarried in 1920.

Harold’s father Charles died in Lithgow in September 1918, a victim of the Spanish influenza.

Harold Charles Crossman is commemorated on Lithgow’s Fallen Heroes memorial in Queen Elizabeth Park in Lithgow, on his father’s grave in Lithgow Cemetery and on panel number 85 on the Roll of Honour at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

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William Alexander Woods

Mary Ann Woods was no stranger to grief. She lost three children in their infancy, was widowed in 1910, and, in April 1918, lost two sons on the Western Front. Her oldest son, William Alexander, and her youngest, Sidney Charles, died within nine days of each other. Mary’s sister died the following week. In a cruel twist of fate both William and Sidney’s personal effects were lost at sea when the SS Barunga – was torpedoed and sank off the coast of Cornwall in July 1918.

William Alexander Woods was born in Forest Reefs in 1875, Mary’s third child and first son, named after his father, William snr.

In February 1916 William, at 41 years of age, enlisted at Broadmeadows and was assigned to the 36th Battalion, C Company, as a private. He embarked HMAT A72 Beltana in Sydney on 13 May 1916, arriving at Plymouth on 9 July.

In September 1916 William proceeded to France, and on 6 October was assigned to the 54th Battalion. On 25 June 1917 he was detached for duty to the 14th Australian Light Trench Mortar Battery for six weeks.

William spent two weeks leave in the United Kingdom in October 1917, rejoining his battalion on 7 November.

In early April 1918 the 54th Battalion was stationed near Villers-Bretonneux. On Saturday 6 April the battalion received orders to proceed to a reserve area in preparation to provide support for the front line. The following day their encampment was subject to intermittent enemy fire. William was injured, receiving multiple gunshot wounds to the legs. He was transferred to the 5th Casualty Clearing Station, where he later died from his wounds.

The Matron on duty at the 5th Casualty Clearing Station noted:

891 Pte WA Woods 54th Battn AIF was admitted here 8-4-18 and died the same day. He had seven multiple wounds. He was unconscious so did not suffer. He had every care and attention

William was buried at Picquigny British Cemetery. In November 1918 WM Kennedy, a volunteer with the Red Cross Wounded and Missing Bureau, visited William’s final resting place:

I visited the Military Cemetery today. It is situated on the brow of a hill overlooking Picquigny and only a few hundred yards from the village. A magnificent panoramic view of the surrounding country is obtained from the site. Looking eastward over the Somme, one can see several small towers each with its tall church spire from which the chime of bells at morn and eve resounds… Each grave is marked with a cross, and every one bore a wreath of fresh cut flowers, regularly placed there by the residents of the village as a grateful tribute to their fallen deliverers.

In July 1918 the SS Barunga left Plymouth, transporting 800 sick and wounded Australian soldiers bound for home. The vessel was also transporting William and Sidney’s personal effects for delivery to their next of kin – their mother, Mary Ann. On 15 July the Barunga was hit by a torpedo from a German submarine 150 miles south west of the Scilly Isles. Nearby destroyers rushed to the rescue and managed to save all those aboard. The Barunga sank and William’s and Sidney’s personal effects were lost.

William Alexander Woods is commemorated on the Holy Trinity Church Orange Honour Roll, the World War I Roll of Honour on the southern face of the Orange Cenotaph and on panel number 160 on the Roll of Honour at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

In 1923 the Anzac Memorial Avenue of trees was planted along Bathurst Road to commemorate fallen WWI soldiers. A tree was planted in honour of “Signaller WA Wood”, presumably William. It was donated by JG Black. Very few of the trees are still standing today.

SS Barunga after a torpedo attack, 15 July 1918. Image courtesy Australian War Memorial.

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Arthur Bergin

In May 1927 William Davey of Amaroo Public School wrote the following letter to the Officer in Charge at Victoria Barracks:

Dear Sir

I am writing to you on behalf of an old man, Patrick Bergin, whose only son was killed in the war.

Mr Bergin is 88 years old, is very feeble and is living quite alone – his only other child, a daughter, having to leave home to earn her living in Sydney.

The old man has only his pension to live on, and, as aforesaid, is in very feeble health and failing visibly. His boy was all he had, and he was killed. The old man grieves very much, and more so because he has no memento of his son save a photo of his grave in a German cemetery.

Should he not be entitled at least to his boy’s medals? Alas, should not a photograph of his last resting place … be available?

You, sir, would be doing a kindly action, but one only just, if you would investigate this case, and if possible have the boy’s medals, or any other memento, sent to the old man. It would cheer his last days and alleviate his sorrow,

Yours faithfully William E Davey (ex AIF)

The Officer in Charge was unable to fulfil William’s request; Arthur Bergin’s war medals and photographs of his grave had been issued to Mary Bergin, Arthur’s sister and nominated next of kin, in 1922. Patrick survived a further five years, he died in Young in February 1932.

Arthur Bergin was born in Molong in 1887 to Patrick Bergin, an Amaroo farmer, and his wife Catherine nee Reswick. When Arthur was six years old, and Mary nine, Catherine passed away.

Little is known about Arthur’s childhood or teenage years. He enlisted for WWI service in Brisbane in January 1916. He gave his occupation as labourer, and was 29 years of age.

Private Bergin embarked from Sydney on 24 January 1917. He disembarked in Devonport on 12 April and was marched in to the 13th Training Battalion at Codford. In May he was hospitalised for almost a week with influenza and, on 25 September, embarked from Southampton for France.

On 5 October Private Bergin was taken on strength with the 52nd Battalion. Later that month he was again hospitalised, this time with scabies, which reoccurred in March 1918.

On 5 April Arthur’s unit was engaged at Dernancourt, attempting to slow the German advance during the Spring Offensive. It appears that Arthur was captured by the enemy, receiving a gunshot wound to the head during the process. He was taken to a German Casualty Clearing Station – Reserve Fieldlazarett at Templeux la Fosse – where he later died from his wounds.

Private Bergin was buried at Templeux la Fosse German Military Cemetery in France, and was later reinterred at Tincourt New British Cemetery.

Arthur Bergin is commemorated on the 1914 – 1919 Roll of Honor at Molong and District Soldiers’ Memorial and on panel number 154 on the Roll of Honour at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

Arthur Bergin’s death certificate translated from German. Image courtesy Australian War Memorial.


George Edward John Seers

George Seers, 1916. Image courtesy Discovering Anzacs

As the people of Orange took to the streets on 11 November 1918 to rejoice in the news that Germany had surrendered and the Great War was over, the Reverend Canon Taylor of Holy Trinity Church made his way to McLachlan Street to deliver the heart-rending news to Thomas and Alice Seers that their son George had been killed in action six months earlier.

George Edward John Seers was one of fifteen men captured at Dernancourt on the Western Front in April 1918 during the German Spring Offensive. It was assumed that George was being held as a prisoner of war in Germany, but following an exhaustive search, the AIF declared, on 6 November 1918, that George had, in fact, been killed in action on 5 April 1918.

Born in Orange on 20 April 1891, George was the second of eight children of Thomas and Alice Seers. Orange historian William (Bill) Folster called Thomas “a pioneer roadmaker of the early days [of Orange]” who maintained the Great Western Road between Lucknow and Orange. He later worked as a labourer and foreman of works for East Orange Council.

Young George was educated at Orange Superior Public School. As a youth he volunteered with the 3rd Infantry Regiment. He later joined the Manchester Unity Independent Order of Oddfellows.

In 1909 George commenced work as a draper at Dalton Brothers Stores. George was popular and well respected by colleagues and customers alike. In October 1915 he renounced his position at Dalton Brothers and moved to Wagga, where he managed the drapery department of Messrs WG Huthwaite and Co.

In July 1916 George returned to Orange to spend a month with his family before enlisting in WWI. He enlisted at Dubbo on 15 August 1916 and was assigned to the 45th Battalion, 8th Reinforcement. George spent ten days at Dubbo camp before being transferred to Liverpool on 25 August.

Private Seers embarked for overseas service on 25 November 1916. He was marched in to the 12th Training Battalion No 4 Camp at Codford, England on 30 January 1917. In March he proceeded to the Western Front in France, and, on 11 August, was appointed Lance Corporal.

On 5 April 1918 George’s unit was ordered forward to assist the 47th Battalion at Dernancourt. George and several others in his company were in position in the support line trench when they were surrounded by the enemy and ordered to surrender. Apparently George was one of the last to do so and was observed being marched away, unwounded, with his hands above his head. Sometime later he was seen transporting wounded soldiers to the German line.

News reached Orange in early May that George was missing in action. It was assumed that he had been taken to Germany as a prisoner of war. The Leader of 14 June 1918 reported:

Mr. T. Seers, of McLachlan street, has received letters from the front, and letters have also been received by friends of his which lead to the belief that his son, Pte. George Seers, is a prisoner of war in Germany. One feature which points to this is the fact that half the battalion of which he was a member were made prisoners, and added to this the fact that his name has not been mentioned in any of the casualty lists lends color to the assumption.

Sadly, five months later, on 13 November, the Leader conveyed the following news:

The painfully sad news arrived on Monday just in the midst of the peace celebrations that private George Seers, son of our esteemed residents, Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Seers, of East Orange, had been killed in action, Canon Taylor conveying the information. The deceased soldier had been reported missing for six months, and although the worst was feared, the family clung to the hope that their gallant soldier was safe as a prisoner. Fate had decreed otherwise. Deceased was a fine young fellow, and his death is deeply deplored. He was about 28 years of age and a draper by trade. To Mr. and Mrs. Seers and family will go out the deepest sympathy in their hour of trial.

George Edward John Seers has no known grave. He is commemorated on the honour rolls at Orange Public School, Orange East Public School, Holy Trinity Church, the World War I Roll of Honour on the southern face of the Orange Cenotaph and on panel number 140 on the Roll of Honour at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

He is also remembered in Newman Park in Orange, where his name appears on a plaque commemorating former Orange East Public School students who were killed in action.

In 1923 the Anzac Memorial Avenue of trees was planted along Bathurst Road to commemorate fallen WWI soldiers. A tree was planted in honour of “Pte GEJ Seers”; it was donated by SV Austin. Very few of the trees are still standing today.

George’s cousin, Clarence Edgar Seers also served in WWI; he died of wounds in France in October 1918.

Group portrait of the NCOs of the 45th Battalion, Meteren, France, 6 March 1918. George is in the front row, third from the right. Image courtesy Australian War Memorial.

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