George Matson NICHOLAS Major DSO
24 Battalion KIA 14/11/16
George Matson Nicholas was born in 1887 at Coleraine. He was educated at St. Patrick’s College Ballarat (Catholic) – his religion was given as Church of England – and then at Melbourne University where he completed the BA. At the time of joining the AIF, he was a teacher (master) at the Melbourne Junior Technical School. He applied for and received his a commission in early 1915. He was 28 yo and single at the time. His parents lived at Trafalgar in Gippsland.
There was a younger brother – Bryon Nicholas – who also worked as a teacher in the Victorian Education Department and who also joined the AIF, on 10/3/15. Both brothers received awards for bravery and both were killed in action. There were another 3 brothers from the family who served in, and survived, WW1.
The 2 Nicholas brothers – George and Bryon – who were killed had been teachers in the Shire of Alberton. Both had taught at Gormandale East State School and the younger brother – Lt Bryon Nicholas – prior to joining the AIF, had been in charge of part-time schools at Carrajung South and Willung South. It appears that whereas the younger brother remained teaching in the local area, George Nicholas moved to Melbourne to pursue his teaching career.
On the strength of their teaching in local schools prior to the War, both brothers were included on the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial. Their names also appear on the relevant state school honor rolls. However, neither brother appears on the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor.
Prior to receiving his commission as a second lieutenant in 24 Battalion, George Matson Nicholas held the rank of lieutenant in the senior cadets and he had completed qualifications in military training. He embarked for overseas service on 10/5/15, just two weeks after securing his commission.
2 Lt Nicholas was promoted to full lieutenant on 26/6/15, a few days before he proceeded to Gallipoli (30/8/15). He was recommended for the French military award, the Croix de Guerre, for his conduct at Lone Pine on 4/10/1915. The citation read:
For his conduct at Lone Pine on 4th October 1915, when he directed the work of the battalion grenadiers during an attempted reconnaissance by the enemy, though to do so it was necessary for him to expose himself to the enemy’s rifle and machine gun fire.
However the award was not given, even though it appears the recommendation was re-submitted in December 1916. By that point Major Nicholas was dead.
Lt Nicholas was wounded – ‘Shell wound, right arm. Severe.’ – on 12/12/15 in the closing days of the Gallipoli campaign. He spent the next six weeks in hospital in Egypt convalescing and rejoined 24 Battalion on 26/1/16. In March the battalion proceeded overseas to France and reached Marseilles on 26/3/16.
Lt Nicholas was promoted to the rank of captain on a temporary basis on 1/4/16 and this appointment was made permanent on 1/5/16.
For his bravery on 5/8/16 in the fighting at Pozieres, Captain Nicholas was recommended for, and this time awarded, the Distinguished Service Order. The citation read:
After the capture of the German trenches OG1&2 on the 5th August a patrol commanded by Captain George Nicholas found on returning from a reconnaissance in front that an enemy machine gun in a shell hole had been seriously menacing our men in the front lines. Captain Nicholas as soon as he located this gun gallantly went out again alone and by great dash and initiative succeeded in capturing the gun.
This citation appeared under the signature of Birdwood, ‘Lieut-General, Commanding 1st Australia and New Zealand Army Corps’, with the date of 6/8/16, one day after the fighting. Interestingly, the military honour first entered against the citation was the Military Cross, but this was crossed out and the D.S.O. had been added in its place. Also of interest is the fact that there is a second citation for the same award for the same incident. The second citation is undated but it appears against the recommendation of Brigadier General Gellibrand of 6 Infantry Brigade. A note next to the citation appears to read ‘already awarded’ which tends to suggest that the actions of Captain Nicholas had been drawn to at least two separate sources. Whereas the first citation had a focus on bravery or gallantry, the second citation focuses more on leadership.
For ability and skill in leading his company in the attack on the 4/5th Aug. For excellent work in consolidating the captured trenches on the following days and for his gallant reconnaissance already reported. A most capable officer who possesses the absolute confidence of his men.
Captain Nicholas was promoted to the rank of major soon after, on 12/8/16. There followed a short period attached to 2 Division Headquarters Staff and during this time, on 7/10/16, he married Hilda Rix in London.
Hilda Rix (Nicholas) was a significant Australian artist who studied under Frederick McCubbin. She left Australia in 1907 and studied in both London and Paris. Prior to the outbreak of the War, she regularly spent time in northern France in an artists’ colony at Etaples. She returned to Australia after the War and remarried (Edgar Wright, 1928). Her post-War art played a role in the development of the emerging ANZAC legend. As an example, her 1921 work, A man, in part based on her husband, is a striking study of the resoluteness of man, as soldier, faced with the certainty of his inescapable frailty and vulnerability in war.
Tragically, the marriage was very short. He returned to the front 3 days after the marriage. One month later on 10/11/16 he rejoined 24 Battalion and took over command. Just 4 days later (14/11/16), he was killed. According to the war diary of 24 Battalion, he was hit by a shell in Cobham Trench as he was leading 2 companies from 24 Battalion to relieve 5 Brigade. C E W Bean referred to the death of Major Nicholas in his diary – AWM38, 3DRL 606/66/1 – for November 1916,
Another who was lost … was Maj Nicholas of the 24th Btn – the youngster who for a time commanded his battalion & who made his name by going out himself scouting into no-mans-land in Pozieres.
In a footnote in his Official History, Bean (1941, p. 937) records Nicholas’ name together with those of at least another 30 officers who were killed at Flers over the short period of 13 -16 November 1916.
The cable of Major Nicholas’ death was dated 22/11/16, just 8 days after the actual death. The official ‘Report of Death of an Officer’ was completed on 20/12/16.
Prophetically, in Major Nicholas’ service file there is a letter dated 20/10/16 written by a Vernon Williams of Newport (Victoria) to Base Records in Melbourne asking for confirmation of a report that Major Nicholas has been killed in France. This was some 3 weeks before he was killed.
I have received a letter from France dated last August stating that my friend Captain George Matson Nicholas of 24th Battalion, 6th Infantry Brigade, A.I.F, has been killed. I should be obliged if you will be so kind as to let me know if this is, so far as known, correct.
Base Records replied on 23/10/16 that they had no such record; but the full reply points to the highly problematic nature of the information flow for the AIF between Australia and the Western Front,
In acknowledging receipt of your letter dated 20th instant, I have to state since the report he had been discharged to local Camp 8/5/16, from 24th General Hospital, Etaples, France no further reports have been received concerning Captain G. M. Nicholas, 24th Battalion, but if you will forward to this Office authentic evidence to the effect that he has been “killed”, upon receipt of same, and if such action is warranted, enquiries will be instituted and the result communicated to you, as well as to next-of-kin.
The reference to a period of hospitalisation in Etaples in May corresponds with an entry in his service record which has Major Nicholas in hospital in Etaples for about two weeks. However there is no indication of the injury or sickness at the time. It is likely that at this time in Etaples Major Nicholson came across some artwork of his future wife. There is a family story that he saw some of her work in Etaples and then sought her out when he was in London.
The personal kit of Major Nicholas reached his wife in January 1917. It came in one valise (sealed) and one box (sealed). In all, there were approximately 50 listed items, mainly articles of clothing. There were some more personal items such as 1 novel, Book of Poems and French Grammar.
There was some confusion over the location where Major Nicholas was buried. His wife must have received two different locations. When she queried the obvious contradiction, she was assured that a simple recording error was the problem and that,
There does not appear to be the slightest doubt that Grave 29, Row H, Flat 4, Grass Lane Cemetery, Gueudecourt is the last resting place of your late husband…
Unfortunately, and surprisingly, information for the (National) Roll of Honour was not supplied for either of the Nicholas brothers.
National Archives file for NICHOLAS George Matson Major
Roll of Honour: George Matson Nicholas
First World War Embarkation Rolls: George Matson Nicholas
Honours and Awards
Mention in despatches – Award
French Croix de Guerre – Recommendation
Distinguished Service Order – Award
Distinguished Service Order – Recommendation
Military Cross – Recommendation
French Croix de Guerre – Recommendation (2)
Bean, CEW 1941, Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918, Volume III – The Australian Imperial Force in France, 1916, 12th edition 1941
For more on Hilda Rix Nicholas see the entry on Nicholas, Emily Hilda (1884-1961) in the Australian Dictionary of Biography.
Charles Courtney APPLEYARD 3751 MM
23 Battalion DOW 15/11/16
Charles Appleyard was one of 6 Appleyard brothers from Alberton who enlisted. One of these brothers, Gordon William Appleyard of 9 Battalion, had been killed at Pozieres, at the end of August 1916 (see Post 80).
On his enlistment papers, Charles gave Carlton as his place of birth. However, his mother gave it as Alberton when she completed the information for the (National) Roll of Honour. Even if he was born in Carlton, it appears he grew up in the Shire of Alberton. For example, his name is the honor roll for Binginwarri SS.
At the time of the outbreak of the War, the father was still farming in the area but Charles had moved to Melbourne. He was living at Carlton and working as a builder/carpenter. He had married (Rose Appleyard) and had three children (Clement, Merle, Lorna). Even though he was living in Melbourne, he was still regarded as local. His name is featured on both the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor and the Soldiers’ Memorial. The notice of his death which appeared in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 1/12/16 described him as … a well known identity in this district. It also noted that he was … a fine, athletic young man. The consolation for his parents was that … he had died a hero’s death.
At the time of enlistment, he gave his age as 28 yo but information from his wife indicated that he was at least 5 years older. His religion was listed as Church of England.
He enlisted in Melbourne on 15/7/15 joining 23 Battalion. His group of reinforcements left Melbourne in early February 1916 (8/2/16) and reached France, via Egypt, in March 1916.
23 Battalion was involved in the fighting at Pozieres where, as mentioned, Charles’ brother was killed (DoW 24/8/16). Charles survived and in fact was awarded the Military Medal. The citation read,
At Pozieres on 4/5th August 1916, for gallant reconnaissance in daylight of the enemy’s trench, returning with valuable information.
By the time the medal was awarded – 2/9/16 – L/Corporal Appleyard had been promoted to the rank of sergeant (23/8/16) against a Sergeant Grantham who had been killed in action.
Sergeant Appleyard was wounded at the end of the first major attack at Flers. On 6/11/16, 23 Battalion’s war diary records how it took over part of the front line from 21 Battalion. The casualties that day were ‘1 killed 10 wounded’. Sergeant Appleyard had a shrapnel wound to the right shoulder. He was evacuated to 36 Casualty Clearing Station the next day but he died there 8 days later, on 15/11/16. He was not evacuated further back through the lines to a field hospital. Possibly, this was because of the difficulties of movement in the appalling conditions at Flers. C E W Bean (1941 ) raised this issue in his account of the fighting at Flers. He noted that it could take hours to get wounded men to any sort of medical post.
Sergeant Appleyard was buried near the town of Albert (Heilly Station Cemetery) and the cable advising of his death was sent on 22/11/16, with the final, formal notification of the death dated 27/12/16. Six months later (18/6/17) the Military Medal was forwarded to Sergeant Appleyard’s widow. In the letter, the Officer in Charge, Base Records, writing on behalf of the Minister, noted … the gallantry of a brave Australian soldier who nobly laid down his life in the service of King and Country. He added,
I am also to ask that you accept his [The Minister’s] deep personal sympathy in the loss which, not only you, but the Australian Army has sustained by the death of Sergeant Appleyard, whose magnificent conduct on the field of battle helped to earn for our Australian soldiers a fate which will endure as long as memory lasts.
A few days later, a family friend replied on behalf of an appreciative Mrs Appleyard,
Mrs Appleyard wishes me to return her heartfelt thanks to you and all concerned in your prompt attention dealing in all matters relating to her late husband.
The personal kit – Disc, Metal cigarette case, Comb, Pr nail scissors, Razor, Whistle, Brooch (metal), Metal wrist watch, 3 Note books, 3 Badges, 4 Coins, Letters. – reached his wife in August 1917.
National Archives file for APPLEYARD Charles Courtney 3751
Roll of Honour: Charles Courtney Appleyard
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Charles Courtney Appleyard
Honours and Awards
Military Medal – Recommendation
Military Medal – Recommendation (2)
Military Medal – Award
Bean, CEW 1941, Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918, Volume III – The Australian Imperial Force in France, 1916, 12th edition 1941
Alexander ROBINSON 2095
23 Battalion DOW 20/11/16
Alexander Robinson was born in Melbourne (Carlton) but by the time he enlisted he was living and working in the Shire of Alberton. According to the electoral roll, in 1915 he was a labourer at Blackwarry.
He had his first medical at Yarram on 27/3/15 but did not complete the enlistment until 14/6/15 in Melbourne. There is no record of any medical issue involved with the delay. At the time he enlisted, he was 23 yo and single. He gave his religion as Presbyterian.
Private Robinson embarked for overseas on 26/8/15 as reinforcements for 23 Battalion. He was taken on strength of the battalion at Anzac on 12/10/15.
Following evacuation from Gallipoli, he was charged in early January 1916 in Egypt with being AWL for 39 hours. The punishment was 3 days detention and 3 days pay. Shortly after, he was hospitalised with mumps for 1 month. 23 Battalion reached France – Marseilles – on 26/3/16.
The war dairy for 23 Battalion for 18/11/16 records only that it was snowing and 2 men were wounded. One of the them must have been Private Robinson. His wounds were described as SW Loin & Buttock. He was taken to the casualty clearing station the next day (19/11/16) and then died of wounds there on 20/11/16. Presumably, he was another of the wounded at Flers who succumbed to their wounds because of the great difficulties in transporting the wounded to medical help. He was buried at Heilly Station Cemetery, Mericourt-L’Abbe, Picardie.
His mother – Mrs Agnes Robinson, Fitzroy – received his personal kit in August 1917: Wallet, Letters, Photos, Note Book, Cigarette Holder.
Unfortunately, there is very little information available for Private Robinson. However the mother did complete the information form for the (National) Roll of Honour and on that form she recorded that in fact 3 brothers enlisted in the AIF, and all 3 were killed. As well as Alexander Robinson 2095 (DoW 20/11/16) there was Albert Douglas Robinson 2889 (KIA 19/7/16) and Edward Robinson 986 (DoW 11/9/18).
The brother – Edward Robinson – who was not killed until September 1918, was also on the electoral roll as a labourer of Blackwarry. He will be covered in a future post. There is no indication that the other brother killed in July 1916 (Albert Douglas Robinson) had any connection to the Shire.
The 2 brothers who were living and working at Blackwarry are both recorded on the Blackwarry Roll of Honor. They also have their names on the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor, but they are not marked as ‘Killed’ on this record. Neither brother is included on the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial. Overall, there is little to show for such an extraordinary family sacrifice.
National Archives file for ROBINSON Alexander 2095
Roll of Honour: Alexander Robinson
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Alexander Robinson
Francis Henry SEBIRE 5441
60 Battalion KIA 20/11/16
Francis Sebire was born at Port Melbourne and grew up in Melbourne and attended Melbourne High School. As a student and young man he was heavily involved in the cadets and held a commission.
Francis Sebire’s connection to the Shire of Alberton was chiefly as a local teacher. He taught at Binginwarri and Wonyip state schools between 1911 and 1914. Binginwarri was his first appointment. In the time he was a teacher in the district, he was also a member of the Stacey’s Bridge Rifle Club. Further, he married a local girl. His wife, nee McInnes, came from one of the original pioneering families in the district.
The Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative gave a detailed report (22/4/14) when Francis Sebire was transferred from Binginwarri to Taggerty, near Marysville. He was obviously well known in the local area and there is even a report (13/1/15) of when he returned to the district for New Year’s celebrations in January 1915. But for all the obvious links, his name is not included on either the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor or Soldiers’ Memorial. His name does appear on the honour rolls for both Binginwarri and Wonyip state schools. When his father completed the information for the (National) Roll of Honour, he gave Taggerty as the place with which his son was ‘chiefly connected’. As indicated, this was where he was appointed after Binginwarri but he could have only been there for a maximun of one year before he enlisted.
There is confusion over the date of his enlistment. The embarkation roll shows 6/11/15 but the attestation papers show it as 29/6/16. On the papers there is a reference to an earlier failed medical: ‘defective teeth’. Possibly, the 29/6/16 date involved a ‘re-attestation’. Either way, he joined as reinforcements for 5 Battalion and embarked for overseas, almost immediately, on 3/7/16. The embarkation roll also indicates that he left as acting sergeant. Presumably this was because of his extensive involvement in junior and senior cadets.
On his enlistment papers he indicated that he was married – Flora Margaret Sebire – and there was a son. His wife was then living at Middle Brighton. He was 25 yo and his occupation was given as state school teacher. His religion was Church of England. His parents were John and Christina Sebire.
When the father completed the information for the (National) Roll of Honour he noted that his son … was acting Sergeant till arrival in England. Gave up his stripes to get into action without delay. In support of this claim, the records indicate that Sergeant Sebire reached Perham Downs for training on 15/9/16 and then reverted to private on 23/10/16. Soon after, he was taken on strength of 60 Battalion in France (12/11/16).
Private Sebire was reported missing on 20/11/16 but it was not until 21/3/18 – 16 months later – that a court of enquiry determined that he had been killed in action on the same day. There is no clue in the war diary of 60 Battalion as to his fate. At the time, 60 Battalion was at Needle Trench and the pressing issue was ensuring rations – including water – reached the men. There is a brief reference to casualties – 1 killed 6 wounded – on 20/11/16 but no mention of any men missing.
There is extensive correspondence in the file covering the attempts by both his wife and parents to uncover what happened. The Red Cross was contacted and the father also sought the support of John H Lister, M.P. However they had little success. The transfer to 60 Battalion in mid November 1916 did not appear to have been known to the family in Australia and this added to the confusion. The following letter- formal and respectful in tone – was sent to Base Records in Melbourne by the wife, Mrs Flora M Sebire, in late April 1917, nearly 6 months after her husband went missing.
Having received no communication since one dated Nov. 10th 1916 from my husband who is serving with the A.I.F. in France I am writing to ask you to be so good as to let me know whether you have any information to give me respecting his condition and whereabouts. He was then (Nov.1916) going into the trenches in France.
His No and Name are
5441 Pr. Francis Henry Sebire
He left here as Sergt. in the 18th Reft. of V Batt last July but returned to the ranks voluntarily after being in Eng. a few weeks in order to go to the front.
Some 6 weeks ago a cablegram was sent through the Red Cross Information Bureau by Mr Chormley, but no reply has reached me.
This absence of news extending over 6 months is causing his family and me intense anxiety and I respectfully request that the Defence Dept. be so good as to make further effort to obtain tidings of him.
Your obedient servant
The most likely account of Private Sebire’s fate was given to the Red Cross, nearly one year after his disappearance, by Private Fred Marr (5404). The statement was dated 23/10/17. The reference to the men he was supporting probably not knowing him – presumably because he had so recently joined 60 Battalion – appears very pertinent.
He [Sebire] was a hard worker. I last saw him at Needle Trench beyond Flers on Nov 20th. It was then dusk and I spoke to him and asked him what he was doing, and he told me that he was guiding ration parties to the front line; he had one or two more journeys to make. Two of our companies were in the front line and our other two companies took rations to them from Needle Trench which was in the support line. The Germans put up rather a heavy barrage fire that night. I often asked about him afterwards but could learn nothing definite. Some of the men he was guiding very likely did not know know him.
As late as July 1921, the AIF was still keen to know if the family had received, over the period since the war had ended, any further information about Private Sebire’s fate. The father’s reply – It is practically certain that my son was killed at or near Needle Trench near Flers between 20-22 Nov. 1916. – was based largely on his own investigations. He had personally contacted Private Marr after he returned to Australia in 1920. He had also followed up the report of another soldier (Smith). Smith had put the date of Private Sebire’s disappearance at 22 November and this was reflected in the extended time frame in the father’s reply.
The personal kit of Private Sebire – 1 Brief Bag (containing: – 3 Handkerchiefs, Field Glasses in Case, 1 Scarf, Cap comforter, 3 Khaki Collars, 2 Ties, 1 Mitten, 1 Shirt. – was not returned to the wife until October 1918.
It is obviously difficult to uncover family dynamics, employing only correspondence, from so long ago; but there is one letter in the file that suggests that over time – and distance – relations between the wife and her parents-in-law became strained. It appears that she and her son shifted quite a bit and eventually settled in Queensland. It also appears, based on the letter, that the parents effectively ‘reclaimed’ their son. The letter was dated February 1936, nearly 20 years after her husband’s death. It was in response to advice she had received on the inscription that appeared in the register for the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial: Son of John and Christina Sebire, of 94, Marine Parade, St. Kilda, Victoria. Born at Port Melbourne, Victoria
In reference to your notification regarding the inscription on the Memorial for members of the AIF who have known graves, I was leaving Victoria and my husband’s father, who is now dead, offered to attend to the matter for me, and promised that my name and that of my son would be inscribed but [he] has substituted his own and his wife’s. Under the circumstances there is nothing to be done.
If true, it is a striking example of how the impact of the War continued to work its way through people’s lives long after the death of the soldier and loved one.
National Archives file for SEBIRE Francis Henry 5441
Roll of Honour: Francis Henry Sebire
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Francis Henry Sebire
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: Francis Henry Sebire
Such a loss at Flers.
George Matson NICHOLAS also appears on the Wonyip State School Honour Roll, although not on the district one. I am unsure when he taught there, and it is not mentioned in the Education Department Record of Service.