98. Flers (3) – G E JEFFS

George Edward JEFFS (3362A)
6 Battalion KiA 12/12/16

George Edward Jeffs was born in Boodyarn, near Won Wron. He grew up in the area and attended Won Wron State School. His father – George Edward senior – owned a dairy farm of nearly 200 acres at Won Wron and George worked on the family farm. He gave his occupation as  ‘dairy farmer’ when he enlisted. He was well known in the local area and his name is recorded on both the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor and the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial. It is also recorded on the honor roll for Won Wron State School.

George Jeffs had his first medical in Yarram  and the enlistment was completed in Melbourne. His railway warrant (#146) was dated 12/7/15, which is also the formal date of his enlistment. At the time he enlisted he was 22 yo and single. His religion was listed as Church of England.

Private Jeffs joined as reinforcements for 6 Battalion and left for overseas service on 11/10/15, 3 months after enlistment. After further training in Egypt, his group of reinforcements finally disembarked in France on 30/3/16.

In late May (29/5/16), in fighting at Fleurbaix, Private Jeffs was wounded and repatriated to England. The wound appears to have been a shrapnel wound – ankle, leg & head – and there was 3 month recovery period. He rejoined 6 Battalion at the start of September 1916. He survived only another 3 months.

Private Jeffs was killed in action at Flers on 12/12/16. His body was not recovered and his name is recorded on the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial.

The War Diary of 6 Battalion records that it moved in to the front line at Flers to relieve 16 Battalion on 6/12/16. The troops found the trenches in poor condition and worked round the clock to repair them. However, the diary notes that the shocking weather conditions constantly undid their work and the trenches continued to collapse. The battalion also took over and consolidated some posts only recently given up by the Germans. On 12 December one such consolidation exercise was carried out and the diary records that while the operation was successful, the ‘consolidating party’ was shelled and one soldier killed. While the name of the soldier is not recorded, the reference must have been to Private Jeffs.

Other evidence relating to the death of Private Jeffs comes from the extensive Red Cross report. There are 9 witness statements in the report. While there are the usual inconsistencies in the statements, it is clear that Private Jeffs was killed, by shell fire, when involved in a consolidation operation and that his body was buried near where he fell. It was too dangerous to try to get the body back behind the lines. The most accurate description of the death is that of 2 Lt. N. McLachlan. McLachlan was in the consolidating party on 12 December and his name is recorded in the battalion’s war diary as having done ‘good work’ in the operation. At the time he was a corporal but not long after, he completed officer training in England and received a commission.

We occupied trenches on the right of Gueudecourt Wood and on the night of the 12.12.16. A. Coy. 6th Battn. Took some German Bombing Posts. We were heavily shelled, during which Pte. Jeffs was killed. He was buried on the field, where he was killed. Description, Height about 5’10” [height on enlistment was given as 5’6”], dark with moustache. He was previously wounded at Fleurbaix in May 1916. There is no doubt as to his identity for I had known him personally before leaving Egypt.

Bean covered the operation to consolidate the trench in his Official History (Vol 3, Chapter 26 p 953).

On the 12th [December] Captain Taylor of the 6th Battalion, taking Lieutenant Bill, walked down the gun-pits road into the enemy strong-point and found it abandoned. He was joined there by Lieutenant Rogers, the battalion intelligence officer. The 6th Battalion bombers were next brought up, and the trenches and dugouts searched and before nightfall occupied. The enemy, who through the misty drizzle had seen some movement, now heavily shelled the sunken road, but inflicted only slight damage. [notwithstanding the death of Private G E Jeffs]

Bean then went on and pointed out that this operation was virtually the only fighting on that part of the front between mid November and the close of the year. Private Jeffs, it appears, was extremely unlucky.

Advice on the death of their son to the family back in Australia must have been prompt because the formal report of death was dated 9/1/17 suggesting that the cable preceding this would have reached Australia in late December 1916.

Like so many other parents of soldiers killed in the War, Private Jeffs’ father was keen to recover the personal belongings of his son. On 15/6/17 he wrote to Base Records, Melbourne:

I now take the liberty of writing to you inquiring if my son’s private belongings have come to hand yet or not, and, if so, when I may expect to receive them. My son, No. 3362 Pte. George Edward Jeffs, 6th Inf Batt. A.I.F. was killed in action 12th Dec. 1916, and I have received information from his mate that his private belongings were given in charge of his officer to be despatched to the Kit Depot, London.
Anxiously awaiting the desired information.

The personal effects arrived back in Australia some two months later and on 27/7/17 were despatched to the father at Won Wron. There is no further correspondence on the matter but the father must have been distressed that the only effects returned from the Kit Store in London were a metal watch (damaged) and a brush.

The information for the (National) Roll of Honour was provided by Bernard Raymond Jeffs who gave Won Wron/Yarram as the location with which his brother was ‘chiefly connected’. Also included, were the names of 5 cousins who served in the AIF, 4 of whom were killed in action.

Trooper Patrick Joseph Sweeney 451, 8 LHR: KIA 7/8/15 (see Post 45)
Private Cornelius James Sweeney 1449, 21 B: KIA 11/4/17
Private Albert Henry Whitford 5103, 21 B: KIA 30/3/17
Private Roy Victor Whitford 3449, 10 B: KIA 16/10/17
2 Lieutenant Lewis Edmund Whitford MC, 11 B.

References

National Archives file for JEFFS George Edward 3362A
Roll of Honour: George Edward Jeffs
First World War Embarkation Rolls: George Edward Jeffs
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: George Edward Jeffs

Bean, CEW Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918, Volume 3 – The Australian Imperial Force in France, 1916 (12th edition, 1941)

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