Monthly Archives: March 2017

111. J F Gellion

John Farquhar GELLION (846)
4 FAB  KIA 3/4/1917

John Farquhar Gellion was the grandson of one of the first squatters in Gippsland. His grandfather (John Gellion 1811-1884) drove cattle overland from Melbourne to Port Albert in 1844. Gellion’s trip took 6 weeks and was one of the first such cattle drives from Melbourne. At the time, most cattle were coming in to Gippsland from the ‘Sydney side’. John Gellion had been born in Scotland and arrived in Victoria in 1840. ‘One Tree Hill’, the Gippsland station he established, was on the banks of the Albert River. Rev George Cox featured the exploits of the pioneer John Gellion in one of his articles – ‘Notes on Gippsland History’ – in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 17/9/15. The article appeared just a couple of months after the grandson had enlisted in the AIF.

The father of John Farquhar Gellion – Farquhar, was the grandmother’s name – was also John Gellion (1852—1892)  and he too was a grazier at West Alberton. Indeed, there were several brothers from the same – the second – generation who were also graziers and farmers in the district.

John Farquhar Gellion – the third generation of the Gellion family in Gippsland – continued the family tradition and variously described himself as farmer or grazier. He held land (128 acres) at Alberton West. Obviously, the name Gellion – the township of Gelliondale was named after the family – was well known throughout the Shire of Alberton.

Not surprisingly, John Farquhar Gellion’s name was included on both the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor and the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial. It also appeared on the honor rolls for Stacey’s Bridge, the Yarram Club and the Alberton State School. When his wife – M C Gellion – completed the information for the (National) Roll of Honour, she gave Alberton as the location with which her husband was chiefly connected.

John Gellion was born in Alberton (1888) and grew up in the area. As indicated, he attended the local state school. However, given the family background, it was hardly surprising that, first, he continued his education beyond primary school and, second, that he undertook it at Geelong Grammar. He also attended Hawkesbury Agricultural College. At the time he enlisted he was back in the Shire of Alberton where he was working with his brother, Henry Gellion. The two brothers jointly held the land at Alberton West and, presumably, there was an agreement that John would enlist while Henry stayed behind and managed the property. Henry was given as the initial next-of-kin. John had also been a member of the rifle club at Gelliondale.

John F Gellion was 27yo when he enlisted in July 1915 (8/7/15). He was taken on as reinforcements for 13 Light Horse Regiment. The initial medical was at Yarram on 7/7/15. At the time he was single and, as indicated, he gave his brother, Henry Gellion, as his next-of-kin. His religion was Presbyterian.

Two months later, on 7/9/15, Trooper Gellion married Mary (Molly) Bodman. She was the daughter of William Edward Bodman, one of the largest and most successful graziers in the Shire of Alberton. Bodman’s property was ‘Trenton Valley’ and the family also had a residence (‘Bangalore’) at Toorak in Melbourne. Gellion’s mother had in fact been a Bodman herself — Emily Alice Bodman – but she had remarried – James McKenzie – after John Gellion’s death in 1892. She lived in Melbourne at her residence, ‘Lianos’ at Brighton. Obviously it was a wedding that featured 2 of the most notable families in the Shire and while the ceremony itself was small and celebrated in Melbourne – St. John’s Toorak – there was a detailed report in the local paper – Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative – on 17/9/15. The reception was held at the bride’s parents’ residence at Toorak. There was a short honeymoon in Ballarat. The report noted that the bridegroom was expected to leave shortly for the War.

In fact, Trooper Gellion left for overseas service on 10/9/15, just 3 days after the wedding.  On the embarkation roll his wife was listed as next-of-kin and her address was given as that of her parents’ Melbourne residence: Bangalore, Toorak.

Trooper Gellion served in Egypt in both the Composite Light Horse Regiment and 13 Light Horse Regiment to March 1916 when he transferred to the artillery (2nd Divisional Ammunition Column) and embarked for France. He reached France in late March 1916 and then in July that year he transferred to 4 Field Artillery Brigade. He was serving in this unit (12 Battery) when he was killed in action on 3/4/17.

Gunner Gellion’s death occurred at the time of the Australian push to the Hindenburg Line over the period late March to early April 1917. Presumably, the death was the result of a German artillery barrage directed at the Australian artillery which was covering the Australian advance.

There is no war diary available for 4 Field Artillery Brigade for the time of Gunner Gellion’s death. The reason for this shortcoming makes for grim reading. The war diary of 4 FAB appears only to start with an entry dated 10 April 1917 at Vaulx, the immediate area where Gellion was killed just one week earlier. This first entry records that on that day (10/4/17) in the afternoon … a high velocity shell about 15cm calibre landed in the Office of Brigade Headquarters. All the officers of the Brigade’s headquarters were killed instantly. The entry also noted … At the same time all records and documents relating to the Brigade were destroyed. Presumably, all previous war diaries were destroyed in this incident.

There was a report of Gunner Gellion’s death in the local paper on 27/4/17, nearly one month after he had been killed. It noted that word of the death was passed to the brother – Henry Gellion – by Rev Raymond, the local Church of England clergyman. There were references to how well known Gunner Gellion was in the district and how he had married just before he left for overseas. It also noted how the young wife had only very recently returned to her mother at Toorak. She had been staying at Trenton Valley for the past several months.

In June 1917 (22/6/17), the local paper published a detailed, first-hand account of the actual death; but, oddly, it was all based on unidentified sources:

A Yarram soldier [unidentified] writing from France, thus refers to the late lamented death of Trooper [sic] John Gellion: – There is bad news to tell this time. Poor old Jack Gellion got a piece of shell in the head and was killed instantly. He was on scout duty, and was putting in his time cleaning the gun. There were no shells falling near at the time, but just by chance a stray one landed a couple of yards away, and he got a big piece of it in the back of his head. We are thankful to know that he did not suffer at all. He would hardly have known there was a shell coming. We went up and saw him decently buried, and are getting a substantial cross made. We have an artist, and a man that is pretty good at carving, in the tent with us, and between them they are going to do it up in a manner that will last. Don’t let this make you any more anxious about us. Another soldier boy [unidentified], writing home, says that Jack Gellion was the best liked in the whole regiment.

It is possible that the information for the story in the local paper came from a cousin, Henry Crawford Bodman (1253) who was also in the artillery.  He enlisted within a fortnight of his cousin and, although seriously wounded in August 1918, he survived the War. The claim is based on a letter from this cousin, Henry C Bodman, written after the War, in 1922. He wrote, from Darriman, seeking information on the location of his cousin’s grave. Specifically, he wanted to know if the body of his cousin … was ever recovered and moved to one of the central cemeteries for soldiers in France. He noted that his cousin – J F Gellion No. 846 of the 12th Battery A.F.A. – … was killed at Vaulx-Vraicourt, France and buried there by myself and friends. In reply, Base Records informed him that the body had been exhumed and re-interred at Vaulx Hill British Cemetery.

The cable advising of the death was dated 20/4/17, just over two weeks after the death. The formal AIF report of death was completed on 10/5/17. Personal kit was returned in March 1918: Letters. Gospel. Air cushion. Photos. Even though the records indicate that the change in the next-of-kin had been noted, the kit was returned to the brother – Henry Gellion – who had been the next-of-kin prior to the wedding.

Incredibly, in addition to Henry Crawford Bodman the cousin referred to above, there were another 3 cousins – David J Gellion (4240), Thomas John Gellion (34999) and Alfred Charles Gellion (38967) –  who served in the artillery. It appears that this branch of the Gellion family had moved out of Gippsland by WW1. Their names do not appear on the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor and all three gave their address as Toorak, Melbourne on their enlistment forms. It is another example of the complex web of enlistments within a family. In this particular case, of the 5 cousins who served in the artillery, only John Farquhar Gellion was killed.


Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

O’Callaghan G (Comp) 2006, Clonmel to Federation: Guide to people in the Port Albert area 1841-1901, Vol 1, The Alberton Project

National Archives file for GELLION John Farquhar 846
Roll of Honour: John Farquhar Gellion
First World War Embarkation Rolls: John Farquhar Gellion

110. A H Whitford

Albert Henry WHITFORD (5103)
21 Battalion KIA 20/3/1917

Albert Whitford was born in Won Wron in 1887 and grew up in the Shire of Alberton, attending no less than 4 local state schools: Alberton, Devon North, Won Wron and Yarram. His name is recorded on the honor rolls for all 4 schools. It also appears on the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor and the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial. It is also on the separate honor roll for the Devon North District. His mother gave Yarram as the location with which he was ‘chiefly connected’.

The Whitford family name was well known in the district. The father –  John Joseph Whitford Jnr – had been born  in Gippsland (1854). He had been a selector with land at Boodyarn and Won Wron. But he faced significant health problems and had sold his properties just before he died in 1899. His wife, Mary Jane Whitford, retained a house in Yarram and 12 acres at Devon.

There were 10 children in the family. The oldest – Emily, born 1876 – died as a 5 yo from burns she received in a bushfire in 1881. Of the 6 sons, 3 enlisted and the other 2 – Thomas Joseph Whitford and Reginald James Whitford – survived the War.

At the time of his enlistment in January 1916, Albert Whitford gave his occupation as labourer. Presumably, he was working on farms in the local area. He was 28yo and single. He listed his widowed mother – Mary Jane Whitford – as his next-of-kin. She was living in Church Road, Yarram. He gave his religion as Church of England.

The first medical was in Yarram and he was then re-examined in Melbourne 2 days later (24/1/16) when the enlistment was completed. The medical papers indicate that he was missing the second finger on his left hand.

Private Whitford joined 21 Battalion and left Melbourne on 3/7/16. After an additional training in the UK, his group of reinforcements were taken on strength in France in late November (22/11/16). In late January 1917 he was wounded and hospitalised for two weeks. He rejoined the battalion on 7/2/17.

Private Whitford was killed in action on 20/3/17. However there was initial confusion over his fate. He was reported as both ‘wounded’ and ‘missing’. The family received advice in mid April (13/4/17) that he had been wounded. It was the standard form letter that did not provide any details, but reassured the next-of-kin that the case was not serious and that … it is to be assumed that all wounded are progressing satisfactorily. The cable advising the mother that her son had in fact been killed did not reach Australia until mid May (15/5/17) nearly 2 months later.  When, later that same month (May, 1917), the Devon North State School honor roll was unveiled, the name of A H Whitford appeared with a cross, as one of the ‘brave boys who have paid the supreme sacrifice’ (Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative, 25/5/17). The formal report of death was not completed until 3/9/17.  The body was never recovered and Private Whitford’s name is recorded on the memorial at Villers-Bretonneux.

The war diary for 21 Battalion in mid March 1917 traces the movement of the battalion to the Hindenburg Line in pursuit of the Germans as they staged their tactical withdrawal as part of Operation Alberich.  On March 18, in the early afternoon, the battalion passed through Bapaume and by 11.30 that night they had reached and occupied Vaulx-Vrarcourt, and were only about 10 K from the Hindenburg Line itself. The next day they encountered enemy patrols near Ecoust-St-Mein when they pushed forward another 5 K and then on the 20 March – the day Private Whitford was killed – the battalion came under artillery and machine gun fire from the villages of Ecoust, Longatte and Noreuil. An attack planned for Noreuil on that day ‘failed to develop’. There was enemy shelling all afternoon. The casualties were heavy: 21 killed, 139 wounded and 11 missing. All this fighting was taking place very close to the Hindenburg Line and not far from the village of Bullecourt where the next great tragedy for the AIF was soon to unfold.

Witness statements from the Red Cross file for Private Whitford tell how he was shot near Longatte and buried, with others, near the village. Even though the grave was identified, it was subsequently ‘lost’.

He was in B Co. I knew him in Victoria. I come from the same town, Yarram, Gippsland. He was killed on March 20th, 1917 at Longatte and buried on the right hand side of the road near the village close to a big crater. There are a number of graves there. His grave has a cross on it. I could point out the spot.    Pte. T Paterson 5066

Private Thomas Paterson (5066) enlisted in 21 Battalion round the same time as Private Whitford. Paterson was from a farming family from Darriman and would have grown up with Whitford. He survived the War and returned to Australia in July 1919.

Another witness statement – Cpl D Matheson – provided additional details:

I saw him wounded in the leg at a place called Langote (sic). It happened during an advance. I was told by Pte. W.[?] Smith, 21st Battn. B. Coy 8th Platoon that while he was crawling back endeavouring to get to the dressing station, the Germans turned their Machine guns on to him and killed him. I saw his grave near place of casualty, and it was marked by a cross bearing his number, name and unit.

But this statement did not line up with the one actually given by the same Pte. W Smith:

I am pleased to say that I can give you all the information required as I was close to him when he was killed. I am pleased to say he died without pain as he shot through the heart. I would have seen that he was buried properly only the circumstances did not permit., as it was he was buried after the charge on the filed near some of his mates. There can be no doubt as to his identity as I was in camp with him and his brother Reg for over 12 months.

When she completed the Roll of Honour information, the mother – Mary Whitford – listed 4 cousins of her son who were also were killed in the War. It is a striking illustration of how families, and the wider local community, were affected. Three of the cousins appear on the Soldiers’ Memorial in Yarram: the Sweeney brothers – Patrick and Cornelius- and George Jeffs. The fourth cousin killed – Roy Whitford – grew up in Won Wron but by the time the War started he was farming in Western Australia at Narrogin. There was also a younger brother, Reginald James Whitford, who also enlisted in 21 Battalion within a month of Albert. He reached the rank of corporal, survived the War and returned to Australia in September 1919.

The relevant personal kit – 3 Testaments, Gospel, 3 Military Books, Novel, Razor strop, Housewife, Wristlet watch strap, Writing pad, Mouth organ, Photos. – was returned to the family in early March 1918.

In the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 20/3/18, the first anniversary of Private Whitford’s death, the following in memoriam appeared:

WHITFORD – In sad and loving memory of my dear son, Pte. A. H. Whitford, killed in action in France on 20th March, 1917, aged 30 years. Sadly missed.

He sleeps not in his native land,
But under foreign skies
Far from those who loved him
In a hero’s grave he lies.
No loved ones stood around him
To bid a fond farewell,
No word of comfort could we give
To him we loved so well.

– Inserted by his sorrowing mother, sisters and brothers.


Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

O’Callaghan G (Comp) 2006, Clonmel to Federation: Guide to people in the Port Albert area 1841-1901, Vol 3, The Alberton Project

National Archives file for WHITFORD Albert John 5103
Roll of Honour: Albert John Whitford
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Albert John Whitford
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: Albert John Whitford


109. P D Boddy

Percy David BODDY (4983)
24 Battalion KIA 13/3/17

Percy Boddy was born in Balloong in 1890. He grew up in the Shire of Alberton, attending the state primary schools at Balloong and Woodside. His name is recorded on the honor rolls of both schools.  His name is also recorded on the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor and the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial. His father gave Yarram as the location with which his son was ‘chiefly connected’.

When he enlisted in early 1916, Private Boddy gave his father – David Boddy – as next of kin. The father was farming (55 acres) at Balloong. According to the 1915 rate book, Percy Boddy also had a small holding – 5 acres – at Balloong. The son also gave his occupation as farmer and, presumably, he was working with his father.

On his enlistment papers Percy Boddy was 25 yo and single. However, there are papers in his service file which indicate that there was an ‘ex-nuptial’ child, a son. The file shows that after the War this child and the child’s mother both received pensions against Private Boddy’s death on active service. The boy was living with his mother from the early 1920s but there was a period prior to this when he had been in the care of the Neglected Children’s Department in Melbourne. There is no indication in the file that Private Boddy’s parents knew of the child and it is possible that Private Boddy himself never saw his son. In June 1922, it appears the mother thought the medals should go the father (David Boddy) who, in fact, died in 1923.

Private Boddy enlisted in Melbourne on 10/2/16. He joined as reinforcements for the 24 Battalion and left Australia in late July (28/7/16). After further training in England, he reached France in the middle of November (17/11/16) and was finally taken on strength on 10/2/17. He was killed in action on 13/3/17, just over one month later. The father would have been advised by cable in early April (5/4/17) of his son’s death and the formal report of death was completed on 18/4/17. The death was reported in the local paper – Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative – in April (18/4/17):

Private Percy David Boddy, son of Mr. David Boddy, of Balloong, killed in action in France on 13th March, was well-known in this district as owner of The Barb trotting stallion, and took a great interest in trotting stock. One of his many friends the other day remarked that at Easter 1916, they were only talking together over the war, and Perce was wished good luck across the sea. It proved to be his last Easter. [Presumably, Percy Boddy had gone home on leave for Easter 1916].

The war diary for 24 Battalion indicates that Private Boddy was one of 5 killed and 18 wounded on the day. On the day, the battalion was operating in the area round Grevillers/ Le Barque (near Bapaume), employing patrols to probe the German line as the Germans themselves were systematically falling back to the newly created Hindenburg Line.

The picture below shows the original grave of Private Boddy. Its location was described as ‘between Le Sars and Le Barque 2 3/4 miles s.w. of Bapaume’. In time, the remains were exhumed and re-buried at Warlencourt British Cemetery. The picture also suggests the difficulties associated with retaining the precise identity of those buried in such temporary graves, and it does appear that there was some confusion during the exhumation process. However, in July 1926, the Imperial War Graves Commission determined that Private Boddy 4983 was buried in ‘Plot VIII, Row “D”, Grave 49. Warlencourt British Cemetery’.

In September 1918, one and a half years after his son’s death, the father wrote to Base Records in Melbourne enquiring why he not received any of his son’s kit. The reply from Base Records pointed out that a package containing the personal effects had in fact been sent via ‘registered packet’ in February that year. The father was advised to contact the local Post Office (Woodside). The file does not reveal what subsequently happened; but it does reveal that the inventory of the personal effects, as despatched from the AIF Kit Store in London, showed that the only items returned to Australia were a ‘Testament’ and ‘3 photo proofs’.




Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

O’Callaghan G (Comp) 2006, Clonmel to Federation: Guide to people in the Port Albert area 1841-1901, Vol 1, The Alberton Project

National Archives file for BODDY Percy David 4983
Roll of Honour: Percy David Boddy
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Percy David Boddy

108. J H Martin

John Herbert MARTIN (4257)
5 Battalion KIA 2/3/17

John Herbert Martin was born at Richmond and grew up in Melbourne (Abbotsford). He attended Melbourne High School and then trained as a teacher. In early 1913, he was appointed as the teacher at Hiawatha. His tenure at this local state school in the Shire of Alberton was only a few months. When he enlisted 2 years later, in August 1915, he was teaching at Warrnambool High School.

J H Martin is recorded on the honor roll for Hiawatha SS, and when this roll was unveiled in November 1917 – commonly, the school honor rolls were created during the War and names added progressively – mention was made of the ‘supreme price’ that he had paid (Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative, 7/11/17). While he was obviously known in the local area, his name is not included on either the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor or the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial. His mother gave Warrnambool as the location with which he was ‘chiefly connected’. Both students and staff at Warrnambool High School placed in memoriams in the local paper – Warrnambool Standard (5/4/17) – when news of his death reached the town. The former teacher was described as a ‘highly respected and beloved teacher’ who ‘did his duty as a teacher faithfully, and died doing just as faithfully his duty as a loyal subject and brave soldier.’

Private Martin enlisted in Melbourne on 3/8/15 and he was taken on reinforcements for 5 Battalion. At the time, he was 24 yo and single. His enlistment form shows that he had had some military experience as an instructor with the cadets and he left Australia with the rank of acting corporal. However, with one exception, all the records in his file indicate that his substantive rank throughout his service was private. The exception was that the inventory for his personal kit, returned after his death, referred to him as Sgt. Martin. Presumably, at some point in his service he reached the rank of acting sergeant.

He gave his father – Richard Martin of Abbotsford – as his next-of-kin. His religion was Presbyterian.

His group of reinforcements left Melbourne on 28/12/15 and, after some additional training in Egypt, reached Marseilles on 4/4/16. He was taken on strength with 5 Battalion on 17/5/16.

He was wounded twice in the second half of 1916. On the first occasion, 25/7/16, he remained on duty but he was hospitalised for nearly a month after the second (6/11/16) – GSW L hand. He rejoined his unit after convalescence on 2/1/17 and was killed in action on 2/3/17.

The war diary for 5 Battalion shows that at Ligny-Thilloy on 2/3/17 there was a German attack on the front line trenches held by the battalion. The raid was repulsed and the German casualties were given as 19 killed and 19 taken prisoner. The casualties for 5 Battalion were 8 killed, 3 wounded and 9 missing. Later that day 5 Battalion was relieved by 7 Battalion.

There is a Red Cross report for Private Martin. Presumably, his parents wrote to the Red Cross seeking more information on the circumstances of his death. The statements in the file indicate that he was shot through the head, possibly by a sniper, while manning his Lewis gun during the German raid. The most detailed statement was provided by J G Leslie on 26/9/17, nearly 7 months after the death.

Re your enquiry about the death of Pte. J. H. Martin No 4257, I was not on the same post that he met his death in, but was just alongside. His friend Pte J. H. Knox 4845 A. Coy 5th Battn was with him and he wrote to Pte Martin’s people explaining his death. Pte Martin was a man about 5 ft 8″ in height and dark. His occupation in civil life was that of a School Teacher. One of the schools he had taught in was down at Warrnambool. He was also fond of motor bikes and shortly before enlisting had been for a trip on his bike through Tasmania. He left Australia as a Sergeant in the 13 Reinforcements of the 5th Battalion. Early in the morning of the 2nd of March we were in the line in front of a village on the Somme, named Thilloy and the Germans came over and while my friend was defending his post with his Lewis gun one of the enemy shot him. The bullet hit him just above the right eye and death was instantaneous. He was buried just where he was killed and a cross was put up to mark his grave. Since then the Military Authorities have fixed up his grave. It is on the right of the main Albert to Bapaume Road just in front of the village. He was a great friend with all the boys and we were all very sorry when he was killed. The Officer that was there at the time collected all his things and sent them home.

The statement describes how Private Martin was buried where he fell. Such ‘isolated’ graves were identified at the time and then after the War the remains were transferred – with every measure of care and reverence in the presence of a Chaplain – to formal cemeteries. Private Martin’s remains were transferred to the Beaulencourt British Cemetery shortly after October 1919.

In February 1918, the family received the following personal kite:

9 Books, Scarf, Balaclava Cap, Pr Mittens, 10 Handkerchiefs, 2 Brushes, Goggles, Pack Playing Cards, Razor, Kit bag handle [?], Fly veil, Metal pencil case, Arabic Book, Chevrons.


National Archives file for MARTIN John Herbert 4257
Roll of Honour: John Herbert Martin
First World War Embarkation Rolls: John Herbert Martin
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: John Herbert Martin

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

Warrnambool Standard

Appleyard, D 1999, Hiawatha: From Pioneers to Pines, Dumbalk South Gippsland

107. A J Godfrey

Albert James GODFREY (417)
1 Tunnelling Coy. DoW 21/2/17

Albert John Godfey was born in Melton in 1884. He came from a very large family of 14 children. His father – Horatio Nelson Godfrey – married Ruth Mansell in 1870 and there was 1 child from this first marriage. After the death of his first wife in 1872, Horatio Godfrey remarried – Fanny Jane Jeffery Curtis – in 1874 and the couple had 13 children over the period 1875 -1895. Albert was the eighth child.

The locations entered for each birth registration reveal that the family moved about a good deal. It appears that they lived in the Alberton district for about 10 years from the late 1880s. The father ran a blacksmith business at the time. Albert was a student at the Alberton State School and his name is included on the school’s honour roll. In fact, records indicate that in 1891 the father was fined for the non-attendance of 3 of his children, Albert was one of them, at the school. There are other records indicating that the father was also involved in other legal disputes – offensive language, assault – in the district at the time. Then in late 1896 or early 1897 the family moved to Western Australia. While most of the family, including the mother, remained in the West, the father returned to Alberton in 1897. In the same year, he died at Alberton aged 53 yo. He was buried in the Alberton cemetery. The local paper – Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative – reported at the time (28/4/97) that he had recently returned from WA, had been in ill health for several months and that he committed suicide. He killed himself on his 53rd birthday.

Five of the 8 boys in the Godfrey family enlisted in WW1, but only Albert was killed.

Albert Godfrey enlisted in Perth in February 1916 (11/2/16). He gave his mother – Fanny Jane Godfrey, widow – as his next-of-kin and he also gave her address – Morowa, WA – as his own. By that point he had been living in Western Australia for 20 years. When his mother completed the information for the (National) Roll of Honour she gave Sandstone WA as the place with which her son was ‘chiefly connected’. By the time Albert enlisted his link to the Alberton district was tenuous and it is hardly surprising that his name is not included on either the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor or the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial. At the same time, the family would definitely have been known in the local area and Albert, and siblings, had attended the local state school where, as indicated, his name was duly acknowledged on its honour roll. From information provided by the mother, Alberton SS was the only school he attended.

When Albert Godfrey enlisted he was single, 31 yo and he gave his occupation as miner. His religion was Church of England.

His unit – Mining Corps, No.1 Company – embarked for overseas, from Sydney, less than 2 weeks later. He would have been one of the last miners recruited, in haste, for the new Mining Corps. The unit reached Marseilles on 5/5/26 and then Hazebrouck on 8/5/16.

The Australian Mining Corps had been formed from late 1915 to support the work of the British engineers and tunnellers on the Somme front. In Europe in mid 1916, the Australian Mining Corps was re-formed into 1-3 Tunnelling Companies and Sapper Albert Godfrey found himself in 1 Tunnelling Company which, in early November 1916, replaced the Canadians at the infamous Hill 60.

The degree of difficulty and danger associated with the work of the tunnellers on the Western Front was extreme. Added to the ever-present everyday risks associated with mining, the war time environment meant that the enemy was also actively engaged in counter operations to locate and destroy the allies’ tunnel system and also endeavoured to mine and blow up the allies’ above ground trench system and other fortifications. There was also the risk that regular above-ground bombardments could also collapse underground works. Much effort went into locating the enemy’s tunnels and mines and, concurrently, preventing them from locating your works, both offensive and defensive. It was acknowledged that the military service of the tunnellers was nerve-wracking and extremely dangerous.

On 26/1/17 Sapper Godfrey was admitted to hospital suffering from ‘suppuration of the gums’ and ‘pyorrhoea’. He spent nearly 2 weeks there before being transferred to the Australian General Base Depot (AGBD) at Etaples on 11/2/17. The AGBD facility was employed to accommodate men coming from England who were still to join their units in France, and also men returning to their units from hospital who were still in need of some short period of convalescence.

On 20/2/17, at the AGBD, Sapper Godfrey shot himself in the face. He was taken immediately to No. 26 General Hospital but died from his wounds early the next day. On the day he died (21/2/17), a court of enquiry was convened at Etaples and determined that:

No. 417 Sapper Godfrey shot himself in the cheek while in an unsound state of mind.

The finding was confirmed by Brigadier-General Thompson on 7/3/17:

I am of the opinion that No. 417 Sapper A. J. Godfrey, 1st Tunnelling Co. A.I.F. committed suicide whilst of unsound mind.

The witness statements taken at the court of enquiry describe what happened. Godfrey had been quartered in a tent with several other men. They had decided to go for a cup of tea – it was 4.45 in the afternoon – and Godfrey had said he would join them but he stayed behind when they left. There was a single shot. People ran to the tent where they saw Godfrey stagger out. There was a rifle on the floor of the tent. Medical assistance was called for. The wound was described as ‘a hole in the roof of his mouth extending into the left cheek.’ Godfrey did not say anything to those there.

The evidence presented at the court of enquiry certainly suggested that Godfrey was not in a sound state of mind at the time.

Sapper A Langmead who was in the tent with Godfrey, and whose rifle Godfrey used to shoot himself, stated:

I had only known Sapper Godfrey since he had come from hospital about a week ago. He seemed very melancholy and sometimes used to sit for half an hour with a vacant stare and then jump up with a start and leave the tent, and return and sit down without saying anything.

Similarly, Driver J Archer, who also shared the tent, testified:

We left him alone in the tent [when the others went for the cup of tea]. I have known him for about a week and thought him strange in his behaviour, and he did not seem right in his mind. He seemed weak and was unable to step over the flap of the tent in entering.

The Company Clerk – Corporal C Coravan – added another dimension to the general picture of mental instability:

He came to me several times and complained of being infested with lice. He was put of the Sick Report and examined by the Medical Officer and found to be clean. I did not think he was quite right in his mind, as he seemed not clear in his ideas and very slow to grasp the meaning of anything he was told.

Finally, there was the evidence of L/Cpl A W Porter AAMC who was the person who dressed Godfrey’s wound at the tent immediately after he had shot himself. Porter had also obviously had contact with him over the ‘supposed’ lice infestation.

His left cheek was severely lacerated and bleeding profusely. I plugged the wound and bandaged it up. I noticed that his right boot was off. He had been attending for lice. He did not appear to be quite sound in his mind.

Clearly, the court of enquiry would have had no difficulty in reaching its finding that Sapper Godfrey shot himself ‘in an unsound state of mind.’

However, there was one other witness statement which did not fit with the general picture  given above. It was prepared by the doctor – Capt. L M Snow – who treated Sapper Godfrey when he was hospitalised with the pyorrhoea. It was dated 2/3/17 so, presumably, was not considered by the court of enquiry, which convened and gave its determination on 21/2/17.

Sapper A. J. Godfrey No. 417 was admitted into my ward on 31/1/17 suffering from Pyorrhoea. He had an upper and lower plate repaired and his teeth attended to.

He was signed up for convalescence camp on Feb. 8th 1917. During his stay in hospital he was most helpful in the ward and showed no signs of any mental trouble.

Interpreting a person’s mental condition with only limited evidence, and across an interval of 100 years, is obviously a fraught exercise. However, taken at face value, this last statement does at least suggest that notwithstanding the possibility of some pre-existing, congenital mental health condition and the very apparent indicators of a serious mental breakdown, it could well have been the specific fear of returning to the front line at Hill 60 that drove Godfrey to suicide. Arguably, he could not face the reality of going back, and as the certainty of returning drew closer his mind unravelled.

The mother, as next-of-kin, was notified of the death within one week. The cable was dated 26/2/17. However it is not clear if the mother was ever informed of the precise circumstances of the death. The Report of Death (Army Form B. 2090A) does indicate ‘Died of Wounds (Self-Inflicted)’. However, the Nominal Roll shows only ‘DOW 22/2/17’ and the entry on the (National) Roll of Honour shows ‘Accidental (Injuries)’ as the cause of death. When the mother was sent the information form to complete for the (National) Roll of Honour she would have read that her son’s death was described as ‘Died of Injuries’. It is also hard to believe that any friend or acquaintance of her son in the AIF would have ever written to give her the true account of how her son had died. At the same time, a family member – identity not given – did request that the Red Cross ‘obtain the fullest details possible of the wounds, death and burial of [A J Godfrey]’. The request was dated 3/10/18. The various statements provided to the Red Cross by the relevant AIF units made it clear that Albert Godfrey had died from self-inflicted wounds. For example, the OC of the hospital where Godfrey was taken wrote:

I beg to inform you that this man was brought into this Hpl. about 5 p. m. on 20-2-17, suffering from a self-inflicted wound of the face, caused by a single bullet. He was in a very bad condition and gradually got worse and died at 4-5 a.m. on 22-7/17. He was buried the following day in the British Military Cemetery at Etaples, according to the rites of the Church of England religion.

There is no record of the information that the Red Cross subsequently provided to the family.

As indicated, Sapper Godfrey was buried in the Etaples Military Cemetery.

The mother wrote in May 1917 (25/5/17) seeking information on her son’s will and effects. There is an urgent tone to the letter:

I wish to make enquiry concerning my sons will and any property he may have had at the time of his death. His name Sapper Albert John Godfrey 417 First Australian Tunnelling Company. He enlisted from Meekatharra West Australia. Died of wounds somewhere in France on 22 February 1917. He sailed from Fremantle on the first of April 1916. If you have no record of the case in your office will you kindly tell me how to go about the business. I am a widow. Please let me know by first mail.

The typically few personal effects arrived in August 1917 (14/8/17):

Identity disc, Leather Purse, Ring, Pencil, Bullet, Match Box Cover, Mirror, Pipe, Leather Belt, Handkerchief.

It is impossible to know what the mother would have made of the single bullet returned with her sons’ belongings. And it seems incredible that it was ever sent.

Clearly, it is not possible to say definitively where the bullet came from or what it meant. However, we do know that Sapper Godfrey did not have his own weapon in the tent – he used Sapper Langmead’s rifle – and that when the tent was searched there was no ammunition found. Langmead also insisted at the court of enquiry that he had not left his weapon loaded and that he had never seen any ammunition in the tent. The only round found was the spent cartridge in the rifle Godfrey had used to shoot himself. One explanation is that Sapper Godfrey had been carrying 2 rounds of ammunition on his person, and that, in a macabre twist, the redundant round was, unwittingly, sent home in his personal kit.

Overall, Albert Godfrey’s was a tragic case but it does at least begin to show the personal horrors and ever-present terror men had to manage, even away from the front lines. The son’s death was also a tragic echo of his father’s fate.


O’Callaghan G (Comp) 2006, Clonmel to Federation: Guide to people in the Port Albert area 1841-1901, Vol 2, The Alberton Project

National Archives file for GODFREY Albert John 417
Roll of Honour: Albert John Godfrey
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Albert John Godfrey
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: Albert John Godfrey

106. J O Mason

James Oliver MASON (2236)
46 Battalion DoW 11/2/17

James Oliver Mason was born at Won Wron in 1898. His family was then living in the Shire of Alberton and it appears the father had been farming in the local area for at least 10 years. The father – William Wallace Mason – had held land at Devon, Bulga, Calignee and Won Wron. He had also worked as a contractor (roadworks) for the local council. However, it appears that there were financial difficulties round the time James was born. There was a mortagee auction of land – 183 acres at Bulga – held by the father in 1896.

By the time James Mason enlisted in 1916, the parents and at least some of the children had moved to Gobur. An older brother – Christopher Mason – was still in Yarram. It appears he ran the local dealership for Dodge cars. Also, another older brother – William Mason – had remained farming in the district at least up until 1915. The children had attended the local state schools. James and another brother who enlisted – Richard – had their names recorded on the honor roll for Tarraville State School. On the information form for the (National) Roll of Honour, the mother recorded that James had also attended the state schools at Yarram and Stradbroke. Significantly, she also gave Yarram as the place with which her son was ‘chiefly connected’. An ‘in memoriam’ published in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 28/2/17 remarked how the brother  – Mr. Chris Mason – lived in Yarram. It also praised the enlistment of both James and Richard, and noted of James,

The young hero who has made the supreme sacrifice for his country, was well known in Yarram, as in his boyhood days he attended the local State School.

Notwithstanding the family’s close association with the district and the mother’s explicit identification of Yarram as the place with which her son was ‘chiefly connected’, James Mason’s name is not recorded on either the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor or the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial. Similarly, the names of the 2 other brothers who enlisted – Richard Wallace Mason and William Hickman Mason – are not included on the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor.

James Mason gave his age as 18 yo when he enlisted in March 1916 (7/3/16). Because he was under 21 yo, both parents were required to sign the enlistment form. The age given on the form both parents signed was ’18 yrs 7 mos’. However, when the mother completed the information for the (National) Roll of Honour she specifically noted that when he died (11/2/17) her son was ’18 years 7 months’. Also, the in memoriam referred to earlier, specifically noted that he was only 18 yo when he was killed. The memorial card featured below also has the age as 18 yo. It appears that, with his parents’ support and blessing, James Mason enlisted as a 17 yo. By early 1916, at least according to the AIF authorities, this type of underage enlistment was not supposed to happen.

James Mason gave his occupation as labourer while his mother noted that he was a ‘shearer’. His religion was Church of England and he was single.

Private Mason embarked as reinforcements for 46 Battalion on 16/8/16. There was further training in England until the end of December 1916. Whilst undertaking training, he was charged in November 1916 with being ‘absent without leave’ – in Salisbury – and travelling on the train network without a ticket. He was given 14 days detention. It was a not uncommon story with the Australian troops in training camps in England.

Private Mason reached France just before Christmas, on 22/12/16. In January 1917, he spent a short time in hospital with influenza. Finally, on 7/2/17, he joined 46 Battalion in the field. He was one of 32 men who were taken on strength with the battalion that day.

Just 4 days later (11/2/17) he was wounded – S.W.[shrapnel wound] Chest Penetrating, Right Thigh and Right Leg. He was admitted to a casualty clearing station (South Midland) but died of wounds the same day (11/2/17). 

In February 1917, 1 Anzac Corps held the front near Gueudecourt. The conditions for the troops were particularly severe. Throughout February, there were several attacks on the German lines which were characterised by fierce, close-quarter bombing exchanges, including both rifle and hand grenades. According to its war diary, 46 Battalion relieved 13 Battalion on 4/2/17. On 11-12/2/17 it was involved in a ‘minor operation’ where the objective was to extend its position in Cloudy Trench. Employing both grenadiers firing rifle grenades and bombing parties armed with Mills hand grenades, the plan was to push along and take control of another 200 yards of the trench. Overall, the attack was described as ‘most successful’, but there was the inevitable German counter-attack. The war diary gave the casualties as ‘2 killed & 4 wounded’, at least one of whom, Private Mason, died of his wounds. The Germans lost 5 killed, and 1 was taken prisoner. The relatively light casualties would not have accurately reflected the ferocity of the close-quarter fighting.

Word of their son’s death reached the family in just over a week (19/2/17). He was buried in Dernancourt Communal Cemetery. In late February 1918, one year after his death, the personal kit reached the parents: Letters, Photos, Pocket Books 2, Religious Book, Belt, Handkerchief, Badges, Diary, Coin.

As indicated, there were 2 other brothers who enlisted. Richard, who was 2 years older, enlisted in January 1915. The other brother, William, was 12 years older. He first enlisted in January 1916 but was discharged as medically unfit less than 2 months later. He subsequently re-enlisted in early December 1917.  Both these brothers survived the War.



Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

O’Callaghan G (Comp) 2006, Clonmel to Federation: Guide to people in the Port Albert area 1841-1901, Vol 2, The Alberton Project

National Archives file for MASON James Oliver 2236
Roll of Honour: James Oliver Mason
First World War Embarkation Rolls: James Oliver Mason