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