Ernest Edward MORLEY (5882)
21 Battalion DoW 14/5/17
The Morley family was from Gormandale and at the time of WW1 the family had been in the area for 40 years. Gormandale itself, whilst in the Shire of Alberton, was on the border with the Shire of Rosedale. It was much closer to Rosedale than Yarram. The boundary between the 2 shires had been changed as recently as 1914. So the question of local identity was problematic. In the case of the Morley family, it appears that the primary link was to Gormandale per se, rather than Gormandale as part of the Shire of Alberton. The names of all the Morley brothers – there were at least 4 who enlisted and 3 of them were killed – are on the Gormandale War Memorial. This particular memorial was unveiled by the mother – Mrs Sarah Morley – in 1923. The names are also on the honor roll for the Gormandale state school. However, the names of the brothers are not included on either the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor or the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial.
In addition to this particular branch of the Morley family, there were also cousins, with the same name, who enlisted. However, for all the members of the Morley family from Gormandale, there is only one Morley – Archie Cortnege Morley – who appears on the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor. Also, references to the family appear more frequently in the Traralgon papers than in the Yarram papers. At the same time, the tragic story of the Morley brothers from Gormandale was certainly well-known in the Shire of Alberton. For example, on 4/12/18 the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative featured a detailed account of the unveiling of the honor roll at the state school at Gormandale. In the account it states that of the 45 former scholars who enlisted from the school – plus 2 teachers – 6 were killed and … three of these were members of the Morley family.
As indicated, 3 of the 4 brothers who enlisted were killed on active service. In addition to Ernest Edward Morley (5882) DoW 15/5/17 there was George Thomas Morley (4479) KiA 5/8/16 – see Post 79 – and Robert Herbert Morley (1501) KiA 31/10/17. However, this was not the extent of family tragedy over the course of the War because another brother – Jesse Morley – died in Melbourne in August 1917 and there were 2 other family deaths; one was an infant grandson (July 1916) and the other was an older, married sister. Specifically in relation to the sister’s death, the obituary notice – Traralgon Record 15/6/17 – noted that the news from France of her brother’s death – Ernest Edward Morley – was a contributing factor.
Ernest Morley enlisted in Melbourne on 5/5/16. He was 28 yo and married with 3 children. There is an indication that he might have previously enlisted – his enlistment form states that he had served 42 days in the AIF ‘prior to re-attestation’ – but there is no corresponding service file. He gave his occupation as labourer and at the time he appears to have been working and living at Beeac, well outside the local area. However, he gave his wife – Mrs Doris Louisa Morley – as next -of-kin and her address was Gormandale via Rosedale. His religion was listed as Church of England.
Private Ernest Morley enlisted as reinforcements for 21 Battalion. He left Melbourne on 2/10/16 and reached the UK on 16/11/16. There was further training in the UK then he joined 21 Battalion in France on 4/3/17. He was dead just over 2 months later.
21 Battalion went into the front line at Bullecourt very early on 3/5/17 and was not withdrawn until very late on 4/5/17. In that relatively short period of time it suffered 340 casualties, with 31 dead, 260 wounded and 49 missing. Another indication of the savagery of the fighting is an estimate in the diary of 200 casualties between 3.15 am and 8.45 am on 3/5/17. The diary describes the fierceness of the fighting, the failure of the English attack – on the battalion’s immediate left – the inability of the troops to hold the ground they initially won and the hopeless state of the battle-field communications.
There is a Red Cross file for Private Ernest Morley. It appears that it was initiated by his cousin – Archie Cortnege Morley (5883) – who in September 1917 wrote requesting information about his cousin’s death. Private Archie Morley was in the same battalion, and the 2 cousins had enlisted round the same time – they even had consecutive regimental numbers – and embarked from Melbourne together.
The Red Cross report does not provide a great deal of information. It appears that after he was wounded sometime on 4/5/17, Private Morley was evacuated by ambulance train the same day. However, he did not reach a hospital – 9th General Hospital BEF – until 6/5/17, by which time the wound was septic. He died just over a week later (12.30 pm on 14/5/17). The hospital report described how Private Morley,
… was admitted to this hospital on 6/5/17 suffering from severe gun shot wounds of the left thigh. The septic condition of his injuries on admission were very extensive and gradually increased. He died at 12.30. p.m. 14/5/17 and was buried at St. Sever Cemetery, Rouen, his grave number being 2599.
The family was advised by cable – dated 18/5/17 – of the death, just 4 days later. In time – February 1918 – a small amount of personal kit reached Gormandale: Disc, Metal Watch, Scissors, Letters, Photo, Cards, Pipe, Pr Goggles.
The wife and 3 children received pensions from 18/7/17. The combined amount was £4/5/- per fortnight.
The family did not complete the (National) Roll of Honour form for Ernest Morley. However they did complete the form for the 2 other brothers killed and in each case they noted that 2 (other) brothers had been killed, as well as one cousin and one nephew.
An in memoriam notice appeared in the Traralgon Record on 1/6/17:
Morley. – Died at 9th General Hospital, France, on 14th May, from gunshot wounds received in action, Pte. Ernest Edward, loved husband of Doris Louisa Morley, and loved son of Mrs S. Morley, Gormandale. Aged 28 years.
He died, the helpless to defend,
A noble soldier’s noble end.
Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative
Adams, J 1990, From these Beginnings: History of the Shire of Alberton (Victoria), Alberton Shire Council, Yarram, Victoria
National Archives file for MORLEY Ernest Edward 5882
Roll of Honour: Ernest Edward Morley
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Ernest Edward Morley
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: Ernest Edward Morley
Note: the post was updated 18/5/17 with some corrections to the family history provided by Annette Power, a descendant of the Morley family.