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GEORGE, John Stawell (1890-1917) +

GEORGE, John Stawell (1890-1917)

John Stawell George was born on 30 April 1890, the son of Henry Alfred George and Agnes nee Mathison of Illawarra, Aberdeen Street, Geelong and was enrolled at Geelong College in 1903 by H A George. His address was recorded as 2 Foster St, South Geelong. He later went to Dookie Agricultural College.
He won the following academic class prizes:
1905, 1st, Arithmetic, University Form B.
1905, 2nd, Algebra, University Form B.
1906, 2nd, Arithmetic, 5th Form A.
1906, 2nd, Algebra, 5th Form A.

During World War I, he enlisted (No 3070) on 11 October 1916 in the AIF, shortly after the death of his brother, Stan at Pozieres on 5 August 1916, and embarked for England on HMAT A70 Ballarat on 19 February 1917. He was on board the Ballarat when the vessel was torpedoed on Anzac Day 1917 near the Scilly Isles. Of the three Old Geelong Collegians on board when she was torpedoed, all were ultimately to pay the Supreme Sacrifice - John Stawell George, Chaplain-Captain Alfred Ernest Goller (1883-1918), and Lt Elgar Watts Opie (1893-1917).

J S George (George Family),

J S George (George Family),

Three days before his death Jack George wrote to his mother of his experiences at Broodseinde:
'I have been in my first big fight and came (through) without a scratch, and I consider myself mighty lucky. We lost nearly half of our company killed and wounded so you see the going was fairly solid. We lost some before we got to the starting point. Fritz must have seen us coming up and he shelled us. We were up in position about four hours before we were timed to start and had to wait in shell holes till the attack opened. Just before dawn our barrage opened up and you would have thought hell was let loose. The shells were whistling over our heads and the guns made one continuous roar, you could not distinguish any single bang. There were all sizes from 18 pounders just behind us to 11 inch further back. Fritz’s shells were bursting round us all the time exacting their toll but his big gun fire is nothing compared with ours.

On the barrage opening we hopped out and went forward following just behind where our shells were bursting. Our leading battalion took the first line of Fritz’s trenches and the remainder went on following our barrage which is wonderfully accurate although a few shells fell short and killed some of our own men. The line was to be taken by our next battalion. We were in the third lot and our job was to take the third line of Fritz trenches. Once we started all is a mix up and all you worry about is to keep on till you get to your position, take it and then dig yourself in as quickly as possible to get a bit of cover from the shells and the bullets which are whistling past your ears. The battalion following us (we were really altogether) went on past and took their objective which made them the front line and they would of course have to bear the brunt of the counter-attacks. After they had taken their position one of our officers called for volunteers to go over and help the front line to hold their position. They called for fifty men but only twenty responded as they expected a hot time. I went over but the bad time that was expected did not come along. I believe on the night after we had taken our positions there were five counter-attacks but the artillery got on to them and at any rate none of them reached our front line.

We are going up again in a couple of days for another stunt. We take the positions and the Tommies hold them. I feel just as I did before going into the last stunt and that I will come out again safely and I do not think this will be very rough. I had some very narrow squeaks, on going up a shell burst on the path just in front of me and killed our platoon commander and another man alongside him. The man behind him was blown past me and I was blown away but neither of us was hurt. Just before reaching the second objective I had got up with the lot ahead of us and we rushed the German position and got it but had got up too close to our barrage and had to scoot back but we captured all the Fritz’s there. I was in a shell hole and one of our shells burst just at the back of it and blew the side in on me but I crawled out unhurt. Just in front of our objective I heard a swish between my legs and on looking down found that a machine gun had ploughed a furrow between my feet. In the front line my old steel hat saved me twice, once it turned a bullet off leaving behind the dint where the bullet hit. I think a sniper did that, and another time I got hit fair on top of the hat with a bit of shrapnel which would have dinted me without the hat. We had three nights and two days altogether connected with the stunt and of course had no sleep and on the second night before I was out all night on a working party under shell fire. We had about twelve casualties that time so I only had one night’s sleep in five. Just as we were coming out of the trenches Fritz sent another strafe on and we had to stand to again.

My own battalion had left, there were six casualties amongst us, the battalion I was with, two killed, two wounded (stretchers) and two walking cases as a farewell. The stretcher-bearers had gone on so we had to carry the wounded ourselves. Four of us carried one stretcher four miles through mud and slush never below the boot-tops and often above the knees. Occasionally one of us would get stuck and the rest would have to pull him out. After we had put the stretcher down we still had another four miles to reach the camp. . . You will see an account of the fight in the papers about this time. It was described in English papers as one of the biggest battles of the war.‘

‘Jack’ had served with 39 Battalion up till the time of his death at Passchendaele on 12 October 1917. He is buried at Poelcapelle British Cemetery - Grave XXXII.A.14.

His brother, Sapper Stanley Willis George (1894-1916) was killed at Pozieres on 5 August 1916, and has no known grave. His name is commemorated on the Villers Bretonneux Memorial, France. Another brother, Walter Henry George, was also educated at Geelong College.

Sources: Geelong Collegians at the Great War compiled by James Affleck. pp40-41 (citing Commonwealth War Graves Commission; Australian War Memorial; Photo George Family.)
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