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PURNELL, Henry William (1893-1918) +

PURNELL, Henry William, MM (1893-1918)

Henry Purnell MM, soldier, was killed in action during World War I.

Born on 20 November 1893, the son of Robert Purnell and Helen nee Hitchins of Hermitage Road, Geelong, he studied at Geelong College for three years from 1905. While at School, he gained a medal as a member of the Junior Rifle Team which in 1907 competed for the Sargood Shield, a competition organized by the Victorian Rifle Association. On leaving school he did a wool classing course at the Gordon Technical College, and gained experience in New South Wales and Queensland. He then took control of his father's farm at Moriac, where he remained until the time of his enlistment in the AIF on 22 June 1915. This farm was adjacent to that owned by former Geelong College Principal, Charles Norman Morrison.

Henry Purnell (WWI)

Harry Purnell (WWI)

On 10 September he embarked with the 13th Light Horse (2nd Reinforcement Group) on HMAT A57 Malakuta for Egypt, where after several engagements he transferred to the 2nd Divisional Ammunition Column prior to embarking for France in March 1916, then further transferring to 105 Howitzer Battery. With the exception of two short leaves in England, and one in Paris, he was engaged continually with the Howitzers. A few days prior to his death, with two other gunners, he extinguished some burning charges in the gun pit and manhandled the Howitzer from the pit. For this he was awarded the Military Medal, gazetted 7 October 1918; the citation read:
‘At Ribemont on 16 May 1918, Gunner Purnell with two others endeavoured at great personal risk to himself, to put out blazing ammunition, exploding charges, and primers in a gun pit. The heat and fumes drove him back repeatedly but each time he returned and continued his efforts, at one time rolling clear of the conflagration shells which had become dangerously hot. Finding that it was impossible to put out the fire, he with two others went into the blaze again and manhandled the gun clear of the fire. This man's courage undoubtedly was of great assistance in preventing the destruction of the Howitzer.’

Private W Smith of his battery wrote to the Red Cross Information Bureau about his death on 29 May 1918, near Buire on the Somme: 'Gunner Harry Purnell comes from Geelong, and about a fortnight ago he was killed outright by a premature burst on the guns at the Battery position on the right of Albert Road, about 2 kilometres past Francvillars. I saw him killed. He is buried in the cemetery at Point Noyelle on the main road, Albert to Amiens, and cross erected.' He was buried at Frechencourt Communal Cemetery, Somme - Grave D2.

In 1935, Mr and Mrs Robert Purnell presented the H W PURNELL MEMORIAL PRIZE for the Dux of the Preparatory School named in Henry William Purnell’s memory. His brothers, Albert Edwin Purnell (1900-1977) and Norman Robert Purnell (1891-1955 ), also attended Geelong College.

Sources: Pegasus August 1918 p27; Pegasus December 1935 p31; Edited extract from Geelong Collegians at the Great War compiled by James Affleck. pp 90-91 (citing Commonwealth War Graves Commission).
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