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TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 11, 2008
Heavy price to pay
The Gorey family watched four of their ﬁve boys go off to war. These are their stories...
1918 began badly. The terrible Passchendaele ﬁghting had left the Australians exhausted and under strength and with few new volunteers, reinforcements were hard to come by. The divisions were under strain, but it was clear there were still many more battles to ﬁght. Victory would come before year’s end, but for the Australian Corps including the 21st Btn the most important ﬁghting still lay ahead. At Dernancourt they withstood the heaviest attack ever made on them, and at Villers-Bretonneux their bayonet charge repelled the Germans within sight of Amiens. On July 4, under Sir John Monash, they went on the offensive with a well planned and executed attack at Hamel. Then came the great victory of August 8 at Amiens. Further success followed when they captured the fortiﬁed hill of Mont St Quentin in early September, then broke the Hindenburg Line four weeks later. William Evans Gorey, a sleeper cutter, soldier, rabbit trapper, orchardist and restaurateur who lived an interesting and varied life was there at the front line as those ﬁnal battles were played out. On November 11, 1918 he wrote in his diary: “The great day we have been waiting for for so long, the signing of the Armistice. The excitement! All the bells ringing and ﬂags ﬂying from almost every house.’’ It must have been a relief to have made it through but the Gorey family paid a heavy price for King and country. Four of ﬁve brothers went to war yet the family still received white feathers in the mail, a symbol of cowardice sent maliciously in the circumstances. One son would not return, another lived the lonely life of a tramp, affected forever by his wounds and probably his nightmares. Bill Gorey was a mature soldier when he enlisted aged 33 years and six months on July 15, 1915. Born at Corop on January 12, 1882, he had stayed put for most of his life (war years excluded) in the Whroo-Shepparton area and like it was for so many the war was an adventure as much as it was a duty. According to his daughter Evelyn, Bill worked early in life as a sleeper cutter. She recalls him saying that he ﬁrst set foot in Shepparton in 1899, aged 17. He must have liked the town, which would have been quite a contrast to the farm at Whroo. He returned
Remembrance Day 2008 marks the 90th anniversary of the armistace that ended the Great War. It is also 90 years since the end game was played out on the Western Front and Corporal William (Bill) Gorey, who enlisted at Shepparton in 1915 was still in the thick of the action. Bill made it through but his family had sent four boys to war and was to pay a high price, as DARREN LINTON reports.
A tank lies in ruins on the battleﬁeld at Mont St Quentin which was one of the last and bloodiest conﬂicts of the war. Photograph courtesy Australian War Memorial. to Shepparton in 1910 and worked at Ardmona. Bill was a keen sportsman, and at Whroo is known to have participated in cycling. He is also probably the Gorey referred to in a Murchison Advertiser report from October 16, 1903, as being considered for selection in the Whroo cricket team. The mines at Whroo petered out about 1908 and the Gorey family shifted to Shepparton soon after. Bill enlisted at Shepparton and gave his father’s name as next of kin. Bill was described as being a Roman Catholic, 5 ft 5 in tall, 128 lb in weight, with a swarthy complexion, grey eyes and black hair. He had vaccination marks on his left arm. Bill served with the 21st Battalion in the Middle East and France and was promoted to Lance Corporal on October 2, 1916 and Corporal on May 1, 1917. Just two days later he received gunshot wounds to the face and was admitted to the 12th General Hospital at Rouen on May 4. He was transferred aboard the HS Western Australia to England where he was treated at the Richmond Military Hospital. He was discharged for furlough on June 6 to report back for duty on June 21. His active service from that time included periods at the front and training programs. He attended bombing school and qualiﬁed as an instructor from gas school. Bill returned to France on April 4, 1918 after several months in England and rejoined his battalion in the ﬁeld on April 18. The ﬁnal push was on, and in July and August he took part in a major offensive against the Germans which saw the Allies cross the Somme and seal victory. On July 4 his diary records the heavy shelling producing a deafening noise, but being a “beautiful sight’’ as the Allies advanced on Hamel. “After dwelling a few minutes we go to do our job, by this time the tanks are in sight which added to the roar; this being our ﬁrst time to have tanks accompanying us and they proved a great assistance. Our objective was gained an hour after starting, getting a large number of prisoners,’’ he records in his diary. The following day the Germans retaliated, with aeroplanes being used to
identify the Australians’ position. “We had to put up with a good deal of shell ﬁre until relieved on the night of the 6th by the 19th Battalion when we moved back to reserve trenches about six kilos back for a short rest.’’ On July 8, Bill was sent in charge of a party of 20 men on fatigue duty building trenches close to a village. Villers-Bretonneux would later have the words: “Do not forget Australia’’ printed on school buildings and above the blackboards. “We remain for a month during which time Fritz gas shells us pretty frequently, causing quite a number of casualties,’’ Bill writes on August 6, but the Australians are readying for an offensive and on August 8 Bill’s diary entry is headed “Our Day’’. “At ﬁve in the morning opens up the greatest conﬁguration of guns of all calibre ever heard by any of us, with tanks all around us and the heavens full of aeroplanes making an awful din.’’ “Never before have I seen such a stream of prisoners going to the rear, guns of all descriptions in scores, machine guns, trench mortars, etc and the dead Fritz were terrible to gaze on.’’ On August 18, the men had advanced more than 12 km and regained trenches lost in 1914. By August 20 the Germans were in rapid retreat and Bill’s unit rested for a few days in huts abandoned by the enemy before crossing the Somme on August 31. Bill then had a few weeks’ rest, during which time he caught up with his brother James, sadly for the last time. Together they inspected a “great 15 inch gun’’ and participated in divisional sports. Soon after this diversion, James was back at the front as the Allies prepared for their major offensive. He was wounded in action on October 3, 1918, and sustained shell wounds to the right arm, head and back. James was treated initially by the 5th Field Ambulance and then transferred to the 16th General Hospital at Le Treport on October 5, where he died on October 13. Just 29 days later the Armistace was signed and peace declared. Bill welcomed the Armistice on November 11 as “. . . the great day we have been waiting for’’. He fought in some of the bloodiest and most inﬂuential battles on the Western Front including Pozieres, Mouquet Farm, Bullecourt, Villers Bretonneux, Hamel and Mont St Quentin and lived to tell the tale. Continued next page