William Gordon STARR
Eyes grey, Hair brown, Complexion fair
Gordon – Before the War
Gordon, as he was known, was educated at Molong Public School and on leaving school worked for his father in the family brickyard in west Molong. William (Will) Starr his father had operated a brickyard since 1895, initially in partnership with his brother David in Castle Street and then north of Norah Creek Road in the road now known as Starrlee Road. When David left brickmaking and built a lime kiln near Moss Hollow Creek, Will employed labourers in the brickyard and also his son, Gordon.
Gordon was appointed to D Company of the 17th Battalion, 6th Brigade. Three months training was undertaken at Liverpool before the battalion embarked overseas.
Immediately prior to embarkation it was customary for the men to be granted leave to visit their families. These visits gave communities the opportunity to honour the men. The Molong Express reported on the visit of nine local volunteers, including Gordon and Bertie Starr, during the first week of May. This edition also had the first of many ‘Soldiers’ Roll of Honor’ (sic) published listing all the known servicemen from the Molong District as well as latest news of the war.
It is clear that the Molong community was a closeknit one with all the local boys keeping an eye out for each other whilst overseas. Many of the men who enlisted, including Gordon, wrote home regularly and the local paper often published full letters or snippets about how they were faring. Families must have taken great comfort from the letters they received and also the mentions of their boys in the letters to others. Gordon clearly valued the opportunity to stay in touch, including a number of reminders in his letters home to send stationery as ‘it was a terrible job to get hold of any here’.
Gordons Service in Middle East with the 17th Battalion
While in the training camp at Heliopolis in Egypt, Gordon wrote quite a few letters home between May and August 1915. Gordon said he was studying for promotion and hoped to get ‘some stripes’. He also thought the food was ‘pretty good’ - ‘curry very often and boiled rice and tinned fruit for dinner’. In an earlier letter, he told his mother that ‘the water at the camp was bad for drinking purposes, so he had to resort to beer when he was thirsty’ but he was quick to assure her that he never had too much!
In August, the family in Molong received a cablegram telling them both sons had left Egypt for the Dardanelles.
The 17th Battalion landed at Anzac Cove on 20 August. Over the next months, they took up positions at Happy Valley, ‘Crater’, Otago Gully and finally on 4 October at Quinn’s Post where they remained until the evacuation of the Gallipoli Peninsular on 19th and 20th December.
Gordon Starr’s health deteriorated and on Christmas Day 1915 he was admitted to hospital on the Greek island of Lemnos with bronchitis. By 8 January he was aboard the hospital ship Carisbrook Castle and three days later he was admitted to the 17th General Hospital at Alexandria. The family were duly notified 23rd January, describing his ailment as ‘mild’. Gordon wrote a reassuring letter home about his hospital stay, commenting – like any young man – on the improved quality of the food and he also seemed quite taken with the Irish nurse in charge of his six-man hospital tent. He subsequently convalesced at nearby Montasah until discharged on 3rd April.
On 21st April 1916, Gordon Starr was one of the 266 reinforcements ‘taken on strength’ of the 55th Battalion at Tel-el-Kebir, Egypt. The battalion marched under trying desert conditions to the frontline on the Suez and returned to Ferry Post Staging Camp at the end of May. On 21st June they boarded the HMT Caledonia for France.
The Western Front – with the 55th Battalion
On 11th July 1916, the battalion took up positions about four miles from Armentieres. Here they experienced artillery exchange, enemy bombardment and gas attacks. Three days were spent readying for the fateful attack of July 19 near Fromelles. Gordon Starr was one of those reported missing in the attack and subsequently declared killed in action.
Sergeant J. Jefferies, 2854, 55th Battalion, gave evidence to the court of enquiry:
I know Starr personally. He was in the 16th sec. 16th pltn. and went over with them at Fromelles on 19th July. They got into a hot corner near the German line and were all practically wiped out. The bodies would be close to the German trenches which were 400 yds. from our lines. Hundreds of bodies were lying about and could not be brought in.
Gordon’s death was only three months after the sudden death of his nineteen-year-old sister, Dorothy. No doubt a lengthy period of anguish ensued for the Starr family in Molong.
Based on this snippet below, it would be nice to think that Gordon may have had a little piece of home tucked in his pocket at the end.
The Starr Family at Home
In mid-August, Gordon’s family were notified of him being listed as ‘missing’ but no further details were available.
In October 1916, the family’s hopes were raised that he’d been taken prisoner when they received a cable to the effect ‘All well’ and signed ‘Starr’. They were at a loss to know which son had sent it. Also, Richard Starr, cousin of Gordon who was serving in Palestine, mentioned in a letter to his mother that his Aunt Harriett kept writing and asking him if he had seen Gordon. He added, ‘She can’t know he is missing’.
In July 1917, a court of enquiry was convened in France and after hearing witness statements now contained in the Red Cross files, it was determined that Private William Gordon Starr, 1291, died 20th July 1916.
Thirteen months after his death, the family were notified and again it was the local press that gave more details though it stated incorrectly that he was invalided in England when his record shows he convalesced in Montasah, Egypt after his bout of bronchitis.
Correspondence between the family and the military continued for another five years and it is evident that this was an emotional drain on Gordon’s mother. As nominated next of kin Hannah was granted a pension of £2 per fortnight dating from 15 October 1916.
Hannah requested a copy of her son’s death certificate. Base Records responded with a ‘certificate of report of death’ which confirmed the details of the court of enquiry but gave no particulars relating to his burial.
The next correspondence Hannah Starr received was July 1920. This was a generic Form A, requesting particulars for the inscriptions for War Graves, The Nation’s History and Roll of Honour. Hannah’s response on the bottom of the form was that of a heartbroken mother:
“Sir, I do not wish to have any thing to do with this form. My son was reported to me by the military as missing from 23 July 1916, then reported Killed in Action and I have heard nothing further from the military and so far as I know His (sic) body was not found. I received nothing belonging to him.”
With the passing of time Gordon’s mother again wrote to Base Records in July 1922 that she had still not received the plaque. It was finally despatched and the plaque, known as the ‘dead man’s penny’, is held by family members along with the General Service Medal that was issued to his father.
The Gallipoli Campaign Medal which was awarded in 1967 and to which Gordon was entitled was not claimed until a family researcher made family members aware of it in 1992. This medal was sold on Ebay about 2015 and a chance discovery of it listed again for sale two years later brought it back into the Starr family.
In June 2008, Lorraine and John Hodgkins, toured the Western Front battlefields where Lorraine’s father, Walter Leonard Starr, cousin of William Gordon Starr, joined the 54th Battalion about three months after the battle of Fromelles. The Hodgkins visited Fromelles on 6th June and chanced to meet Australian Army personnel - historian Roger Lee and Major General Mike Woods - who were engaged in the Pheasant Wood excavations at Fromelles.
Roger Lee stood with the Hodgkins on the rise overlooking the site and pointed out the landmarks relating to the battle. He was adamant that there were no Australian Diggers buried at Pheasant Wood, only British. Two days later the Australian rising sun badge was unearthed by the archaeologists proving Australian men were buried there.
William Gordon Starr was one of seven grandsons of Mrs Betsy Starr of Molong who enlisted. He was the only one not to survive the war and his body was not found. Following the 2008 discovery and excavation of the German burial plots at Pheasant Wood, relatives whose DNA may prove that one of the Diggers buried there is William Gordon Starr are awaiting the results of the samples submitted in late 2019.
Gordon’s parents would have dearly loved to know where their son was buried but that was not to be. Hannah passed away suddenly in 1923 seven years to the day after her son’s death at Fromelles. Will disposed of the brickyard and lived on in the home in Thistle St until his death in 1935.
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