Edwin Charles GRAY
Eyes brown, Hair brown, Complexion fair
Private Edwin Charles Gray – Discovered at last
On 11th November 2022, the Fromelles Association of Australia was pleased to learn that Edwin has been identified at Pheasant Wood. Matt Keogh, Minister of Veterans’ Affairs and Minister of Defence Personnel stated:
“Private Walter Allen Grace was born in Derbyshire, England and worked as a labourer when he enlisted in Brisbane, Queensland in July 1915. He was discovered near Private Edwin Charles Gray. Edwin was born in Riverton, South Australia who worked as a chauffeur and mechanic when he enlisted in Keswick, South Australia in July 1915.
“Their identification is the result of diligent and painstaking work by professionals and volunteers. Walter and Edwin now rest in Fromelles (Pheasant Wood) Military Cemetery, their identities restored.”
“After giving their lives more than a century ago, it is remarkable that we can now name these …. individuals who served our nation, and hopefully bring some peace to their descendants this Remembrance Day,” Minister Keogh said.
“I want to personally thank everyone who has been part of finding and identifying these soldiers, particularly the families who provided vital DNA. I acknowledge the volunteers of the Fromelles Association of Australia who work tirelessly to find the families of Fromelles soldiers.”
Edwin Charles Gray was born in 1897 in Riverton, SA, the second son and third child of Walter Gray and Ada Sarre. In about 1907, his parents moved further north to Crystal Brook, a small town about 200 kilometres north of Adelaide. Despite its size, this town had over 100 local men who signed up during World War 1.
Edwin had served for two years in the Volunteer School Cadets and, when he enlisted in July 1915, he was working as a driver and chauffeur; he also delivered the local newspaper. An earlier attempt to enlist in January of that year resulted in a knock back as his chest measurement did not meet standard.
Edwin’s father, Walter, was a local butcher who also enlisted one month after Edwin and was originally with the 13th Light Horse Regiment. Edwin’s eldest brother, Alfred, had enlisted in September 1914 with the 10th Battalion.
Edwin at War
On his enlistment in July 1915 at Keswick, South Australia, Edwin was assigned to the newly formed 32nd Battalion which was made up of recruits from South Australia and West Australia. There was much fanfare in South Australia about this, with gatherings, community support such as the Cheer-up Society, reviews by the Premier, etc. The men from Western Australia arrived in Adelaide at the end of August. Training for all continued until they departed from Adelaide on 18 November on the troop ship “Geelong”, headed for Egypt.
As reported in The Adelaide Register:
The 32nd Battalion went away with the determination to uphold the newborn prestige of Australian troops, and they were accorded a farewell which reflected the assurance of South Australians that that resolve would be realized.
After almost a month’s crossing, they disembarked in Suez on 13 December. Training and assignments continued until June 1916, taking them to El Ferdan, Ismailia, Tel el Kabir, Ferry Post and Moascar, along the Suez Canal. During their time in Egypt, they were inspected by H.R.H. Prince of Wales.
In mid-June 1916, the 32nd was assigned to join the British Expeditionary Force on the Western Front. Edwin embarked from Alexandria on the 17th and arrived in Marseilles on 23 June 1916. They then had a two-day trip to Hazebrouck, about 30 kilometres from Fleurbaix. One soldier wrote that:
“The people flocked out all along the line and cheered us as though we had the Kaiser as prisoner on board!!”
Their route took them to a station just out of Paris where they saw the Eiffel Tower. They also went up through Bologne and Calais, getting a view of the Channel before heading to Hazebrouck. Once off the train there were long marches, one soldier noting they were “well and truly fagged out”. At their camp in Morbecque training now focused on bayonets and the use of gas masks.
On 14 July, the 32nd moved into Fleurbaix and on 16 July were into the trenches.
D Company’s Lieutenant Sam Mills’ letters home were optimistic for the coming battle:
“We are not doing much work now, just enough to keep us fit—mostly route marching and helmet drill. We have our gas helmets and steel helmets, so we are prepared for anything. They are both very good, so a man is pretty safe.”
The 32nd were reconnoitring the trenches and cutting passages through the wires preparing for an attack on 17 July, but it was called off due to the weather. While there was no direct combat yet, they:
got our baptism of German shrapnel.
Edwin was part of A Company of the 32nd Battalion. According to the War Diary for the 32nd Battalion, on the night of the 19th July 1916, Companies A and C were in the front line to form the first and second waves.
At 5.53 pm, the troops were in position and moved over the parapet into No Man’s Land. By 6.30 pm they had moved to the 1st line of the enemy’s defence. Little progress was made due to the lack of sandbags and that the ditch was “1 to 2 feet of mud and slush in the bottom”. Heavy bombardment from the German lines continued all night and around 4am the Germans once again attacked.
The attack was a disastrous introduction to battle for the 32nd. It suffered 718 casualties, almost 75 per cent of the battalion's total strength, but closer to 90 per cent of its actual fighting strength. Private Edwin Gray was declared missing in action.
Searching for Edwin
In February 1917, Edwin’s brother, Lance Corporal 972 Alfred Gray, wrote to the Red Cross having heard his brother might be a prisoner of war. However, Edwin’s identification disc was received from Germany and his name appeared on the German Death List, dated 4 November 1916, and is file was noted:
No particulars were afforded except that soldier is deceased. To be reported as KILLED IN ACTION 20/7/16.
The family was officially notified he was killed in action on 2 April 1917, though the family still held out hope that he might be found. In a letter to Mr. A.J. Gray, brother, dated 26 October 1920 the Red Cross finally reported:
' ... our representative in Germany, after an exhaustive search, has found his name entered in a German death record. This entry merely states that he fell on 19th or 20th July 1916 near Fromelles; from it we presume that his body was found and buried by the Germans, where I fear, we shall never know, but probably with many others, in a large grave.'
Edwin, Finally Found
Indeed, as we now know, Edwin was buried in a mass grave at Pheasant Wood, his identification being officially confirmed in November 2022.
The location of the missing soldiers at Fromelles became the focus of the now historically famous and long-running investigation by Lambis Englezos, Ward Selby and John Fielding. Lambis had found aerial photographs of the site at Pheasant Wood, taken after the battle, showing what were believed to be burial mounds. Lambis thereafter concentrated his investigation on the site adjoining Pheasant Wood. This eventually led to the new Pheasant Wood Military Cemetery at Fromelles with all the remains unearthed in 2009, reburied in their own dedicated plots. The dedication ceremony took place on 19 July, 2010. 168 soldiers have now been identified.
An official ceremony will take place in the next year to honour Edwin and his sacrifice.
The Gray family at war
Multiple members of Edwin’s family were involved in both World Wars:
- His father and brother were on active service in WW1, both returning home after being wounded.
- His younger brother William Henry served in WW2 along with his nephews, including Edwin Alfred Gray who was killed in action in 1943.
- Cousins John Lord (Meritorious Service Medal) and Henry Lord (Military Medal) served in WW1
- Cousins Norman Badman and Alfred Irving Badman served in WW2. Alfred was killed in Action in Malaysia in 1945.
Edwin’s brother - 972 Corporal Alfred James GRAY, 10th Battalion - returned to Australia on 21 July 1918. He was a well-known lacrosse player and was wounded four times before being discharged as medically unfit due to loss of movement of his right leg: After returning home to Australia, he married and had two children. His son, Edwin Alfred Gray, was killed in action in 1943 in Papua New Guinea.
Edwin is commemorated at:
- VC Corner Cemetery and Memorial, Fromelles, France
- Adelaide National War Memorial
- Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour
- Crystal Brook District WW1 Roll of Honour
- Crystal Brook Memorial Rotunda
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