George Probert MILLARD
Eyes hazel, Hair brown, Complexion dark
Two Sons Lost – The Story of the Millard Family
Can you help us identify George?
George Probert Millard was killed in Action at Fromelles. As part of the 31st Battalion he was positioned near where the Germans collected soldiers who were later buried at Pheasant Wood. There is a chance he might be identified, but we need help. We are still searching for suitable family DNA donors.
In 2008 a mass grave was found at Fromelles, a grave the Germans dug for 250 (Australian) bodies they recovered after the battle.
If you know anything of contacts here in Australia or in Wales and England, please contact the Fromelles Association.
See the DNA box at the end of the story for what we do know about his family.
George Probert Millard was born on 11 April 1892 in Ipswich, Queensland to Thomas Probert and Mary Ellen “Nellie” (nee Summers) Millard. Thomas and Mary Ellen had five children:
- Alfred Thomas 1889–1917
- George Probert 1892–1916
- Violet Mabel 1895–1948, married Eric Mackay
- Elsie Selina 1898–1989, married William Rogers
- Frederick Rowland John 1902–1985, married Annie Marie Koppe
Thomas was originally from Wales and Nellie from England. They emigrated to Australia in 1891 and moved to Zillmere, a northeastern suburb of Brisbane. Thomas worked as the local railway stationmaster during their time at Zillmere. George attended the Zillmere School of Arts, which was established in 1889 and also the Avondale State School, which is 400 km north of Brisbane.
It is likely that his father moved to the Avondale area as the Queensland North Coast Railroad Line was being extended to the north. While George enlisted in Brisbane and he said he was a labourer, his mother Nellie’s notes on his Roll of Honour information state that he was a farmer and ‘chiefly connected’ with Avondale, a sugar cane area.
Off to War
George enlisted on 17 July 1915 in Brisbane and was assigned to the newly formed 31st Battalion, A Company. The Battalion was made up of two companies from Queensland and two from Victoria. After their initial training, the Queensland soldiers were moved to Melbourne and they left for Egypt on the HMAT A62 Wandilla on 9 November 1915. They docked at Port Suez exactly four weeks after leaving Melbourne. Initial assignments were in Serapeum until near the end of February and then in Tel el Kebir. When they left Serapeum, they were moved for the 60 km trip in ‘dirty horse trucks’.
Source AWM4 23/48/7, 31st Battalion War Diaries, Feb 1916, page 5.
Moves followed at the end of March to Ferry Post and Duntroon Camp for training and guarding the Suez Canal and finally to Moascar at the end of May. The months passed in training and sightseeing, but by the time the 31st Battalion was transferred to France, the men were all heartily sick of Egypt. Private Les Smith’s (934) letter home pretty well sums it up.
The Western Front – Fromelles
On 15 June, the 31st Battalion began to make their way to the Western Front, first by train from Moascar to Alexandria and then aboard the troopship Hororata , sailing to Marseilles. After disembarking on 23 June, they took a train to Steenbeque and marched to Morbecque, 35 km from Fleurbaix, arriving on 26 June. The battalion strength was 1019 soldiers. Training continued, with how to handle poisonous gas now included in their regimen. They began their move towards Fleurbaix on 8 July and by 11 July they were into the trenches for the first time and then were in and out of the trenches over the next few days.
The original plan was for an attack on the 17th, but bad weather caused it to be postponed. By 4.00 PM on the 19th they were back into position for their attack. The assault began at 5.58 PM and they went forward in four waves, George’s A Company and C Company in the first two waves and B and D Companies were in the 3rd and 4th waves. The pre battle bombardment did have a big impact on German first line trenches and the 31st quickly advanced to the second line, which was mostly ditches filled with water. Even with the initial support, they remained under heavy artillery from both sides.
By 8.30 PM the Australians’ left flank had come under heavy bombardment with high explosives and shrapnel. Return bombardment support was provided and the troops were told that ‘the trenches were to be held at all costs’.
Source AWM4 23/49/12, 32nd Battalion War Diaries, July 1916, page 12.
Fighting continued through the night. The Australians made a further charge at the main German line beyond Trench B, but they were low on grenades, there was machine gun fire from behind from the emplacement at Delangre Farm and they were so far advanced that they were getting shelled by both sides.
At 4.00 AM the Germans began an attack from the Australian’s left flank, bombing and advancing into Trench A (map). Given the Australian advances that had been made earlier, portions of the rear Trench E had been left almost empty, which then enabled the Germans to be in a position to surround the soldiers. At 5.30 AM the Germans attacked from both flanks in force with bombing parties. Having only a few grenades left, the only resistance the 31st could offer was with rifles. “The enemy swarmed in and the retirement across No Mans’ Land resembled a shambles, the enemy artillery and machine guns doing deadly damage.”
Source: AWM4 23/48/12, 31st Battalion War Diaries, July 1916, page 29
The 31st were out of the trenches by the end of the day on the 20th. From the 1019 soldiers who left Egypt, the initial impact was assessed as 77 soldiers were killed or died of wounds, 414 were wounded and 85 were missing. The bravery of the soldiers of the 31st was well recognised by their own Battalion commanders.
To get some perspective of the battle, when Charles Bean, Australia’s official war historian, attended the battlefield two and half years later, he observed a large amount of bones, torn uniforms and Australian kit still on the battlefield. The ultimate total was that 166 soldiers from the 31st were either killed or died from wounds and of this total 84 were missing/unidentified. To date (2023), 22 of those missing have been identified from the mass grave the Germans dug at Pheasant Wood that was discovered in 2008. These soldiers are now properly buried in the Pheasant Wood Cemetery.
###Mixed Messages for George’s family after the battle
While the family were notified after the battle that George was missing, his father had also received a letter from W. Weston (likely William Weston (1680), 11th Field Artillery Brigade, also from Zillmere) who wrote that George had been wounded in the arm at Fromelles, but also that Weston was unable to trace him in any of the English hospitals. Thomas wrote the Army in September 1916 asking for further information about his son.
Then a report on 21 January 1917 from Private Charles Jenkinson (236) said George was thought to be a Prisoner of War.
However, a month later Lieutenant Ivon Gair refuted this. There were also no communications from the Germans about George having being captured. Private Jenkinson was wounded in action at Fromelles. He he was killed on 14th March 1917 and is buried at Beaulencourt British Cemetery. Lieutenant Gair was wounded at Fromelles and was wounded again at the breaking of the Hindenburg Line at Bellicourt on Sept 29th 1918.
He died of his wounds on the following day and is buried at Tincourt New British Cemetery in France. With no further findings, George was officially reported as 'Killed in Action, 20 July 1916' in a Court of Enquiry, held in the field on 1 August 1917. There is also a note on his file that states 'Buried in vicinity of Fleurbaix, Sh.36 N.W.', but this is a very broad reference and is in a number of other soldiers’ files.
George was awarded the 1914/15 Star, British War and Victory medals along with a Memorial Scroll and a Memorial Plaque.
Another Son Lost
Alfred Thomas Millard, George’s older brother, enlisted six months after his brother. Alfred was assigned to the 47th Battalion. He was killed in action on 12 August 1917 at Messines, Belgium. Alfred is buried at Derry House Cemetery No. 2 (Plot II, Row B, Grave No. 12), Wytschaete, Belgium.
Losing two sons, so close together was undoubtably devastating for the family. The memorial notices from the time give a clue to the sorrow felt.
Thomas was the Chairman of the local Patriotic Committee of Zillmere and after the War was part of the dedication ceremony for the Marchant Gates memorial when they were unveiled.
George and Alfred also have memorial headstones at Cleveland Cemetery, Redlands Shire Queensland.
George is also commemorated at V.C. Corner (Panel No 3), Australian Cemetery Memorial, Fromelles, France, the Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour and the Bundaberg War Memorial.
DNA samples are being sought for family connections to
|George Probert Millard (Born 1892 Ipswich, Queensland – Died 1916 Fromelles, France)
|Thomas Probert Millard (1866-1950) b Blaenavon, Monmouthshire, Wales d Cleveland, Queensland and Mary Ellen ‘Nellie’ Summers (1867-1935) b Bristol, Gloucestershire, England, d Cleveland, Queensland
|Alfred Thomas (1889-1917) b Barton Regis, Gloucestershire, United Kingdom d Married Info
|Violet Mabel (1895-1948) b Australia, d Gin Gin, Queensland Married Eric MacKay
|Elsie Selina (1898-1989) b Australia, b Laidley, Queensland d Maryborough, Queensland Married William Rodgers (1901-1982)
|Frederick Rowland John (1902–1985) Married Annie Marie Koppe
|John Millard ( b 1842 d 1904) Pontnewynydd, Monmouthshire, Wales and Elizabeth Hughes ( b 1847 Monmouthshire Wales
|Elijah Summers (1826-1888) b Chardstock, Dorset, England d Bristol, Gloucestershire, England and Martha Pearce (1791-1854) b Chardstock, Dorset, England d Clifton, Bristol, Gloucestershire, England
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