Headstone for an unknown soldier representing Pte George R. GRAY 1890-1916
Fromelles Association of Australia

George Robert GRAY

Regimental Number
War Service
Egypt and Western Front
Prior Military Service
31 Jul 1915 at Sydney, NSW
30 Sep 1915 from Sydney, NSW, on the HMAT A8 Argyllshire
Next of Kin
Father - Charles Gray, Bexley, Sydney, New South Wales
Date & Place of Birth
1889, Sydney, NSW
Charles GRAY and mother unknown
Marital Status
None known
Physical Description
5 feet 6 1/2 inches, 126 pounds (168.9cm, 57.2kg)
Eyes hazel, Hair brown, Complexion fresh
Church of England
Killed in Action, 20 Jul 1916, Fromelles, France - aged 26
Place of Burial
No known grave
V.C. Corner, (Panel 10), Australian Cemetery and Memorial, Fromelles, France
Positively Identified

George Gray – Untraceable?

DNA search - Can you help?:

Do you know anything of George’s relatives possibly from Bexley, Sydney? Or anywhere!!

George Robert Gray is one of the soldiers still missing, named by the Germans as having died in their lines on 19/20 July 1916. His attestation papers appear typical, as do the remainder of his military file. The details of his death are stated in the German documentation as being while a Prisoner of War.

Some clues to the difficulty in tracing his next of kin appear in his AIF Personnel file in late 1916 when the telegram to next of kin could not be delivered. Subsequently, a constant stream of correspondence failed to be delivered to his father. It seems Mr Charles Gray was at Bexley in 1915 but by 1916 he was gone.

At the time of writing (May 2023), just over two-thirds of the 250 in the Fromelles mass graves have been identified through family DNA but we are still looking for suitable DNA for George. Certainly, others from the 54th have been identified.

See the DNA box at the end of the story. And if you can help, we’d love to hear from you.

UNTRACEABLE. Assumed identity? Or family cannot be found?

The following writings further explore our attempts to find suitable DNA Donors, and to consider what may have happened to the body of a man known as George Gray.

Genealogical research commenced in 2012 with a search for George’s birth, and that of his father. Trove, various genealogical search engines, Birth Death and Marriage (BDM) records, and Google all failed to provide any confirmation that George or his father Charles existed. That is most unusual.

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Initially, hopes were raised that this public notice in 1921 about a name change to Charles Gray may provide answers however further research has not shown any connection to our soldier.

We also managed to search government records to see if a Charles Gray may have lived for a time in Bexley (Sydney) and either passed or was moved with his employment. We had no success. Searches were also carried out under the names of “George” Black / Gray / Grey / White with no result.

In 2013, a complete peer review of the evidence gathered to date was handed to another researcher to examine whether the initial research was valid.

What we consider are the issues of importance:

  • George was probably not underage (a common reason for incorrect information being provided to authorities), as his attestation papers indicate an age of 25 – well above the recruitment age.
  • George and his father may have resided in Bexley, but no proof exists to support this statement.
  • No BDM Certificates have been located to confirm either person’s identity.
  • No genealogical data was located confirming that George or his father were ever confirmed as a component within a family named Gray.
  • Contemporaneous records, during and immediately after the war, were also not sufficient to allow either the Army or the Public Trustee to locate George’s father, Charles Gray. Both entities were trying to contact Charles regarding his son’s death, entitlement to service medals and finalising his estate. So, it seems our difficulties of identification have not been caused solely by the passage of time.
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Next of kin could not be traced creating difficulties finalizing George’s estate which, in all probability, consisted of his outstanding pay entitlements. His AIF file has additional notations dated 1922 to say that all his medals were categorized as untraceable, meaning his father had not been located.
source NAA: B2455, GRAY, George Robert – First AIF Personnel Dossiers, 1914-1920, page 35

On the balance of probabilities, we think that George Robert Gray could have been from a one parent family, who did not “do” correspondence. Possibly George had been of support to his father, rather than the other way round.

Is George Gray an assumed identity? While probably not underage, perhaps he had been previously rejected for enlistment on medical grounds and so adopted a false identity? Or is he a real person, and we just haven’t been able to tie all of the loose ends together?

George’s body may or may not lie in a grave at Pheasant Wood Cemetery, but it follows the pattern of records of those who are buried there. Simply stated, there is no conclusive evidence either way – but the more “normal” records of the German Army (known as the German death list) indicate that most soldiers who died in the battle were noted as dying in the vicinity of Fromelles.

Even with the finding of a body, the inability to prove family connections means that it appears impossible to ever identify George.

The little we do know of George Robert Gray – his time at war

George enlisted on 31 July 1915 claiming to be 25 years and 5 months old and born in the County of Cumberland, Sydney. By a countback, that would make his birth in February 1890. On medical records, George is described as: 5 feet 6½ inches, 126 pounds, fresh complexion, hazel eyes, brown hair. He was a labourer and his next of kin his father, Charles, who lived in Bexley, Sydney, New South Wales. It is possible that his father was also a labourer.

He underwent training at the Liverpool camp and was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 9th reinforcements who left Sydney on 30 September 1915 arriving in Egypt some 32 days later on board HMAT A8 Argyllshire.

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HMAT A8 Argyllshire in dazzle camouflage leaving Sydney Harbour, 1915 with Pte George Gray on board.
source NLA PIC/15611/14887 LOC Cold Store PIC/15611 – photo by Herbert H. Fishwick
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An officers’ mess menu from HMAT Argyllshire on 16 October 1915. It is unlikely that this menu extended to George and the ‘other ranks’ but gives us an insight into the time.
source AWM: PUB00603

George continued training in Egypt until the main body of the 2nd Battalion arrived from Gallipoli (via Lemnos). George formally joined the 2nd Battalion at Tel-el-Kebir on 5 February 1916 but, only 9 days later (Valentine’s Day), he was transferred to the 54th Battalion as part of the massive re-structure of Australian troops after Gallipoli. The AIF had seasoned troops from Gallipoli and thousands of raw recruits pouring in from Australia and they faced a massive task to integrate the two. The 54th became part of the 14th Brigade of the 5th Australian Division.

Moving to France in June 1916, the 54th Battalion fought its first major battle on the Western Front at Fromelles on 19 July. It was a disaster. They were part of the initial assault and suffered casualties equivalent to 65 per cent of its fighting strength.

One of those casualties was Private George R. Gray

The only Australian record of George’s fate is evidence from Corporal 4147 Joseph Barron, 54th Battalion, given to the Red Cross. Joseph had seen George and two other soldiers from A company in the German trenches on July 19th “having got through the charge all right.” Joseph reported that they had to retire from that position the next day and that “the Germans outflanked us and took a number of prisoners. There is quite a fair chance that all three are prisoners.”

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Evidence from Corporal 4147 Joseph BARRON on about Privates 2927 George R. GRAY and 4512 Percy A. HASLAM and Corporal 4518 Bertram E. HORNE and the likelihood that the three were taken prisoner.
source AWM: Australian Red Cross Wounded and Missing Files – 2927 GRAY, George Robert – p 3

It seems that Joseph Barron’s evidence was close to the mark. Private 4512 Percy Haslam and Corporal 4518 Bertram Horne were confirmed as prisoners of war and spent the remainder of the war in German POW camps. From German records, it seems that George was also registered as a prisoner of war but died shortly afterwards as their records say he died on 19 or 20 July, soon after capture.

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Red cross notation confirming details of German records concerning George’s death on 20 July 1916 as a prisoner of war.
source AWM: Australian Red Cross Wounded and Missing Files – 2927 GRAY, George Robert – p 10
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George’s personalized metal identification tag that was returned by the Germans. Efforts were made to return this to his father but he was not located.
source NAA: B2455, GRAY, George Robert – First AIF Personnel Dossiers 1914-1920 – p.17

We were unable to substantiate that a George Robert Gray was born and lived, but we know that George died fighting for his country.

His name is commemorated on the VC Corner Australian Memorial at Fromelles together with many of his other fallen comrades with no known grave.

We will not concede an end to our research. If you can shed any light on this man, please contact any of the people listed.

DNA samples are being sought from ancestors and descendants of George Robert Gray

SoldierGeorge Robert GRAY of Bexley Sydney NSW b. abt 1889
ParentsCharles GRAY of Bexley, Sydney, NSW.

Seeking DNA Donors

Fromelles Association of Australia


The Fromelles Association welcomes all contact regarding this soldier.
(Contact: royce@fromelles.info or geoffrey@fromelles.info).
We also urge any family members to contact and register with the Australian Army
(Contact: army.uwc@defence.gov.au or phone 1800 019 090).


The Fromelles Association maintains this web site, purely by donations received.
If you are able, please contribute to the upkeep of this resource.
(Contact: bill@fromelles.info ).