Gerardus Johannes Verburgh PALING
Eyes grey, Hair black, Complexion brown
A musical family – in Europe and in Australia
The Paling family, originally from the Netherlands, were well-known in the Australian music industry for well over a century. Brothers William and Richard Paling, born in Rotterdam, emigrated to Australia in the mid-1850s leaving their father Jan Hendrik Paling (1796-1879) - a pianist, violinist, organist and carillonneur - in Rotterdam to run the family business (music retailer and publisher and piano manufacturer) with a younger son, Anton.
William Paling 1825-1895, the elder brother, performed and offered tutoring in piano and violin and also established W. H. Paling and Co. originally selling pianos and publishing popular sheet music. That firm grew over time to become a successful commercial enterprise with Palings shops flourishing in many towns across New South Wales and Queensland. They were also a major publisher and distributor of popular sheet music.
The younger brother, Richard John Paling 1829-1914, was father to our soldier, Gerald. Richard migrated initially to Sydney in 1856 but later moved to Melbourne and ran a music store and importing agency from 1857 to 1886.
Gerald Paling’s family
Richard married Florence Mary Maria Evans in 1863 and over the next 23 years had fourteen children, only nine of whom lived to adulthood (six boys, three girls). Gerald (Gerardus) was the twelfth of those fourteen children. Shortly after the youngest was born in 1886, the family moved from Melbourne to Sydney to work with his brother. By this stage, their oldest child William was already working in Melbourne as a solicitor.
The younger children accompanied their parents to Sydney to create a new life in Bondi living at their home “Vuna” in Ocean Street. Gerald was only about 4 at the time of the move and completed most of his education in New South Wales although Queensland school registers show that Gerald and his younger brother Reginald spent some time at Toowoomba South Boys School around 1892 – possibly while his father worked at the Toowoomba branch of Paling’s Music Store. Gerald completed his education at Sydney Grammar School.
From news reports, researchers discovered that the younger Paling boys were members of the Bondi Swimming Club with Gerald and Reginald regularly featuring in published competition results. In fact, an engraved gold medal awarded by the Bondi Swimming Club to Reginald was reported to police as lost or stolen in 1911 [Source: NSW Police Gazette, 4 Oct 1911, page 364]. Who knows if it was ever recovered?
After finishing his schooling, Gerald worked as a wool classer. This is the occupation he listed in the 1913 electoral roll where it shows he was living with his parents (Richard and Florence), three of his sisters (Cecilia, Eugenie, and Winifred) and his brother (Reginald) at 39 Ocean Street, Bondi. His father is shown as being of “independent means” and his brother a clerk while his mother and sisters’ occupations are listed as the usual “domestic duties”.
The following year in March 1914, Gerald’s father Richard died aged 84 leaving an estate of £36,500, most of which consisted of shares in W. H. Paling & Co.
Four months after Richard’s death, war began heralding more change for the Paling family.
The first known impact of the war for the Paling family was the enlistment in February 1915 of one of Gerald’s older brothers, 41-year-old Theodore Thurston Paling. Theodore was a clerk and married with two sons and one stepson. He joined the 19th Battalion which left Australia in June 1915. He served in Gallipoli and in France but suffered periods of illness before eventually being returned to Australia due to his age. He was officially discharged in August 1917, aged 43. Theodore’s son, Victor, also attempted to enlist in June 1918 but was rejected on medical grounds.
Shortly, after Theodore embarked for Gallipoli, 32-year-old Gerald enlisted in July 1915 giving his mother as his next of kin. The address he gave for her was the Melbourne home of his eldest sister, Cecelia Wallace (nee Paling) so it seems probable that the family relocated from Sydney after Richard’s death the previous year. Gerald was assigned to the 2nd Battalion and eventually left Australia in November 1915 on board the troopship HMAT A14 Euripides.
War Service in Egypt and France
After arriving in Egypt, Gerald continued training with the 2nd Battalion until February 1916 when he was transferred to the newly formed 53rd Battalion as part of the "doubling" of the AIF. Half of its recruits were Gallipoli veterans from the 1st Battalion, and the other half, fresh reinforcements from Australia – including Gerald. It was at this time that Gerald’s regimental service number was changed to add the letter ‘A’ (3540A) to distinguish his records from another soldier with the same number.
Training in the new battalion continued until June although Gerald had a short period in May hospitalised with rheumatism. It was on 27 June 1916 that the Battalion arrived in France and made their way to the western front. On 8 July, Gerald took the serious step of making his will, leaving all his property to his widowed sister, Cecilia Wallace.
The 53rd Battalion became embroiled in its first major battle on the Western Front, at Fromelles, on 19 July where the battalion was part of the initial assault on German lines. The AWM website described the battle of Fromelles as a disaster with the 53rd suffering grievous losses with 625 casualties, including its commanding officer, Lt. Col. Norris. These losses were over three-quarters of its attacking strength.
Gerald’s fate – Killed in Action
There are at least three eye-witness reports in his Red Cross file from 53rd Battalion comrades that indicate that Pte G. J. V. Paling was killed in the Battle of Fromelles whilst carrying ammunition on the evening of 19 July 1916.
In addition to the evidence pictured above, Pte 3433 Robert W. THOMAS gave statements about Gerald’s death on two occasions in mid-1917. He indicated that Gerald was known as “Jerry” and stated:
“I saw him killed whilst carrying ammunition at Fleurbaix on July 19th. Two bullets struck him in chest killing him instantly. I do not think he was buried. He came from Bondi, Sydney. Related to Paling’s, the piano merchants.”
“I saw Paling killed, we were in the same section. He was shot through the chest with a machine gun. He was carrying ammunition at the time, it was south of Armentieres. It happened about 6p.m. on July 19th. He was in C Company and at that time I was in C Coy, XI Pltn. I had to go on and could not say what happened to him.”
Editorial Note: It is not unusual that accounts of soldier deaths vary greatly, as to location and how killed. To pass an informed opinion as to why this is so, over 100 years after the death, is impossible. What is possible is to consider that some statements were written to convey that a quick death occurred, whilst others were written in 1917, sometime after the events of July 1916. The last-mentioned Red Cross files could be “clouded” by time.
Family at home
Gerald’s mother as next of kin was notified in late July 1916 that he was missing in action.
His AIF file shows no further correspondence with Gerald’s family until his personal effects – a wallet, letters and a photo – were returned to his mother on 30 August 1917. It is likely however, that the family were receiving some information through the Red Cross and possibly from soldiers who survived the battle.
A formal court of enquiry was held on 2 September 1917, and it was determined that Gerald had been killed in action on 19 July 1916. Notification of the finding was sent to Florence Paling on 14 September 1917.
Gerald’s war service medals, memorial plaque and commemorative scroll were sent to his mother as his next of kin, the last item being received some months before her death in November 1923 aged 83.
He is commemorated on his parents’ gravestone as well as on:
- VC Corner (panel 9), Australian Memorial and Cemetery, Fromelles
- Australian War Memorial, Canberra, ACT
- Sydney Grammar School WW1 Honour Board, Sydney, NSW
- Waverley Soldiers’ War Memorial, Bondi, New South Wales
He has also been remembered by family over the decades with memorial notices appearing in newspapers for many years. He is not forgotten even though his final resting place remains unknown. If you can help, please contact us.
We need help with DNA. While a very large family, vital DNA donors have not been located. And to “give Gerry” a chance to be identified, we would very much appreciate contact being established with related members of the following families.
- Dacomb (Florence’s sister, Eliza Evans, married Edmund Dacomb – SA and Vic)
DNA is still being sought for
|Soldier||Gerardus (Gerald) Johannes Verburgh PALING 1882-1916|
|Parents||Richard J. PALING b 1829 Rotterdam, Netherlands. D 1914 Sydney, NSW|
|Florence M. M. EVANS b 1840 Bedfordshire, England d 1923 Melbourne, Victoria|
|Paternal||Jan Hendrik PALING 1796-1979 and Agatha 1799-1993 Rotterdam, Netherlands|
|Maternal||Thomas EVANS b 1793 Somerset, England d 1875 Sydney, NSW and Frances Jane THURSTON b 1811 Somerset, England d 1875 Sydney, NSW|
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