Harold George CLEMENTS
Eyes hair black, Hair eyes brown, Complexion sallow
Two of Australia’s Noblest and Best
Can you help us identify Harold?
Brothers Harold and Jack were killed in Action at Fromelles, but Harold’s body was not recovered. As part of the 59th Battalion he was positioned near where the Germans collected soldiers who were later buried at the Pheasant Wood Cemetery. 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 that the Germans dug for 250 (Australian) bodies they recovered after the battle. If you know anything of contacts here in Australia, please contact the Fromelles Association.
See the DNA box at the end of the story for what we do know about his family.
The Clements Brothers
Brothers Harold George Clements, born in May 1890, and Vivian John (Jack) Clements, born in October 1893, both served in the 59th Battalion in World War I. Their parents were Thomas and Mary (nee Vawdrey) Clements. They also had a sister, Ivy, and a younger brother, Thomas.
The family was living in at Healesville, Victoria at the time they were born, where their father ran a successful produce and timber business, employing a small army of splitters, teamsters, and sawmill hands. He had also been prominent in the social and public life of Healesville during their time their.
When a gold mining boom kicked off in the hills east of Melbourne in the late 1890’s, they moved 100 km east to the small, but growing town of Woods Point. While here, Harold finished his education and became a junior teacher at the Woods Point Public School.
The family later moved south to Bairnsdale, on the coast of Victoria. After Harold finished his teaching training in 1912, he was appointed to be in charge of the Kalimna School located just outside of Lakes Entrance, east of Bairnsdale. Jack worked as a linesman and a sawmiller. Both sons were active for many years in the Bairnsdale Rifle Club with Harold having served as Captain.
Enlistment, Training and Egypt
Harold and Jack enlisted together on 24 July 1915 at Melbourne. The Bairnsdale Advertiser and Tambo and Omeo Chronicle ran the following article on that day:
“BAIRNSDALE AND THE WAR - NUMBER OF ENLISTMENTS, 353
Bairnsdale and district has responded nobly in the call to arms, as will be seen from the list of volunteers given below…” “The total number of names is 353 - a highly satisfactory record, and the best evidence that could be given of the patriotism of the young manhood of the town and district. “
“Proudly they went, with hearts aglow,
To bravely do or die,
The startled sea-birds winging low
Have heard their battle-cry.”
While they both signed up at the same time, Harold was assigned to the 23rd Battalion, 10th Reinforcement and Jack to the 22nd Battalion, 7th Reinforcement. The brothers then headed off for their military training in the camp at Seymour, Victoria.
Jack’s unit was sent to Egypt first, embarking from Melbourne on HMAT A73 Commonwealth on 26 November 1915. Harold did not head out until much later, 7 March 1916, sailing on HMAT A18 Wiltshire .
With soldiers returning from Gallipoli and the thousands of newly recruited soldiers arriving in Egypt from Australia, reorganizations were inevitable. Jack was moved from the 22nd to the newly created 57th on 26 February, then just two weeks later he was reassigned to the 59th.
Half of the soldiers in this new battalion were Gallipoli veterans. Their duties in Egypt were training and defence of the Suez Canal. In mid-March they were inspected by H.R.H the Prince of Wales. In late March, there was a two day, 50 km march from Tel el Kebir to Ferry Post, near the Suez Canal, for training and guarding of the Canal.
Harold arrived in Egypt in early April and was soon reunited with his bother being transferred to the 59th on 21 April. They continued their training at several sites in the area. While here, Harold was promoted to Corporal on 9 May 1916. It was not all work for the brothers, however. A 5th Division Sports Championship was held on 14 June, which was won the by the brothers’ brigade. The very next day they began preparations to head to the Western Front.
The Western Front
Harold and Jack boarded the Kinfaus Castle in Alexandria on 18 June 1916. After a brief stop in Malta, they disembarked in Marseilles at 7 AM on 29 June. By 10 PM they were on a train headed for Steenbeque, 35 km from Fromelles, arriving on 2 July. Training continued, but with a higher sense of urgency, and it now included the use of gas masks and learning to deal with the effects of large shells.
On 3 July, Jack was promoted to Lance Corporal. The move to the front continued. On 9 July they were in Sailly sur la Lys, just 1000 yards from the trenches.
The plan for the battle had the 59th Battalion in an unenviable position, directly across from the Sugar Loaf salient - a prominent, heavily armed, German machine gun emplacement which dominated the front lines. Fire from here could enfilade any troops advancing towards the front lines, giving the Germans a significant advantage. If the Sugar Loaf could not be taken, Australian advances would also be subjected to counterattacks from that direction.
They moved into the trenches for the first time at 4 PM on 18 July, in relief of the 57th Battalion. There was heavy artillery ongoing from both sides in this very small area. Bill Boyce (3022, 58th) summed the situation up well, “What have I let myself in for?” Source Australian War Memorial Collection C386815 They did not settle in the front trenches for long.
The attack on the German lines began at 5:45 PM on the 19th. The 59th went over their parapet in four waves at 5 minute intervals, A & B Companies in the first two waves, C & D in the next two. There was immediate and intense fire from rifles and the Sugar Loaf machine guns. As documented in the messages sent back to HQ just after the attacks began:
“cannot get on the trenches as they are full of the enemy”
“every man who rises is shot down”
“they were enfiladed by machine guns in the Sugar Loaf and melted away”’
The British 184th Brigade just to the right of the 59th met with the same resistance, but at 8:00 PM they got orders that no further attacks would take place that night. However, the salient between the troops limited communications between the two and this now left the Australians to continue their attack without British support from their now exposed right flank. The official reports indicate advances were limited, but individuals’ reports suggest that some did reach the German parapet.
With little support being available, however, they had to drop back. The attack was ended early on the morning of the 20th. At the 8 AM roll call, out of a battalion of about 1000 soldiers, 4 officers and 90 other ranks reported in. The initial toll was 26 killed or died of wounds, 394 were wounded and 274 were missing – 694 soldiers.
Ultimately, 338 soldiers were killed in action or died from their wounds from this battle. 239 of these remain unidentified. While there was no cease fire after the battle, parties did go to No-Man’s Land to bring back wounded soldiers, with over 200 soldiers recovered on 20 July.
After the Battle
Jack was reported as missing in No Man's Land, but his body was found later. He was buried in the Rue Petillon Military Cemetery near Fleurbaix, Plot 1 Row B Grave 29, just a few hundred metres from where he died.
After the battle, Harold was also reported as missing, but neither his identity disc nor his remains have been found, even to this day. His records reflect “presumed buried in No Man's Land” (coordinates mentioned in his AIF record). He was declared as killed in action following a Court of Enquiry held on 29 August 1917.
Both were awarded the Victory Medal, British War Medal, a Memorial Plaque and a Memorial Scroll. They are commemorated on the Australian War Memorial, Canberra, Panel 167 and Bairnsdale Roll of Honour. Harold is also commemorated at VC Corner Memorial Panel 15 at Fromelles, the Lakes Entrance Memorial, the Healesville War Memorial and is on the Honour Board of the Kalimna State School, currently at the Lakes Entrance RSL.
DNA samples are being sought for family connections to
|Soldier||Harold George Clements (1890-1916)|
|Parents||Thomas Clements ( 1862 – 1933) Glen Huntly, Victoria and Mary Jane Vawdry (1865-1954) Geelong, Victoria|
|Siblings||Vivian John (1893-1916) Killed in Action, Fromelles, France|
|Ivy Jane (1892-1917) married William Thomas Bennett|
|Thomas Vawdrey (1900 - 1986) married Hilda Oliver|
|Paternal||Mark William Clements (1832-1890) Wychitella, Victoria and Eliza Maunder (1836-1975) Clunes, Victoria|
|Maternal||John Vawdrey (1839-1899) Ballarat, Victoria and Mary Hicks (1842-1904) Ballarat, Victoria|
Seeking DNA Donors
(Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com).
(Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 1800 019 090).
If you are able, please contribute to the upkeep of this resource.
(Contact: email@example.com ).