George Alphonsus BEVAN
Eyes hair dark brown, Hair eyes hazel, Complexion fair
George Alphonsus Bevan – A tough start to life
Born on 4 July 1898 at Korumburra, South Gippsland in Victoria, George’s birth was registered as George William Bevan to parents Alice Maud Gallagher and John Bevan. At some stage, George changed his middle name to Alphonsus, but we are unable to establish when this occurred.
No marriage records have yet been located for John and Alice although they lived as husband and wife. John had previously been married to Sarah Jane Archer in 1884 but it seems the marriage had failed – and being Catholic, divorce was unlikely. George was the fourth child of Alice Maud Gallagher – two older brothers died in infancy (Gilbert James Gallagher 1894-96 and William John Bevan 1897-97) but his sister Elsie 1896-1956 survived to adulthood.
The family lived in Korumburra and John’s occupation was listed as a miner with news articles from the time indicating that John was working at Coal Creek Leases. Tragically, George and his sister Elsie were to lose their mother in August 1900 just before her 25th birthday, and their father in April 1902 aged 41. Their mother, Alice, died as the result of a haemorrhage due to an ectopic pregnancy while their father, John, died from injuries after being accidently kicked by a horse.
After their parents’ deaths, it is likely that the children were sent initially to live with family. Alice’s mother, Selina Gallagher, may have had intermittent care of the children at various times. Certainly, a family connection was maintained as Selina was listed as George’s next of kin on his original enlistment papers in 1915. Further, a maternal aunt – Ernestina Gallagher, wife of Alice’s brother, George - applied in the weeks following their father’s death to have the two orphaned children boarded out to her care.
Sadly, by mid-1903 both George (nearly 5 years) and Elsie (7 years) were placed in the St Vincent de Paul’s Orphanage Schools in Melbourne – George in the Boys’ school in May 1903 and Elsie in the Girl’s school in July 1903. This was a case of ‘history repeating’ as 20 years earlier, their mother Alice and her siblings had also spent time in an orphanage after the death of their father in 1882.
George remained at the orphanage until 7th August 1911 when, aged 13 years, he left to begin work at Leongatha with the local farming family of Mrs G. Carmody. Elsie had left the orphanage in 1909 when, at the age of 13, she took on her first job in domestic service. During the next five years, she returned to the orphanage in between jobs until she finally left in 1914, aged 18. Elsie married James Maddison Wilson in 1917 and went on to have 12 children, a number of whom continued the legacy of service to Australia by enlisting during World War 11.
Around 1912, George joined the senior cadets, part of a compulsory militia program introduced in 1911 under the Universal Soldier Scheme for males aged 12 to 29. A member of the 45th Battalion, George served as a senior cadet for 3 years.
In March 1915, George – aged just 16 years and 8 months – enlisted with the AIF bumping his age up to 18. Two files exist one showing his grandmother as next of kin (service number 4636) and another showing his sister Elsie Bevan as next of kin (service number 4973). Neither file is complete, and some dates seem incorrect so we may never know the exact details of George’s enlistment.
However, whilst in training, George made the news on a couple of occasions. In September 1915, he was assaulted at the railway station and the defendants were both found guilty, fined and sentenced to 7 days prison. Then, in December 1915, George and two mates saved the life of another lad from drowning by rescuing him from the Goulburn River and rendering first aid.
Georges sister Elsie married James Maddison Wilson in 1917 and went on to have 12 children. One of her sons was a Prisoner of War during WW11 and some of her other sons also enlisted, continuing the legacy of service to Australia.
George goes to war
George left Melbourne on 7 March 1916 with the 5th Battalion on board HMAT A18 Wiltshire, arriving in Egypt in early April. With the Western Front expanding and the heavy recruiting programs back home, major reorganizations of Australian troops were underway including the formation of the 59th Battalion in Egypt in February 1916.
Accordingly, shortly after his arrival in Egypt, George was transferred to the 59th who were then at the Duntroon Plateau area but later headed for the Western Front. They boarded the ship Kinfaus Castle in Alexandria on 18 June 1916 and disembarked in Marseilles on 29 June. From there they took a train to Steenbeque, 35 kilometres from Fromelles, and continued their training – including in the use of gas masks and learning to deal with the effects of large shells.
On 18 July, they were sent to the trenches to relieve the 57th Battalion. The front lines were under heavy artillery from both sides. Their position was near the Sugar Loaf salient, a prominent German machine gun emplacement.
Beginning at 6.45pm on the 19th, their attack on the German lines was to proceed with four waves at 5-minute intervals. There was intense fire from rifles and machine guns just a short distance away, 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 and every man who rises is shot down”.
The 15th Brigade notes on the battle captures the intensity of the early part of the attack:
‘they were enfiladed by machine guns in the Sugar Loaf and melted away.’
As one can well imagine with the intensity of the battle at this particular site, there was a great deal of confusion about just how far the soldiers were able to penetrate the German lines. The official reports indicate little progress was achieved, but individuals’ reports suggest there were some advances.
The toll on the 59th was huge – 695 soldiers killed, missing or wounded.
George, just 15 days after his 18th birthday, was one of those soldiers killed at the Battle of Fromelles. A note on his AIF file simply states that he was presumed buried in No Man’s Land.
A Court of Enquiry, held in the field, 29 August 1917, pronounced George’s fate as 'Killed in Action, 19 July 1916'. His only surviving close relative, his sister Elsie, wrote to Base records requesting his medals and memorials information. She was required to prove that she was the closest relative.
With no known grave, George is commemorated at V.C. Corner (Panel No 15), Australian Cemetery and Memorial, Fromelles.
The search continues to locate YDNA donors for George. Particularly for his father John Bevan(s) and Grandfather William or John Bevan(s), Miners from Liverpool.
DNA is still being sought for family connections to
|Soldier||George Alphonsus William Bevan 1898-1916|
|Parents||John Bevan(s) born Liverpool (c1861-1902), UK and Alice Maud Gallagher born Wagga, Wagga, NSW (1875-1900). John previously married to Sarah Jane Archer.|
|Paternal||William John Bevans, from Liverpool and Anne Ryan|
|Maternal||Peter Gallagher and Bridget Selina Fleming (1844-1916)|
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