Topic: GW - We forgot
Great War Issues
Lest We Forget - But We Did Anyway
George William Pearson
An outline of Pearson's case as told by him
[Melbourne Truth, 8 December 1916, p. 4.]
The story of 981 Private George William Pearson and justice denied.
Outline of events
981 Private George William Pearson, of the 6th Infantry Battalion, H Company, enlisted in the first month of the war (20 August 1914) at the age of 20 for service in the First Contingent. He went to Egypt and spent time at Maadi Camp. Following that, was on shore at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915. During the fighting at Gallipoli, he looks like he did some bombing for Colonel Harold Edward "Pompey" Elliott and personally cared for the wounds of Major Harry Gordon, who later became the Commander of the 6th Infantry Battalion. On 13 July 1915, he was wounded in nine places by sharpnel in the face and arm. He was evacuated from Gallipoli and admitted to a hospital in Malta and then to England.
After Pearson's return to Egypt, he was transferred from the 6th Infantry Battalion to the newly formed 58th Battalion as part of the seeding process in building the 5th Division. That is, experienced veterans were scattered amongsth the new recruits so that there would be some degree of experience in the Battalion. This was a troubled exercise for everyone. Here is a candid assessment on the Division byGeneral Murray, the Commander in Chief in Egypt to the Chief of the Imperial General Staff in London, sent on 7 May 1916:
To say that the infantry of the 4th and 5th Australian Divisions is little inferior to that of the 1st and 2nd. Divisions is hardly correct. I know that this is Birdwood's theory, but as a matter of fact I consider from personal observation and inspection that the infantry of the 4th and 5th. is decidedly inferior as regards physique, training and officers to that of the first two divisions, I hope that the infantry of the 4th. and 5th. will be fit to proceed to France at the end of the present month. There are Special efforts being made as regards the training of artillery and Divisional troops, and they are making progress, but the artillery is not coming on as fast as General Godley had anticipated, and I do not think it will be ready for service in France until the end of June, unless the intention is that this artillery shall complete the ground work of their training in France.
To say things were bad all round is an understatement. Pearson began to react to his surroundgs in a very negative manner.
Pearson gets into strife
Finally, he got into trouble with the military authorities through absenting himself without leave. Pearson alleges that he and another man was arrested on a boat bound for France.
In contrast, the Court Martial of 10 June 1916 found otherwise. Pearson was found guilty for:
1. Being in Ismailia without a pass;
2. Attempting to rob a native; and,
3. Striking a military policeman.
Pearson was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment with hard labour and to be discharged with ignominy. His sentence was reduced to 12 months.
Pearson was then sent back to Victoria where he was discharged from the army and imprisoned at Pentrige Gaol. Later on he was transferred to Geelong Gaol. His mother was never informed about this and only found out that her son was in Australia when her allotment ceased.
The following account, on information given by Pearson's mother, was published in the Melbourne Truth, 8 December 1916, at p. 4:
Wounded Soldier's Woes
A case which on the face of it seems to show harsh treatment of a wounded soldier has been reported to this office. The soldier in question, Private GW Pearson, of the 6th Battalion, enlisted in the first month of the war (August 1914), being then only 20 years of age. He went away with the first contingent and took part in the landing at Gallipoli. Three months later (in July 1915) he was badly wounded, receiving in all ten bomb wounds in the body. he was invalided to Malta, and later to England, returning to duty in Egypt in January of this year, though not fully recovered from his wounds. He got into trouble with the military authorities through absenting himself with three companions without leave. Pearson and one of the other men were arrested on a boat bound for France, court martialled on June 10, sentenced to 12 months imprisonment, and sent back to Victoria. Arriving here on August 14, Pearson was taken to Pentridge and afterwards to Geelong Gaol, where he still is. His mother was not informed of her son's return, the first official intimation she received being the stopping of his allotment to her. She states that a large amount of deferred pay is owning to her son, but she can get no satisfaction concerning this. We have no cause to palliate Pearson's offence against military discipline; but in view of his youth, his long service, and his suffering and the fact that he has now been a prisoner for six months, no doubt this is a case where clemency might well be exercised to the remission of the balance of his sentence.
Seque to 1940
The letter from Pearson's sister of 1940 pleading for his medals fills in the gaps of the years and is filled with pathos. It reads:
I am writing to you on behalf of my brother who fought in the last war of 1914 enlisted in August 1914 sailed on the troopship leaving here on Sunday in October 1914 was in the landing of Gallipoli throwing bombs for Pompee Elliott bandaged Major Conden's wounds and was wounded himself, taken in the Malta Hospital was in 6th Battalioni his number + name being
Private George William Pearson
North Melbourne No. 981
I am asking if I could have his medals as he never ever received them he is a sick man has broken both his legs this year suffering from ulceration of the stomach caused through bomb wounds of which he as
Trusting I can have them.
My address: Mrs W Reddish
100 Barnett Street
This application was turned down. It appears as though the AIF was an unforgiving institution. Despite the man being punished in full for his crime, regardless of his previous service, he was never granted his medals. His wounds counted for nothing. Thrice punished. Gaoled, dischaged and a life sentence on receiving no medals. Perhaps one day the Department of Veteran Affairs will relent and allow his descendants to gain the medals that were denied to this man during his life, where even on his deathbed, a premature death brought about sacrificing his body for Australia, the nation denied him this last honour.
Lest we forget.
Let us hope these words have more substance than the hollow ring in his case.
Citation: Great War Issues, Lest We Forget - But We Did Anyway, George William Pearson