George William Taylor was born in 1876 at Aston, Warwickshire.
His parents were George William Taylor & Emma Louisa (nee Degnan). George William senior was born in Evesham, Worcestershire in 1852, Emma in Worcester in 1855. They were married at Birmingham in 1874. George senior was a bricklayer.
George William junior was the eldest of 8 children. He had 2 brothers and 5 sisters.
George William junior married Amy Constance Ward at Birmingham in 1896. They had 1 child, George William (III) in 1897 in Smethwick, Warwickshire.
George came to Australia on the Everton Grange arriving in Sydney on 21 Aug 1911. He was accompanied by his younger brother Frederick and his son George William (III).
The extended Taylor family emigrated to Australia piecemeal between 1909 & 1914. George William senior came in 1912 and he too became employed at the AGL Mortlake site.
George enlisted on 27 Jul 1915.
He stated occupation as bricklayer and address as Young Street, Annandale. He stated he was a Widower. Though a bricklayer by trade, according to the 1911 England Census at that time (2 Apr) he was a publican and his wife Amy was alive.
He was average height being 5ft 8½in (174cm) tall; weighed 165lb (75kg); chest 36-38½in (91-98cm). He had no distinguishing marks; a brown complexion, hazel eyes, black hair; and was Church of England.
He named his son as his next of kin.
He was assigned Service Number 2048 and attached to 10th Reinforcements for the 1st Field Company Engineers (1st FCE) which was part of the 1st Division.
He had previously served in the South African (Boer) War with the 38th Regiment South Staffordshire for 2 years and 76 days.
War Service: Gallipoli
George and the 10th Reinforcements departed Sydney on HMAT Ballarat on 6 Sep 1915. Not long after arrival in Egypt they proceeded to Gallipoli on 21 October reporting for duty there on 3 Nov.
1st FCE was engaged in various works such as digging tunnels, firing lines, gun pits, etc on the southern side of Anzac. It was a short stay on Gallipoli for George as the unit was progressively evacuated to Lemnos from 11 Dec from where they sailed to Alexandria on HMS Caledonia on 24 December.
War Service: Egypt
They disembarked 27 Dec and moved to Tel-el-Kabir north east of Cairo about 75km south of Port Said on the edge of the desert.
For the next 6 weeks the Company engaged in general engineering works, drill, and training particularly the erection of trestle and pontoon bridges.
On 14 Feb they moved by train 60km over the desert to Serapeum on the Suez Canal where they spent the next 6 weeks on various works including laying water pipes, maintaining water supplies, building & running light railway, siting trenches, etc.
On 21 Mar 1916 they moved to Alexandria to board boats for Europe.
War Service: Western Front
They departed for Europe on 22 Mar disembarking at Marseilles on 28 Mar. They then moved north by train arriving on 31 Mar at Ebblinghem in French Flanders about 5km west of Hazebrouck.
After acclimatisation and preparatory work, on 16 Apr the unit moved 30km east to the Sailly area south west of Armentieres where they spent the next month on various engineering works in the Fleurbaix front line trenches and adjacent areas.
On 22 May George was appointed Lance Corporal.
On 19 Jun along with the 2nd Infantry Brigade they moved 10km north into Belgian Flanders to near Neuve Eglise (Nieuwkerke) and were attached to the British 35th Division. Here they were engaged in similar works in front line and adjacent areas.
On 1 Jul they handed over that area and moved back west to the outskirts of Bailleul where they rested and engaged in minor works before returning east to take over responsibility for trench work etc at another part of the front line on 5 Jul.
Meanwhile the Battle of the Somme had commenced further south on 1 Jul and Australian troops were now being prepared to be engaged. On 10 Jul 1st FCE handed over their area and commenced the move south by rail arriving at Bonneville north of Amiens early on 13 Jul.
Over the next few days they moved progressively closer to the front arriving at Albert on 19 Jul.
On 21 Jul 1916 they were committed to the Battle of Pozieres. They were engaged in digging trenches, building machine gun strong points in captured trenches, and similar work. On 25 Jul they were relieved and moved back to Albert.
On the same day George was promoted to Temporary 2nd Corporal. (2nd Corporal was a rank unique to Engineers & Ordnance soldiers. It is equivalent to Lance Corporal but is an official non-commissioned rank whereas Lance Corporal is an appointment only.)
During the Pozieres battle they suffered 4 Killed, 6 Missing, & 42 Wounded.
Over the next few days they moved back to Pernois north west of Amiens where they commenced overhauling all vehicles and equipment and undergoing training.
On 9 Aug they commenced moving east back to the front arriving at Albert on 15 Aug and then the next day they moved back into the firing line to undertake engineering works while the Pozieres & Mouquet Farm battles raged.
On 22 Aug they were withdrawn back to Albert after suffering 2 killed and 23 wounded.
On 26 Aug they moved north by train to Reninghelst 5km west of Ypres. Two days later they took over responsibility for engineering work of trenches south of Ypres near Hill 60. Whilst engaged in this work during Sep they had 5 killed & 3 wounded.
On 12 Oct they moved back from the front & preparations were made to move south back to the Somme to where they proceeded by train on 21 Oct.
After a long journey and overnight march they arrived at Vauchelles near Abbeville at 4am on 22 Oct. The next day they commenced a staged move 90km east beyond Albert and set up camp between Montauban and Longueval about 5km behind the front at Flers.
For the next 2 weeks they were responsible for engineering works in the front line and communication trenches. On 14 Nov they handed over that area and moved 20km west to Buire west of Albert and on 20 Nov arrived at Vignacourt near Amiens where they spent the next 2 weeks resting and engaged in general building & repair work.
On 7 Dec they commenced moving east back to the front arriving at Longueval on 9 Dec where they would spend the next 6 weeks in engineering works in the front line area. This was the harshest winter in 40 years and the conditions became the worst the AIF encountered in the war. There was no shortage of work for the engineers.
On 17 Dec George’s younger brother Sapper Frederick Walter Taylor, who had enlisted as an Engineer in Jan 1916, joined 1st FCE after transferring from 8th FCE.
On 20 Jan 1917 they moved just 5km to the rear for a few days’ rest and repair of equipment. On 26 Jan they moved back to Bazentin to take over responsibility for works in the front line area.
On 26 Feb they were relieved from work in the line and the Company was allocated to work on light train lines which brought equipment up to the front. In this period at the front they had had 2 killed and 9 wounded.
At this time the Germans began their strategic withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line. The intent being to straighten out their line and reduce the amount of territory they had to defend as well as to achieve a greater density of men per kilometre in what was a very strong defensive position.
As the infantry advanced the front line and captured Bapaume on 17 Mar, 1st FCE built the light railway along the Albert – Bapaume road often utilising enemy material and construction.
Up to 31 Mar they had 3 soldiers die of wounds and on this day George went on leave to the UK. British-born soldiers invariably visited family while on leave, George would probably have done the same.
He returned from leave on 19 Apr and the Company was still assigned to Anzac Light Railways and had moved base into Bapaume. As the railway progressed east they moved their base 4km to Fremicourt on 29 Apr.
On 11 May they ceased work with the Railway & rejoined 1st Division. They spent a week resting & training before moving 30km to Lavieville west of Albert on 20May. Here they were in a rest area for training, sports programs, and leave to Amiens was made available on a rota system.
On 6 Jun they moved 15km south to Bray on the Somme River where they trained at building pontoon bridges and took the opportunity to have swimming & other sports carnivals.
After a lengthy and well-deserved break, on 27 Jul 1st FCE moved north by train to the Ypres Sector along with the rest of 1st Division. They arrived at Bavinchove north west of Hazebrouck the next day.
Here they were engaged in rear area construction works such as water works and swimming baths as well as a training regime.
On 9 Aug they moved 10km to east of Hazebrouck and a few days later another 10km to Vieux Berquin. Here they spent 4 weeks in rest, training, light construction and assisting local farmers with farmwork.
The 3rd Battle of Ypres (also called the Battle of Passchendaele) had commenced on 31 Jul and George’s unit was about to be involved.
On 8 Sep they marched 25km and camped at the south western outskirts of Ypres. Here they spent the next week mainly on assisting with artillery gun positions and dugouts.
On 17 Sep they moved closer to the front and engaged in trench work sustaining their first casualties.
On 19 Sep George was lightly wounded and remained on duty.
At 5.40am on 20 Sep the Menin Road Battle commenced. The 1st Division was in the centre of the assault along Westhoek Ridge facing Glencorse Wood. After fierce fights to overcome enemy infantry and pillboxes all objectives were taken by noon.
1st FCE moved into the trenches at 9.30pm to supervise the overnight repairing and building of front line and communication trenches.
For his actions on this night George was subsequently awarded the Military Medal (MM). His citation said:
“In the operations along Menin Road, during the period from 2am on September 20th (sic) to midnight on the same date he was employed on the construction of a strong point in the vicinity of Polygon Wood and a communication trench to a neighbouring strong point. About 4.30am the position was subjected to heavy hostile shelling Corporal Taylor assisted very considerably to lay out the communication trench before dawn and placed the men, while everybody in the vicinity was sheltering owing to the intensity of the bombardment. About 3pm the same day the strong point was very heavily shelled for over two hours and Corporal Taylor again showed great courage digging out and attending casualties and encouraging men and repeatedly moved along the trench which had by this time been very badly damaged.”
On the next evening they were pulled back from the front line to support areas where they were engaged in works on roads, duckboard tracks, & dug outs. During this phase they suffered 3 killed and 8 wounded. Meanwhile the front advanced through Polygon Wood & was poised for the next battle.
On 29 Sep they moved forward to work on roads, tracks and dugouts in preparation for the Battle of Broodseinde Ridge which commenced on 4 Oct.
1st FCE’s role was to follow the infantry and build strong points and communication trenches. They had 100 attached infantry to act as labourers.
For his actions on this day George was subsequently awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM). His citation said:
“On the morning of 4th October 1917, during the operations east of Ypres, Corporal Taylor went out with his section to construct a strong point south east of Molenaarelst. He assisted his section officer in the marking out of the work and commenced under very heavy shell fire, rendering very valuable assistance. Soon after 10am when the section officer was wounded, Taylor sent him back to the dressing station and carried on with the construction of the strong point. The work was very heavily shelled throughout the day but he was able to keep his section under perfect control and by 7.p.m. had completed his work and handed over to the Infantry a well dug strong point. Frequently during the day he sent back reports as to the progress he was making and had it not been for his splendid behaviour and initiative this splendid obstacle to the enemy could not possibly have been completed and made fit to hold a garrison so early.”
They withdrew from this position and spent the next few days in the forward area before being withdrawn back to Ypres on 9 Oct. In this period they had 8 killed, 24 wounded, & 1 missing.
One of the wounded was George’s brother Frederick who was evacuated to England with a shell wound to the thigh.
They were then engaged in works on roads, tracks, camp improvements and light railway.
On 21 Oct George went on 7 days leave to Paris, returning on 27 Oct. The Company had not moved and was engaged in the same type of work until 10 Nov including Sections being rotated through forward areas.
On 11 Nov they commenced a series of marches over 100km to the west to Questrecques. Here they spent the next month in training and absorbing reinforcements.
On 15 Dec they marched 50km east to Bailleul and then by train a further 40 km before arriving at a camp near Kemmel south west of Ypres on 18 Dec. From here they were engaged in work in the forward areas both front line and support.
On 29 Dec George was transferred to the AIF Engineer Training Depot at Brightlingsea, Essex where George marched in on 31 Dec.
George spent 5 months at the Depot where reinforcements from Australia were trained in all aspects of engineering works in the field. Convalescent engineers also passed through the depot before returning to France.
On 15 Feb a notice appeared in the Cumberland Argus “Of The Boys” column:
News has been received by his family that Corporal George W. Taylor, of Lidcombe, who left with the 1st Coy. Field Engineers, A.I.F., about two years ago, has been awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal and the Military Medal. Corporal Taylor was, prior to leaving here, in the employ of the Australian Gaslight Co. at Mortlake.”
On 11 Mar he was appointed Acting Sergeant.
On 10 May George’s brother Frederick marched in to Brightlingsea having spent some months recovering from his wound.
On 4 Jun a parade was held where Major General McKay in the presence of local Brightlingsea dignitaries presented George with his DCM & MM.
On 9 Jul he was promoted to Sergeant and on 1 Aug he left the Depot and proceeded to France via Southampton and Havre and arrived at 1st FCE on 5 Aug at Racquinghem near Hazebrouck.
The following day they commenced to move south to the Somme where the 1st Division would join the remainder of the AIF which had been fighting around Villers-Brettoneux.
They arrived at Amiens on 8 Aug which saw the commencement of the Battle of Amiens to the east. By the end of the day the Allies had punched a hole 20 kilometres wide and 11 kilometres deep in the German lines. The following day 1st FCE moved to Villers-Brettoneux.
Practice now was that the Engineers would keep pace with their Infantry Brigade remaining 5,000 to 6,000 yards behind them.
On 10 Aug they camped at Harbonnieres which had been captured on 8 Aug. They spent their time on engineering works in the forward areas.
At 5pm on 12 Aug a random enemy shell fell on the road outside the sergeants’ billet at Harbonnieres.
A number were wounded, and George who was sitting outside the billet was badly wounded. He was bandaged and was conscious when he was sent to the nearby dressing station. He arrived at the 3rd Field Ambulance with shell wounds to head and chest, and a fractured leg. He was transferred to 7th Field Ambulance the following day and then transported by ambulance train and admitted to 3rd General Hospital at Le Treport on the English Channel on 16 Aug.
The hospital report was that “he was very ill on admission, extremely anaemic and weak, no progress was made and patient died at 11.35pm on 19 Aug.”
His comrades believed that George’s brother from England was present at his death. Frederick’s official records however show that he did not leave England till 15 Sep.
He was buried in the adjacent Mont Huon Cemetery.
On 28 Aug 1918 SMH Roll of Honour notices stated:
“TAYLOR – Died of wounds in France, August 19, 1918, Sergeant George William Taylor, D.C.M, M.M, three years’ service. A., of the 1st Coy. Field Engineers. He died as he lived-nobly. Inserted by his loving son and daughter, and grandson, George and Beatie, and Georgie W. Taylor.
TAYLOR – Died of wounds In France, August 19, 1918, Sergeant George William Taylor, D.C.M, M.M, three years service, A” 1st Coy. Field Engineers. Inserted by his loving father, brothers, and sisters.”
George named his son (George William III) as the sole beneficiary in his will.
After his father’s death, George William (III) enlisted (with a preference for Engineers) on 17 Oct and was trying to finalise his father’s affairs before he departed for overseas. However the Armistice was declared on 11 Nov and he was discharged.
George’s brother Frederick rejoined 1st FCE on 23 Sep 1918, was appointed Lance Corporal on 13 Oct and survived the war. He returned to Australia in Jul and finally discharged Dec 1919. He died in 1950 at Concord.
In May 1919 his son received his personal effects including 2 knives, 1 gold ring, 1 whistle, & 1 Discharge Certificate (possibly his British Boer War service). His son wrote that he had still not received his DCM & MM and was informed they would be sent on when received.
His father George died in Lidcombe in 1931 aged 79 & was buried in Rookwood Cemetery.
His son George William (III) had married in 1915 and had 5 children (including George William IV) and died in Woy Woy in 1971.
George is also commemorated on the Annandale War Memorial, Annandale Park, Corner of Johnston Street and North Piper Street; the former Annandale Council Roll of Honour in the Annandale Neighbourhood Centre, Johnston Street; and the Lidcombe War Memorial, Wellington Park, Corner James and Joseph Streets, Lidcombe.