William Edward GRAVELL


GRAVELL, William Edward

Service Number: 2856
Enlisted: 3 August 1915
Last Rank: Private
Last Unit: 60th Infantry Battalion
Born: Woodend, Victoria, Australia, January 1887
Home Town: Albert Park, Port Phillip, Victoria
Schooling: Not yet discovered
Occupation: Tram conductor
Died: Accidental (Injuries) - fell from train, La Clayette, France, 30 June 1916
Cemetery: Mussy-Sous-Dun Communal Cemetery
Memorials: Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour, Melbourne & Metropolitan Tramways Board HR
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World War 1 Service

3 Aug 1915: Enlisted AIF WW1, Private, SN 2856, 23rd Infantry Battalion
27 Oct 1915: Involvement Private, SN 2856, 23rd Infantry Battalion
27 Oct 1915: Embarked Private, SN 2856, 23rd Infantry Battalion, HMAT Ulysses, Melbourne
8 Mar 1916: Transferred AIF WW1, Private, 60th Infantry Battalion

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Biography contributed by Evan Evans

From Michael Ganey
Montbrehain centenary of liberation 5 Oct 2018
Pte William Edwin GRAVELL 
60th Battalion
Service No. 2856
Mussy-sous-Dun Communal Cemetery

William Gravell was born to William Thomas and Emily Eleanor Gravell in Woodend Victoria in 1887. He had two brothers and two sisters. The family eventually moved to Albert Park in Melbourne and as an adult William was employed as a conductor for Melbourne Tramways.

William enlisted in Melbourne on the 20th of July 1915 and was assigned initially top the 23rd Battalion. After his training in Zietoun Egypt, and he was taken on strength with the newly formed 58th Battalion on the 23rd February 1916 and in March he was transferred to the 60th Battalion.

The battalion arrived in France on the 28th of June and began the long train trip from Marseilles to Northern France at 1.30 am on the 30th of June. At about 10.30 pm, the train had been travelling for over 3 hours since it had last stopped and William needed to urinate. As the carriage had no sanitary facilities, William was attempting to urinate out the window. As the train entered a railway tunnel at Mussy-sous-Dun, he was either knocked or sucked out the window. The train was travelling at about 25 miles hour. The alarm was raised but the train did not stop for 15 minutes when it arrived at the next station. A party went back and William was pronounced dead. His body was left with the French authorities at Muss-sous-Dun and the troop train continued it journey.

A court of inquiry was held the next day. It was found that William Gravell was accidentally killed and that no one was to blame. It recommended that that trains should stop more frequently for toilet-breaks. The incident was never recorded in the battalion diary.

Less than four weeks later, on the 19th of July, the Battalion was involved in the disastrous attack at on Fromelles. The three officers, who had presided at Court of Inquiry of Williams death, were killed in action. Major Thomas Elliot was one of these men. Six of the enlisted men, who where witnesses at the court of inquiry, also took part in the battle at Fromelles. Two were killed and three were badly injured.

The loss of William Gravell, nineteen days earlier, was quickly forgotten in the aftermath of Fromelles.
In the mean-time, William Gravell had been quietly laid to rest by the people of Mussy-sous-Dun in their communal cemetery. They supplied a small iron cross with an enamel plate with his details. None of this was ever recorded in any Australian records.

His family ‘simply’ accepted that William had been killed in France and never asked exactly where he was buried. The Imperial War Graves Commission duly recorded that William had ‘no known grave’, and later his name was placed on the walls of the missing at the Villiers Bretonneux Memorial in France.

In 2005, Martine Ledoit, a school teacher in Mussy-sous- Dun, contacted the Commonwealth War Graves commission. She had been fascinated for some time as to why an Australian Soldier was buried there without the usual Commonwealth War Grave headstone. Further investigations followed, and finally on the 29th June, 2006, 90 years after his death, William’s grave was finally registered as a war grave by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. A commemorative service was held at his new headstone in February 2007. Some of his family descendants finally visited his grave. They supplied the inscription for his new headstone.