Australian Heroes at Rest

In World War One (1914 – 1918) many Australian soldiers fought on the Western Front in France and sadly lost their lives fighting the Imperial German army. It was the most costly war in terms of life and casualties in Australia’s history – back then the country had a population of less than 5 million people yet according to the Australian War Memorial 416,809 men enlisted and 60,000 were killed and 156,000 were wounded, gassed or became prisoners of war. These soldiers made up the Australian Imperial Force (A.I.F.) and along with New Zealanders who first fought at Gallipoli Cove in Turkey in 1915 helped form the ANZAC legend.

Australian Troops Western Front 1918
Australian Troops on the Western Front 1918 (photo source: Australian War Memorial and Franco Australian Museum)

Two such men were my Great Great Uncles Thomas (Tom) & George Pendlebury. The sons of George Henry and Charlotte Ellen Pendlebury, of Kingwood, Victoria, Australia. The brothers were born in Warracknabeal, Victoria, Australia (my place of birth too). On May 29th, 2012 I had the privilege of visiting their grave sites in France to pay my respects to family members long-lost. This was made even more special because as far as I know so few family members have been able to do this before me (to my knowledge only my Uncle and Cousin a couple of years ago).

Western Front - Pendlebury Grave Sites
Western Front – Pendlebury Grave Sites
Thomas Gould Pendlebury
Tom held the rank of Private (Service Number 3446) and was Killed In Action on March 28th, 1918 (21 years old). He served in the Australian Infantry, Australian Imperial Force (A.I.F.) 46th Battalion (joined February 14th, 1917 and was a Farmer in Lah prior to this). He is buried in the Senlis Communal Cemetery Extension (grave reference: II. A. 5.).
Tom Pendlebury AIF
Thomas G. Pendlebury

No official record exists of exactly how or where Tom died. Government records just state K.I.A. in France, but an old family post card indicates he died at Villers Brettoneux where Australian and British troops stopped the German advance in 1918. Today there is the large Australian National Memorial (completed in 1938) and the Franco Australian Museum in Villers Brettoneux dedicated to Australian troops who fought in World War One.

Australian National Memorial Villers Brettoneux
Australian National Memorial – Villers Brettoneux

Finding Tom’s grave was an interesting experience. He was buried in the village of Senlis-le-Sec near the town of Albert in the North of France. This Commonwealth war cemetery is very small (104 World War One Commonwealth burials) and in what seems such a remote place. According to the register I was the only visitor so far for 2012. The extension to the communal cemetery began in April 1918 and was enlarged after the November 11th, 1918 armistice when graves were brought in from the battlefields of the Somme and from the communal cemetery (23 Commonwealth soldiers who died in April 1918). Tom’s grave was actually relocated from the Millencourt Communal Cemetery Extension.

Senlis Communal Cemetery Extension France
Senlis Communal Cemetery Extension
Senlis Communal Cemetery Extension France Thomas Gould Pendlebury
Senlis Communal Cemetery Extension

Once at the cemetery I found Tom’s grave easily and was impressed with the care and maintenance of the cemetery. It is a peaceful and beautiful place with the village on one side, the town communal cemetery on the other and surrounded by farmland.

I stayed at his grave for some time, just taking the place in and thinking about what had happened to all these brave men. As I stood there I started to say a few things to Tom to pay my respects to him and the ultimate sacrifice he paid for his country and the Commonwealth at such a very young age (just 21 years old).

I am not a spiritual person but it seemed right to do this, then to my surprise it all got very emotional. I was there alone, on the other side of the world talking to my Grandmothers Uncle, born in the same town as me decades apart but we shared the same blood and a love for our homeland. I couldn’t help but shed a bit of a tear. My thoughts were that the duty he performed was not forgotten by his family or his country. The epitaph on his gravestone said it all: “Australian Hero at Rest“.

Senlis Communal Cemetery Extension Tom Pendlebury Gravestone
Thomas G. Pendlebury’s grave – Senlis Communal Cemetery Extension

George Henry Pendlebury

George held the rank of Corporal (Service Number 627) and died on March 1st, 1917 from wounds sustained in fighting at Bullicourt (he was 27 years old). He is buried in the Etaples Military Cemetery (grave reference: XXI. K. 6.). George served in the Australian Field Artillery, 1st Division, V1A Heavy Trench Mortar Battery  (joined August 28th, 1914 and was a Labourer in Warracknabeal prior to this).

George Pendlebury
George H. Pendlebury
Military Medal WW1 George Pendlebury
Military Medal

George received the Military Medal (approved on April 17th, 1917) which was awarded for acts of gallantry and devotion to duty under fire during a battle between February 21st to 24th, 1917. The level of his bravery and toughness is highlighted by the commentary documented in the official medal recommendation written by the Major-General who commanded the 1st Australian Division on  February 25th, 1917:

for most gallant conduct in serving his mortars under very heavy artillery fire on nights of February 21st and 23rd. Also when on the evening of 24th a shell landed in the gun pit killing and wounding 6 of the detachment, he, although his leg was shattered and despite several nasty body wounds, crawled out to bring assistance. Further when assistance arrived he insisted on the wounded men being attended to first, although not as seriously wounded as himself.”

A few days after these words were written George sadly passed away from his extensive wounds (a severely fractured right leg that was amputated, along with a penetrating wound of the abdomen and multiple wounds to the hands and face. He then developed pneumonia and rapidly declined). He was never to see the medal he earned through his act of gallantry.

George Pendlebury Military Medal 1917
George Pendlebury Military Medal recommendation

George is buried a couple of hours further west of Tom’s grave and is on the Pas de Calais coast in Etaples. This is a much larger Commonwealth war cemetery (10,771 Commonwealth burials, 662 Non Commonwealth burials – mainly German and 41 unidentified burials). Looking at so many headstones really hits home the sheer scale of the battles and losses suffered in the muddy horror that was the trench battlefields of the Western Front in World War One. During the war Etaples was a site for large Commonwealth reinforcement camps and hospitals. It was remote from attack (other than from aircraft) and easily accessible by rail. In 1917 there were 100,000 troops camped there.

Etaples Military Cemetery France
Etaples Military Cemetery

Again I was able to find George’s grave easily and was pleased to see how well maintained the cemetery was (there was a modern-day army of gardeners there maintaining the grounds and graves). The lawns are so green and the headstones so clean it is an impressive and emotional sight. I paid my respects to George and spent quite a bit of time there thinking about him and the sacrifice he paid for not only my country but also my family. The epitaph on his headstone was the same as on Tom’s: “Australian Hero at Rest“. These words could not be more accurate for him, his brother and every other Australian that never made it home from this war.

George Pendlebury grave Etaples
George H. Pendlebury’s headstone

Their brothers Edward (Ted, the oldest – Service Number 1721) and Frank (my Great Grandfather – Service Number 960) also enlisted in the A.I.F. but thankfully escaped serious injury during World War One. Frank was actually discharged from the 38th Battalion A.I.F. due to serious illness (Meningitis) in Bendigo, Victoria in 1916. Edward served in Egypt with the 24th Battalion A.I.F. in 1916, then transferred to the ANZAC Provost Corps – Mounted Police Corps in 1916 and the Military Foot Police in 1917. He also became seriously ill (Typhus Fever) and spent much of 1918 in hospitals in Egypt, before returning to Australia in 1919.

Pendlebury Brothers AIF World War One
The Pendlebury Brothers
If you are interested in finding and visiting lost relatives who fought for the Commonwealth,  the Commonwealth War Graves Commission has a wealth of information to locate them. I can thoroughly recommend it as an emotional yet proud experience that you will never forget.

 R.I.P. Tom and George Pendlebury.

Thomas Pendlebury grave Senlis
Thomas G. Pendlebury’s grave
George Pendlebury Grave Etaples
George H. Pendlebury’s grave

Memorials in Australia

For those in Australia, Tom and George Pendlebury are also listed on the walls of the Commemorative Area of the Australian War Memorial in Canberra (Tom is on panel 142 and George is on panel 20). Their names can also be found in our home town of Warracknabeal on the war memorial outside the impressive old post office and on the memorial gates at Anzac Park.

Australian War Memorial Commemorative Area
Commemorative Area – Australian War Memorial (taken in 2009)
George Pendlebury AWM WW1
George H. Pendlebury – Panel 20 AWM, Canberra
Tom Pendlebury AWM Canberra WW1
Tom G. Pendlebury – Panel 142 AWM, Canberra
Warracknabeal War Memorial "For King and Country" 1914-1919 WW1
Warracknabeal War Memorial “For King and Country”
ANZAC Gates Warracknabeal VIC Mar 2016
The newly restored Memorial Gates at Anzac Park in Warracknabeal (March 2016)



A big thankyou to my Aunty Marjie for the old photos and some of the valuable background information and thanks to Uncle Rob for the initial information on locating the cemeteries and gravesites. Rob actually took my Grandmother to France towards the end of 2012 to visit her Uncles graves for the first time. That was an emotional but fulfilling experience for everyone involved.

15 Comments Add yours

  1. Deano says:

    Another interesting fact about Villers Brettoneux is that it was the first place that a tank vs tank battle ever happened (1918) when the German Imperial Army first introduced their tanks up against British tanks (a small memorial is located near the town to indicate where the battle took place). One of these German tanks “Mephisto” was captured by Australian troops and is actually on display in Brisbane at the Queensland Museum – it is actually the only surviving example and was taken as a war trophy by Australia (I hope to see it some day).

  2. Trev says:

    Bought tears to my eyes also Dean

    1. Deano says:

      Hopefully you can get there someday too Trev. It’s amazing how emotional it is

  3. Lance says:

    To anybody hoping to see the MEPHISTO TANK at the Queensland museum you will be disappointed at present.

    Due to the MEPHISTO’s contact with the flood-waters of Early 2011 and a building upgrade in late 2011 it has been removed for “conservation” and as at 1 JULY 2012 has not been seen in public.

    Its return was promised for 2012 so you will need to keep checking the museum website for news.

    (Sorry I personally do not know where Mephisto is)

    1. Deano says:

      Thanks for the update and for taking a look at my blog Lance. I hope it gets sorted out and Mephisto is back on display this year.

  4. Maybe mephisto is in the Queensland museum.

  5. Lance says:

    Sorry “Headstones” – The Mephisto is DEFINITELY NOT in the Queensland Museum building – that is what I said – it was taken away at night time approx twelve months ago.

    It was sent to an undisclosed location for conservation purposes – sparking a newspaper article questioning its whereabouts.

    When the Museum had a “re-opening” ceremony January this year (2012) there was mention that the Mephisto would return.

    1. Deano says:

      Now on loan at the Australian War Memorial for the Centenary of WW1 exhibition

  6. Deano says:

    Latest update on “Mephisto” is that it is still offsite and awaiting repairs from the flood damage

  7. Deano says:

    My Granny will be travelling from Australia to visit her Uncles graves in France for the first time ever next month 🙂

  8. gpcox says:

    Oh, Deano – this post is beyond comparison! You not only honour the men but help us to remember them in an outstanding manner. A very emotional day.

    1. Deano says:

      Thankyou. It was fantastic to see their graves so well kept all these years later and an emotional but worthwhile experience for sure. My Grandmother whom these gentlemen were her uncles got to visit a couple of years ago too which was fantastic

  9. Lance says:

    Hello Deano,

    When the foolish beaureaucrats stop mucking around with the preservation status of the “cultural precinct” at South Bank Brisbane, a new home for Mephisto is hopefully going to be built.
    look up “Anzac Legacy Gallery” for the details – If it goes to plan, it will be finished in 2018 and our dear Mephisto can come back from its vsit to Canberra.

    On another WW1 matter my father went over to the Western front a couple of years ago to see where his father (my Grandfather) served in WW1. It was a moving experience for him and he shared his many photos with me.

    Lance B.

    1. Deano says:

      Thanks Lance. Sounds good. I hope they sort it out. A journey to see family at rest overseas is a very moving experience. That is good your Dad got over there. I hope to get to Canberra to see Mephisto soon

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