Westgarthtown & WWI





George Gonnerman Smith



George Gonnerman Smith (1888-1944) was born at St Kilda on 9 May 1888, the only son of Richard Thomas and Amelia Sophia (née Grosse) Smith, who married in 1881. Amelia Sophia, born in Melbourne in 1857, was the daughter of Frederick and Sophie (née Hanstein) Grosse.

Frederick Grosse, born at Aschersleben in Prussia, arrived in South Australia aboard the Caesar Godeffroy in January 1854 and left for Melbourne a few days later on the Mazeppa.  After spending time on the Bendigo goldfields, he returned to Melbourne and in 1856 married and set up business as a designer and wood engraver. Over the next 12 years he engraved for most of Melbourne’s illustrated magazines and newspapers and at times also engraved punches for Victoria’s postage stamps. From 1868-80, he was employed by Victoria’s Government Printing Office, where he produced hundreds of wood engravings for departmental publications such as Robert Brough Smith’s The Goldfields and Mineral Districts of Victoria (1869) and The Aborigines of Victoria (1878).

Frederick was naturalized as a Victorian citizen in 1857. On 7 December 1858, Frederick and his brother Christian purchased Gottlieb Knobloch’s 30 acre farm at Westgarthtown, to establish a vineyard. As Frederick lived and worked in Melbourne, Christian Grosse looked after the vineyard, with Frederick attending at weekends or when able to. To enlarge production, Frederick ordered 20,000 vinecuttings from South Australia, but these were lost when the Admella went down off Cape Bridgewater in August 1859. On 14 November 1860, having found the heavy soil at Westgarthtown unsuitable for a vineyard, the Grosse brothers sold out there and in 1864 Frederick purchased 40 acres on the Emu Creek near Bendigo and established his award winning Tooronga Vineyard. From 1880 he was fully engaged in winemaking and also operated the Bendigo Wine Cellars in Melbourne. Sophie died in 1887 and Frederick in 1894.

Amelia Sophia was Frederick and Sophie’s only surviving child, three boys having died in infancy during the 1860s. Amelia Sophia and Richard Smith, who lived at St Kilda, had three children – Beatrice (1882), Alice (1883) and George (1888). Richard died in 1902 and Amelia Sophie in 1932.

George Smith enlisted in the AIF at Melbourne on 10 July 1915 and was allocated to B Company, 29th Battalion, 8th Infantry Brigade, Private No. 579. Aged 27, he gave his occupation as hardware assistant and religion Church of England. After training at Seymour for a month George returned to Melbourne, then embarked for Egypt on 10 November 1915 aboard the Ascanius, reaching Suez on 7 December 1915. He transferred to the 8th Machine Gun Company at Tel-el-Kibir on 11 March 1916, before leaving for France on 16 June. He arrived at Marseilles on 23 June, then travelled by train to the Somme, where his unit took up position at Bois-Grenier.

On 22 August 1916, George was wounded in action, receiving a severe shell or gunshot wound to his right thigh. He was evacuated to England on 4 September 1916 and it was over a year before he returned to France. He was admitted to the 1st Southern General Hospital at Stowbridge on 5 September, then discharged on 14 October. After furlough from 17 October – 3 November, he was at Park House Camp at Perham Downs, then posted on 14 November to the Australian Machine Gun Training Depot at Belton Park, Grantham. He served with there as either Private or Acting Corporal until 12 October 1917, when he left for the Western Front and rejoined his unit four days later.

On 18 December 1917, George was promoted to Lance Corporal, then on 28 January 1918 to Corporal. On 17 April 1918 he was wounded in action for the second time, suffering mustard gas poisoning. He was invalided to England and admitted to the Northampton War Hospital on 25 April for treatment. On 3 June he was discharged to convalesce at Harefield and Hurdcott and did not return to France.

Following the Armistice in November 1918, George was transferred to the Overseas Training Brigade, then in December to the Machine Gun Training Depot. On 19 February 1919, he embarked for Australia aboard the Orca and arrived back in Melbourne on 7 April. He was discharged from the AIF on 30 May 1919.

George married Sylvia Frances Woodrow on 29 December 1919, however, she died while giving birth to their first child on 13 April 1922. The child, son Gerald Woodrow Smith, survived. George remarried on 15 July 1924 to Hazel Raie Greenberg (née Nathan). He died on 12 December 1944 aged 56 and was buried in the Melbourne General Cemetery. His early death is believed to have been due to the mustard gas poisoning he received during the First World War.