George Thomas Duke (Service No. 4003)
(1890 - 1971)

George Thomas Duke was born in September 1890 in Brunswick to parents James Francis Duke and Mary Margaret Duke nee Bell. By the time George had returned from the fighting (WWI) the Duke family were living in Mount Street Altona. As an early pioneer of the area George’s father James played a significant role in the formation of the growing town of Altona being involved in the various sporting bodies including the local Cricket, Hockey and Football Clubs as he had done when the family lived in Brunswick. James also took keen interest in local politics, a founding member of the local lifesaving club, served on the Altona Hospital Board and was a pillar of the local Catholic Church. The electoral roll of 1912 lists George Duke as living in Brunswick and employed as a storeman and the 1914 electoral roll lists George as living in Higinbotham St Coburg and being employed as a driver.

On the 12 July 1915 at the age of 24 years 10 months George Thomas Conlon Duke enlisted into the AIF and was originally assigned to the 12th Battalion but then transferred to the 10th Battalion. By the time he embarked from Melbourne on 8 February 1916 on board HMAT A69 Warilda Private Duke had been assigned to the 22nd Battalion. The 22nd Battalion AIF was formed on 26 March 1915 at Broadmeadows camp in Victoria. The battalion became part of the 6th Brigade of the 2nd Division. By the time Private Duke and the men of the 9th Reinforcements had disembarked in England they quickly joined the battalion in France.

They embarked across the English Channel in March 1916 and after landing in France the 22nd Battalion entered the front line around the area of Fleurbaix in April. Its first major action came a few months later during the Battle of Pozières which was part of the wider Battle of the Somme. The battle proved a very costly introduction to the Western Front for the 22nd Battalion with their losses between 25 July and 7 August 1916 totalling 27 officers and 656 other ranks killed or wounded. After this the battalion spent the next two-and-a-half years rotating through the trenches in France and Belgium.  It was during this period of action that Private Duke suffered a gunshot wound to his abdomen that forced him initially to seek treatment at the field ambulance and then evacuate back to England for further treatment to his wound.

The following article appeared in the Brunswick and Coburg Leader 1916:

Welcome News from France JAMES DUKE WRITES.

Mr James Duke, of 90 Grantham St., Brunswick, has received the following letter from his son, George, who is now at the front:

Dear Mum, -Just a few lines to let you know that we are in France (but I cannot, tell you where). We had a good trip across. I shall never forget it; the sights are beautiful. We had a very long train ride when we got off the boat (you could not go the same distance in Australia). The sights we saw along the line were one mass of beauty; no wonder the French love their country! On all the main stations along the line there are women working at all branches of work; they even go as far as cleaning engines. We also saw women ploughing, etc. in the fields. We were splendidly received along the line, especially by the girls. who bestowed gifts upon us and threw kisses to us till out of sight. The first salute we got (when we got to the lines) from the Tommies was, come and see the bushmen. The most of them are of the opinion that Australia is all bush. There is a little town near our camp. but we will not trouble it much as we can buy all we want in camp. We have the pleasure of saying that we were one of the first. Australian units to land in France. We now get our tobacco and cigarettes issued to us, but I smoke more and it costs me a bob or two extra. It is very cold here now, but we have plenty of blankets. and we need all our warm clothes. It is just, coming spring, so it won’t be so cold in a week or two. We had gifts from Australia issued today, and they were very acceptable; they were chocolates, tobacco and cigarettes. I forgot to tell you we passed through a tunnel which took us 20 minutes. I have not. received any letters from you yet, but we have had such a lot of moving about that it has made it very bad for us as far as the mail is concerned. Well. dear mum, ere this reaches you, I will be well in the fighting. All the boys are eager to have a go at the Germans. There is likely to be some heavy fighting. This is all, dear mum. hoping all are well. ‘Scotty’ and I are in the pink of condition.

Image: George Duke, left, with his family and friends on his parents Altona Bay Property (Mount Street) circ. 1918

By February 1917 Private Duke rejoined the 22nd Battalion who were still on the front in Flanders and would spend most of 1917 bogged in bloody trench warfare from Bullecourt to Broodseinde in this region. It was in the month of October 1917 that Private Duke again suffered a gunshot wound this time to the head which required him to be evacuated initially to the field hospital and then back for more specialist care in England during November and December. Following this second injury Private George Duke was considered unfit for further active duty and embarked of the HT Corinthic and arrived in Melbourne around the 3 March 1918 and was discharged from service in April 1918.

By the time George Thomas Duke had been reunited with his family they were starting their new life in Altona and commencing to build their home in Mount Street. The photo above shows the family and friends of the Duke family on their Altona property. We believe that the soldier standing in the front left-hand side near the tree is George as we know he was only 5 feet 4 inches in stature. If fact their property was a large block of land on the corner of Mount and Blyth Streets (now sub-divided into 5 or 6 house blocks). George Thomas Duke is not listed on the Laverton honor board which is a shame given the contribution the family made to the small community and district. The reason may have been simply that his name was not put forward to the Werribee Banner and therefore not included within the Werribee Honor Roll and hence not included on the smaller Laverton Board. It is recorded that when James Duke and others formed the Altona Football Club they chose the colours of purple and gold as these appear to have been George’s battalion colours.

Following his return to civilian life George went back to his previous occupation as a storeman initially in the Footscray area and then in the early 1920’s in Collingwood. By the 1930’s he had returned to live in Altona in Mount Street on the family property. This may have been that by this time both James and Margaret would have been well into their sixties.

George Thomas Duke married Florence Alice Grover on 29 June I935 at the Collingwood Baptist Church. Florence Grover was living with her parents on the corner of Bayview Street and the Esplanade Altona at the time. The couple remained in Altona for some time but it appears that they had no children. George continued to live and work within the district until about the time both his parents passed away. The couple then moved to the eastern suburbs being Oakleigh and then Springvale before George passed away in June 1971 aged 81 and is buried within the Springvale Cemetery.

References:

  1. ancestry.com.au
  2. https://www.aif.adfa.edu.au/showPerson?pid=85007
  3. https://recordsearch.naa.gov.au/SearchNRetrieve/Interface/ViewImage.aspx?B=3525383
  4. Brunswick and Coburg Leader, 26 May 1916, p.2.

Research by: Graeme Reilly (ALHS)