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08 September 2011

1310 Corporal Gordon Charles Naley of Mundrabilla Station

Gordon Charles Naley was the son of a Mirning woman whose name is not known. He was born in the bush on Mundrabilla Station on 20 January 1884, and raised by his mother and her people. Mundrabilla Station was the second sheep station on the Nullarbor Plain, and was established in 1872 by William Stuart McGill and brothers, William and Thomas Kennedy. McGill's first wife died in childbirth. He married his second wife, Ellen Angel Fairweather of Adelaide in 1889 and at the time of Gordon’s enlistment Ellen was named as his adoptive mother.

Before the war Gordon Naley worked as a shearer, station hand, horse breaker and drover on Mundrabilla Station, the Goldfields in WA, across the Nullarbor and for a short time along the River Murray.

On 17 September 1914, less than seven weeks after the outbreak of war, he enlisted at Morphettville under the alias of Charles Gordon Naley and lowered his age from 30 to 27 years.  He was allocated to H Coy of the 16th Battalion, a unit raised from WA and SA. At his enlistment, he gave his next-of-kin as Mrs Ellen McGill, his adoptive mother, who at that time was living in Heidelberg, Victoria. By this time her husband, William had died and she was a widow. After several weeks training at Broadmeadows, the 16th Battalion embarked at Melbourne on 22 December 1914 aboard the 'Ceramic'. The battalion had left Broadmeadows after 48 hours of heavy rain, and they were soaked and caked with mud when they went aboard. The convoy of ships carrying the 4th Australian Infantry Brigade (commanded by Colonel John Monash), of which Gordon's battalion was a part, arrived in Egypt in early February 1915, and immediately started intense training near Heliopolis. At this time all Australian infantry battalions were reduced from eight to four companies, and Gordon and the rest of H Coy became part of D or Don Coy of the 16th Battalion.

The 4th Infantry Brigade formed part of the New Zealand and Australian Division which, with the 1st Australian Division, formed the ANZAC Corps. On 11 April 1915, the battalion entrained for Alexandria, then embarked for Gallipoli.

For the Landing at ANZAC, the 4th Brigade were to land after the 1st Australian Division. As it turned out, the one thousand men of the 16th Battalion landed at ANZAC about 6pm on 25 April 1915. As each company landed they were immediately thrown in to support the 3rd Australian Infantry Brigade at the head of what became known as Monash Valley. They took up positions that would soon be known as Pope's Hill (after their commanding officer Lieutenant Colonel Howard Pope). They held Pope's Hill for five days under constant rifle fire from front, flanks and rear, during which they suffered nearly 200 casualties, including 51 killed. They were then withdrawn to a 'rest' area in which they suffered another 50 casualties from sniper fire.

At dusk on 2 May 1915, the 16th Battalion was part of an attack at the head of Monash Valley which soon became known as the Bloody Angle. By the time the sun came up the following day, the 16th Battalion had lost another 340 men. After nine days in the line of fire, the unit had lost two thirds of its strength, as only 300 answered roll-call. After a short rest, the battalion began rotating through Quinn's Post, an extremely dangerous and exposed position within bomb throwing range of the Turkish trenches. This continued throughout the rest of May.

Around 29 May 1915, Gordon Naley was found to be dangerously ill with enteric fever (typhoid) which was becoming common on Gallipoli due to the extremely unsanitary conditions. He was evacuated from Gallipoli aboard the 'Soudan' and admitted to the Infanta Hospital on Malta where he spent the next three months. He was only pronounced out of danger on 10 September 1915 whilst being evacuated to England aboard the 'Italia'. He was admitted to the Military Hospital at Fulham in south-west England on 15 September 1915 where he remained for nine more months. It was during this time he met his future wife, Cecilia Karsh, the daughter of a local baker, Frederick Karsch.

It was not until June 1916 that Gordon was sent to the 4th Training Battalion on Salisbury Plain to train prior to re-joining his battalion, which had only recently arrived in France from Egypt. He finally returned to the 16th Battalion on 19 August 1916, more than a year after he fell ill on Gallipoli. The battalion had just suffered severely during the Battle of Pozieres, and less than two weeks after Gordon rejoined them, the battalion was involved in one of many attacks on Mouquet Farm. On 29 August 1916, the 16th Battalion attacked, with Don Company as the left assault company. The battalion overran the Farm, but were unable to hold on when large numbers of Germans emerged from the tunnel system beneath. In the assault and subsequent withdrawal, the battalion suffered 230 casualties, including 30 killed.

Gordon and the rest of the battalion rotated in and out of the frontline, reserve line and rest areas in two week blocks right through into the winter of 1916/1917. On 9 January 1917, Gordon was hospitalised in France with the mumps but rejoined the battalion in mid-February. The next month was spent building roads in rear areas after the withdrawal of the Germans to the Hindenburg Line. In late March the battalion was involved in digging people out of the ruins of the Bapaume Town Hall, in which dozens of Australians had been sleeping when a delayed action German mine exploded.

On 11 April 1917, the 16th Battalion was involved in an attack on the Hindenburg Line at Bullecourt. The attack was a debacle. Due to reliance on the new 'tank' to support the infantry, artillery support was minimal, and after the Australians had achieved some successes, the SOS signals calling for artillery support were not answered. Even though the 16th Battalion captured both the first and second line of German trenches on their objective, the lack of support and inability to receive reinforcements meant that the Australians were outflanked and bombed out of the position. Of the 720 officers and soldiers of the 16th Battalion that went into the attack, only 90 managed to return to their start point. The rest were killed or captured, many of the captured also having been wounded. Gordon Naley was wounded in the left hip and captured. He was initially interned as a prisoner of war at the large prisoner of war camp at Limburg in south-western Germany, then later at Gardelegan, in central Germany. One record from the time of his capture shows his rank as lance corporal.

He was repatriated via Leith in Scotland, and arrived in London on 8 January 1919. Two weeks later he married Cecilia Karsh (known as Cecile) at the United Methodist Church, Fulham. He reported to AIF Headquarters on 10 February 1919, but other than a short stint in hospital in late March, he was granted leave until 4 June when he and Cecilia embarked on the 'Bremen'. On 1 April 1919 he changed his name on Army records back to Gordon Charles Naley. The couple disembarked in Adelaide on 23 July and Gordon was discharged as a Corporal on 21 September 1919.

Cecile and Gordon settled on a soldier settlers block in the Riverland at Winkie and had six children born between 1919 and 1926, four girls and two boys, although their first child died at birth. They named one of their daughters Ellen after Ellen McGill, his adoptive mother.

Sadly, Gordon died at the Myrtle Bank War Veterans Hospital on 28 August 1928 aged 44 and was buried in the AIF Cemetery, West Terrace, in Adelaide. He died from respiratory failure believed to be as a result of complications from being gassed during the war.

Cecile Naley died at Glenelg in 1951 and was buried at Centennial Park.

Both of his sons Edgar and Kenneth served in the Second World War. His grandson Mark Naley was a successful Australian Rules footballer for South Adelaide in the SANFL and Carlton in the VFL, and played at full forward in the 1987 Carlton premiership winning team. Mark returned to South Adelaide in 1991 and was awarded the Magarey Medal that year.

Gordon Charles Naley's name now appears on a paver of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander War Memorial adjacent to the Torrens Parade Ground in Adelaide. In 2014, the best on ground award for the Aboriginal Lands Cup was named the Gordon Naley Medal. 

Photograph: Courtesy of Jan James