Courtesy of Pakenham Upper Community Church Hall
Private William Robert Comb +
Pakenham Upper State School Honour Book
Born: 21 May 1892 - Corack East, near Donald Victoria
Enlisted: 14 July 1915 aged 25
Unit: 29th Battalion, C Company (SERN: 800)
Served: Egypt, Western Front
Killed in action: 31 July 1916 - Fleurbaix, near Fromelles France
William was the only son of Alexander and Helen Comb. William’s father was a blacksmith at Corack for some years (1). The family moved around quite a bit while William was a child, living variously at Corack, Goshen (near Swan Hill), Jindivick in Gippsland and at Gembrook South (now Pakenham Upper). While at Pakenham Upper, William attended the local state school. He later served a three and a half year apprenticeship as a “blacksmith’s striker” at Warburton (2) before taking up horticulture at Merbein near Mildura where his parents had settled (3). William was 25 years old when he enlisted in July 1915. He was initially assessed at Mildura as being fit for service, which was later confirmed in Melbourne. He went into camp at the Melbourne Showgrounds and was later assigned to C Company, 29th Battalion at Broadmeadows, north of Melbourne. He sailed for Egypt in November 1915 (4).
In June 1916, William was sent to France with Australian forces joining the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) on the Western Front. While in the trenches, he wrote to his mother telling her “not to fret” and reassuring her that “if the call comes, I am ready” (5). Tragically, that call came on 31 July 1916, when William was killed by a German sniper at Fleurbaix, near Fromelles (6). He was buried at Eaton Hall Cemetery, four miles south-west of Armentieres (7). In reporting his death, the Donald Times, quoted a patriotic poem about paying the price for liberty and freedom on the “altar of sacrifice” “somewhere in sunny France” (8). William’s death was also reported by the Mildura Cultivator, which published his portrait and an in-memoriam notice from his family which read in part: “Far away from those who loved him. Soldiers gently laid him to rest; In a hero’s grave he is sleeping. One of Australia’s best” (9). One of his sisters, Belle Laity of Hastings also expressed her feelings with poetry:
“Only those that have lost are able to tell the pain in the heart at saying farewell.
He has done his best, along with the rest, and marched with the brave old boys.
Inscribe his name on the scroll of fame; He was one of Australia’s best.
Midst the roaring of the battle, and the rain of shot and shell,
Fighting for home and country, Will like a hero fell. My brother” [sic] (10).
In addition to the Pakenham Upper State School Honour Book, William’s service and sacrifice was also commemorated on the Mildura Roll of Honour (11).
The assistance of Joy Carberry of the Pakenham Upper Community Church Hall is gratefully acknowledged.
(1) Donald Times 12/9/1916, p. 2
(2) (4) & (7) NAA B2455 COMB W R
(3) Electoral Roll for Wimmera - Mildura
(5) Donald Times 12/9/1916, p. 2.
(6) Pakenham Upper State School Honour Book
(8) Donald Times 12/9/1916, p. 2
(9) Mildura Cultivator 6/9/1916, p. 7
(10) Argus 16/9/1916, p. 13
(11) Mildura Cultivator 30/4/1919 p. 10