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Rediscovering Ginninderra:
Seargeant George Potter

Born: 1891; Died: 1918

George Potter was born George Bate on 27 December 1891 at the Sydney Benevolent Asylum, a site long since occupied by Central Railway Station.

Bate was his mother's maiden name and, although she had married a man named Potter in 1884, George's father is unknown. He is reported as being brother to Eva, Frederick and Mina Potter.

However, on enlistment, he had listed his next of kin as – "Son of Mrs Charlotte Ellinor Harris of North Sydney NSW"?

George and his older brother and younger sister returned to the Benevolent Asylum in early 1897 and afterwards became wards of the State and were fostered/adopted by Mrs Mary McDonald of 'Hawthorn Cottage', Upper Canberra.

Mary Mathieson had arrived in Ginninderra in 1861 and, after keeping house for her brother, married Peter Shumack in 1862, a landowner in the district who had developed a farm on Portion 34 of 100 acres on Yass Road, 'Hawthorne Cottage', with cattle, an orchard, a dairy and a garden.

Peter died in 1883 and Mary continued working Hawthorn Cottage as a dairy and in 1888 re-married to Finlay McDonald.

Mary fostered/adopted George Potter and possibly his older brother and younger sister in the late 1890s.

George grew up at 'Hawthorn Cottage', went to Gungahleen School and helped run Mrs. McDonald's dairy.

Finlay died suddenly in 1906.

As well as helping at the dairy, George was a road contractor employed by the federal government at the gravel pit, Duntroon.

3.1.1913 Queanbeyan Observer - "Report of a social at Hawthorn Cottage the residence of Mrs F McDonald on 26 December to celebrate the coming of age of Mr George Potter".

"Daughter Minnie Mary born to Ellen Jane Potter 26.10.1905 (father's name unknown) and baptised at Canberra 4.5.1905 by Rev E Syd Henderson. Foster parents Mary (nee Mathieson) McDonald and Finlay McDonald. Queanbeyan Presbyterian Church Register of Baptisms".

George also became involved in local sporting organizations, building courts for the Ainslie Tennis Club on part of 'Hawthorn' on Yass Road and joining the Ainslie Cricket Club when it was formed in 1914.

The farm was acquired by the FCT (100 acres) in March 1915 and Mary died later that year.

George Potter settled her estate and then enlisted in the AIF in December 1915, but he was lucky to make it overseas - after one of his farewell parties he was being driven in a buggy which tipped over and crashed at Ginns Gap. He survived and joined the 53rd Battalion in France at the end of July 1916.

He participated in the 5th Division's campaigns at Flers and Gueudecourt in the winter of 1916, and was hospitalised with a broken nose in November 1916. The 5th Division was in action on the Bapaume-Cambrai road, at Bullecourt and Passchendaele during 1917 and George was appointed as a Lance Sergeant at the end of that year. He was wounded in the arm near Villers-Bretonneux in April 1918 but returned to his unit four months later.

Seargeant George Potter was killed in action in France on 1 September 1918.

At the end of August 1918 the 2nd Division assaulted Mont St. Quentin, a hill overlooking the walled town of Péronne on the Somme River.

The 5th Division were given the task of capturing the town but first the 53rd Battalion had to clear the road to Péronne. As they advanced, Potter's company was faced by German machine guns firing from behind several unbroken belts of wire and a barrage of shells. The only way through the wire was a gap where the road to Péronne passed through.

"Men died like flies there and we faltered", wrote his Company Sergeant Major, Clarrie Burns, "but old George Potter firing burst after burst from the Lewis gun at his hip silenced a nest of German machine-guns and enabled us to stream through the narrow inlet."

Potter was the main figure in the attack and became the focus of the German machine guns, sacrificing himself for the sake of his fellow soldiers.

Among those from the 53rd Battalion who made it through the gap in the wire was William Currey who in the following hours would earn the Victoria Cross. The 5th Division would go on and capture Péronne and Potter was later buried in the town's cemetery. For years after the war those members of his unit, who owed their lives to his courageous and selfless action, would drink a silent toast to his memory at reunions.

It is believed that Potter was the closest resident to the site of the future Australian War Memorial at the time he enlisted.

Queanbeyan Age 8.10.1918 – "Last Sunday afternoon the Presbyterian Church Upper Canberra was crowded to excess at the service held in memory of the late Sgt George Potter Killed in Action on 1 September somewhere in France. Rev D Finlayson conducted the service".

Henry Edward Gozzard jnr then took over the lease to 'Hawthorn Cottage' which he continued to run as a dairy until he eventually moved to Forbes, NSW.


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