John Cromwell Hurley (1889-1917)                                                        

Killed in Action, World War 1

Lance Corporal   John Cromwell Hurley  Regimental No.5931

John Cromwell Hurley was born in the small Victorian town of Greta, the second son of the school teacher Thomas Hurley and Mary Elizabeth Scholes. Due to his father's work John spent his childhood in several country towns and eventually moved to the city of Melbourne where his father later became the Chief Inspector of Schools. In 1904, he entered Wesley College to complete his education and eventually became an actuary working for an insurance company, the AMP Society. Crom, as he was known, married Alice May Beckwith, April 30th, 1913 and became the father of two children, a daughter Elva May and son James Thomas Cromwell (Jimmy).

Crom’s brothers Vic (Thomas ErnestVictor Hurley, later knighted for services to medicine) and Les (Leslie Everton Hurley, a renowned physician and medical lecturer) had enlisted in the Australian Army  Medical Corps and the AIF respectively in 1914 and had both served at Gallipoli in 1915 in 2nd Field Ambulance. Crom decided to follow in their footsteps and enlisted in the AIF on May 29th, 1916. He was assigned as a Private in the 22nd Battalion, 16th Reinforcement. His record describes him as being 5 feet 6 1/2 inches in height, weighing 118 pounds and having brown eyes and “scanty" brown hair .

After preparatory training in Melbourne, Crom's unit embarked for England on the HMAT Nestor on October 2nd 1916, and landed at Plymouth, England on November 16th. On December 5th he wrote the first letter to his brother Les (and apologies for the racist language in paragraph two): 

"My Dear Les,

I received your letter this morning & was very glad indeed to hear from you. If I had only realised how a letter from Australia was appreciated by Australians on active service I would have written more often to friends of mine who enlisted before I did. I am now stationed at No. 1 Camp Havant Salisbury Plains but we expect to move to [Rolston?] next week when we will join our training Battn.  How long we will be there before we go to the front is another matter. Some say 4 weeks, some 10 weeks but personally I think we will leave England some time in January.

We had a very good trip over on the boat[….?]Capetown was our first port of call and we stopped there for a few days 1  of which we spent on shore. Capetown is not much of a place, the only redeeming feature being the mountain scenery which is really magnificent. The great drawback to the place are the niggers & halfcasts who are very dirty and cheeky, but nevertheless they proved quite capable in taking our boys down…...

……..When we landed at Plymouth we were immediately […..?] for the nearest Rd. to Salisbury Plain. We are now lodged in huts (30 in each) and as we are each provided with 4 blankets & a straw bed & in addition there is a coal stove in each hut we can make ourselves very comfortable when off duty. The weather however is rather too wet for my liking. The morning after we arrived here the ground was coated with about 12” of snow. The camp presented a very pretty picture! I understand this was rather exceptional for this time of year, at any rate the weather has been much warmer for the last week.

        Last Sunday we were granted 4 days embarkation leave to see London. We made the best use of our time and visited Westminster Abbey, St. Paul’s, St. James, & Buckingham Palaces, the Tower of London, House of Commons, The Waxworks etc. I must say that I was a little disappointed with London on the whole but perhaps this may have been due to the fact that all lights were out after dark & it was a different matter to get about in comfort & safety…….We are now settling down to serious training & have to get thru’ a lot of work in a short time.

         Well Les I hope you are not over working yourself and are a bit fatter than you were last time I saw you. I weighed myself 2 days ago and went 11-6 so you see the change has made a remarkable difference in me……...

Your Loving brother


Crom's record states that whilst in England at Larkhill and at Tidworth, he “Obtained 1st class Qualification (Distinguished ) and Passed as having having a fair knowledge of the Lewis Gun at 6th Rifle course Tidworth from 3/01/17 to 25/1 / 17.” On February 4th Crom's unit went to Folkestone, on the English coast to board the SS Onward leaving for the Australian Divisional Base Depot in the town of Etaples, France.

His war service record states Crom was temporarily promoted to Corporal “ with pay" on February 18th and then a few days in late February and early March he was admitted to hospital with influenza then returned to his battalion on April 8th. By April 24th, he was promoted to Lance Corporal. On this day, he wrote the second letter to his brother Les:

“….Well Les I have just returned from a trip to the front line and although we were shelled a good bit during our brief stay in supports we experienced a very quiet time indeed when actually in the front line. It was my first experience but was rather interesting being entirely different from what I expected it would be, trenches being practically non-existent. You say in your letter that you may enlist again and probably you may have left Vic by the time this reaches Ausy. Anyway Les we decidedly have the upper hand……(on this part of the front at any rate) and it would not surprise me if the war finished before you can get here. In my opinion a lot depends on Russia - does she intend to put her heart and soul into the business? I am afraid not…..

With much love to yourself and kind regards your friend and brother Crom"

It was only 11 days later that he was reported missing in action on May 3rd during the second offensive to reclaim the town of Bullecourt on the Hindenburg line in northern France. This was the first day of "Second  Bullecourt" which lasted more than two weeks and cost the AIF 7000 casualties.

Crom open

                                                                                                                                               Inside of card Crom’s wife sent to family and friends                                                        Source: family collection

His whereabouts could not be confirmed for many months. His family, desperately worried, made many enquiries to the Australian Red Cross. One such letter written on August 5th letter from his father has been retained in their files:

"Dear Miss Chomley ,

The enclosed card is the fifth one that I have sent to you in the hope that my son L. Cpl JC Hurley missing since May 3 may be found to be a prisoner of war , and in the event of such being the case, you would be so good as to address it to him, and also send him necessaries. We will cable money for the purpose. His brother Surgeon Lieutenant. Col T.E.V. Hurley CMG is now in the No. 2 Australian General Hospital Boulogne .

With kind regards and the kindest thanks of his wife and his mother

I remain

yours very sincerely

Thomas Hurley"

A court of inquiry was held later in the year on November 26th and the commanding officer of the 22nd Battalion gave evidence that John Cromwell Hurley was "Killed in Action" on May 3rd, 1917. Crom was awarded the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal and Victory Medal. His widow Alice received his effects in February 1918. These included a spirit flask, air cushion, cards , aiming card, book of musketry notes, 4 handkerchiefs, 2 notebooks, 3 military books and a photograph. He has no known grave.

How Crom Lost his Life- The Second Battle of Bullecourt (excerpts from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs website)

Review by Graeme Beveridge Exeutive Officer Australian War Memorial of “The Blood Tub” by Jonathan Walker.

Bullecourt is perhaps the First World War battle that engendered the greatest distrust and contempt in Australian troops for their British commanders. Sandwiched between, and sometimes overshadowed by, two of the best-known Australian actions of the war - Pozières (July-August 1916) and Passchendaele (October 1917) - Bullecourt did not involve the level of casualties of these two, but it nevertheless resulted in huge losses for the Australian divisions involved.

Western Front: Second Battle of Bullecourt 3–17 May 1917 (Dept. of Veterans’ Affairs)

The Second Battle of Bullecourt, launched on 3 May 1917, was a major offensive south of Arras by fourteen divisions on a 25 kilometre front preceded by a large artillery bombardment. The infantry of the 2nd Australian Division, on the southern flank of the assault, would advance to each successive objective behind a protective creeping barrage. This attack would be to the east of Bullecourt, while the British 62nd Division would attack the village itself.

 The infantry advance commenced at 3.45 am. The Australian left flank, closest to Bullecourt, was pinned by enemy fire in the barbed wire defences, but its right and centre, partly sheltered by a half-sunken road, seized and cleared part of both Hindenburg Line trenches. Captain Maxfield, 24th Battalion (Victoria), then led his men to seize the second objective, a railway embankment near Riencourt village. Other Australians were stopped entering the Hindenburg Line trenches by deadly machine-gun fire at the wire. The British 62nd Division failed to take Bullecourt, though some of its troops seized some of the Hindenburg Line west of the village.

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                                                                                                                                         Australian stretcher bearers at Bullecourt, France, May 1917                                       Source:

and from The Argus, Saturday May 3 1919

"HURLEY.-In loving memory of my dear husband,

 John Cromwell Hurley, who was killed at Bullecourt on the 3rd May, 1917.

 I remember the night we parted,

 I remember your last good-bye;

 Ah! little I thought when you left us

 You were going away to die. ' Far away on the fields of battle.

 Rained on by shot and shell, Ever ready to do his duty, 

 That's where my dear husband fell.

 (Inserted by his loving wife, May, and dear children, Elva and James Hurley.)" 

IMG 0817 (1)

                                                                                                                                              Above and detail left: On October 18th 2015, the community of Greta-Hansonville unveiled an honour board in the Greta-Hansonville Hall naming all the men from Greta who served in WW1. Crom and his brother Leo (Horace Leopold) are listed here.

Photo courtesy Noeleen Lloyd