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Bob Doneley

Frank Wills or Richard Mellor

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Bob Doneley

Dear fellow Great War sleuths,

I believe I have uncovered a mystery...

1709 Pte Richard Mellor left Australia as a reinforcement for the 1st Light Horse Regiment. His mother stated that he enlisted under his brother's name and falsified his age. After less than salubrious service in Egypt and France, he deserted in May 1918 and was never apprehended. In 1939 his mother was still writing to the Defence Department seeking information as to his fate. His service records (213 pages!) are in the National Australian Archives (http://naa12.naa.gov.au/scripts/imagine.asp?B=8030593&I=1&SE=1).

In May 1919 253617 Gunner Frank O. Wills, RFA was awaiting execution for the murder of a military policeman he shot while been apprehended for desertion. He asked to speak to an Australian officer prior to his execution. Major Burford Sampson, OC AIF Troops in Paris, visited Wills in prison. There, Wills told him that he was actually Richard Mellor, an Australian deserter. He had been apprehended in a sweep for deserters and joined the British Army under the name of Wills. He outlined his past to Sampson and asked him to write to his mother and tell her what had happened to him. (Sampson mentions this incident in his diary, which was privately published by his son. )On the 27th May he was executed by firing squad and buried in the Ste. Marie Cemetery, Le Havre.

Although Mellor's file contains Sampson's statement (which matches the service record of Richard Mellor) and extracts from BEF orders recording Wills' execution, Mrs. Mellor appears to have never been officially informed about her son's fate. Nor did the AIF ever officially record that Mellor and Wills were the same man, and Mellor is still listed as a deserter whose whereabouts were unknown.

I'm yet to discover:

1) Why Wills, if he was indeed Mellor, joined the British Army in 1918 instead of identifying himself as an Australian deserter. Did he think that he was better off in the British Army than in an AIF prison?

2) Why didn't he identify himself as an AIF deserter during his murder trial? It probably wouldn't have affected the outcome, but maybe he could have ensured his mother was informed?

3) Why wasn't Mrs. Mellor notified by the AIF that her son had been executed for murder under another name? Was the AIF unable to firmly establish the truth of the matter, and thought it best to leave it lie?

So it appears that the man, identified as 253617 Gunner Frank O. Wills, RFA, who is buried in a grave (Div. 64. VI. F. 5) at the Ste. Marie Cemetery in Le Havre may actually be 1709 Pte Richard Mellor, AIF.

Can anyone else shed light on this First War mystery?

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Bob Doneley

The circle turns...

Thanks for that link Beppo.

Bob

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Fedelmar

Very interesting story Bob ... even though I can't shed any light on it I will throw a few things at you that might aid :)

In answer to your points:

1) I am assuming that he deserted in England and am wondering if he had met someone he was attracted to or married even. He may have found himself in a position where he was 'forced' to enlist in the English army.

2) He may have thought that he would be sent back to Australia and avoid execution and this is why he told them.

3) It is possible that the mother was notified and a copy may not have made it to the file or been lost. The mother may have already died or they were not able to trace her. Or, they may have visited her privately.

It might warrant purchasing the death certificate to see what it says ... or contacting CWGC to see what information they might have.

Bright Blessings

Sandra

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Bob Doneley

Sandra,

Thanks for your comments.

1) I am assuming that he deserted in England and am wondering if he had met someone he was attracted to or married even. He may have found himself in a position where he was 'forced' to enlist in the English army.

His (Mellor's) service records indicate he deserted in France. My thought is that he was picked up in a provost sweep, and somehow ended up in the British Army?

2) He may have thought that he would be sent back to Australia and avoid execution and this is why he told them.

He didn't tell anyone till after his conviction. Even then, Sampson's statement indicates that Mellor didn't have any messages for his mother (although his diary implies otherwise). Obviously both Mellor and Sampson knew there was no chance of getting out of the sentence?

3) It is possible that the mother was notified and a copy may not have made it to the file or been lost. The mother may have already died or they were not able to trace her. Or, they may have visited her privately.

There is a letter in Mellor's file, dated 1939, from his mother asking if they had any news. She stated she was elderly and implied that she wanted to know what happened to her son before she died. Earlier correspondence from her, in the early 1920's, asked if he could be in an asylum.

I need to read Mellor's file a few times (all 213 pages) to really get the feel for it. But my instinct is that this was covered up. There are some comments that part of the file was locked away; other parts are marked 'Secret'.

Not sure where else to look...

Bob

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BeppoSapone

Bob

I have been thinking about this some more.

Why don't you tell Robert Fisk what you know/suspect?

He has a track record of being interested in Frank Will's case, and as a Foreign Correspondent, might be able to open a few doors.

Just a suggestion.

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Bob Doneley

Do you have any contact details?

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Fedelmar

Bob ... I am slowly working my way through Mellor's file ... from back to front. (I love a good mystery)

1) I am wondering if ALL his file has been digitised ... not sure what the rules are regarding privacy. Some things are 50 years, 70 years and others 100 years.

2) The file is marked SECRET still in 1933 which may be one of the reasons the mother was not informed.

3) There is a letter written in London stating that there are two deserters wanting to give themselves up ... dated February 1918. Which raises a query of what was happening between then and May 1918. Furthermore, page 128 dated 26 August 1920 is asking if he has been apprehended yet.

4) in 1919 there is a telegram sent that requests what action has been taken regarding WILL's and the answer was that there was no trace of first communication and was 'not understood'. (Assuming they are related documents.)

5) there is a letter from the AIF dated 28.10.1918 (Page 187) which is states that he has been AWL since May 1918. On page 186 there is another letter from the AIF advising that he had been apprehended and returned to the 5th Training Battalion on the 6th August 1918 and asking what action was being taken for his behaviour. In July 1918 there is a request by the Captain at headquarters as to why there is a delay into the court of enquiry.

6) On the 24th August 1918 his mother was reinstated as the allottee dependant.

7) On 25th November 1918 an order was issued to cancel that allottment as Mellor was an illegal absentee.

8) A letter from the paymaster dated 23 October 1918 states that no action had been taken regarding the allottment as Mellor had been missing form the 2nd Training Battalion since the 29th May 1918. (This conflicts with the document on page 186 but see 11)

9) On the 18th July 1918 a memo was written stating that the Acquitance Roll for the Court of Enquiry had been received that showed the last payment entered in Mellor's pay book.

10) A cable was sent on the 25th June 1918 to say that Mellor had been apprehended and to reinstate allotment.

11) Page 165 and 166 date 1st August appear to discuss amendments to documents and Army books. I don't seem to be able to find what the amendments were meant to be ... as yet ... although I think it might be to correct the item that I have put in bold in 5) when looking at other documents.

12) Page 151 dated 12 June 1919 is an interesting document in that it says that the Judge Advocate General decided that there was no action to take and the said WILLS file was being returned.

13) Page 148 is a document marked SECRET and dated 19th May 1933. This discusses the execution on 27th May 1919. Again, I suspect that the mother was never told because it was classified as SECRET.

It would be interesting to compare the physical description of both WILL's and MELLOR.

Bright Blessings

Sandra

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Auimfo

After browsing through Mellor's service record, I've found two documents that seem relevant to this

The first is the report by Major Sampson AIF regarding the interview with Wills where Wills stated he was actually Richard Mellor. Wills describes details of Mellor with great accuracy, place of birth, mothers details, home address, dates of enlistment, service etc etc. This would strongly indicate that they were one in the same person as it would not be expected that a simple gunner with the British Army could know that much exact information about a private from the AIF.

If you then combine this with the anecdotal information provided by Fisk's father everything seems to fall into place.

Mellor deserted in England but was later rounded up and forced to join the British Army, giving a false name so not to be found out. When sent to France, he again deserted and then committed the murder when being located and arrested.

post-2918-1172194685.jpg

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Fedelmar

I hadn't got there yet Tim :)

Having said that ... I find the handwritten letter dated February 1917 from Mellor giving himself up is interesting as it conflicts with SAMSON's letter.

I also find it interesting that the information provided by MELLOR/WILLS to Samson is pretty standard information. Meaning, it is information readily obtained from his service record and unit information. There is nothing that stands out and grabs you as being unusual ... ie: my mother lives in a red house down the end of the street.

All intriguing stuff :)

Bright Blessings

Sandra

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Fedelmar

In relation to file of Frank Oswald Wills ... which as most of us know is blank documents.

There is one with a faint outline of handwriting it says:

Mr Harlow - BR?

I think this should belong to you. I fail to trace anything over here relative thereto. It is signed Trumble.

I found the one below ... which if you check the address in Samson's letter they are one and the same. I am wondering now if it was a boarding house (Forrest Lodge) and both mother's were living there. Of course that is not without its implications; it could mean that Wills WAS Wills and may have known Mellor and given false information for whatever reason, and that Mellor was in fact in an asylum like his mother thought :)

(Now please don't tell me to go away!)

post-11785-1172273931.jpg

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Fedelmar
Bob

Interesting stuff, and I look forward to seeing if anyone can add more.

Robert Fisk's father was involved in this affair, he was an officer who refused to execute Frank Wills.

There was an earlier thread on the incident.

http://1914-1918.invisionzone.com/forums/i...34&hl=Wills

I have brought the following snip across from this discussion as it has a snippet of interesting, and conflicting information contained:

<snip>

His punishment was to go around digging up bodies in no man's land and burying them in the big British military cemeteries. He was a second lieutenant in the King's Liverpool Regiment, which was based in Cheshire. I got the British government to release the papers of the man who was executed. He was a soldier of my father's age who had served in Gallipoli, fighting the Ottoman Empire. He had been invalided by the Australian army then rejoined the British army - his fatal mistake. Just after the end of the war he went to Paris, got drunk and shot a British policeman.

I've actually found that the hotel where he was staying in Paris is still a hotel. I've actually slept in his bedroom for a night, and found the exact staircase where he murdered the British military policeman. I did get the execution papers, where he states, 'I'm 20 years of age, I joined the Australian army in 1916 when I was 16 years of age... I had no intention whatever of committing the offence for which I am now before the court. I ask the court to take into consideration my youth and to give me a chance of leading an upright and straightforward life in the future.' <snip>

If this is what Wills had said ... then I am curious as to why it wasn't part of/included in Samson's letter? (As yet I haven't seen that information in Mellor's file).

Mellor enlisted in 1915 at the age of 21 and 9 months. (We know that ages were falsified) He gave his place of birth as Rockhampton ... no State nor country although he stated he was a natural born subject. Therefore in 1919 he would have been almost 26. The other part of that is Mellor was never invalided from the Australian Army.

I have checked the birth records for Qld, NSW and Vic and could not find a Richard Mellor born 1893 approx.

There were two born in NSW:

Born 1895 to Fred and Mary.

Born 1891 to Richard and Rhoda.

There were no Richard Mellor's born in Qld.

There was one Richard Mellor born in Vic:

Born 1863 to Richard and Sarah.

I will check the indices later for Frank Oswald Wills and check again for the age discrepancy for both Wills and Mellor.

Bright Blessings

Sandra

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Albert Bapaume

This is an amazing thread!

If he had just let his mother know, think of the suffering he could have saved her.

The desperation in her letters is very sad.

If you haven't already done so, you must read his file.

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Auimfo

Sandra,

There's a letter in Mellor's file from his mother, Elizabeth, who states that her son Samuel Mellor used his brother's name, Richard, and was actually 16 years of age when he enlisted.

Now, the letter you've brought out referring to Wills and giving his address as identical to Mellor's really does point strongly in the direction of these two men being the same person. Otherwise it would have to be one of the greatest coincidences in history.

There's another letter in Mellor's file which is of interest. It's a minute paper prepared in 1933 regarding the two men. Although it makes no conclusion, the inference is certainly that the likelihood of the two being the same person is strong.

post-2918-1172278331.jpg

A handwritten notation at the bottom of this paper is interesting.

"Memo noted - after enquiry made for a reply by the Asst. Minister to the personal query by J.T. Jennings Esq."

Jennings was the local MP that Elizabeth Mellor had approached to find out more about her son. I wonder if any of this info regarding Mellor/Wills ever made it back to her.

Cheers,

Tim L.

In fact, it is Elizabeth Mellor's story here that makes for the saddest of all. Her despair is so plainly evident as she continued to write letters and seek the truth for many, many years - probably to her dying day.

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alliekiwi
Mellor enlisted in 1915 at the age of 21 and 9 months. (We know that ages were falsified) He gave his place of birth as Rockhampton ... no State nor country although he stated he was a natural born subject. Therefore in 1919 he would have been almost 26. The other part of that is Mellor was never invalided from the Australian Army.

I have checked the birth records for Qld, NSW and Vic and could not find a Richard Mellor born 1893 approx.

There were two born in NSW:

Born 1895 to Fred and Mary.

Born 1891 to Richard and Rhoda.

There were no Richard Mellor's born in Qld.

There was one Richard Mellor born in Vic:

Born 1863 to Richard and Sarah.

'Natural born subject' doesn't mean he was definitely born in Australia. It means British by birth. But being British doesn't mean you were born in Britain, either! Remember that Australians and New Zealanders and Canadians etc were British until laws were passed in 1947/48/49 creating citizenship of their own countries.

Allie

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Fedelmar

Thanks Tim ...

As I said yesterday ... I started working from the back to the front and haven't caught up with you yet :)

However, I wasn't able to find a birth for a Richard ... thats not disputing the mother though ... but as I said ... I will double check and at the same time hunt out Samuel's details. Which I might add ... I have not seen a mention of thus far.

I totally agree with you regarding the address of NOK, however, I would not be a good researcher if I didn't pose the question of there being two NOK's :) Furthermore, purely theorising though, surely if the case was so complicated and given the fact that they were advertising for next of kin for Wills ... one would have though that they would have visited the address and found some sort of a clue.

I still think the fact that Mellor's file was considered SECRET in 1933 is a valid point for consideration as to why the mother was not told. Which leads me to ask again ... why was it still secret in 1933!

I am still bugged by the hand written letter from Mellor though ... the fact that it is in his file means to say that they did get it ... why didn't they act on it? Why is it not mentioned?

post-11785-1172280252.jpg

Bright Blessings

Sandra

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Fedelmar
'Natural born subject' doesn't mean he was definitely born in Australia. It means British by birth. But being British doesn't mean you were born in Britain, either! Remember that Australians and New Zealanders and Canadians etc were British until laws were passed in 1947/48/49 creating citizenship of their own countries.

Allie

This is true Allie ... however ... from experience with the 1000's of Australian service records that I have trawled through, by the greater majority, if they were English it was stated that they were a 'natural born British Subject'. Furthermore, I stated that there was no country of birth given ... just Rockhampton ... which as we both know could in fact be anywhere and it would be very remiss of me to not check the Australia records first :)

Bright Blessings

Sandra

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Fedelmar

Tim

I have been checking the dates on many of these documents and there is definitely something not right. Right throughout there are conflicting dates and statements.

For example page 61 which is a letter dated 1933 (file still secret remember) second paragraph. Once read check that against the telegram dated 26th June 1917 on page 63.

Another document worth checking is the letter written by the mother dated September 14th 1920 and the statutory declaration that she filled out.

At the end of the day from where I sit the whole matter was very badly handled :)

Harking back to the minute paper you wrote:

>>>A handwritten notation at the bottom of this paper is interesting.

"Memo noted - after enquiry made for a reply by the Asst. Minister to the personal query by J.T. Jennings Esq."

Jennings was the local MP that Elizabeth Mellor had approached to find out more about her son. I wonder if any of this info regarding Mellor/Wills ever made it back to her.

Cheers,

Tim L.

In fact, it is Elizabeth Mellor's story here that makes for the saddest of all. Her despair is so plainly evident as she continued to write letters and seek the truth for many, many years - probably to her dying day. <<<

The paper is marked 'SECRET' again ... the information was provided about the identity and execution etc ... but as you say ... was she told and evidently not by Jennings even though he knew the 'truth'.

Bright Blessings

Sandra

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Fedelmar

I tracked down the births of Elizabeth Mellor's boys.

I supect that the brother who enlisted in Qld was the son Martin Howard Mellor born Qld 1883 to Elizabeth (nee Rowley) and Martin Howard Mellor. (prior to this there was a daughter 1878)

I found the following two births in Qld, so no doubt it was Rockhampton:

MILLER Richard Rowley born 20.05.1893 to Eliza Rowley and Martin Howard MILLER.

MILLER Samuel Rowley born 08.10.1898 to Eliza Rowley and Martin Howard MILLER

I poked around a bit further and found a marriage for a Richard R MELLOR in Sydney in 1922 to an Aroha Durand.

I couldn't find a Frank Oswald WILLS anywhere on the east coast or a Frank WILLS that fell into the age range.

I personally, still would need some conclusive evidence that they were one and the same person; in 1920 MELLOR is still reported as a deserter by the AIF despite Samson's letter in 1919 ... perhaps this was why it was such a 'secret' file they weren't enitrely sure themselves.

Either way the mother was very shabbily treated by the authorities even right down to the fact that twelve months after they cancelled his medal entitlements they still hadn't told her. It wasn't till she applied for them in 1924 that she was informed of the cancellation.

Bright Blessings

Sandra

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Auimfo

Ok,

Let's briefly summrise what we've got so far....

Richard Mellor

signed up in 1915 and left with the 11th Reinforcements, 1st ALH.

Mother lived at 147 Wigram Rd, Forest Lodge, Sydney. (Forest Lodge is a suburb of inner Sydney)

He never served at Gallipoli but was at Tel El Kebir.

Transferred in October 1916 to 5th Training Battalion, Rollestone Camp, England.

Spent several occasions AWL, including from Feb 1917 to April 1918. Was returned to Training Battalion in May 1918 but absented himself again and was never located.

Frank Wills

Stated he was Richard Mellor

Also stated his mother lived in Wigram Rd, Forest Lodge, Sydney.

Knew exact date of departure with 11th Reinforcements, 1st ALH

Stated he's not served at Gallipoli but at Tel El Kebir

Knew exact dates regarding transfers to 5th Training Battalion

Knew dates of being AWL

Samuel Mellor

Mother stated 16 year old Samuel had signed up using his 21 year old brother's name (Richard)

In his execution papers, Frank Wills states he was 16 when he signed up in Sydney.

QLD BDM would indicate the ages for Samuel and Richard correlate with these facts.

QLD BDM show a marriage for Richard R Mellor in 1922 (after the execution of Wills/Mellor)

Fisk's

Thread about Robert Fisk's father refusing to take part in the execution of an Australian (Frank Wills) in Paris provides anecdotal evidence supporting the possibility that wills was indeed Mellor.

Theory

Samuel Mellor (16 yo) signed up in 1915 using his brother's name (Richard). Between Feb 1917 he went AWL in England but in April 1918 he finally gave himself up. However shortly after, in May 1918, he went AWL again. This time, when questined by authorities he gave the name Frank Wills and was 'forced' to enlist in the British Army. In 1919 whilst AWL in Paris (still masquerading as Frank Wills), he murdered an MP and was duly tried and executed. Before being executed he recounted his story to Major Sampson, AIF, however this was never officially verified and marked as secret. It would be unlikely that this theory was ever relayed to Elizabeth Mellor.

Dilemma

Although the above facts would strongly support the possibility of thse men all being one in the same, can it ever be conclusively proved. Photo's of both the Mellor boys and Frank Wills may assist in confirming the theory however are these available?

If the facts can be proved, should the CWGC be advised and the headstone altered accordingly? Ultimately, we are talking about a person who committed murder (in peacetime). We will never be able to establish whether the war had such an adverse effect on someone that young to cause him to become so violent and thus we can only base our assumptions on his recorded behavior. However, the despair shown by his mother does deserve an answer.

Cheers

Tim L.

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Fedelmar

Evening Tim ...

I didn't get to read the Fisk work ... wouldn't let me into the site as I didn't have a password.

Originally I said it would be great to be able to compare the physical characteristics of the two.

I doubt that it will ever be proven that the two men were the same person despite all of the circustances that have been created from the various sources indicating that they are. However, all the anomalies that appear in MELLOR's file only add to creating doubt.

I think that perhaps we have gone about as far as we can go with this ... and at least it is all 'out there' now.

Bright Blessings

Sandra

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alliekiwi
I poked around a bit further and found a marriage for a Richard R MELLOR in Sydney in 1922 to an Aroha Durand.

Sounds like he married a kiwi - possibly maori.

Great sleuthing, Sandra!

Allie

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Auimfo

I just found an interesting piece of info but whether it's related or just another coincidence is yet to be seen.

Checking the telephone directory for Sydney, I found a W. Mellor currently living well within spitting distance of Wigram Rd, Forest Lodge. In fact, it's virtually the street opposite!!

Would everyone agree that perhaps a call might be in order to confirm if this is a relative and if any further light can be shed on the mystery? (although I'd want to be careful not to claim their relative to be a murderer if we're not totally sure)

Tim L.

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alliekiwi

Tim, I'd really love to hear how that sort of conversation would go. What on earth would one say?? Diplomacy at its best, I'd think.

(That being said, I've vaguely thought about trying to contact people who I think are relatives of a chap in a photo taken in Egypt in Feb 1915. If I have one of their relative with my relative, my thoughts are that they possibly might have different photos of their relative with mine. Slightly different from 'are you related to so-and-so because we've been researching his Murder Trial and Desertion...oops, his military history and disappearance'.)

Allie

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