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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Pearse, Samuel George (1897–1919)

by Peter Burness

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

Samuel George Pearse (1897-1919), by unknown photographer, 1915-19

Samuel George Pearse (1897-1919), by unknown photographer, 1915-19

Australian War Memorial, H06653

Samuel George Pearse (1897-1919), labourer and soldier, was born on 16 July 1897 at Penarth, Glamorgan, Wales, son of George Stapleton Pearse, labourer, and his wife Sarah Ann, née Sellick, and was educated at Penarth Boarding School. The family migrated to Australia with Sam accompanying his father and a brother about 1911 while the rest of the family followed after George Pearse had obtained a property at Koorlong, Victoria. Sam took work fruit-picking, labouring, trapping, and as a deck-hand on the paddle-steamer Viola.

A few days before his eighteenth birthday he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force and on 10 September 1915 sailed from Melbourne with the 9th Reinforcements for the 7th Battalion. He served briefly on Gallipoli in December before returning to Egypt and then going on to France next March. He was transferred to the 2nd Machine-Gun Company in August and remained with it when it became part of the 1st Machine-Gun Battalion.

Private Pearse was wounded in action on 24 August 1916 and again on 19 May 1918. He was awarded the Military Medal for bravery between 18-22 September 1917 when he attacked an enemy post, and for valuable services as a runner during the fighting around Ypres, Belgium. He was promoted lance corporal in November 1917 and corporal next April. After his second wound he was invalided to England and did not rejoin his unit in France until after the war had ended.

In England Pearse had met Catherine Knox, a member of the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps. They married on 1 June 1919 at Durham, but when she became pregnant they decided to delay their voyage to Australia. On 18 July Sam was discharged from the A.I.F. to join a company of the 45th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers, being raised in London, largely from Australian volunteers, for service with the North Russia Relief Force. He was sent to Archangel and from there to Emptsa where an attack was planned to allow the White forces to consolidate their positions before the final British withdrawal.

Pearse's 'utter disregard of danger' during the fighting on the Western Front had already been noted and was again evident in North Russia. His officer there described him as 'the bravest man I [have] ever seen'. Outside Emptsa on 29 August 1919 Pearse, now a sergeant, cut his way through the enemy's barbed-wire while under heavy machine-gun and rifle-fire. He then, single-handed, attacked a blockhouse with hand grenades and put it out of action. Moments later he was shot down by another Russian machine-gun. For his bravery he was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.

Pearse was buried in North Russia. His daughter, born after his death, was named Victoria in honour of his award. His widow and the infant came out to Australia in May 1920 and settled.

Select Bibliography

  • L. Wigmore (ed), They Dared Mightily (Canb, 1963)
  • Sunraysia Daily, 29 Aug 1983
  • private information.

Citation details

Peter Burness, 'Pearse, Samuel George (1897–1919)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 13 August 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

View the front pages for Volume 11

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2020

Samuel George Pearse (1897-1919), by unknown photographer, 1915-19

Samuel George Pearse (1897-1919), by unknown photographer, 1915-19

Australian War Memorial, H06653

Life Summary [details]


16 July 1897
Penarth, Glamorgan, Wales


29 August 1919
Emptsa, Russia

Cultural Heritage