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John Charles Merriman Traill (1880–1942)

by Jeffrey Grey

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John Charles Merriman Traill (1880-1942), soldier and grazier, was born on 24 January 1880 in Edinburgh, son of George William Traill, book-keeper, and his wife Phoebe Marshall, née Trew. Educated at George Watson's College, Edinburgh, he served in the British Army with the Royal Scots and Paget's Horse during the South African War and was wounded at Zeerust. He claimed to have joined the Bechuanaland Mounted Police after the war, and then apparently worked in Mexico and Argentina as a station-manager before migrating to Victoria where he became a grazier at Stawell.  

Enlisting in the 8th Battalion, Australian Imperial Force, on 18 August 1914, Traill sailed for Egypt where he was promoted sergeant on 3 April 1915. His battalion landed at Gallipoli on the 25th. He was allotted to the machine-gun section and, with the battalion's two leading companies, pushed forward until he reached the Turkish positions on Pine Ridge. This small force remained forward of the rest of the Anzacs for most of that day and many of Traill's section were killed. The battalion was then ordered to secure a position on the top of Bolton's Hill from where it resisted Turkish counter-attacks for the next two days. Traill served through the Gallipoli campaign, being commissioned second lieutenant on 9 May after the attack on Krithia. He was battalion machine-gun officer thereafter. Awarded the Military Cross and mentioned in dispatches for service at Gallipoli, he was promoted lieutenant on 17 October.

Proceeding to France with his unit in March 1916, Traill was promoted captain on 26 May. He commanded 'A' Company in the fighting at Pozières on 23-24 July when his men cleared two trenches of Germans and captured a machine-gun. Although his company avoided the worst of the enemy bombardment that followed, Traill was wounded in the left arm and evacuated to England. After convalescing, he married Georgina Pearson on 12 February 1917 at St Mary's Cathedral, Edinburgh. They were to have two children. On rejoining his battalion he was appointed second-in-command. He participated in the 3rd battle of Ypres, Belgium, and, during the attack on Broodseinde on 4 October, took command of the assault-line, led his men in successive attacks upon the German defences and destroyed several machine-guns. He and one other man worked forward and killed the crew of a field-gun which was holding up the advance, thus allowing the assault to continue and 'saving a very critical situation'. Traill was awarded the Distinguished Service Order and promoted major on 14 December. On 28 October 1918 he was promoted temporary lieutenant-colonel with command of the 5th Battalion. During 1917-18 he was twice mentioned in dispatches.

He embarked for Australia in May 1919 and his A.I.F. appointment ended on 10 September. Traill and his wife settled on a farm near Flinders, Victoria, but in 1923 she returned to Scotland, taking the children with her. Divorced on 24 July 1928, Traill married English-born Mollie Helen Roche at the Melbourne registry office on 8 November that year; they were to have two sons. By 1928 Traill lived at Warracknabeal as a wool-buyer and was the New Zealand Loan & Mercantile Agency Co.'s representative for Charlton and Wimmera. On the outbreak of World War II he was appointed manpower officer for these districts and group commander of the Volunteer Defence Corps for north-western Victoria. Survived by his wife and children, he died of 'myocardial degeneration' on 12 June 1942 at Wangaratta and was buried with Anglican rites in the local cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • A. W. Keown, Forward with the Fifth (Melb, 1921)
  • C. E. W. Bean, The Story of Anzac (Syd, 1921)
  • C. E. W. Bean, The A.I.F. in France, 1916-18 (Syd, 1929, 1933, 1937)
  • Reveille (Sydney), July 1933, Apr 1936
  • Argus (Melbourne), 13 June 1942
  • C. E. W. Bean papers and diaries and notebook (Australian War Memorial)
  • Traill biography file (Australian War Memorial).

Additional Resources

Citation details

Jeffrey Grey, 'Traill, John Charles Merriman (1880–1942)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 21 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (Melbourne University Press), 1990

View the front pages for Volume 12

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


24 January, 1880
Edinburgh, Mid-Lothian, Scotland


12 June, 1942 (aged 62)
Wangaratta, Victoria, Australia

Cause of Death

heart disease

Cultural Heritage

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Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.

Military Service