Being "a fair trier" earned Percy Nuttall an MC

Name: Percy Nuttall
Date: 1914-1918
Unit: AIF
Location: Gallipoli, France, Belgium

Like many other young Australians, Percy Nuttall signed up with the AIF in October 1914 without telling his parents. He finally got around to writing to his father from camp in Adelaide, to try and explain, hoping that his father would understand.

Whether he succeeded in persuading his father or not, he wrote that he would be "a fair trier" and he certainly made his mark during the war.

He won the Military Cross, the Military Medal, the Italian Bronze Medal, was mentioned in despatches four times, was severely wounded seven times and almost lost a leg, was promoted from private to be commissioned as a Lieutenant and was invited to spend the day at Buckingham Palace with King George.

Dear Dad,

I should have written you sooner, I know, but that is the hardest part of the whole business. No doubt you will not agree with my move.

From the very first I had a desire to be with the force leaving here and I think it will make a man of me, and I will be a fair trier. I always was a fair shot. In my trial round of five shots I gained the possible. I passed the doctor, height 5ft 7in [1.7m], 143lbs [64.9kg].

I know it will be a hard thing for you and all, me going, but it is just as hard for other parents. I honestly wish you and Mother look at it in the right way. There are lots of brave and worthy fellows amongst them.

Should anything happen to me, home, will what I have got together go, less 25% which goes to a young lady I have been going about with.

My boss said he was sorry I have left him. He gave me a good reference. My job there was a hard unhealthy one, and the boss a rotter to work for, altho alright to me. I did not like to see the way he treated others.

Now Dad, hoping you are alright and that you will not worry over me, as I will be alright. Give my best love and wishes to my brother & sister.

Camp is a rough healthy life. I am getting used to it, plenty of work, plenty of tucker on the rough.

Tell Moll I received her letter alright and that we are square. She may do as she thinks with the balance.

With best love from your son, Perc

Private Nuttall became something of a legend for his bravery. He was in the first wave to hit the beaches at Gallipoli, being in the first half of C Company, 10th Battalion.

With his comrades he fought his way up the slopes and razorback ridges, almost gaining the objective of the day and reaching the furthest point ever attained in the campaign.

On the Third Ridge, Private Nuttall gave notice of his intentions to be "a fair trier" when his company was pinned down by Turkish machine gun fire. He crawled alone for 40 yards [36.5m], using low scrub for cover and pinpointed the guns by deliberately showing himself several times to the Turks. He escaped uninjured but was wounded later in the day.

After recovering in Egypt he returned to Gallipoli where he was again wounded. Evacuated once more, he returned a third time, in time for the evacuation.

He continued to fight the Turks in the Canal zone and then moved to France fighting at Armentières, the two battles of Mouquet Farm, Messines Ridge, Polygon Wood and finally the second battle at Villers-Brettonneux in April 1918.

It was during this operation that Lt Nuttall received the Military Cross. A letter from General Birdwood congratulating him on his bravery, described the actions that led to the award.

"I know that you displayed marked courage and initiative in leading your platoon in an attack on a nest of five enemy machine guns, which were hindering the advance of the Battalion, and all of which you captured," General Birdwood wrote.

"When the objective was reached and all the other officers of your Company had become casualties, you immediately took charge and reorganised your men. On the following day, you very promptly and effectively dealt with a party of the enemy whom you discovered forming up with a machine gun in a piece of low ground, , and who withdrew after suffering some 30 casualties. You continued to engage them as they crossed the ridge and inflicted further heavy casualties among them. Throughout the whole operation you set a fine example of courage and initiative for which I thank you. I was sorry to hear that later on you were wounded. I have not details but I trust that it is nothing serious, and that you are making good progress in hospital."

Lt Nuttall was severely wounded and was taken to hospital in England. While recovering, he was invited by the Lord Chamberlain, along with a representative from each of the Commonwealth countries (New Zealand, South Africa, India and Canada) to visit Buckingham Palace where they spent the day with King George V.

By now an acting Major, Perc Nuttall returned to Australia to a hero's welcome.

The material for this article was supplied by Brian W. Nuttall of Victoria, son of Percy Nuttall


Last updated: 3 June 2019

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