Percival (Percy) Gratwick
Killed in action
Percival Eric Gratwick was 38 when he enlisted in the 2nd Australian Imperial Force (AIF). Despite being rejected when he first applied, he was so determined to join up that he paid £20 for a nose operation, to repair a previously broken nose. His second enlistment attempt was more successful and Percy was posted to the Middle East. He was awarded a Victoria Cross (VC) for his 'brave and determined action' at El Alamein.
Much of Percy's life before the war was spent in West Australia's far north outback region. His father, Ernest, died when Percy was only 9. Eva, Percy's mum, raised the family alone with little money. Along with his 2 sisters and 4 brothers, Percy grew up learning to be practical and hard working.
After finishing school at 16, Percy worked for a short while in Perth. But, he decided to head 1400km north to Western Australia's Pilbara region. There, he worked in various jobs in agriculture and mining. His attestation form listed his occupation as a prospector.
Percy enlisted at Claremont the day after his birthday in 1940. He left Fremantle on 5 July 1941 and arrived in the Middle East on 25 July 1941.
Percy was posted to the 2/48th Infantry Battalion. His battalion served at Tobruk, Palestine and Egypt, but Percy's first experience of fighting was not until El Alamein.
On the night of 25 to 26 October 1942, Percy's platoon was pinned down by enemy fire. Casualties were high and many of the officers were killed.
Taking matters into his own hands, Percy charged the enemy post, armed with hand grenades. He killed a mortar crew. When that was done, and still facing machine-gun fire, Percy attacked a second enemy post. This time he was armed only with a rifle and bayonet. His citation records how Percy 'inflicted further casualties' but was killed by machine-gun fire:
By his brave and determined action, which completely unnerved the enemy, and by his successful reduction of the enemy's strength, Private Gratwick's company was able to move forward and mop up its objective. Private Gratwick's unselfish courage, his gallant and determined efforts against the heaviest of opposition, changed a doubtful situation into the successful capture of his company's final objective.
[The London Gazette, 1943]
Percy was posthumously awarded a Victoria Cross (VC) on 26 January 1943.
After Percy's death, his 70-year-old mother received a copy of a letter from the commander of Australian forces in World War I, Field Marshall William Birdwood. Birdwood wrote:
The two V.C's awarded Sergeant Kibby and Private Gratwick for magnificent deeds of bravery have filled us all here with admiration and real pride though we deeply regret that both men gave their lives for their country and people. As an Australian Field Marshal, I pay homage to their memory and greatness. Please convey my deep sympathy to their families.
[William Riddell Birdwood, 11 February 1943, NAA: B883, WX 10426]
The letter was simply signed: 'Birdwood of Anzac'.
Commemorating Percy Gratwick
Percy Gratwick was ... quiet and resourceful, a practical joker, a bachelor who loved children, a bushman who thought city people had profit-and-loss minds. He measured people by their actions. He lived and died by that belief. In Perth, and in the desert country he came from, people honoured his memory.
[Bill Gammage, 1996, Australian Dictionary of Biography]
Several locations at Hedland, in Western Australia's Pilbara region, commemorate Percy Gratwick. These include the:
- town theatre
- community hall
- aquatic centre
- Gratwick Street
Campbell Barracks in Perth was named the Gratwick Soldiers Club in Percy's honour in 1956.
- 1943 'HOW VC WAS WON BY WA SOLDER', The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957), 30 January, p. 8. , viewed 26 August 2020, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article11336398
- Bill Gammage, 'Gratwick, Percival Eric (1902–1942)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, viewed 26 August 2020, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/gratwick-percival-eric-10344/text18313
- Commonwealth War Graves Commission (undated), Private Percival Eric Gratwick, viewed 13 August 2020, https://www.cwgc.org/find-records/find-war-dead/casualty-details/2094239/percival%20eric%20gratwick/
- The London Gazette, 1943, supplement 35879, p523, viewed 26 August 2020, https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/35879/supplement/
- Wikitree, Percival Eric Gratwick VC (1902 - 1942), created 2 June 2019, viewed 26 August 2020, https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Gratwick-56