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Percival Eric Gratwick (1902–1942)

by Bill Gammage

This article was published:

Percival Eric Gratwick (1902-1942), by unknown photographer, 1940-42

Percival Eric Gratwick (1902-1942), by unknown photographer, 1940-42

Australian War Memorial, 100640

Percival Eric Gratwick (1902-1942), soldier and prospector, was born on 19 October 1902 at Katanning, Western Australia, fifth son of native-born parents Ernest Albert Gratwick, postmaster, and his wife Eva Mary, née Pether. After Ernest died in 1911, the family battled to make ends meet. Percy attended state schools at Katanning, Boulder and Perth, and left school at 16. He worked in Perth, at one stage as a messenger at Parliament House, until about 1922 when he went north to the Pilbara and learned droving and blacksmithing on Indee station, 30 miles (48 km) south of Port Hedland. Then he moved to Yandeyarra station, 30 miles (48 km) further south, as a stationhand. He gradually built up a droving plant, got a team of mostly Aboriginal stockmen together, and took contracts. Stopped by drought in 1931, he turned to prospecting while employed part time on White Springs station, next to Yandeyarra. In the mid-1930s he settled at nearby Wodgina, a tantalite mine, blacksmithing, prospecting and occasionally working cattle for White Springs. He was his own man, well used to looking after himself in that tough country.

Early in World War II Gratwick tried to enlist in the Australian Imperial Force, but was rejected because his nose had been broken years before. He paid a lot of money to have it fixed, tried again, and was accepted on 20 December 1940. After training he sailed from Perth on 5 July 1941, leaving instructions that his horses not be sold or destroyed. In September he joined the 2nd/48th Battalion under siege at Tobruk, Libya. 'I'm home and pleased and proud to be able to piss in the same pot with such a fine crowd', he told his brother. A month later the 2nd/48th was sent to Palestine. In June 1942 it arrived in Egypt, and in July fought at Tel el Eisa. Gratwick was held in reserve, rejoining his battalion on 10 August. Its next battle, his first, was El Alamein.

Just after midnight on 26 October the 2nd/48th attacked Trig 29, a slight elevation overlooking flat, rocky country even barer than the Pilbara, and powerfully defended by the Germans. Gratwick's platoon was pinned down by heavy fire: its leaders were killed, and it was reduced to seven men. The ground ahead sloped down then up, and both slopes were dotted with mortar and machine-gun posts. As he had done all his adult life, Gratwick asked no one what to do. His mates saw him rise suddenly into the German fire and charge forward, a grenade in one hand, rifle and bayonet in the other. A German sub-machine-gunner stood up and opened fire on him, but Gratwick reached the nearest post and hurled in two grenades, killing its occupants, including a mortar crew. Then he charged the sub-machine-gunner's post. He was mortally hit as he reached it, but silenced the occupants before he died. Inspired, his mates advanced, the Germans fell back, and the ground was captured. Gratwick was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.

Percy Gratwick was 5 ft 10 ins (178 cm) tall and of medium build, 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. About 1948 a hill on White Springs was named Mount Gratwick, in 1956 the Gratwick Soldiers' Club was opened at Campbell Barracks, Perth, and in the 1960s Port Hedland named its hall, its swimming pool and a street after him. Gratwick, too, lies in the desert, in El Alamein war cemetery, plot 22, row A, grave 6.

Select Bibliography

  • J. G. Glenn, Tobruk to Tarakan (Adel, 1960)
  • J. H. Gratwick, The Gratwick Saga (priv print, Perth, no date)
  • B. Maughan, Tobruk and El Alamein (Canb, 1966)
  • L. Wigmore (ed), They Dared Mightily (Canb, 1963)
  • Army Museum of Western Australia, News-Sheet, 25 Oct 1991
  • West Australian, 29 Jan 1943
  • Argus (Melbourne), 30 Jan 1943
  • Age (Melbourne), 4 Mar 1943
  • P. Gratwick letters 1940-42 (privately held)
  • private information.

Citation details

Bill Gammage, 'Gratwick, Percival Eric (1902–1942)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 17 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (Melbourne University Press), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Percival Eric Gratwick (1902-1942), by unknown photographer, 1940-42

Percival Eric Gratwick (1902-1942), by unknown photographer, 1940-42

Australian War Memorial, 100640