The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (WX10426) Private Percival Eric Gratwick VC, 2/48th Battalion, Second World War.

Accession Number AWM2022.1.1.38
Collection type Film
Object type Last Post film
Maker Australian War Memorial
Place made Australia: Australian Capital Territory, Canberra, Campbell, Australian War Memorial
Date made 7 February 2022
Conflict Second World War, 1939-1945
Copyright Item copyright: © Australian War Memorial
Creative Commons License This item is licensed under CC BY-NC

The Last Post Ceremony is presented in the Commemorative area of the Australian War Memorial each day. The ceremony commemorates more than 102,000 Australians who have given their lives in war and other operations and whose names are recorded on the Roll of Honour. At each ceremony the story behind one of the names on the Roll of Honour is told. Hosted by Gerard Pratt, the story for this day was on (WX10426) Private Percival Eric Gratwick VC, 2/48th Battalion, Second World War.

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Speech transcript

WX10426 Private Percival Eric Gratwick VC, 2/48th Battalion
KIA: 26 October 1942

Today we remember and pay tribute to Private Percival Eric Gratwick.

Percival Gratwick was born on 19 October 1902 in Katanning, Western Australia, one of eight children born to local postmaster Ernest Albert Gratwick and his wife, Eva Mary. Affectionately known as “Percy”, he received his early education at Katanning State School and later attended school in Boulder and Perth.

Following the death of his father in 1911, Percy’s family fell on hard times and his mother was forced to raise the large family alone. Percy left school when he was 16 and began working in Perth as a messenger at Parliament House. He later moved to the Pilbara region where he gained employment as a blacksmith, drover and station hand. He opened his own droving plant which ultimately failed owing to drought in 1931. Having been forced to abandon his business, Percy began working as a prospector.

When the Second World War broke out in 1939, Percy Gratwick quickly joined the rush of men seeking to enlist. But having previously suffered a broken nose, he was rejected. After considerable expense to fix his nose, Percy again presented himself for enlistment and was accepted on 20 December 1940.

At nearly 39 years of age, Private Gratwick proceeded to camp for a period of training. He was made acting lance corporal in January 1941 and in April was granted a week’s leave. He embarked for active service from Fremantle in early June, travelling as part of a convoy of ships led by the heavy cruiser, HMAS Australia.

Gratwick arrived in the Middle East in late July and was sent to a staging camp prior to being allocated to a unit. He reverted to the rank of private, and in September 1941 was sent to the besieged city of Tobruk where he joined the ranks of the 2/48th Battalion. He spent a few weeks there before most of the Australians were withdrawn and sent to Palestine and Syria for rest and garrison duties.

By the middle of 1942, Axis forces had reached El Alamein in Egypt, placing them within range of Alexandria and the Suez Canal. The 9th Division was rushed from Syria to Alamein where they held the northern sector for over three months. Gratwick took part in his first major battle on 10 July 1942 when his unit attacked enemy positions at Tel El Eisa, which they swiftly captured, along with some 400 prisoners. The Australians spent the remainder of the month fighting off heavy counter attacks until both sides, exhausted and under strength, were brought to a standstill.

In October, British and Commonwealth units of the Eighth Army made a second attack on enemy positions at El Alamein, bolstered by the arrival of more troops and equipment. In the wake of a heavy artillery barrage, they began their advance on 23 October 1942. Though the infantry was largely successful, the failure of the tanks to follow through forced a redirection of the attack – the Australians would drive northwards to the coast, against well defended enemy positions.

On the night of 25 October 1942, the 2/48th Battalion was involved in an attack on Trig Point 29, where they encountered strong enemy opposition. In attacking, Gratwick’s platoon suffered heavy casualties, leaving just seven men to capture their objectives. With the remainder of the platoon pinned down, Corporal Lindsey and Private Gratwick raced forward to assault the enemy positions. Gratwick, with disregard for his own safety, charged the nearest enemy post and destroyed it with hand grenades, killing an entire mortar crew in the process. He then turned his attention to the second post from which the heaviest fire had been directed. With rifle and bayonet, Gratwick charged the post under heavy fire. There, he inflicted several more casualties and was within striking distance of his objective when he was killed by a burst of machine-gun fire. His comrades quickly moved forward and captured the objective.

In January the following year, Private Percy Gratwick was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions at Trig 29. His citation noted: “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 and his gallant and determined efforts against the heaviest of opposition, changed a doubtful situation into the successful capture of his company’s final offensive.”

Following his death, Gratwick was buried at El Alamein War Cemetery, where he lies today, beneath the simple inscription: “Rest in the Lord.”

He was 40 years old.

His name is listed on the Roll of Honour on my left, among almost 40,000 Australians who died while serving in the Second World War.

This is but one of the many stories of service and sacrifice told here at the Australian War Memorial. We now remember Private Percival Eric Gratwick, who gave his life for us, for our freedoms, and in the hope of a better world.

Meghan Adams
Researcher, Military History Section

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