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PTE Percy Gratwick, VC

25-26 OCT 1942: World War II and WX10426 Private Percival Eric Gratwick, 2/48th Battalion, originally from Katanning, Western Australia, earns the Victoria Cross at El Alamein, Egypt. Percy Gratwick was a 38-year-old former gold prospector from Western Australia.

Gratwick was born in Katanning, Western Australia on 19 October 1902, the fifth son of the local postmaster. Leaving school at the age of 16, he took up various jobs which included a period as a messenger at Parliament House. Later he worked as a blacksmith, a drover and a prospector.

Upon the outbreak of the Second World War, Gratwick attempted to join the Second Australian Imperial Force (AIF). However, issues with his nose, which had been broken years earlier, led to the rejection of his application. In late 1940, after expensive medical treatment on his nose, he attempted to enlist again, this time successfully.

Following completion of his training in July 1941, Gratwick embarked for Libya, where he was assigned to the 2/48th Battalion (a South Australian unit) with the rank of private. The battalion was among the defenders of Tobruk but was transferred to Palestine in October 1941. By June 1942, the battalion was in Egypt.

On the night of 25/26 October 1942 during the attack at Miteiriya Ridge, Egypt, the platoon to which Gratwick belonged suffered considerable casualties, including the platoon commander and sergeant.

Gratwick, realising the seriousness of the situation, charged a German machine-gun position by himself, and killed the crew with hand grenades. He also killed a mortar crew. Under heavy machine-gun fire Gratwick then charged a second post, using his rifle and bayonet.

In inflicting further casualties he was killed by machine-gun fire, but his brave and determined action, for which he would be awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross, enabled his company to capture the final objective.

The action “During the attack on Trig 29 at Miteiriya Ridge on the night of October 25th–26th, the company to which Private Gratwick belonged, met with severe opposition from a strong enemy position which delayed the capture of the company’s objective, and caused a considerable number of casualties. Private Gratwick’s platoon was directed at these strong positions, but its advance was stopped by intense enemy fire at short range. Withering fire of all kinds killed the platoon Commander, the Platoon Sergeant and many other ranks, and reduced the total strength of the platoon to seven. Private Gratwick grasped the seriousness of the situation, and, acting on his own initiative, with utter disregard for his own safety, at a time when the remainder of the platoon were pinned down, charged the nearest post and completely destroyed the enemy with hand grenades, killing among others, a complete mortar crew. As soon as this task was completed, and again under heavy machine-gun fire, he charged the second post with rifle and bayonet. It was from this post that the heaviest fire had been directed. He inflicted further casualties, and was within striking distance of his objective when he was killed by a burst of 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.”

Gratwick is buried in El Alamein Commonwealth cemetery, and his Victoria Cross is displayed at the Army Museum of Western Australia in Fremantle, Western Australia. In Port Hedland, Western Australia, Gratwick Street, the Gratwick Aquatic Centre and the town theatre and community hall are all named in his honour. More;

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