Military History

The Highest Honour #19 |Percy Gratwick | Robert Grieve

By The Cove May 24, 2021


Private Percival (Percy) Eric Gratwick VC (1902 - 1942, 40yo)

Percy Gratwick was born on 19 Oct 1902 in Katanning, Western Australia.  Post his schooling he worked in numerous industries until he was rejected by the Australian Imperial Force for a broken nose. He paid a lot of money to have his nose fixed and was finally accepted into the Australian Imperial Force on 20 December 1940.

Gratwick departed Australia on 05 July 1941 and in September he joined the 2nd/48th Battalion under siege at Tobruk. 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 1942. Its next battle, his first, was El Alamein. 

Just after midnight on 26 October 1942, 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.

In 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 lies in the desert in El Alamein war cemetery.

Captain Robert Cuthbert Grieve VC (1889 - 1957, 68yo)

Robert Grieve was born on 19 June 1889 in Brighton, Victoria. After his schooling years he was an interstate commercial traveller in the softgoods trade. On 16 June 1915 he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force and after nine months service with the Victorian Rangers was posted to the 37th Battalion.

Grieve was commissioned on 17 January 1916 and promoted to Lieutenant in May. On 19 April 1917 he was promoted to Captain and took command of 'A' Company. The 37th Battalion took part in no major action, although its strength had been tested in several sharp raids, until the battle of Messines in June. On the night of 06 June 1917, the 37th began its approach march and soon suffered an intensive gas-attack. Just before dawn it reached its assembly trenches, moved towards its objective and came under heavy shell-fire; the resulting casualties, with those of the previous night, seriously depleted its strength.

In the afternoon of 07 June 1917, Grieve's company was in position on the battalion's left flank. In front of its objective lay a thick band of wire and as the company ran through several gaps it came under intense fire from a German pillbox. An attempt to mortar this strong point was unsuccessful. Grieve, the only unwounded officer in 'A' Company, decided to attack the pillbox alone. Taking a supply of Mills Bombs he dashed forward, taking cover wherever possible. His well-aimed grenades silenced some of the gunners, allowing him time to reach the nearby trench and bomb the rest of the machine-gun crew. His company was then able to advance and had scarcely gained its objective when a sniper's bullet severely wounded Grieve in the shoulder. He was the first member of the 3rd Division to win the Victoria Cross.

He was evacuated to England and returned to his unit on 29 October 1917, but soon afterwards suffered acute trench nephritis and double pneumonia and was invalided to Australia in May 1918. Post war Grieve established a business in Melbourne where he was the managing director until his death in 1957. He was buried with military honours in Springvale cemetery. He was a staunch supporter of Wesley College to which his Victoria Cross was presented in 1959.


Portrait

Biography

The Cove

The home of the Australian Profession of Arms.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.



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