Killed in action

By Diana Stockdale

Stephen Grace joined the AIF in Leonora on 10 April 1916.

Stephen was the breadwinner in the family prior to his enrolment, as his father had died a few years earlier. He was working for Mr R.K. Oates, a produce merchant and carrier in Kookynie.

At the time, gold was becoming harder to find, so prospectors and their families started to leave the Kookynie /Niagara mineral fields.  Before leaving his widowed mother and younger siblings, Stephen established a horse buying business for them in Gwalia, a short distance from Leonora.

Stephen began his training at Blackboy Hill military camp and used his days off to purchase horses for the Sons of Gwalia Mine.  He was a prolific letter writer and sent many letters home.

One describes the crowd that lined the wharf as they left Australia as “colourful and sad, for them leaving their loved ones”.

Their destination was Lark Hill in England.  It was from Lark Hill that Stephen wrote to his mother trying to allay her fears.

“I will take great care of myself, so you need not worry about me on that account, but I think we all have our allotted span on this earth and war or no war won’t alter that. Supposing I was unlucky enough to get in the way of an 18 lb shell, well I think I have a clear conscience, and if one can look back right through life, and is not ashamed of anything he has done, well then there is nothing to fear from an 18 lb shell, so if anything does happen you can be easy on that point.”

In May 1917 Stephen was sent to France where he was injured. He was hospitalised for a month then sent back to the front line, until he was badly injured on 4 July 1918.

On 20 July 1918 Stephen’s mother, Katherine Grace, received the following telegram:

“Officially reported Stephen Grace killed in action fourth July sympathies.”

A good friend of Stephen’s, Corporal Homewood, later reported:

 “We were in action at the time early on the morning of 4th July, 1918

"We were together in the Front of Hamel when a shell landed between us wounding him severely in the right leg and arm, while I was not hit. I saw at once that his chance of life were remote but made him as comfortable as I could. 

"I was then forced to leave him but returned about 10 to 15 minutes later to get the Lewis Gun he had been using, when I reached him he was semi-conscious and he did not recognise me.   He was taken to a dressing station but died of his wounds.

“By chance I met another soldier who was shocked to see me, and was told by him that I had been killed. At the dressing station they found a letter written by me on Stephen Grace and they assumed it was me.

"I then formally identified Stephen Grace and explained that we had exchanged letters to our loved ones if either of us were killed, the other could send the letter to their family.”

Stephen was buried in a field near Hamel. The site of his grave was lost and he is commemorated on the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial.


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