Victoria Crosses Awarded to West Australians08 November 2012
The Army Museum of WA has in its collection three Victoria Crosses that were awarded to West Australians. These are:
Private Leslie Thomas “Tom” Starcevich, originally from Grass patch, North of Esperance , Western Australia, served in the 2nd AIF in the 2/43rd Australian Infantry Battalion.
During the battalion’s involvement in the capture of Beaufort, North Borneo on 28 June 1945, the leading section of Starcevich’s unit came under fire from Japanese machine-gun posts and suffered casualties. Starcevich, a Bren gunner, moved forward and assaulted each post in turn, killing five of the enemy and causing the rest to retreat. Later, when the section was again held up, he adopted similar tactics and single-handedly captured two more posts, disposing of seven of the enemy. For these actions Starcevich was awarded the Victoria Cross.
Private Martin O’Meara was born in at Terryglass, Lorrha, County Tipperary in Southern Ireland and later emigrated to Western Australia. He enlisted in the 16th Battalion in the first AIF in August 1915 and embarked for France in December 1915.
Between 9 August and 12 August 1916 at Mouquet Farm, Pozières, France, during four days of very heavy fighting, Private O’Meara repeatedly went out and brought in wounded officers and men from “No Man’s Land” under intense artillery and machine-gun fire. He also volunteered and carried up ammunition and bombs through a heavy barrage to a portion of the trenches which was being heavily shelled at the time. O’Meara was wounded three times during the war and returned to Australia on 15 September 1918, having reached the rank of sergeant. For these actions O’Meara was awarded the Victoria Cross.
Private Percival Eric (Percy) Gratwick, originally from Katanning, Western Australia, served in the 2nd AIF in the 2/48th Australian Infantry Battalion. This unit was involved in the original Defence of Tobruk in North Africa, then subsequently transferred to Palestine in October 1941 and by June 1942 was based 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. Gratwick is buried in El Alamein Commonwealth cemetery.
In addition to the above Victoria Crosses to West Australians the Army Museum also has one Victoria Cross to a British officer (Chase) who was awarded the VC in Afghanistan 1880 and later had family connections in Australia. These form the largest collection of Victoria Crosses in Australia outside the Australian War Memorial, Canberra. Note: These items are not on permanent display.