ANZAC Centenary 2014-2018: Sharing Victoria's Stories

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WWI Stories – Stanley William Rupert Preston


Finding a war memento in his office prompted Allen Hancock to research the man it served to honour-Stanley William Rupert Preston.

Dead Man's PennyStanley William Rupert Preston was born in Armadale, Victoria on 13 June 1898 his future determined in a single hand-written line in a dusty leather-bound government register stored in the Victorian State Archives.


“Illegitimate: Mrs Groves, Salvation Army has made inquiries into the case.”

Stanley was a Ward of the Department of Neglected Children from the age of 3 weeks when the court declared that he was ‘guilty’ of being neglected. Stanley had lived with ten different families by the time he was 10 when he was sent to the Bayswater Boys Home, an institution run by the Salvation Army for delinquent and neglected boys. On 13 June 1916, Stanley’s 18th birthday, he was sent out to fend for himself.

On 2 October 1916 Stanley applied to enlist in the AIF but at 18 he needed permission. Stanley had never known a father and his mother died in 1915. His application lists the Secretary of the Department of Neglected Children, therefore the State of Victoria, as his next-of-kin.

My only connection to Stanley Preston is that I have a medallion in my office with his name on it – but that’s as close a connection as any other person alive today. Sometime’s called the King’s or the Dead Man’s Penny, the medallion is made of bronze and is about the size of a saucer. The inscription reads, “He Died for Freedom and Honour”. The medallion is engraved with the name ‘Stanley William Rupert Preston’. I have written the history of Stanley Preston in ‘An Unfortunate Life’.

Stanley really was a digger. As a member of the 3rd Field Company (Engineers) he dug holes. According to the War Diaries the unit spent most of the1916-1917 winter moving from one camp to another in the stalemate that trench warfare in Northern France and Belgium had become. On 12 April 1917 the German’s launched Operation Georgette; an attack north and south of Armentières followed by a swift drive towards the vital rail junction of Hazebrouck. Stanley’s Division was ordered north to meet them.

The war diary shows that on that 4 May 1918 the unit’s soldiers were at Borre and Strazele to the west of Hazebrouck, working on defences on the Support Line, the area to the rear of the Front Line where the supporting units were situated. The work included digging and spit-locking new trenches and laying barbed wire. They were also constructing a new Brigade Headquarters and excavating beneath the main road to lay a mine. The unit’s strength on that day consisted of 7 officers, 224 soldiers and 74 horses. 1 soldier is shown to have been gassed that day and 3 were wounded. One of them was Stanley Preston.

Stanley was evacuated to hospital near Caestre with a compound fracture of the femur. Stanley died the following day and was buried in a field adjacent to the hospital, now the Caestre War Cemetery.

The Secretary was duly advised as Stanley’s next-of-kin.

An Unfortunate Life