Private Gardiner Stevens

Pakenham & District War Memorial

Born: c. 1881 - Market Harborough England        

Enlisted: 13 June 1917 aged 36

Unit: Australian Army Medical Corps Reinforcements (SERN: 19126)      

Served: Western Front                        

Died: 5 June 1931 - Koo Wee Rup, Victoria

 

Known as “Gar”, Gardiner Stevens was a 36 year old land and general agent in Pakenham when he enlisted in June 1917. He was married and had children (1). Prior to going into business, he had been a farm hand at Pakenham (2) and by 1914 was in partnership with Harry Worship growing potatoes at Pakenham South (3). He was an active member of the Pakenham community, including serving as the “energetic secretary” of the Pakenham Horticultural Society and Pakenham Show Committees (4). He also served on the Pakenham South School Board, (5), the Fruit Growers’ Association (6) and the Pakenham Branch of the “People’s Party” (7). Upon enlisting, Gar’s business in Pakenham was taken over by Mr B J Doherty (8). 

 

Gar was assigned to the Australian Army Medical Corps Reinforcements. He spent three months stationed at the No 11 Australian General Hospital. Gar was then assigned to the Clearing Hospital at Seymour and embarked for England just before Christmas 1917. After further training, Gar was taken on strength with the 15th Field Ambulance (15 AFA) in June 1918 (10). By this time, the Allies had stemmed the tide of the German “Spring Offensive” on the Western Front, and were poised to begin their own offensive, which would ultimately push the Germans back to their “Hindenburg Line” and break their resolve to fight on. On the Western Front, the 15 AFA was responsible for “second line” “Regimental Aid Posts” (RAPs) for the 57th, 58th and 59th Battalions. Each RAP was manned by a Regimental Medical Officer (RMO) who was a qualified doctor, supported by non-commissioned officers and medical orderlies who were generally privates  (9). Wounded men were evacuated from the front lines to the RAPs by stretcher bearers. Wounded men would then be transferred to a field dressing station or casualty clearing station. In times of attack or advance, field ambulance personnel had to be highly mobile and could be exposed to direct enemy fire or poison gas on the field of battle, while there was always a risk of field ambulance positions further back coming under mortar fire (10). When Gar was taken on strength, the 15 AFA was at Allonville near Amiens. It then moved to a small chateau on the Querrieu - St Gratien Rd. At the time, there was a major influenza epidemic and the 15 AFA had between 80 and 100 men from different units passing through daily (11). 15 AFA subsequently supported Australian actions in the vicinity of Villers-Bretonneux, Harbonniers and Peronne during July and August (12). At times, it was difficult for the field ambulances to keep up with the rapidly moving infantry positions. 

Following the end of the War, Gar returned to Australia in September 1919, and was discharged from the Army the following month. With other soldiers, he was also officially welcomed home at Pakenham and presented with a special medallion by a grateful community (13). Gar applied for land under the Repatriation scheme, but was turned down. Gar then found work as a day labourer at the Pakenham “fruit sheds”, and with Tom Jeremiah in Pakenham South. He then applying for a £50 loan to start an agency business again, using a property owned by his wife Edith. This application too, was initially declined on the grounds that such businesses were not eligible for assistance under the repatriation scheme. Gar however, received support from a number of prominent local citizens, including David McAfee, Tom Jeremiah and James Chisholm. The local Repatriation Board reconsidered its decision and let Gar have the loan, although there was a protracted dispute regarding security for the loan (14). Having re-established himself, Gar again became heavily involved in local community activities. These included serving as secretary of the Mechanics‘ Institute Committee and for the Pakenham Citizens‘ Association (15) Through the latter, Gar was involved in examining whether Pakenham could be hooked up to the Morwell electricity scheme (16). In 1925 he gave evidence to the Royal Commission into Soldiers’ Settlement about the conditions on the IYU, MacGregor’s and Hagelthorn’s Estates, particularly the lack of drainage that was promised by the CSB, but never completed (17).

 

In late 1925, Gar sold his business and moved to Caulfield. A social farewell was held for the Stevens family at the Mechanics’ Institute. Harry Worship spoke of knowing Gar and Edith since they first arrived in Australia. He said Gar had been a successful farmer, then keen businessman and involved in “all movements for the advancement of the district”. Harry described Gar as a “main stay” of the community, particularly through his work as Secretary of the Progress Association. It was also said that the new post office and proposed town water supply were “almost entirely due to Mr Stevens’s untiring efforts a secretary”. The work of Edith Stevens and their daughters in local activities was also praised. They were given a grandfather clock inscribed “Presented to Mr and Mrs Stevens and family by their Pakenham friends as a token of esteem and respect” (18). Gar and his family then settled at Caulfield (19). He was later employed by Permewan Wright Ltd produce and general merchants as manager of their Koo Wee Rup branch (20). Tragically, Gar was killed by a train at the Koo Wee Rup Railway Station on 5 June 1931. He was only 49 years old and was buried in Pakenham Cemetery (21).

 

Sources:

(1) & (12) NAA B2455 STEVENS G

(2) Ancestry.com.au - Electoral Roll - Flinders - Pakenham - 1913 p. 5

(3) Australasian 14/3/1914, p. 7 

(4) Dandenong Advertiser 22/3/1917, p. 2 &  1/4/1915, p. 2   

(5) South Bourke & Mornington Journal 10/4/1913, p.2    

(6) Dandenong Advertiser 5/7/1917, p. 2   

(7) The Argus 24/7/1914, p. 13  

(8) Pakenham Gazette 6/7/1917 p. 2

(9) & (10) RSL Virtual Memorial -: https://rslvirtualwarmemorial.org.au/explore/units/409 

(11) AWM 4 26/58/26 - 15th Aust Field Ambulance War Diary - June 1918 pp 6-7

(12) AWM 4 26/58/26 - 15th Aust  Field Ambulance War Diary - July 1918 p. 7 & August 1918 p. 7 & 8

(13) Pakenham Gazette 17/10/1919 p. 3

(14) NAA B73 R12514 - STEVENS, Gar

(15) & (18) Pakenham Gazette 4/12/1925 p. 3

(16) Pakenham Gazette 11/1/1924. p. 3

(17) Argus 24/6/1925, p.24

(19) Prahran Telegraph 2/9/1927 p. 8

(20) & (21) Argus 6/6/1931 p. 19

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