Courtesy of Kerry Stoiljkovic

Driver William Robert Stone

Pakenham & District War Memorial & Pakenham State School Roll of Honour

Born: 19 April 1894 - Pakenham, Victoria

Enlisted: 25 February 1916 aged 21

Unit:  10th Field Ambulance Brigade (SERN: 12404)

Served: Western Front

Died: 15 June 1975 - Pakenham, Victoria 

 

Known as “Bill” or “Nobby”, William was a son of Peter Stone and his second wife Emma Tilley. Peter settled in the Toomuc Valley back in the 1870s and  raised a very large family (he had a total of 19 children from his two marriages) in a wattle and daub house on what is now Brown’s Road (1). Bill attended Pakenham State School and later worked on the Toomuc Valley Orchard [TVO] (2).He grew up to be regarded as “undoubtedly the best all round sportsman this district has produced - a high distinction in an area noted for its athletic record” (3). Bill’s name always featured prominently in the ribbon and pennant lists for local sports carnivals. Amongst his many local athletic accolades was setting a local record for “sheaf tossing” at the Clyde Railway Sports Carnival in February 1915, tossing the sheaf some 39 feet (nearly 12 metres)! At the same carnival, Bill demonstrated his athletic versatility by also winning the high jump, jumping five feet five inches (1.65m) (4). It was as a footballer though, that he is most remembered. Old timers regarded Bill, together with his brothers Bert and Fred, as the “best football ruck trio Pakenham ever knew” (5). He was a member of the Pakenham team which won the 1914 district premiership, before becoming the first Pakenham player to make it to the “big league”, playing nine games for Fitzroy in the VFL (now AFL) during 1915. Standing six feet (1.83m) tall and weighing in at over 13 stone (86kgs), Bill was known at Fitzroy as the “Pakenham Giant” (6) and regarded as a “good kick” who marked well (7). Bill scored three goals for Fitzroy in the 1915 season (8). Although Fitzroy made it to the semi finals, it ultimately finished the season in third place. Bill though, was amongst the Fitzroy players whose “conspicuous service” which helped inflict a decisive defeat on Collingwood in the second semi final played at the MGC, witnessed by a crowd of 25,938 spectators (9). The Australasian’s football reporter said of Bill: “Stone should develop into a really fine player as he has fine pace for a big man” (10). Bill though, missed the 1916 season which was won by Fitzroy, as he enlisted for service on 26 February 1916. At the time, Bill was 26 year old and was working in Pakenham as a baker for Patrick Halloran (11). 

After enlistment, Bill was assigned to the 10th Australian Field Ambulance (10 AFA). He left Australia in June 1916. On the way to England, Bill’s ship put into Cape Town in South Africa, where he was absent without leave (AWOL) for a day: perhaps he had gone to do a spot of sightseeing? (12). After a period in England, Bill proceeded to France with “A Section”, 10 AFA in November 1916 (13). In May 1917, Bill was appointed as a Lance Corporal. The following month, during the Battle of Messines, A Section 10 AFA (including Bill) was stationed at the Regimental Aid Post (RAP) at “Dead Horse Corner” with part of “B Section”. Their task was to evacuate the wounded to the RAP, with half of each section working a twelve hour shift while the other half rested in the shelters at Charing Cross (14). Bill appears to have been a ‘loader” with the stretcher bearers; someone who helped get the wounded men onto the stretchers (15). Later in 1917, 10 AFA was deployed near Ypres. There, the atrocious conditions that stretcher bearers worked in was described in a letter from one of them: “My job was to carry wounded from the advanced area to the first aid post on the line of evacuation. It is no exaggeration to say that every inch of ground was a shell hole, or rather a quagmire of shell holes, as the weather is rainy, and the bearers sink to their knees every step, and progress very slow. Never before have I seen so many dead - in many places we had to actually walk over the bodies, and the sights were sickening ... The work at night is terrible. I was with a party for two hours lost in the mud, with no idea of direction .... Floundering in the mud - You can only imagine what it was like when I tell you we came across a “Tommy”  [English] Officer sunk down to the armpits and calling for help, and we had to lever him out of the mud with pieces of wood under his arms” (16). 

 

In October 1917, a letter from Bill reached home in Pakenham, saying that he was well and had met several other Pakenham boys, who were also okay. Bill also asked to be remembered to old friends (17). By August 1918, the challenge for field ambulance units was to keep up with the rapidly shifting front line, as the Allies pushed the Germans back. On the 19 August 1918. 10 AFA took over the Advanced Dressing Station at Sailly-Laurette, on the Somme River near Le Hamel, with the A and C sections taking over the posts in the forward area. (18), Bill was wounded that day, but this must have been relatively minor, as he was recorded as having remained at duty (19). His wounding was reported back in Australia in October at the same time as people in Pakenham learned that Private Thomas Maher had been wounded and Captain Harry Fletcher (brother of Robert Fletcher, the school teacher at Pakenham Upper) killed (20). Apparently, Bill was gassed three times during the course of his war service, including by chlorine and mustard gas (21). By the end of the War, he had reverted to the ranks at his own request and was serving as a driver instead (22). Remarkably, in the midst of this brutal war, Bill’s reputation for sporting prowess continued to grow. At one point, Bill was vice-captain of the 3rd Division football team, which comprised 16 former players from the VFL and VFA (23). In July 1917, at an inter-unit sports carnival held at Steenwerck, Bill helped the 10 AFA claim the 10th Brigade’s Sports Championship by winning the 100 yards and hurdles and running third in the 220 yards events. In doing so, he earned nearly half of the 10 AFA’s total points! (24). For his efforts, Bill was presented with a special gold championship medal by Brigadier General (later Sir) Ramsay McNicoll (25). However, befitting the legendary status Bill acquired in Pakenham over the years, the local folklore later had it that the medal was presented to him by none other than His Majesty King George V himself! (26). This perhaps conflated the presentation of the medal with the fact that Bill’s unit had been inspected by the King the year before (27). 

After the War ended in November 1918, Bill received some furlough in London. He returned to his unit in France for a few months, before being marched out to England in May 1919 for repatriation to Australia. Bill arrived back in Melbourne in August 1919 and was discharged the following month. He was officially welcomed home to Pakenham in October 1919, along with other returned soldiers. Between 400 and 500 people attended the event, at which the soldiers were presented with special gold medallions from the people of Pakenham (28). Bill returned to the Toomuc Valley, where he initially lived with his brothers Percy and Arthur (29). He also returned to the local football scene, and played for Fitzroy again in the VFA. Indeed, it is said that Bill acquired enough football jumpers while playing for Fitzroy to kit out the entire Pakenham side! (30). 

In December 1920, Bill married Ethel Smith at St James’ Church. Ethel was a daughter of Oscar Smith, the local blacksmith and undertaker. As the couple were from two long-established Pakenham families, 200 people attended the reception at the Mechanics’ Institute (31). The couple raised two sons (32). Bill and Ethel lived in Oakleigh for a period, before returning to Pakenham to care for Ethel’s parents. Bill then held down a range of jobs, including as a labourer, carrier (in partnership with one of his sons) and a bus driver. (33). At one stage, he was also president of the local ANA branch (34). Even at the age of 38, Bill was chosen to captain the Pakenham East (formerly Pakenham Juniors) football team at the start of the 1932 season (34a)! Over the years, Bill became a living legend around town and an inspiration to a younger generation of footballers. Graham Treloar remembers that as an older man, Bill would sit on the verandah of his Main Street house. Graham says that if Bill asked you up for a chat, you felt like you were really someone! Although he suffered from increasingly ill health, Bill was described even in later life as a “tall powerful man” (35). When he died in Pakenham in June 1975, aged 81, the Pakenham Gazette paid tribute in the following terms: “Bill Stone was not only a great sportsman but also a most likeable man and many throughout the district and far beyond will sadly miss his kindly, always cheerful presence” (36).

 

Interestingly, Bill did not claim his Victory medal until the 1930s, when Ethel wrote to the Defence Department requesting it on his behalf: “Anzac Day is drawing near and I always promise my two little boys, I shall write and and try and get another medal that their father is entitled to. He has the 1914-1918 and if you would kindly send me the other one, I would be very much obliged ... as his sons will be real proud ....” (37).

The assistance of Bill Stone’s grand-daughter Kerry Stoiljkovic; grand daughter-in-law Jenny Stone; Barry Smith (relative of Oscar and Elizabeth Smith); John Waterhouse and Penny Harris-Jennings is gratefully acknowledged. 

 

Sources:

(1) Waterhouse (2014), p.40 & image No 13B     

(2) & (29) Ibid p. 54   

(3) Pakenham Gazette 11/6/1975, p. 11   

(4) Dandenong Advertiser 11/2/1915, p. 3 

(5) Pskenham GazetteG 29/1/1975, p. 11   

(6) & (9) Australasian 11/9/1915, p. 21  

(25) Holgate (1919) p. 66

(7) The Age 19/4/1915, p. 12

(8) https://afltables.com/afl/stats/players/B/Bill_Stone.html).

(10) Weekly Times 11/9/1915 p. 19

(11) (21) & (35) NAA B73 M76406

(9) (12) (19) (22) & (37) NAA B2455 STONE W R

(13) AWM 4 26/53/7 10th AFA Unit Diary March 1917 p. 17

(14) AWM 4 26/53/10 10th AFA Unit War Diary, June 1917, p. 41

(15) AWM 4 26/53/13 10th AFA War Diary September 1917, p. 7

(16) AWM 4 26/53/13 10th AFA War Diary Oct 1917 p. 24

(17) Pakenham Gazette 19/10/1917 p. 2

(18) AWM 4 26/53/24 Pt 1 10th AFA War Diary Aug 1918, p. 7

(19) Pakenham Gazette 1/11/1918 p. 2

(23) & (36) Pakenham Gazette 11/6/1975 p. 12

(24) Museums Victoria - Diary of R.C. Werner  pp. 30-1

(26) Pakenham Gazette 11/6/1975, p. 12

(27) Holgate (1916) p. 7

(28) Pakenham Gazette 17/10/1919 p. 2

(30) (31) & (33) G. Smith (2012) p. 97  

(31) Pakenham Gazette 24/12/1920 

(32) Narre Warren & District Family History Group (2016) p.95

(34) Pakenham Gazette 8/6/1934 p. 3

(34a) Dandenong Journal 5/5/1932, p. 4

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