Stanley William Rupert PRESTON


PRESTON, Stanley William Rupert

Service Numbers: 886, 883
Enlisted: 29 January 1917, Melbourne, Victoria
Last Rank: Sapper
Last Unit: 3rd Field Company Engineers
Born: Armadale, Victoria, 13 June 1898
Home Town: Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria
Schooling: Bayswater Boys Home
Occupation: Tinsmith
Died: Died of wounds, Caestre, France, 5 May 1918, aged 19 years
Cemetery: Caestre War Cemetery
Plot E, Row B, Grave 14.
Tree Plaque: Not yet discovered
Memorials: Australian War Memorial, Roll of Honour
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World War 1 Service

29 Jan 1917: Enlisted AIF WW1, Private, SN 886, Melbourne, Victoria
11 May 1917: Involvement AIF WW1, Private, SN 883, 2nd ANZAC Cyclist Battalion, Enlistment/Embarkation WW1
11 May 1917: Embarked AIF WW1, Private, SN 883, 2nd ANZAC Cyclist Battalion, HMAT Shropshire, Melbourne
15 Apr 1918: Involvement AIF WW1, Sapper, SN 886, 3rd Field Company Engineers
5 May 1918: Involvement AIF WW1, Sapper, SN 886, 3rd Field Company Engineers, "Peaceful Penetration - Low-Cost, High-Gain Tactics on the Western Front"

Help us honour Stanley William Rupert Preston's service by contributing information, stories, and images so that they can be preserved for future generations.


Stanley Preston had no known relatives and his service record listed ‘Mr Smith’ as his next of kin.
When he enlisted at 18 years of age he had to obtain permission, but the only guardian he’d
known was the State of Victoria. So his next of kin is shown as the Secretary of the Department
for Neglected Children, Mr John Smith.

On his death his memorial plaque was sent to the department and there it has stayed, buried in
the darkness of an archive box, locked away from view and any other acknowledgement
Stanley Preston ever existed.

When you look at his record of service from the war you could get the idea that Stanley Preston
was not a nice person. But when you look at his record as a ward of the state, his story is not
nice either.   --  His destiny was set on the day he was born.

Stanley William Rupert Preston was born in Armadale, Victoria on 13 June 1898.

His mother was Bessie Preston, a servant living in the home of a Mrs Pitman, although there is
no record of who Mrs Pitman was. Maybe her employer.
His father is alleged to have been one John Thompson of unknown address but nothing more is
known about him. --  Somebody must have had hope for him though. You normally don’t give
a baby three Christian names unless he’s named after somebody.

Stanley’s future is told 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."

The Victorian Neglected Children’s Act 1890 allowed that when authorised representatives of
agencies such as the Salvation Army considered children to have no “visible means of
subsistence” they could have them taken before a magistrate and committed to the care of the
state. So at the age of only THREE WEEKS, Stanley was ‘apprehended’ without a warrant,
taken before two Justices and charged with being a ‘Neglected Child’.

This was the first entry in the record of bad conduct in what could be described as an
unfortunate life.

On 6 July 1898 Stanley was formally committed as a ward of the Department for Neglected
Children, commonly referred to as a ward of the state, and placed into the care of the
Salvation Army.

As his new legal guardian the Secretary of the department would have the sole responsibility
for deciding what happened to him for the next 18 years

For the first five years of his life Stanley was “boarded out” to no less than seven private homes.

Stanley’s mother would have maintained some contact for a while but on 21 February 1902 she
married Samuel Spry, a stonemason.
From this point there is no evidence of any further contact. She passed away in May 1915.

On 9 August 1904 Stanley was moved to the Boys Depot at Royal Park (a series of cottages).

On 8 September 1904 6 year old Stanley was boarded out again. This time to a family in Carlton
where he stayed for a little over a year, but he was again in the Boys Depot in February 1906.

The next month saw him boarded out to a home in Drysdale, near Queenscliffe.

Stanley was back at the Boys Depot by Christmas but this time with the notation placed on his
record that his conduct while boarded out had been ‘bad’.

From January to September of 1907 Stanley was boarded out to a home in Nunawading, then
a rural area to the east of Melbourne. ‘Bad conduct’ again saw him returned to the Boys Depot
but in October he had once more been boarded out to a home in the Central Victorian town of
Talbot, located between Clunes and Maryborough.

On 1 September 1908 he was boarded out to another family in Talbot but was sent back to the
Boys Depot again, this time described as ‘unmanageable’.

Now that Stanley had reached 10 years of age the options for him were narrowing. He was
too old to continue boarding out but too young to be apprenticed or placed into a service
position.   Instead he was committed to the reformatory at the Bayswater Boys Home where
he was to spend the next five years of his life.

Following a request from the Government of the day, the first Salvation Army home at The
Basin was established in 1897 to cater for boys who had been placed in legal custody
by the
Courts for care and supervision. (A similar reformatory home 'Morning Star' was
by the Catholic Church at Mornington.) The name Bayswater Boys Home was
adopted as this
was the closest railway station.

When he turned 15 years old Stanley 'was old enough' to be placed into service.

He was sent to live with Mr W G P Frost of ‘Terryn’ near Camperdown to learn a worthwhile
rural occupation.

After seven months Stanley absconded from Frost’s and was back at the Boys Depot in January
1914.  He absconded again in February and was returned to the reformatory at Bayswater, this
time with his conduct described as being ‘generally bad’.

1n June 1916, on his 18th birthday, Stanley’s status as a ward of the state ceased and he was sent
out to find his own way in the world.

After a lifetime of being told what to do, although not always doing what he was told, Stanley
had to decide for himself what to do and to take responsibility for it.

There was undoubtedly some degree of fascination in the prospect of travelling to what in any
other circumstances would have been an unthinkable destination to a boy raised in institutions.
--  But adventure beckoned.

Ocotber 1916 - at the age of 18 years and 4 months he enlisted in the AIF (for service in France).

In the first few weeks of training with the 6th/37th reinforcements at Seymour, there was
probably some sense of security in being told what to do in a regimented way of doing things.

His first training reports were in stark contrast to his previous record of ‘bad’ conduct.

They show comments such as “GOOD LAD”, “Work proceeding, nothing to report at present”,
(On the fourth week, though, it changed to “Isolation” - for HEALTH purposes.)

On 26 October 1916 Stanley was transferred to the Ascotvale Isolation Camp at the Melbourne
Showgrounds. In response to the prevalence of infectious diseases such as meningitis spreading
through the Army’s ranks, the Isolation Camp was established to quarantine soldiers who had
been exposed but who had not necessarily contracted a disease. 
(Often whole units would be in isolation at Ascot Vale for 3 weeks at a time.)

Stanley returned to Seymour and his training on 17 November 1916. But he wasn’t going to be
off to France in any hurry.  (He was too young.) He needed to be 19.

Instead he was sent to the serve with the guard unit at the Domain Camp in St Kilda Road
beside Government House.  --  But you can’t show your frustration when you’re in the Army.
Even if you didn’t have a childhood.

On 24 January 1917 the Commanding Officer of the Permanent Guard wrote to the Assistant
Adjutant General at Victoria Barracks:

 “I enclose herewith copy of Conduct Sheet of Pte. Stanley Wm. Preston, and strongly
  recommend that this man be discharged form the A.I.F. as not likely to become an
  efficient soldier. As will be seen by conduct sheet he has had every chance to make good.
  He is 18 years 7 months, thus having 5 months to go before he can be embarked."

Stanley was discharged on 27 January 1917 as ‘service no longer required, Conduct bad’.

Once again Stanley was alone. But not without purpose.


Described on enlisting as 18 years 7 months, 5' 5 1/2" tall; 141 lbs; fair complexion;
blue eyes; fair hair; Presbyterian

On 29 January 1917 Stanley enlisted again but this time his enlistment application was in
the name of ‘James Preston’, occupation Tin Smith.

It didn’t take long for the Army to find out though. Documents on Stanley’s new file show
that questions were being asked.

Within a fortnight of his second enlistment Stanley had to make a statement regarding the
erasure of ‘bad’ conduct from his discharge certificate and the substitution of the word ‘good’.
According to Stanley’s statement, somebody else did it.

Enquiries were made to the Department for Neglected Children and his real identity confirmed
as well as his history as a ward of the state for 18 years. 
(Now, you’d think that enlisting under a false name or falsifying an official document would
  have had repercussions, but once the truth was out that’s where it seems to have ended).

The name ‘James’ was ruled out on his enlistment documents, and Stanley’s real names
were added.

"Stanley" was posted to the 1st (Depot) Battalion, then located at Royal Park close to the
receiving depot.

Stanley was attached to the 10th/2nd Cyclists.

On the 10th March 1916, the Australian Army circulated a memorandum (No.32) regarding
the formation of the Cyclist Corp.   The Corp was formed in Egypt and was initially made up
of volunteers in the 1st and 2nd Divisions and in April 1915 the 4th and 5th Divisions were

The Standard issue cycle was made by BSA (Birmingham Small Arms Company).
The Australian cyclists in Egypt had to persevere with a variety of BSA bicycles ranging from
the Mark 1 to the Mark IV.   It was not until July 1915 that the Mark IV was introduced, fitted
with hand-operated rear brakes, and a freewheeling hub in place of the coaster hub.
Shortly after the Australian cyclists had reached France, this bicycle became the standard
issue to cyclist units.

The Cyclists were also given Lee Enfield SMLE .303 rifles which they normally slung over
their shoulder but bikes were fitted with clips to carry the rifles, as well as straps and clips
for the soldiers personal equipment. The units were also equipped with lightweight machine
guns. The Cyclists arrived in northern France in June 1916 and formed into II Anzac Corp
Cyclists Battalion.

During the war the Cyclist Battalion undertook many tasks including, forming guards to
escort the Corps Commander, traffic direction, frontline fighting, delivery of dispatches and
cable burying. The Cyclists became so proficient at cable burying, they could lay large
distances in a short time and eventually became the supervisors of cabling operations.
They also provided work parties for various other battalions, including the Engineers and
were often attached to other units and battalions.

The camp at Royal Park was built in late 1915 to house around 3,000 men. With declining
recruitment by the beginning of 1917 only the Depot Battalion remained to provide guards
for many local facilities such as the explosives and ammunition depots at Footscray.
The camp closed permanently in March.

Stanley’s service record shows him as being in Bendigo on 4 April 1917 which probably
means he was helping to guard the amunitions factory there.

11 May 1917 Stanley embarked on board the “HMAT A9 Shropshire” at Port Melbourne
and was finally on his way to France, as a Private in the 10th/2nd Cyclists.

19 July 1917 disembarked at Plymouth and joined the Cycle Reinforcements
at Parkhouse the next day. But Stanley’s destiny did not include cycling off to war.

On 2 August 1917 he was transferred as a Sapper in the Engineer Training Battalion
at Brightlingsea, a fishing and shipbuilding centre at the mouth of the River Colne on the
Essex coast.

Stanley’s life so far had been littered with acts of disobedience and punishment. But he
was about to learn an important lesson. An army training unit on active service is not a
place to show disobedience.

31 October 1917 Stanley Preston proceeded overseas to France via Southampton and
Rouelles and was taken on strength with the 3rd Field Company Australian Engineers
which was at the time located in Belgium south-west of Ypres.

For the next few weeks strengthening and repairing fortifications, including the building
of a hospital in the cellar of the ruins of a cordial factory near Zannebeke.

10 December 1917 the unit was in camp at Wierre-au-Bois near Samer, north-east of
Etaples, France. According to the war diary its main activity at the time was Company

The unit was soon in the field again setting up in split locations to the east of Hazebrouk.

The 3rd Field Company Australian Engineers unit spent the next few months of winter
moving from one camp to another in the stalemate that trench warfare in Northern
France and Belgium had become.

4 May 1918 he was ‘Wounded in Action’ with a compound fracture of the femur.

The Engineers 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
(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 and 3 soldiers were wounded including Stanley.

The unit was well back from the Front Line. Based on the fact that 1 soldier was gassed
and that gas was normally delivered by artillery.  We can assume that Stanley’s wounds
were also caused by artillery as were most casualties during this period between major

Stanley was evacuated to the 1st Australian Field Ambulance Advanced Dressing Station
at Borre and then on to the main hospital at Caestre.

(The organisation of medical units had developed only since the start of the war and it
 says a lot that in May 1918, a quiet month, the 1st Field Ambulance treated 1,528 sick
  and wounded,  with only 19 deaths).

1 of those deaths however was Stanley Preston.

5/5/1918      Private Stanley William Rupert Preston died
buried in:      a field adjacent to the hospital.

23/8/1918     Later exhumed and reburied in:
                    Caestre War Cemetery
                    Plot E, Row B, Grave 14.
                    (lies between fields accessible from the Avenue du Génerál de Gaulle by a
                    track running off the Rue du Four á Briques (in English, Brick Oven Street).

At the going down of the sun and in the morning,” who will remember
 Stanley William Rupert Preston? 
Ward of the State of Victoria, “bad conduct” and
 serial absconder. A boy who nobody wanted

(where sent to Lewis Thomas, Secretary of Neglected Children & Reformatory Schools,
  Railway Buildings, Flinders Street, Melbourne, Victoria)
British War medal (57349); Victory medal (56389); Memorial Plaque and Memorial
Scroll (344998).


Thank you to Allen Hancock for finding Stanley's Memorial Plaque and all his research.

"I found this serviceman's record - and I WON'T FORGET YOU STANLEY - Julianne."

Sourced and submitted by Julianne T Ryan.  7/5/2015.  Lest we forget.