Richard (Dick) SPECK


SPECK, Richard

Service Number: SX12924
Enlisted: 21 May 1941
Last Rank: Private
Last Unit: 48th Infantry Battalion
Born: Blanchetown, South Australia, 18 March 1902
Home Town: Blanchetown, Mid Murray, South Australia
Schooling: Blanchetown School, South Australia
Occupation: Puntman
Died: Killed In Action, Egypt, 26 October 1942, aged 40 years
Cemetery: El Alamein War Cemetery
Grave 22. A. 10, El Alamein War Cemetery, El Alamein, Marsa Matruh, Egypt
Memorials: Adelaide WW2 Wall of Remembrance, Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour, Blanchetown District of Blanchetown WW2 Roll of Honour
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World War 2 Service

21 May 1941: Enlisted Wayville, SA
21 May 1941: Enlisted Australian Military Forces (Army WW2), Private, SN SX12924, 2nd/48th Infantry Battalion
22 May 1941: Involvement Private, SN SX12924, 48th Infantry Battalion
Date unknown: Involvement

‘In memory of a loving son and brother. He died for his country.’

Richard (Dick) and his family were river people who lived at Blanchetown on the cliffs which overlook the River Murray in SA. It was initially an important river port for paddle steamers, with a punt being opened in the late 1850’s designed to carry goods and people across the river. Dick’s father, Samuel and then Dick both worked as punt men.
Dick was one of six children born to Samuel and Charlotte Speck on the 18th March, 1902. His siblings were Samuel (Jnr), Bill, Emily, Elsie and Lucy. Just prior to his 15th birthday, Dick’s 65-year-old father, Samuel died on the 7th March, 1915 of pneumonia and pleurisy. Dick’s older brother, also named Samuel, died soon after on the 20th June, aged 26 at the Kapunda Hospital. He, also had contracted pneumonia and pleurisy. The role of looking after the children then became the sole responsibility of Charlotte.
The children all attended the local Blanchetown School before Dick then became involved as a puntman. The crossing was an important part of the transport service and puntmen were on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, travelling across the Murray, from the end of a cable on the left bank to its end on the right bank. This work was influenced by the river levels, but was a vital transport link for local growers. In January 1940, after the devastating River floods in November, The Murray Pioneer reported that the ‘season will go down as one of feast and famine as regards the River Murray waters. Little more than two months after the flood was at its peak, and only weeks since the river flats gave off their big stretches of water, the level has dropped to such an extent that inconvenience is being experienced in several directions. The big Cobdogla Pumping Station is idle, and several other pumps have been similarly effected. The Blanchetown punt is temporarily out of commission. Much difficulty has been experienced in erecting the locks after their period of idleness during the high levels. From Blanchetown this morning it, was learned that Mr. W. Speck and his assistants had been working under difficulty and taking very restricted loads on the punt until yesterday afternoon, when the new cement approaches became so "high and dry", that the ferry ceased running. Lock 1 is now being placed in position. The task is expected to be completed by the end of the week. The inactivity of the punt is not expected to last any great while.’
In March the punt men were again featured when a car carrying four people, unaware of the punt on the river, hurtled down the steep incline then ‘crashed on to the punt, tore its way through the new and strong gates, and leapt into the river. After floating for a short while it sank into about 25 feet of water’. The driver was travelling at 45 m.p.h. when the ‘Ferry’ sign was noticed. Instead of braking, the driver ‘had put his foot on the clutch and another person in the car switched off the engine. The car became out of control because it was freewheeling. Persons on the punt with a motor had a narrow escape from being seriously Injured. The motor cleared the sixty feet punt in a flash, dashed through the gates, which are exceptionally strong and then clearing the apron of the punt by over fifteen feet, fell its full length into the river, the four wheels striking the water at the same moment. It floated for a few seconds and then slowly sank, out of sight.’ Fortunately, the passengers scrambled out of the windows, the last when the car had reached the river floor.
Dick saved the life of a local who was on the punt with his pushbike. ‘He had his back to the oncoming car and never even heard it approach. The assistant puntman, Mr. Speck, brother to the punt licensee, snatched Wilson from almost beneath the car's wheels, and thereby it is reported, probably saved his life. The bike was knocked about’ was the understatement recorded by the Murray Pioneer report.

With the outbreak of war and the call for more enlistments, Dick travelled to Wayville on the 21st May 1941 to become SX12924. He was allocated to the newly formed 2/48th Battalion and shipped out to the Middle East. Compared to the tranquillity of the River, conditions at Tobruk were in stark contrast. Tobruk was typified by dust, flies, heat, minimal water supplies and constant bombardment which provided a constant challenge to new enlistees. They were to become the famed Rats of Tobruk.
Aged 40, Dick was killed during the fierce fighting over the 25th and 26th October, 1942. Conditions at that time were ever-changing and the fighting continuous. Mongomery had ordered the 9th Battalion to attack northward. The subsequent action between October 25th and 26th 1942 meant that the survivors of an horrific explosion and ensuing fighting were not always able to immediately retrieve their fallen men. Dick was killed under these conditions.
John Glenn in ‘Tobruk to Tarakan’ describes the carnage caused by the chance hit by an enemy shell on a truck loaded with mines.
‘An ear shattering explosion dwarfed the sound of the guns into insignificance. Seven other trucks, all ladened with mines, had been set off. The whole area became a ghastly raging inferno. As trucks burned and exploded a great wall of fire shot into the sky. The gun flashes seemed dimmed; night was turned into day. The concussion was terrific.‘ He added:
‘The attack continued, however, without pause…it was only after hard fighting, with heavy casualties on both sides, that they were able to consolidate on their objective. The troops had never been more tired.. The 2/48th had stirred up a real hornets’ nest; from first light until nine o’clock the enemy turned all their fury on the Trig area, with particularly heavy fire on 29 itself, hiding the position in a cloud of dust and smoke.’ A comment was later made that about the heavy casualties. History later recorded these as being close to 6,000.
His mother Charlotte was reported in the Advertiser of November as ‘Mrs. C. Speck, of Magill Road, Norwood, has been notified that her youngest son Pte. R (Dick) Speck, 39, of Blanchetown, was killed in action overseas on October 25 or 26. He was a punt-man at Blanche-town for a number of years.’
Back home, his death was reported in the Chronicle in December included a list of the other men, predominantly from the 2/48th Battalion, killed in action. They included SX7832 Pte. Max C. Boase. 2/48th Millicent; SX6896 Pte. Lance Chapman, 2/48th, North Moonta; SX5226 Pte. Charlie L. K. Cock, 2/43rd Solomontown; SX7260 Sgt. Charles Fraser. 2/48th Norwood; SX10466 Pte. E. L Freeman, 2/43rd, Calca; SX8651 Sgt. Lindsay R. Goode, 2/48th Malvern; SX13580 Pte. Ronald A. Grist. Inf., Port Noarlunga; SX8587 Pte. George W. Haywood, 2/48th Mount Compass: SX7249 Cpl. J. Hinson, 2/43rd ., Plympton: SX310 Sgt. Alfred W G. Miller, 2/48th Ponde; SX9488 Pte. Eric L. Montgomerie, 2/48th., Edwardstown; SX7375 Sgt Charles E. Plummer, 2/48th College Park; SX7176 A-Cpl. William C. Quinn, 2/48th Bordertown; SX8113 Pte. Michael N. Riley, 2/48th Burnside; SX7298 Cpl. Harold Sandercock, 2/48th Maitland; SX7732 Ste. Clem H. Schulz, 2/48th Yorketown; SX12924 Pte. Richard Speck, 48th Blanchetown; SX849J Pte. Arthur G. Wilson, 2/48th Glanville.
Initially, Dick was buried in the Military Cemetery of Tel El Eisa. He was finally re-buried in the El Alamein War Cemetery Plot XXII Row A Grave 10 in Egypt. His mother chose the inscription ‘In memory of a loving son and brother. He died for his country.’ He now rests with others from the 2/48th Battalion, who were also killed at the same time including 40-year-old Private Percy Gratwick WX10426 VC, 36-year-old Cpl. H Winn SX13573, 26-year-old Sgt A Meyer SX6848, and 22-year-old Pte Harold Pearce SX2139.

Charlotte did not live to see the return of peace. She died aged 83 while living in North Adelaide and was buried in the North Road Cemetery.
Each year the family continued to remember Dick:
Advertiser Saturday 21 November 1942, SPECK. —Killed in action in Egypt, on October 26, Dick, dearly beloved youngest son of Mrs. C. Speck, and loved brother of Bill, Emily, Elsie and Lucy. He died for his country.
Advertiser Monday 25 October 1943, SPECK. —Loving memory of Dick, killed in action El Alamein. Oct 25-26 1942. A silent thought brings many a tear of one we loved so dear. —Ever remembered by his loving sister Emily, brother-in-law Len, niece Veronica. SPECK. —Loving memory Dick killed, in action El Alamein. Oct. 25-26 1942- To be with us in the same old way is our dearest wish today. —Remembered by his brother Bill, sister-in-law Bessie, children and friend Effie. SPECK. —In loving memory of Dick, killed in action Egypt, Oct. 25-26. 1942.His comrades laid him to rest at El Alamein after his duty nobly done. —Lovingly remembered by his sister Lucy, brother-in-law William Greeney. Barmera. SPECK In memory of Dick, killed in action El Alamein, Oct. 25-26, 1942. Deep in our hearts a memory is kept, of one we loved and will never forget. —inserted by his loving sister Elsie, Alf, niece Ethel and Ben. SPECK. —In loving memory my dear son Dick killed is action El Alamein Oct 25-26, 1942. He peacefully sleeps in a soldier's grave, honored by Australia's brave. Memories I keep till we meet again. —Remembered by his mother.
Advertiser Friday 27 October 1944, SPECK, Pte. R. —In memory of our good pal, killed in action at El Alamein, October 25, 1942. Ever in our thoughts. —Max, Madeline and family, Spalding.
Advertiser Friday 26 October 1945, SPECK. —In loving memory of Dick, killed in action El Alamein, October 25/26, 1942. You gave your best; you gave your life. —Ever remembered by his sister Elsie, brother-in-law Alf and niece Ethel SPECK. —In loving memory of Dick, killed in action El Alamein. October 25/26. 1942. - Precious memories we will always treasure, of the happy days we spent together. —Ever remembered by his brother Bill, sister-in-law Bessie, nephews Victor and Cedric, niece Kathleen and friend, Effie.
Advertiser Friday 25 October 1946, SPECK. —In loving memory of Dick, killed in action, El Alamein, Oct. 25-26, 1942. A silent thought brings many a tear of one we loved so dear. —Ever remembered by his loving sister Lucy, brother-in-law Bill. SPECK. —In proud and loving memory of our dear brother and uncle, who made the supreme sacrifice, El Alamein. Oct. 25-26, 1942. Loyal and faithful in life unto death. —Ever remembered by Emily, brother-in-law Leo, niece Veronica. SPECK. —In loving memory of our dear brother and uncle, killed in action, El Alamein. Oct. 25-26. 1942. A tender chord of memory is softly touched today. —Ever remembered by Bill, sister-in-law Bessie. Victor. Cedric. Kathleen, and friend Effie. SPECK. —In loving memory of my dear son, killed in action, El Alamein, Oct. 25-26. 1942. A little white-cross, so far from here, marks the resting place of my son so dear. —Ever remembered by his loving mother.

Researched and written by Kaye Lee, daughter of Bryan Holmes SX8133, 2/48th Battalion.

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