Phillip PEARCE

PEARCE, Phillip

Service Number: SX7239
Enlisted: 29 June 1940, Watervale, South Australia
Last Rank: Lance Corporal
Last Unit: 2nd/48th Infantry Battalion
Born: Port Pirie, South Australia, 10 July 1912
Home Town: Watervale, South Australia
Schooling: Watervale School, South Australia
Occupation: Station hand
Died: Killed in Action, Egypt, 31 October 1942, aged 30 years
Cemetery: El Alamein War Cemetery
Plot XVI (16); Row D; Grave 9 - Panel 63 at the AWM,
Memorials: Adelaide WW2 Wall of Remembrance, Auburn RSL Community Centre, Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour, Watervale Public School Roll of Honour WW2, Watervale War Memorial
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World War 2 Service

29 Jun 1940: Enlisted Private, SX7239, Watervale, South Australia
29 Jun 1940: Enlisted Australian Military Forces (Army WW2), Lance Corporal, SX7239, 2nd/48th Infantry Battalion
17 Nov 1940: Embarked Private, SX7239, HMAT Statheden
31 Oct 1942: Involvement Lance Corporal, SX7239, 2nd/48th Infantry Battalion, El Alamein
Date unknown: Involvement

Third Pearce Son, Killed in Action

Phillip was the first-born son and oldest of seven children to parents, Albert James and Balbina Pearce. He arrived on the 10th November 1912, in Port Pirie, a large, thriving port on the Spencer Gulf. His siblings were Irene, Harold, George and younger brothers Edward, John David and Richard Thomas. Of these five were to also serve, Phillip and Harold in the 2/48th and George in the sister Battalion, the 2/43rd. Both of these brothers were to lose their lives in the fierce fighting encountered in the Middle East. Phillip’s two youngest brothers, Edward and John David were to survive the war.
The family moved to Watervale in the Clare Valley of SA where the children all attended the local school. However, when Phillip was 17-years-old, his father, Albert died in 1929 and was buried in the nearby Sevenhill Cemetery. (Mother Balbina lived until 1975 and was buried with her husband.) As the oldest child, Phillip took on the role of supporting his family. He became a station hand until the outbreak of WWII.
With a very strong recruiting campaign being conducted for the A.I.F. in a huge drive to recruit fit young country men, Phillip’s younger brother, 20-year-old Harold was the first of his siblings to enlist on the 26th March 1940, being allocated the number SX2139. Three months later and just prior to his 28th birthday, Philip also enlisted on the 23rd June 1940, becoming SX7239. George was next to enlist on the 27th July and was allocated the number SX9706 with the 2/14th Field Regiment but by February was with the 2/43rd Battalion. The Northern Argus regularly published a list of the ‘successful’ candidates with three of the Pearce boys being named. WATERVALE. — Henry V. W. Stopp, C. A. N. Glassenbury (rejected), William. E. Grace, Harold Pearce, L. S. Moyle, R. A. Ward, W. D. Dallisson, Phillip Pearce, George Pearce, M. Baillie.
Phillip was initially at Wayville for his formal enlistment. He was allocated to the newly formed 2/48th Battalion where initial days were spent in the cold of the Pavilions, now part of the Royal Adelaide Showgrounds before the new enlistees headed to Woodside for their preliminary training. Following this, Phillip had pre-embarkation leave, returning to have time with his family before the 2/48th contingent embarked on the Stratheden for the Middle East, on the 7th November 1940 arriving in the Middle East on the 17th December. By 1st August ’42 he had been promoted to L/Cpl. Conditions in the field was such that he contracted dysentery but was later able to re-join his Battalion.
He was to learn of Harold being wounded in June ’41 then of George being wounded in action and later of his death on the 16th August ’41. George’s death was reported in the local Northern Argus later in the month: ‘Mrs. Robert Pearce, of Watervale, who is a widow, has had three of her four sons on active service, and the sad news was received last week that George Pearce, aged about 22 years, had been killed in action. A brother Harold Pearce was wounded some time ago, spent a period in hospital in Egypt, and has now re-joined his unit, while the third son, Phillip Pearce, is also on service in the Near or Middle East campaign. The thoughts of every citizen throughout the Watervale and surrounding districts go out to Mrs. Pearce in her sad loss, and her country has been honored in the giving of three fine sons of eligible military age to battle for us in the cause of freedom.’
Harold recovered from his initial wounds but was then the second of the brothers killed, on October 25th ’42. Again, the Northern Argus reported: ‘The patriotic town and district of Watervale has had another sad fatality in the loss of Private Harold Pearce, aged 22, who has been recently notified as being killed on active service in the strenuous fight for liberty and freedom. His brother, Private George Pearce, was also killed on active service some time ago. All told the Pearce family have four sons on active service, and to have lost two such fine sons is indeed a very sad occurrence for the family.’
Soon after that news was received, more tragedy followed. Within a week of Harold’s death, Phillip was also killed in action on the 31st October ’42. He was 30 years old. Again, the Northern Argus carried the news: ‘this time of Phillip Pearce: ‘Mother Loses Three Sons Killed in Action. THREE PEARCE BOYS, OF WATERVALE, KILLED IN ACTION. Mrs. A. J. Pearce, of Watervale, has six sons in the fighting forces, and word was received last week that Phillip Pearce had been killed an action. The names of the three who have made the supreme sacrifice are: — Private George Pearce, killed in August 1941. Private Harold Pearce, killed on October 25, 1942. Private Phillip Pearce, killed on October 31, 1942. Thus the latest two casualties occurred in the same week and took place in the battle for Egypt and Lybia. Three other sons are in the fighting forces with the A.I.F. in Australian battle zones. They are Private John Pearce, Private Edward Pearce and Private William Pearce. The youngest son, Richard Pearce, aged 17 years, is the only son home at Watervale with his mother. The father died some years ago. The loss of three sons is indeed a terrible blow to Mrs. Pearce and her family. No one can measure the depth of her great sacrifice in having six sons fighting for King and Country. The deep sympathy of the whole countryside is with her in her sorrow.’
Conditions for the sons serving in the Middle East at the time were ever-changing and the fighting continuous. For Harold and Phillip in the 2/48th Battalion, Montgomery had ordered the 9th Battalion to attack northward in what was to be relentless fighting in in a massive assault to ambitiously take the strategic position of Trig 29.
John Glenn in ‘Tobruk to Tarakan’ describes the carnage.
‘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.’ He added:
‘Death would have reaped a rich harvest of gallant man. And of the 2/48th Battalion only forty one weary troops would remain in the field.’ Then ‘at zero hour 1 a.m. 31st October, the artillery opened up with a receding barrage – one that creeps back on itself. The attack was towards the guns themselves, the enemy being between troops and the guns…one gun was landing shells right amongst the men… As soon as the main road was reached the two leading companies came under murderous fire, and, from then until they reached the objective, 2,250 yards from the start line, the whole advance was fought in fierce hand to hand fighting.’ It was under these conditions that Phillip received his fatal wounds. It was challenging for the survivors of the horrific fighting to immediately retrieve their fallen men, but they eventually did.
By December, the Chronicle carried the names of both brothers and others who were killed or died at a similar time. They included 24-year-old SX9128 Pte Jack D Clark, 2/24th, Seven Hills; 34 year old SX7246 Pte. Gordon Franklin, 2/24th Kimba; 23 year old SX12363 Pte. Harry B Irwin 2/48th Port Augusta: SX6963 Pte Ron A. Jackson, 2/48th Melrose: 26 year old SX7506 Pte. Ernest N. Parkyn, 2/48th Murray Bridge; 22 year old SX2139 Pte. Harry Pearce, 2/48th Watervale; and his brother 30 year old SX7239 Pte. Phillip Pearce. 2/48th Watervale: 21-year-old SX12157 Pte. Eric K. Stagbouer, 2/48th Maitland: 29-year-old SX7987 Pte. Douglas Whyte. 2/48th Joslin. These were the cream of Australia’s young men.
The Northern Argus followed up their articles in ’44 with the heading ‘A Mother of Whom Watervale is Proud.’ It summarised the service given by her sons. ‘Out of seven sons Mrs. B. Pearce has three sons who made the supreme sacrifice, and three more who are at present serving. The seventh son, Richard, has now turned eighteen, and Mrs. Pearce is willing to give this son also if needs be; a truly heroic mother who lost her husband while the children were still quite young. She has worked hard and reared her fine family without aid. The three sons who gave their lives for their country were: — Pte. George Pearce, L/Cpl. Phil, and Pte. Harold. George was wounded at Tobruk, probably dying in hospital either through gangrene setting in or the hospital being bombed. He was buried in Grave No. 3, Plot 1, Row G, at the British Military Cemetery at Mersa Matruh on 17th. Aug., 1941. The late Pte. Harold was a signaller attached to same unit, and I was killed while digging in after the company had reached its final objective at the Battle of Alamein by a shell killing him instantly at dawn - on Oct. 26th., 1942. He was buried at Tel El Eisa Military Cemetery, Grave B15, on Oct. 27th. He had formerly been wounded in Syria. Lance Corporal Phil Pearce is buried at Sidi Abd. El Rahman, in the Western Desert, Egypt. He was killed by a direct hit from a shell on the night of Oct. 30, 1942. The sons now serving are William (Militia from W.A.); John in an Army Tank Battalion; and Eddie, in an Aus. General Transport. Watervale is extremely proud to have this family among its residents.’
Phillip was initially buried in the field but was later reburied in the El Alamein War Cemetery on the 14th April ‘43 Plot 16 Row D Grave 9. He now rests with others from his 2/48th Battalion including 27-year-old Private SX7252 Laurence A Smith killed at the same time as Phillip. His mother chose the same inscription as she had for her two other sons ‘His Duty Nobly Done. In God’s care.’ They rest nearby, Harold in Plot XXII Row A Grave 3 and George Plot IV. Row F. Grave 2.
Once peace was declared, Watervale conducted a grand welcome home dinner in September ’36 for those who had returned. For those who had not survived, a presentation was made to the family. Edward accepted this for his three brothers, Phil, George and Harold. All are remembered on the obelisk at the Watervale Memorial Park, with others who died during WWII: A. Pearce, Geo Pearce, Phil. Pearce, M. Payne, M. Nicolai, R. Dunstan and M. Baillie.

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

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Born  10 July 1912 Port Pirie, South Australia
(SA Birth Record 1907 - 1928, Book : 892 Page : 138 District : Cla.)

Father Albert James PEARCE  and  Mother Balbina Pearce (nee NIEMIETZ).

Sister      Irene PEARCE                   (b. 26/1/1916 Penwortham, near Clare, SA
               (SA Birth Record 1907 - 1928, Book : 973 Page :266 District : Cla.)
Brother   George PEARCE                (b. 5/2/1918  Penwortham, near Clare, SA
               (SA Birth Record 1907 - 1928, Book : 13A Page : 466 District : Cla.)
Brother   Harold PEARCE                 (b. 23/1/1920 Watervale, near Auburn, SA
               (SA Birth Record 1907 - 1928, Book : 49A Page :502 District : Cla.)
Brother    Edward PEARCE               (b. 8/9/1921 Clare, SA
               (SA Birth Record 1907 - 1928, Book : 82A Page : 54 District : Cla.)
Brother   John David PEARCE          (b. 19/9/1923 Watervale, near Auburn, SA
               (SA Birth Record 1907 - 1928, Book : 123A Page : 81 District : UpW.)
Brother   Richard Thomas PEARCE  (b. 10/12/1925 Watervale, near Auburn, SA
                (SA Birth Record 1907 - 1928, Book : 165A Page : 146 District : UpW.)

Next of kin in service:
Brother    SX9706  Private George Pearce
                27/7/1940   enlisted at Watervale, SA
                                  last rank Private in 2/43 Australian Infantry Battalion
                16/8/1941   died of wounds (received in action) - in Libya
                buried in:    El Alamein War Cemetery, Egypt  (Plot IV. Row F. Grave 2)

Brother    SX2139   Private Harold Pearce
                26/3/1940   enlisted at Watervale, SA
                                  last rank Private in 2/48 Australian Infantry Battalion
                26/10/1942  killed in action - Egypt
                buried in:     El Alamein War Cemetery, Egypt  (Plot XXII.  Row A. Grave 3)

Brother    SX23840 Private Edward Pearce
                31/8/1942   enlisted into WWII AIF at Watervale, SA
                                  last rank Driver in 121st Australian General Transport Company
                23/4/1946   discharged from service in AIF     

Brother    SX22244 Private John David Pearce
                20/8/1942   enlisted at Watervale, SA
                                  last rank Private in 7 Ordnance Vehicle Park
                26/6/1946   discharged from service in AIF

Prior to enlisting Philip lived in Watervale, South Australia with his parents.

Described on enlisting as 27 years 11 months old; single; brown hair; grey eyes;
Roman Catholic.

29/6/1940         Enlisted into WWII AIF at Watervale, SA 
29/6/1940         took oath in Adelaide, SA

3/7/1940           marched in to Wayville

15-24/10/1940   Pre-embarkation leave

17/11/1940        embarked on board HMT Statheden for overseas

28/7/1942          promoted to Lance Corporal

28/8/1942          sick with dysentry, evacuated to hospital
14/9/1942          discharged to staging camp

17/9/1942          marched out to 2/48 Australian Infantry Battalion
17/9/1942          taken on strength from staging camp
1/10/1942          marched int from hospital

31/10/1942       killed in action, Egypt
                        Lance Corporal in 2/48 Australian Infantry Battalion
4/11/1942         buried in the field, El Rahman

10/7/1946         Lance Corporal Pearce's remains were exhumed and reburied in:
buried in:          El Alamein War Cemetery, Egypt
                        Plot 16, Row D; Grave 9

Sourced and submitted by Julianne T Ryan.  10/6/2015.   Lest we forget.