Stan Gurney VC

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Stan - a man of action! 

Stan Gurney VC is remembered for his heroic actions of July 22, 1942 at Tel-el-Eisa, Egypt during the first Battle of El Alamein, actions which tragically cost him his life and led to the posthumous award of our nation’s highest award for gallantry, the Victoria Cross.  Whilst we rightly remember Stan’s gallant actions on that fateful day, there is so much more to Stan - he was an interesting character with diverse interests and a strong spirit of community involvement and service.

Stan was born to parents George and Jane on December 15th 1908 at Day Dawn in W.A.’s Murchison region.  His interests and character were formed at an early age in this frontier outback town.  One key interest was in cycling which was initially fostered at Armstrong Cycles and Motors in Day Dawn, the Day Dawn cycling club and numerous cycling events across the region.

At the beginning of 1924 Stan moved to Grandma Clues’ house at 21 Canterbury Terrace, Victoria Park where his sister Ruby, her husband Roy and baby son Bill were residing and completed bookkeeping studies at Stott’s Business College. Various bookkeeping jobs followed until he secured his 'ideal' job as a 'Meter Fixer' with the Perth Electricity and Gas Department. This was a fantastic turn of events for Stan - a steady source of income which involved cycling many miles each day repairing the meters.  Early cycling connections were made in Perth through the Victoria Park Amateur Cycling Club and then the Maylands District Amateur Cycling Club from August 1927.

In 1932, Stan moved to the professional City of Perth Cycling Club to cycle as a professional.  Cycling was now a pivotal aspect of his life - working as a cycling meter fixer each day and building an impressive professional cycling career in his spare time, competing successfully across Western Australia and also interstate.  Stan served in the sport's administration being a very active official with the League of Western Australian Wheelmen, ultimately being elected as its Secretary.

With the outbreak of World War II, Stan resigned from his job and enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) on December 6th 1940.  After completing initial recruit training at the Northam Army Camp, Stan embarked from Fremantle with the 2/32 Battalion on 5 July 1941, travelling on the ocean line Queen Mary. 

After a few relatively quiet months in Palestine and Syria events took a significant turn with the Axis forces (Germany and Italy) rapid advance in north western Egypt under the command of Field Marshall Rommel.  With these forces moving rapidly towards El Alamein, the 9th Australian Division, which included Stan who was now in the 2nd/48 Australian Infantry Battalion, were quickly moved to support the British line confronting Rommel near Tel el Eisa, 10 miles west of El Alamein.

During an operation proposed for 22 July 1942, the 26th Bridgade was ordered to stage a two-pronged attack on Baillieu's Point and Tel el Eisa Ridge.  The 2/48th Battalion was sent to Tel el Eisa Ridge.

The 2/48th's B and D Companies crossed their start line at 0555 hours on 22 July 1942 and somewhat later came under intense fire from all positions except their rear. D Company began to take heavy casualties.

With key leaders now being killed or injured all around, Stan reacted under intense pressure. Grabbing a rifle with bayonet (discarding the cumbersome Boys anti-tank rifle he had been carrying up to that point), Stan rushed over open ground into a wall of fire, captured the first enemy post, bayoneting its three occupants. 

He then rushed forward over thirty metres and bayoneted two of the enemy and sent the third back as a prisoner.  Whilst preparing to attack the third post, Stan was blown off his feet by a grenade burst.  Undeterred, he stormed the third post.  He was last seen using his bayonet with extreme vigour.  His body was later found in the third enemy post.  For his outstanding gallantry, Private Arthur Stanley Gurney was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross on 11 January 1943.

 Stan Gurney VC is a Victoria Park local who exemplified the qualities of hard work, sporting and community,endeavour, military service and gallantry of the highest order.  A life cut short by the tragedy of war.  Lest we Forget.

This article was prepared by Steve Dean, a member of the Victoria Park RSL Sub Branch with details drawn from Roy Criddle’s book ‘A Man Called Stan’.




Appendices/explanatory notes

Australian Imperial Force (AIF)

Regarding the Second Australian Imperial Force (Second AIF) it formed Australia’s main Army fighting force for overseas service in World War II and was formed of volunteers.  Under the Defence Act (1903), neither part-time militia nor the full time Permanent Military Force could serve outside Australia or its territories, unless they volunteered to do so.  This also applied in World War I which was the original or First AIF.  The Second AIF took care of the vast bulk of Australia’s overseas fighting commitments in World War II.  New Guinea (e.g. the Kokoda campaign) was somewhat different as it was an Australian territory at the time.  There, militia forces played a major combat role and were supplemented part way through that campaign by the Second AIF forces when these were relieved from the Middle East campaign.  

Boys anti-tank rifle

It was a 0.55 inch calibre rifle (a really big, powerful rifle) which was only really adequate against lightly armoured vehicles i.e. armoured cars, small tanks etc and only at pretty close range.  It was also very heavy to carry, difficult to operate and had a massive recoil when fired.  This weapon was retired mid way through the war - perhaps in large part due to its limitations.

Divisions, Brigades, Battalions and Companies

The Second AIF was organised into a number of divisions (e.g. 6th, 7th, 8th & 9th along with the 1st Armoured Division) during World War Two.  Each Division consisted of three Brigades and each Brigade consisted of three Battalions.  Each Battalion is made up of Companies and Companies made up of Sections (Division being the largest structure and Section the smallest).

Victoria Cross

The Victoria Cross is the highest award in the Australian Honours System and is a decoration for people that in the presence of an enemy perform acts of gallantry, valour, sacrifice or devotion to duty. It was awarded as part of the British Honours System until 1991 when the Victoria Cross for Australia was approved by Queen Elizabeth II.  Since 1991 there have been four people that have been awarded Australian Victoria Cross.  

Please see The Australian War Memorial  for an explanation of military structure, formations and commonly used terms.