Gun­ner’s stop­watch

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books -

In early 1961, Os­car “Gun­ner” Stone wan­dered into Don Clinch’s chemist’s shop in Wool­go­olga, NSW, placed this old mil­i­tary stop­watch on the counter, and asked Clinch to ar­range for its re­pair. Clinch was ac­cus­tomed to mix­ing up tonic pow­ders for Stone‘s rac­ing horses, as he had since he es­tab­lished the shop in 1951. He al­ways had a pleas­ant yarn with Gun­ner: a big man, un­mar­ried, lived with his sis­ter. But Clinch was un­pre­pared for what hap­pened next. Os­car Stone had been a ma­chine­gun­ner in France dur­ing 1918. His unit, the 5th Ma­chine Gun Bat­tal­ion, was in­volved in most of the ma­jor ac­tions along the Somme River, from Villers-Bre­ton­neux to Péronne to the Hin­den­burg Line, be­tween May and Oc­to­ber 1918. They had in­flicted a lot of dam­age on a lot of Ger­mans.

As he pushed the stop­watch across Don Clinch’s counter, Stone started talk­ing about the Somme: about the flies, about the death, about the losses. This had never hap­pened be­fore; they usu­ally talked horses and the weather. But now, “this huge man burst into tears and broke down.” Clinch didn’t know what to say to this sob­bing gi­ant. “I found it hard to man­age,” he con­fessed. He despatched the watch for re­pair.

By the time it re­turned, Gun­ner Stone was dead. Clinch tried to pass it on to his niece, but she didn’t want it. He even­tu­ally gave it to the Me­mo­rial. A watch­maker’s mark­ing – D2164/61 – is scratched into the in­side of the case, a legacy of that emo­tional out­pour­ing at the chemist’s in 1961. Chris God­dard Cu­ra­tor Aus­tralian War Me­mo­rial

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