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