William Edward Stephens
William Edward Stephens, born in Adelaide on 15 June 1906 and known by family and friends as ‘Nigger’, was the first-born son of Olive Agnes and H.J. Stephens. His sisters were Alice, Rita, Lillian and Agnes. William was particularly close with his younger brother, Kevin Frederick. Following their father’s death, their mother re-married, becoming Olive Coward.
William by trade was a Maltster Labourer, that is, he would select barley in preparation for brewing beer; he was also a member of the Citizen Military Forces, the so-called Militia. At the end of 1941, when aged 35 and after seven years with the Militia, he enlisted in the Australian Military Forces. In October of 1942 he was transferred to 25 Garrison Battalion, which shared with 33 Garrison Battalion the duties for the security of the Loveday Internment Camps. From 1944 Stephens served in the combined 25/33 Garrison Battalion.
His 23-year-old younger brother Kevin had enlisted the previous year on 5 July 1940 and was allocated the number SX7952 in the newly formed 2/48th Battalion. Both brothers at the time were single and gave their re-married mother, Olive Coward, as their next of kin. Kevin ‘Juddy’ was to become one of the respected and famed Rats of Tobruk. He was wounded in the Middle East in July 1942 with a gunshot wound to his right leg, spending several months in hospital receiving treatment. Back home, the Advertiser recorded that ‘Mrs O.A. Coward of Phillip Street, city has been notified that her youngest son, Pte Kevin Frederick Stephens, has been wounded in action in Egypt. Pte Stephens enlisted in June 1940 and went overseas in November of the same year. He served for eight months in Tobruk last year.’
William’s military record shows that a number of health and discipline issues arose during his time at Loveday. On 26 October 1943, for example, there was a repeated case of William going AWOL, resulting in the forfeiting of a day’s pay and confinement to barracks for seven days.
William’s record then indicates that on 26 November 1943, aged 37, he ‘Died of injuries (self inflicted) GSW left chest on arrival 34 CHosp’.
Both the News and Advertiser carried a report of William’s death but not the circumstances. The Advertiser of 30 November 1943 also carried William’s photo. The News on Monday 29 November 1943 reported, ‘Soldier Dies Of Injuries at Barmera Mrs. O. A. Coward, of Phillip Street, Adelaide, has been notified that her son, Private W. E. Stephens, died of injuries at Barmera on Friday. Pte. Stephens, who was 37, was the eldest son of Mrs. Coward and the late Mr. H. J. Stephens.’
Subsequently, a Court of Inquiry was held at the 25/33 Garrison, Barmera, on 16 December 1943, leading to the finding that William had committed suicide through a self-inflicted gunshot wound to his chest.
William was buried in the Barmera Garden of Memory Cemetery, Plot A, Row A Grave 5. He was mourned by friends and family. An official headstone now marks his grave.
NAA: B884, S51039, STEPHENS WILLIAM EDWARD : Service Number – S51039 : Date of birth – 15 Jun 1906 : Place of birth – ADELAIDE SA : Place of enlistment – TORRENS HALL SA : Next of Kin – COWARD OLIVE
Author: Kaye Lee, daughter of Bryan Holmes SX8133, 2/48th Battalion.