Bertram Clarke STEAD
Rank: Private
Number: 5469
Unit: 18th Battalion Australian Imperial Force
Date of Death: 3 May 1917
Age: 28
Cemetery: Villers-Bretonneux Memorial, Somme, France

Bertram's parents originated from Barnsley and his two older sisters, Christiana and Norah had been born there. In the mid-1880s, they moved to Manchester where Isabel and Walter were born. A couple of years later, they had had settled in Hazel Grove, where Bertram and Alfred were born. Their father, Walter, worked as a tranny car driver and, at the time of the 1901 Census, was 45. There is no mention in the Census of his wife, Mary, who may have died by then.

As a young man, Bertram emigrated to Australia and settled in Auburn, New South Wales. He practised his trade as a carpenter and, by 1916, had married Alice Jane. Their home was at Sheffield Street but, after he enlisted, Alice went to live with a Mrs Chorlton, Princes Road, Auburn (perhaps, this was her mother's home). By this time, they also had a daughter, Marie Audrey.

Bertram enlisted on 2 March 1916, aged 27 years and 1 month. His enlistment papers, available on-line at the Australian National Archives, allow the reader to form some impression of the man. He was 5' 7" tall and weighed 8 stone 10 pounds. Bertram was of a fair complexion, with grey eyes and light brown hair. His only distinguishing mark was a scar on the back of his left hand. He recorded his religious denomination as Church of England.

After initial training, he left Sydney aboard the transport ship "A18 Wiltshire" on 22 August. The new recruits undertook further training in Britain before leaving for France from Folkestone, on 13 December, aboard the SS Princess Henrietta. Bertram was formally taken onto the active service strength on the 18th Battalion on 26 January 1917.

At the beginning of April 1917, British and Dominion forces had launched major attacks in the vicinity of Arras and, a month later, the fighting was still underway. The next stage, planned for 3 May, was for an assault on the main German defensive positions known as the Hindenberg Line. The part to be played by Australian troops would become officially known as the Second Battle of Bullecourt. The men attacked on schedule at 3.45am and, initially, made good progress. However, within half an hour, wounded men were starting to make their way to their start trenches. They had been held up by German wire and heavy machine gun fire. As they had advanced across No Man's Land, they had also been hit by artillery fire. When they came close to the German trenches, they had to wait for two minutes for the British artillery barrage to lift. The Australian Official History records that the delay proved fatal. "The Germans, having seen the advance, were lining their parapet in spite of the barrage, firing. The feeling afterwards among those who took part was that, notwithstanding the increasing machine gun fire, the trench could have been captured if they had unitedly rushed it."

For the 18th Battalion, the attack had been a disaster. 12 of the 22 officers were casualties as well as 61 of the 84 NCOs. When the roll was called, Bertram was listed as "missing". His family tried to find out what had happened and enquiries were made through the Australian Red Cross. 2856 Private C F Adams provided a statement "A fellow named Stead was next to me when he was killed at Bullecourt. We went over at 4am and something struck him almost at once. He was hit in the temple and died instantaneously and fell into a deep shell hole. I saw his body lying in the shell hole when we came back, but it was probably covered later by another shell." Adams made a second statement basically confirming the original "I saw Stead hit in the temple on 3 May 1917. He fell into a large shell hole. When walking back myself wounded, I noted he was still there and had bled profusely from the temple. He was undoubtedly dead."

Adams' statement allowed the military authorities to make an official presumption of death. Bertram's body was never recovered and identified and he is commemorated on the Australian Memorial to the Missing. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission wrongly records his unit as the 13th Battalion, although all official Australian documentation confirms he served with the 18th.

On 29 August 1918, Alice Stead wrote to the authorities asking if any of Bertram's belongings were still to be forwarded to her and, if so, they should be sent to her new address at 91 Jersey Road, Woollahead, Sydney. However, by 1922, she had returned to Prince's Road, Auburn and asked that his service medals be sent to her there.

Further information about Bertram can be found in the book "Hazel Grove to Armageddon" by John Eaton.

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