William Henry Peppernell was born in Cowra in 1887. He was the eldest son of Henry Peppernell and his wife Annie (nee Stanton) who had married in Victoria in 1885 and resided with a large family at Kerr’s Creek via Orange. William, aka Billy, attested at Lawson on 7 November 1915 and was one of the participants in the 1915 Coo-ee March from Gilgandra to Sydney.
On Tuesday 9 November 1915 the Dubbo Liberal and Macquarie Advocate reported:
Sergt. Fern M.I.A. addressed a small gathering at Hermidale, and in answer to an appeal for recruits, Mr Charlie Hortle volunteered to go with Mr W Peppernell, who had enlisted the day before. Cheers were given for Mr Fern and the two local recruits.
Hermidale was not far from Canbelego where William was working as a railway gauger. He was granted leave from the NSW Railways to go to war. William formed part of the Roll of Honour reported by the Canbelego Recruiting Association and was mentioned in various country newspapers.
William’s twin brothers, Frederick and Henry, also enlisted in January of 1916. The three brothers formed part of B Company 30 Battalion and embarked together on HMAT A72 Beltana on 13 May 1916. The ship arrived in Devonport on 9 July 1916. On 22 November William embarked at Southampton for overseas service in France.
William’s brother Frederick was reported missing in August 1917 and later declared “killed in action”. A statement by No 541 Peppernell WH in the Red Cross Wounded and Missing Files records:
My brother F Peppernell went out with me in the carrying party for the Messines advance. I saw him last about 30 yards in front of me. The enemy were sniping us and I told him to take cover. He got into a shell hole and I did not see him again. I enquired at the Clearing Station but could hear nothing of him. I have since heard from home in Australia and he had been killed.
On 12 October 1917 William was admitted to Cheltenham hospital in England suffering a gunshot wound to the right thigh.
He returned to France on 3 January 1918 and was appointed Lance Corporal on 12 March 1918. As with his brother Henry, he was transferred to the 36th Battalion when the 30th had been disbanded. On 3 June 1918 he was wounded, this time a gunshot wound to his right arm marked as “severe” on his records. He returned to England and was admitted to Horton County of London War Hospital at Epsom and convalesced at Sutton Veny. He took no further part in the war and returned to Australia via Orsova on 3 March 1919.
William was recommended (but did not receive) a Military Medal for conspicuous gallantry. The citation reads:
For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. Previous to the launching of the counter-attack by his Battalion on the 4th April 1918, and when the enemy was advancing in force, L/Cpl Peppernell went forward under heavy fire and located the enemy, affording valuable information to his Company Commander which enabled him to avoid heavy casualties.
On his return to Australia, William Henry Peppernell again took up his position with New South Wales Railways. The Adelong Argus, Tumut and Gundagai Advertiser of 15 June 1925 reported:
Mr W Peppernell, who for the past couple of years had charge of the per way gang on the Gilmore to Batlow line, has been transferred to Marrar, on the Junee-Narrandera branch line, and left Tumut of Friday last.
In 1927 William married Ethel A Butler at Tumut, where they settled. William died there in 1952. Ethel outlived her husband by eleven years, dying in 1963.
William Henry Peppernell, Service No 541 is remembered on the Australian War Memorial Nominal Roll and on the Roll of Honour at Kerr’s Creek.
* Sharon Jameson, October 2018