Percy James had a very happy nature and a sense of adventure, all of which was wiped away one Sunday afternoon by the loud crack of a rifle, and the smell of gunpowder .
Percy James was the sixth child of Percy Alexander Bertie Preston and his wife Doris Isobel nee: Lord and he was born 17 October, 1937. Percy was born in Mogo, New South Wales, at the end of a dirt road just near the current day public school. He had 3 older brothers – Edward – known as Ted (my father-in-law) b. 1926, Bertie b. 1930 and Herb b. 1931, and 2 older sisters – Stella b. 1929 and Kathleen b. 1933. Percy James also had 2 younger brothers – John b. 1948 and Darcy b. 1950.
All the Preston children were quite close as they grew up, and they got along well together. The family were quite poor and often moved around the southern part of New South Wales when their father was looking for work. Although Percy’s brother Ted was much older, he remembers a number of things about his younger brother:
- Percy was a bit of a larrikin, and for quite some time he was spoiled as the baby of the family
- Percy was the only one of the family to have red hair, although both his sisters had strawberry blond hair
- Percy James was the apple of his father’s eye, and his father’s favourite child (even though we all know that parents never have favourites)
Percy and his mate Ian Thomas Carlon had been friends for quite a few years and they both decided to join the Army very early in January of 1957. They travelled from their homes in Tamworth, New South Wales to Holsworthy Army Training Camp together, and were even enlisted in the same Battalion joining C Company, 12th National Service Battalion. The young men were bunked in the same hut.
About six weeks after joining up the two young men were in their hut joking around together, whilst Percy cleaned some dummy ammunition shells. As the shells were cleaned Percy placed them on the bed just beside where he was sitting. Ian, mucking around, loaded one of the dummy shells into his rifle. Ian aimed the rifle at Percy and pulled the trigger. The crack of the rifle resulted in a gunshot wound to Percy’s neck – the shell had been live!
Percy James Preston died about 1/2 an hour after being accidentally shot by his mate on 17 February, 1957, aged just 20 years. He had been in the Army for only six weeks and is buried at the old Tamworth Cemetery. Ian Thomas Carlon was distraught at the accidental death of his friend.
Headstone, Percy James Preston, Tamworth General Cemetery, Tamworth, New South Wales, Australia. Photographed by Julie Preston Sept 2010