The Life Story of Harry Peck
Gunner Peck was a mythical character of the Australians at war, especially WW2.
He was the bloke everyone used as the scapegoat. Because he didn’t exist culprits were never found out.
The “official” version of how Harry Peck was born started at Ingleburn army Camp, NSW, in 1940, when an officious orderly sergeant was inspecting the huts of the gunners of the 2/5th Australian Field Regiment (Royal Australian Artillery). The sergeant, seeing an untidy bed littered with gear and accoutrements, said to a gunner standing nearby, “Who sleeps in that bed?”. The answer came back in a flash, “That’s Harry Peck’s bed.” The sergeant noted the name of Gunner Peck in his book with a view to extra fatigues in the near future and left the hut.
The gunners immediately turned to the one who had answered the sergeant, saying “The bloke who sleeps in that bed isn’t named Peck – why did you say it was?” Back came the reply, “You don’t think I was going to dob in a mate, do you? That’s why I said Harry Peck slept there. You know Harry Peck – the Anchovette King!” And in this simple incident, Harry Peck was born and enlisted on the strength of a regiment of the Royal Australian Artillery.
But there is another version of the Peck story. According to some members of 2/5th Field Regiment, the true birth of Harry Peck went something like this:
An officious orderly sergeant marched into the huts and demanded “Where’s the duty driver?” When he did not receive an answer, the officer demanded to know the name of the duty driver.
It was Gunner Terry McGurren who answered “Harry Peck”. The orderly sergeant then went to have Harry Peck put under arrest, the charge sheet reading “Being absent from place or state of parade.”
The regiment sailed overseas and settled in at Deir Suneid Camp, Palestine. One night, an almighty fracas broke out among the gunners and the sergeant of the guard inquired who had started the trouble. Again came the answer that Gunner Harry Peck was the culprit and the poor unfortunate sergeant dashed off and prepared a charge report, the object of which was to confine Gunner Peck to the camp for 14 days.
The regiment moved down to Mersa Matruh and here the “Peck racket” started in earnest. A nearby Ordnance store of the British Army began to supply vast and incredible quantities of war materials and supplies to an Australian unit, the goods in question ranging from motor vehicles to pistols and binoculars.
Not until the British began to check the issue vouchers was it discovered that all the goods were signed for by ostensibly the same person – Harry Peck – although the signatures were in a dozen different hands and many different ranks ranging from bombardier to major.
By some twist of fate there chanced to be an inoffensive officer named Peck in another unit at Mersa Matruh and rather naturally he was viewed with a great deal of suspicion by the high authorities, who had come to hear of the matter and were furious.
And so it went on. A Jewish sports dealer in Tel Aviv sold many pairs of football boots to an Australian officer with a very Jewish appearance: the docket was signed for by Heinrich Pfeck but the boots are still unpaid for.
In Syria, Harry Peck became notorious. Ten tons of building stone was carted away by Australian military vehicles and the bill was received by Headquarters AIF. It referred to the “goods taken away by the solder H. que of the 31st Anchovy Division Army. Australienne”. Needless to say, the building stone is still another bad debt.
Vast quantities of goods were taken over in Syria by Harry Peck but his unit, the Anchovy Division, was not on the Order of Battle and therefore untraceable.
In Bsarma, pipes needed by ‘A’ Troop to construct a culvert were drawn by Major Harry Peck from the Public Works depot in Tripoli – the document given by the truck party was an oblong of blue cardboard entitling bearer to a motor trip from Jerusalem to Jericho and back by none other than Major Harry Peck himself.
Across the globe, wharfies were loading stores at the wharf for New Guinea, when cartons of Bulimba Beer were found in a stack bearing the 2/5th Field Regiment sign, authorised by Lt. Col. Harry Peck, AIF, HQ ASC. These stores were duly delivered TO THE REGIMENT at Port Moresby.
In another incident, a taxi on a wharf was allegedly loaded onto a ship while the unfortunate taxi-driver’s attention was momentarily diverted and transported to Port Moresby for Harry Peck’s use.
In a program from Radio Cairo, “Calling the Forces”, many florid and verbose birthday calls were regularly given to the ‘wounded hero’ Harry Peck. On another occasion, an Australian officer calling himself Lieutenant Harry Peck gave a five minute talk on the alarming subject of “Mohammedanism in Australia”. This talk was from Jerusalem radio.
Even after the 2/5th Field Regiment arrived back in Australia, Harry Peck was still very much alive. Today a quiet little town in North Australia possesses a beautiful wooden bridge, built by the friends of Peck and bearing an artistic sign in several languages which says “Harry Peck’s Bridge”, “Le Pont de Henri Peque”, and so on.
It was Harry Peck’s Battery that smashed the Japanese with 25 pounders at Milne Bay, and wherever this regiment is privileged to serve, the name of Harry Peck will live on its Roll of Honour.