In society there are always people who fall through the cracks – one such was Stephen Hopkins.
Born in Cobram Victoria in 1892,1 Stephen first enlisted for military service in August 1915. However, he repeatedly went AWOL2, resulting in a warrant for his arrest and declaration as a deserter. Nevertheless, he re-enlisted in October 1916 but a similar pattern of behaviour emerged and he was discharged as medically unfit in July 1918.3
Life did not improve. Sustained by alcohol and government food rations,4 Stephen was constantly on the move, making frequent requests for the replacement of his discharge papers which he claimed to have lost or had stolen. Eventually the authorities declined to issue further copies as they were aware the papers were a tradeable commodity.5
In February 1940, a body was found floating in Cedar Party Creek at the entrance to Wingham. It was that of Stephen who had recently been seen hawking goods around town. There was a makeshift campsite on the bank and among the items found was a bottle of wine and one of methylated spirits. The inquest recorded death by drowning but it was inconclusive as to whether it was accidental or otherwise.6
The Wingham RSL stepped in to provide a funeral service and burial with the words
“He was a stranger …. but he was somebody’s son and he had fought for his country”.7
Author: Penny Teerman
1 Victorian BDM: 31324/1892.
2 AWOL: Absent Without Leave.
3 NAA: B2455, HOPKINS Stephen.
4 Northern Star Wednesday 12 June 1935 P5 and Northern Champion Wednesday 7 February 1940 P2.
5 NAA: B2455, HOPKINS Stephen.
6 Wingham Chronicle Friday 9 February 1940 P4.
7 Wingham Chronicle Tuesday 6 February 1940 P2.