William (Billy) Dunstan

Full name:
William Dunstan, VC
Born:

Ballarat
Vic
Australia
Died:

Toorak
Vic
Australia
Occupation:
Clerk
Education:
Golden Point State School
Fate:

Repatriated

Highest rank:
Lieutenant
Enlistment:
Decorations/ commendations:
Victoria Cross (VC), 1914–1915 Star, British War Medal, Victory Medal, King George VI Coronation Medal, Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Medal
Service:
Australian Army
Service Number:
2130
Conflict:
World War I 1914-1918
Military event:
Battle of Lone Pine 1915, Gallipoli Campaign 1915
Unit:
7th Infantry Battalion, AIF
Young man dressed in formal army uniform with cap

William Dunstan VC. AWM H06201

...He proved himself a capable, intelligent, intrepid young warrior in his first fight.

[Lieutenant Colonel William McKenzie, Official Chaplain, 1st Brigade of the Australian Expeditionary Force, quoted in The Ballarat Courier, 18 October 1915, p 5]

William Dunstan was only 20 years old and had spent only a week in the Lone Pine trenches when he earned a Victoria Cross. He was 1 of 7 Australians recognised with a VC for their courage during the 4 day battle.

Early life

William Dunstan was the son of Henrietta and William John Dunstan, a boot and shoe repairer in Ballarat, Central Victoria. William junior was born in 1895. He had 6 brothers and sisters. The family were brought up as hardworking Methodists, who 'observed the strictest of Sundays'.

William Dunstan began working as a retail clerk and messenger at John Snow & Co when he was 13. Snow's was a well-known Ballarat retailer of clothing and furnishings:

As is pretty widely known, Snow's stock in immense quantities everything required for the personal wear of men, women, and children, and everything necessary for the partial or complete furnishing of the most modest home or the most extensive mansion ...

['Christmas tide: around and about the shops', The Ballarat Star, 20 December 1905, p 4]

Military training was compulsory in the years before the First World War. Like other young boys and men of his time, William Dunstan joined the cadets at the age of 16. He was first promoted to captain and later, a lieutenant in the militia.

Service

Group of 15 men in army uniforms and slouch felt hats crouched around 2 field artillery guns on a rocky slope

Members of the machine gun section of the 7th Battalion, Mena training camp, Egypt. AWM J05575.

Dunstan enlisted as a private in the Australian Imperial Force on 2 June 1914. Two weeks later, Dunstan embarked for Egypt aboard HMAT Wandilla. He was an acting sergeant with the 6th Reinforcements of the 7th Battalion when he embarked for Egypt aboard HMAT Wandilla.

Queue of people on a dock making their way to board a ship

Australian troops preparing to leave on the troop shop Wandilla. AWM H18777.

Lone Pine

By 5 August 1915, Dunstan was an acting corporal with the 7th Battalion at Lone Pine. The Battle of Lone Pine began late the following afternoon.

ANZAC troops took the Turkish front line. But, 4 days of savage counter-attacks followed. In the first 2 days, Dunstan's battalion lost many men. As recounted by his company commander, Captain Frederick Tubb: [Link to DVA page to come]

Shells are falling thick amongst us; one fell on my back after striking a few feet away ... Tired and sleepy, we are all fagged; the strain is wearying.

[Tubb diary, 10 August 1915, Stephen Snelling, VCs of the First World War: Gallipoli, 1995, p 227]

On 9 August, Tubb was ordered to defend Goldenstedt's Trench. Dunstan was with him. Turkish bombs and rifle fire killed every soldier with Tubb except for 2: Alexander Burton and William Dunstan. They continued to fire back at the Turks, fiercely defending the Australian trench. In the end, Burton was killed, Dunstan was temporarily blinded by a Turkish bomb and Tubb was wounded.

Burton, Dunstan and Tubb were each awarded a VC for their 'exceptional courage' that day. The joint citation reads:

For most conspicuous bravery at Lone Pine Trenches, on the 9 August, 1915. In the early morning the enemy made a determined counter-attack on the centre of the newly captured trench held by Lieutenant Tubb, Corporals Burton, Dunstan and a few men. They advanced up a sap and blew in a sandbag barricade, leaving only one foot of it standing, but Lieutenant Tubb, with the two Corporals, repulsed the enemy and rebuilt the barricade. Supported by strong bombing parties, the enemy twice again succeeded in blowing in the barricade, but on each occasion they were repulsed and the barricade rebuilt, although Lieutenant Tubb was wounded in the head and arm and Corporal Burton was killed by a bomb whilst most gallantly building up the parapet under a hail of bombs.

[London Gazette 15 October 1915]

William Dunstan returned to Australia aboard the HMAT Ulysses in September. His son, Keith, later described his father's injuries:

'... shrapnel in his head and body that kept coming out for years. He was nearly blind for months.'

[Keith Dunstan, 'We fought but it was nothing: that VC hovered over us all', Sydney Morning Herald, 25 April 2011]

Dunstan was invalided out of the Army in November. 1915 The local paper, The Ballarat Courier, described his reluctance to talk about his experience at Gallipoli. Once well enough, Dunstan continued to serve in the militia until 1928.

3 soldiers receiving medals pinned by an officer with crowds watching on

William Dunstan receives his Victoria Cross from Governor General, Sir Ronald Munro Ferguson. Parliament House, Melbourne. AWM H18677.

Civillian life

Man dressed in formal army uniform and cap with a cross-shaped medal pinned to his chest, standing alongside a woman in a skirt suit, hat and fur scarf; two men in suits, ties and hats; and a boy in an overcoat and hat.

William Dunstan VC with his parents and family, after receiving his VC. AWM H18679.

Dunstan married his Ballarat sweetheart, Marjorie Lillian Stewart Carnell. The couple were married at St Paul's Church of England in Ballarat 2 days before the end of the war. They had 3 children: Keith, Bill and Helen, who all 3 served in World War II.

William Dunstan studied accountancy. He worked with the Murdoch family-owned Herald and Weekly Times Ltd in Melbourne. Dunstan had a successful career, eventually becoming the company's General Manager. Dunstan was:

a considerate staff manager, conscientious and upright, with a gift for readily making friends in all walks of life.

[RP Serle, 'Dunstan, William (1895–1957)', Australian Dictionary of Biography]

Continued ill health from his war wounds led to Dunstan retiring in 1953. He died suddenly from heart disease on 2 March 1957. He was 61.

Commemorating William Dunstan

William Dunstan VC is commemorated with a memorial in Ballarat. The Australian War Memorial holds his medals.

... William Dunstan, a man of immense modesty who never talked about his VC.

[Stephen Snelling, VCs of the First World War: Gallipoli, 1995, p 14]

Sources

  • 1915 'CORPORAL W. DUNSTAN, V.C.', The Ballarat Courier (Vic. : 1869 - 1885; 1914 - 1918), 18 October, p 5, viewed 28 Mar 2022, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article75153484
  • 1905 'CHRISTMASTIDE.', The Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 - 1924), 20 December, p 4, viewed 28 Mar 2022, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article211285402
  • Australian War Memorial, n.d., Corporal William Dunstan, accessed 28 March 2022, https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/P11035093
  • Dunstan, Keith, 2011. 'We fought, but it was nothing - that VC hovered over us all', Sydney Morning Herald, 25 April.
  • National Archives of Australia, B2455:1935354.
  • Serle, R. P., 2002, Dunstan, William (1895–1957), Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, accessed 25 March 2022, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/dunstan-william-6059
  • Snelling, Stephen, 1995. VCs of the First World War: Gallipoli, Alan Sutton, Stroud.

Last updated: 18 November 2022

Cite this page

DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) (2022), William Dunstan, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 5 February 2023, https://anzacportal.dva.gov.au/stories/biographies/william-dunstan
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