Bravery awards for Australians on Gallipoli
Awards, honours and mentions in dispatches are some of the ways military personnel are recognised for excellent service. Australians received many honours for their actions on Gallipoli. Seven of the nine Victoria Cross medals awarded to Australians were for courage at the Battle of Lone Pine. The Victoria Cross is the highest decoration for 'gallantry in the face of the enemy' awarded to members of the British and Commonwealth armed forces.
Victoria Cross medals
The Australian War Memorial in Canberra displays the Roll of Honour in its cloisters. On the Roll, you can find the names of over 102,000 Australian service men and women who have died in war since the Sudan in 1885.
The war dead are listed by surname and initials, without rank or any other distinguishing award. General and private soldier alike are honoured for the equality of their sacrifice.
Charles Bean, Australia's official historian of World War I and a founder of the Australian War Memorial, thought this was the most appropriate way to display each name:
With reference to the inclusion of titles and decorations in the Honour Roll, I feel sure that the question was discussed at the meeting on 19 February 1924, and that this was what I was going on in stating that the War Memorial Committee was against the inclusion of ranks. I feel that the same applies to decorations, which were sometimes given to a degree which aroused comment and bitterness, to staff officers, and which, if generally well earned, were certainly not received by a proportion of those who deserved them. I strongly feel this: that the visitor, not knowing the conditions of the front, will stand before these lists and, seeing the DSO's [Distinguished Service Order] and MM's [Military Medal], will say to himself "Ah, those are the brave men" (or, perhaps, 'the bravest') – a conclusion which is not true, how far from true probably only those who were actually through heavy fighting can realize.
[Letter, Charles Bean to Major John Treloar, 28 February 1928, Bean Papers, Item 664, 3DRL 6673, AWM]
Among the dead of World War I is the name 'AJ Shout'. This is Captain Alfred John Shout VC MC MID, 1st Battalion AIF. He was Australia's most decorated soldier of the Gallipoli Campaign. The postnominals - the letters after Shout's name - indicate his awards and honours:
- VC for 'Victoria Cross'
- MC for 'Military Cross'
- MID for 'Mention in Dispatches'
Shout's VC was posthumously awarded because he died of wounds suffered during the incident at the Battle of Lone Pine for which he earned the medal.
Men like Shout were often the most ready to concede that the bravery and sacrifice of thousands of other soldiers went unrecorded and remained unknown except to their comrades in arms.
Corporal William Dunstan VC grew tired of the adulation he received when he came home wounded from Gallipoli. He disliked the civic receptions held in his honour that he was forced to attend. At a function in his hometown of Ballarat, the mayor announced a memorial fund to collect money for Dunstan, who came home almost blind. In a letter to the press the following week, Dunstan declined the money. Dunstan claimed he was lucky to be able to return home to such accolades while the actions of others went unobserved. He felt the same honour was also due to:
… hundreds of other Australian soldiers, who may not, like myself, have had the opportunity of coming into the limelight … but been killed.
Read Dunstan's letter: "SERGT. DUNSTAN, V.C." in The Sydney Morning Herald 23 October 1915.
Despite the modesty of some who received them, a Victoria Cross is difficult to earn. They are an official recognition of an act, or in some cases a series of acts, of outstanding courage.
The circumstances surrounding the nine VCs awarded to Australians on Gallipoli tell the story of the sort of warfare experienced by the ordinary soldiers:
- William Dunstan, 7th Battalion
- John Hamilton, 3rd Battalion
- Albert Jacka, 14th Battalion
- Leonard Keysor, 1st Battalion
- William Symons, 7th Battalion
- Hugo Throssell, 10th Light Horse
- Frederick Tubb, 7th Battalion
- Alexander Burton, 7th Battalion (awarded posthumously)
- Alfred Shout, 1st Battalion (awarded posthumously)
Seven of these were awarded for incidents during the Battle of Lone Pine.
All these medals are held in the Hall of Valour at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.
1956 reception for Victoria Cross holders
In June 1956, Victoria Cross holders from around the world gathered in London for the centenary celebrations of the first granting of the medal by Queen Victoria in 1856. At a great parade in Hyde Park, Queen Elizabeth II addressed the VCs. In her speech were these lines:
Today in honouring them [the VCs] for what they did, we pay tribute to an ideal of courage which all in our fighting services have done their best to attain. For beyond this gallant company of brave men there is a multitude who have served their country well in war. Some of them may have performed unrecorded deeds of supreme merit for which they have no reward.
[Queen Elizabeth II, quoted in Lionel Wigmore in collaboration with Bruce Harding, They Dared Mightily, Canberra, 1963]
A party of 37 Australian VCs travelled to the United Kingdom for the event. John Hamilton and William Dunstan stood with 'that gallant company' in Hyde Park. They were the last survivors of the seven Australian Lone Pine VC recipients.
John Hamilton brought home the program for a reception given by the Lord Mayor of London, Sir Cuthbert Ackroyd, on 27 June 1956. Ackroyd's signature can be seen above the VC emblem.