Larrikins and Heroes

My Grandfather, William Joseph Bannister, service number 1912, was 21 years old (DOB 09/07/1895) when he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) on the 15th of January, 1915.

In January 1918, Private Bannister was “severely reprimanded” for being in Bailleul (France) without a pass….. I suspect there was a mademoiselle involved.

When asked his name and service number he apparently gave another Private’s name and number and then, later, escaped from custody.

Three months later, on the 5th of April, 1918 as a Lewis gunner, Temporary Corporal Bannister held up the German advance for two hours while his troops withdrew to a “better defensive position”. For his service that day, he was recommended by Major Arthur Samuel Allen for a Victoria Cross.

Here’s the report:

“For his splendid example of bravery, determination and unselfish devotion to duty during the enemy attack near Dernancourt on April 5th, 1918 when he was in charge of a Lewis gun under extremely heavy shell and M.G. fire. The enemy was advancing in force, but out of the field of fire of his gun on the ground. He mounted his gun on another man’s shoulder and opened fire, inflicting heavy casualties on the enemy and holding up the advance for two hours and covering the withdrawal of our men to a better defensive position. In so doing he exposed himself to a very heavy concentration of shell and M.G. fire. Though twice wounded (in leg & arm) he carried on until wounded a third time – more seriously. He was then forced to hand over his gun to his commander.

His main thought then was for the wounded of his section and he refused to be removed until he saw that every man of his section had been carried away. Consequently in the withdrawal he had to be left behind, but was rescued 4 hours later when the Bn made a counter attack & retook the position. But for the courage and determination of this NCO, which held up the enemy advance for about 2 hours, the enemy would have broken through before the other companies had reached the position and consolidated it. His work during the whole tour was of the same exemplary nature.”

https://www.awm.gov.au/people/rolls/R1582525/?query=Bannister&op=Search&format=list&rows=20&filter[roll_type]=Honours+and+Awards+%28Recommendation%29&filter[related_units]=45th+Australian+Infantry+Battalion&section[0]=people

The award was later downgraded to a Distinguished Service Medal and I sometimes wonder whether the Bailleul incident played a part. I never knew my grandfather. He died in Randwick Military Hospital on July 20, 1929.

My father, John Nile Bannister, was 20 years old (DOB 16/04/1921) when he enlisted in the Army on February 14, 1941 and by the time he was discharged, he had reached the rank of Staff Sergeant. Because of his poor eyesight, he wasn’t part of a front line unit but served in the 2/5 Dental Unit in Palestine, Borneo and New Guinea. Thankfully for the dental patients, he was a dental assistant (working under a qualified dentist) so no teeth-pulling for him!

Here’s a couple of photos of Dad in Mughazi, Palestine as well as in uniform in Sydney with my Mum.

Both men are heroes in my eyes.

Lest we forget

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