Frederick Hamilton March GC (EGM exchanger)

b. 06/08/1891 Bowning, Australia. d. 30/10/1977 Khartoum, Sudan.

DATE AND PLACE OF GC ACTION: 19/11/1924 Cairo, Egypt.

Frederick Hamilton March (1891-1977) was born on 6th August 1891 in Bowning, Yass, New South Wales, Australia, the son of George Henry March and his wife Jane nee Gurnett. His parents were from the nearby town of Gundaroo and this is where Frederick grew up. Life was tough for the family, and money was scarce. Frederick showed a lot of practical rather than academic abilities at school, but had high ambitions for his future. What happened next to Frederick is subject to debate. Frederick himself claimed that he ran away from his home, and stowed away on a ship sailing from Sydney to San Francisco. In the United States, he worked with General Motors in Detroit, Michigan, and met Bernard Cyril Freyberg (later VC).

Frederick H March GC

Just prior to the outbreak of the Great War, he returned to Australia, where he was employed as a picture show man, and later ran hire cars in Moss Vale, New South Wales. When the First World War began, Fred enlisted as a private in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) on 6th September 1915, giving his occupation as chauffeur. He joined as No 1580 at the Divisional Signal Squadron, ANZAC Mounted Division HQ and was promoted to Sergeant for motor cycle duties on 1st April 1917. He would be discharged in Egypt at his own request on 6th August 1919. After the end of the Great War, he would never again set foot back in Australia.

By 1922, he was still in Cairo, Egypt working as a chauffeur and as a small-time intelligence agent. Hence the incident which was to change his life and for which he became a celebrity. On 19th November 1924, Fred was working as Chauffeur to the Governor General of the Sudan, Sir Oliver (Lee) Stack. He was driving Sir Lee when the car and its occupants were the victims of an assassination plot. Due to slow moving traffic and the confusion of trams, cars and mule carts the assassins saw an opportunity. Although wounded, Fred was able to skilfully manoeuvre the car through the chaos while the passengers Stack and Campbell crouched in the back of the Cadillac. All three men were wounded, and sadly, Stack died two days late

On 5th December 1924, Fred was gazetted for the award of the Empire Gallantry Medal, and he was also financially rewarded for his actions. He purchased his own garage, and continued to live in Cairo, working as a chauffeur. It is believed Fred served during World War II, though the only evidence is the set of miniature medals which were presented to the Australian War Memorial, as his service records were not found. In September 1940, as a recipient of the EGM, it was automatically exchanged for the newly created George Cross.

After the end of WWII, he moved to the Sudan to work for the Ministry of Agriculture working out in the desert on water courses. He retired in c. 1956. On 1st January 1957 he was awarded the MBE for his service as a Mechanical Field Engineer for the Ministry of Agriculture. Having spent the majority of his life alone, in 1967, aged 77, he married the housekeeper of friends, Teresa Bongi. She was half Eritrean, half Italian. She helped him curb an alcoholism issue he had in later life and took care of him in his last years. He was a member of the VC and GC Association and there was some relief from the penury he received due to his financial issues. After some lobbying on his behalf by the Australian Returned Services League, a pension was assured and his last years were more comfortable.

Fred March GC MBE passed away on 30th October 1977, aged 86 (not 96 as is on his headstone), and was buried in Khartoum War Cemetery. The Australian Government made the arrangements and paid for his funeral. Fred’s medal group of miniatures held by the Australian War Memorial include a GC, MBE, 1914-15 Star, British War Medal 1914-20, Victory Medal 1914-19 with Mentioned in Despatches oakleaf, 1939-45 Star, Africa Star, Defence Medal 1939-45, War Medal 1939-45, Serbian Eagle, Medaille Militaire (France), Croix de Guerre (France). He also received the 1953 Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Medal and 1977 Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Medal. The only full size medals presented to the Australian War Memorial were his MBE and QSJM. The suspicion is that the miniatures were collected by Fred rather than all awarded to him. His GC is privately held.