b. 08/03/1895 Ballarat, Australia. d. 03/03/1957 Toorak, Australia.
William Dunstan (1895-1957), the only one of the three VC recipients from the defence of Goldenstedt’s Post to survive the war, was born on 8th March 1895 in Ballarat East, in Victoria, Australia. He was the fourth child, and third son, born to bootmaker William John Dunstan and Henrietta (nee Mitchell). His father was born in Ballarat, but his heritage hailed from the Cornish mines in England.
William attended Golden Point State School, and attended the local church, where his father was a leading figure, and belonged to the Golden Point Gymnasium Club. He left school aged 15, and became a clerk at Snows drapers in Ballarat. His great interest, however, was military matters, and the following year he joined the Army cadets, rising to the rank of cadet captain before transferring to the 70th (Ballarat) Battalion as one of the youngest lieutenants in the Citizen Forces.
When war broke out he was serving as Adjutant of the 70th. His unit spent the early days of the war digging trenches around Queenscliff, Portalington and Point Nepean, where the only excitement was the seizure of Australia’s first prize ship, the German merchant vessel, Pfalz. Dunstan’s first attempt to join the AIF was rejected due to his age. He was so desperate to get in that he quit his job, resigned his commission in the Citizen Forces and on 2nd June 1915 enlisted as a private. He was courting his future bride, Marjorie Carnell, at the time, and the family story is that her mother said “You can marry my daughter if you come back with the VC.” Dunstan left Australia on 17th June as an acting sergeant in the 6th Reinforcements of the 7th Battalion.
Following a brief stop in Egypt, he joined Lieutenant Tubb’s B Company on 5th August while preparations were under way for the attack on Lone Pine. Dunstan was appointed acting corporal on the day of the attack. On 9th August, the enemy made a determined counter-attack on the centre of the newly captured trench held by a lieutenant (Frederick Harold Tubb), two corporals (Alexander Stewart Burton and Corporal Dunstan) and a few men. The enemy blew in the sand-bag barricade, leaving only a foot standing, but the lieutenant and the two corporals repelled the enemy and rebuilt the barricade. Twice more the enemy blew in the barricade and on each occasion they were repelled and the barricade rebuilt.
Dunstan was badly wounded in the head during the defence, and was blind when he was transferred by hospital ship to Alexandria on 13th August. He had been on the peninsula less than a fortnight. Invalided back to Australia in September, he gradually regained his sight, but such was the seriousness of his injuries, particularly to his left eye, a medical board meeting in November recommended the by then Sergeant Major Dunstan for discharge and pension. Throughout his prolonged period of treatment and recovery, Dunstan said nothing of his actions.
A little over a month after his return to Australia, the announcement of the VC turned him, much against his will, into a local celebrity. A total abstainer and staunch Methodist, he found the media attention overwhelming. Cajoled into attending a reception, he confessed “I would rather stand before the Turkish guns and bombs than appear before the big crowd in the Coliseum…What have I done? What is it all about?” He was showered with civic awards, but Dunstan was surprised and embarrassed by all the fuss and declined a memorial fund set up in his honour.
He couldn’t avoid his investiture however, and on the steps of Parliament House, Melbourne, on 9th June 1916, he received his VC from the governor general, Sir Ronald Crawford Munro Ferguson, he acknowledged the congratulations of the crowds, who included Dame Nellie Melba, and then made a dash to escape the attention.
Dunstan had been discharged from the AIF on 1st February 1916. Immediately, he rejoined the Citizen Forces as a Lieutenant and area officer based at Ballarat. He served as acting brigade major of the 18th Infantry Brigade and, in 1921, he transferred to the 6th Battalion. Placed on the unattached list in 1923, he joined the reserve of officers in 1928 and retired with the rank of lieutenant. On 9th November 1918, Dunstan married his pre-war sweetheart, Marjorie Carnell, in Ballarat East. They spent their honeymoon in St Kilda, witnessing the Armistice celebrations.
Following the war, Dunstan forged a new career in commerce. After a period working in the repatriation department, he joined Keith Murdoch’s Herald & Weekly Times Ltd as an accountant in 1923. Within thirteen years he had become administration general manager for the entire Herald Group, a post he held for nineteen years until his war wounds forced him to resign and accept a directorship. He had shrapnel permanently in his brain and suffered from terrible headaches. For whatever reasons, he rarely discussed the war, and his VC and other medals, largely remained in a cupboard under the stairs.
His favourite hobby was horse racing, and with fellow VC recipient, Rupert Moon, was co-owner of a racehorse called Maid of Money. It was while returning from the Catfield Races, on 2nd March 1957, that the last-surviving member of Tubb’s gallant band collapsed and died of a heart attack. More than 800 people attended a memorial service in Christ Church, South Yarra. They included 7 Victoria Cross recipients and following cremation, his ashes were interred at Springvale Crematorium, Melbourne. His medals including his VC, 1914-15 Star, British War Medal 1914-20, Victory Medal 1914-19 with Mentioned in Despatches oak leaf, George VI Coronation Medal 1937 and Elizabeth II Coronation Medal 1953 are now held at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: AUSTRALIAN WAR MEMORIAL, CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA.
BURIAL PLACE: SPRINGVALE CEMETERY, SPRINGVALE, AUSTRALIA. ASHES INTERRED. PLAQUE HAS SINCE BEEN REMOVED.
Richard Yielding – Image of Dunstan’s VC plaque at Springvale Crematorium, Melbourne.
Steve Lee www.memorialstovalour.co.uk – Image of the Dunstan Medal Group at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra.