b. 06/04/1885 Collingwood, Melbourne, Australia. d. 03/09/1915 Maktau, British East Africa.
Wilbur Thomas Dartnell (1885-1915) was born as William Thomas Dartnell on 6th April 1885 at Collingwood, Melbourne, Australia, the son of English-born Henry Dartnell, a fruiterer, and his native-born wife Rose Ann, née Hanley. He was educated in Melbourne and became an actor. On 15 April 1907, at Queen Street, Melbourne, he married Elizabeth Edith Smyth with Presbyterian forms; they settled at Fitzroy. At the age of 16 he had served in the South African War with the 5th Victorian (Mounted Rifles) Contingent. He would remain in South Africa after the end of the war.
Dartnell was in South Africa when World War I broke out. He went on to England and on 12 February 1915, using the name Wilbur Taylor Dartnell, joined the 25th (Service) Battalion, Royal Fusiliers (Frontiersmen), as a temporary lieutenant. As the regimental history notes, this battalion ‘included men of various ages and with strange experience from all quarters of the globe’. Raised especially for use against German troops in British East Africa, it was the only British unit sent on active service during the war without preliminary training. The Fusiliers reached Mombasa on 4th May and went at once to their military post on the Uganda railway: their main task was to protect the railway from enemy raiding parties. In June the Fusiliers captured Bukoba, the German base for attacks on the Uganda frontier.
In August the battalion had its headquarters at Voi and two of its companies were stationed at Maktau to patrol the frontier. Dartnell, whose rank had been confirmed on 25th July, was assigned on 1st September to a mounted infantry patrol and two days later, near Maktau, his party was ambushed.
On 3rd September 1915, near Maktau, Kenya, during a mounted infantry engagement, the enemy were so close that it was impossible to get the more severely wounded away. Lieutenant Dartnell, who was himself being carried away wounded in the leg, seeing the situation, and knowing that the enemy’s black troops murdered the wounded, insisted on being left behind, in the hope of being able to save the lives of other wounded men. He gave his own life in a gallant attempt to save others.
Dartnell was buried in Voi cemetery, East Africa. He was survived by his wife and a daughter. In addition to his VC, he was also awarded the Queen’s South Africa Medal with two clasps, 1914-15 Star, British War Medal 1914-20 and Victory Medal 1914-19. His medals are part of the Australian War Memorial, Canberra.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: AUSTRALIAN WAR MEMORIAL, CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA.
BURIAL PLACE: COMMONWEALTH CEMETERY, VOI, MOMBASA, KENYA.
PLOT V, ROW B, GRAVE 1
Kevin Brazier – Cemetery Map
Steve Lee www.memorialstovalour.co.uk – Image of Dartnell’s VC Group at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra.