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Denton, James Samuel (1875–1963)

by R. D. Manley

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

James Samuel Denton (1875-1963), civil servant, soldier, politician and farmer, was born on 11 December 1875 in Adelaide, son of Cincinnatus Denton, shipwright, and his wife Margaret, née Smith. In 1887 the family moved to Melbourne, where he was educated. He joined the Western Australian Department of Mines and Railways as a clerk on 18 November 1896 and eventually became second in charge of the ways and works workshop, West Midland. On 5 July 1899, at St Paul's Anglican Church, Perth, he married Eleanor Annie Hembry.

Denton was commissioned second lieutenant in the 11th Australian Infantry Regiment (militia) on 22 November 1899 and was promoted lieutenant in 1902 and captain in 1907. In 1912 he transferred to the 88th (Perth) Infantry, and became a major on 3 August 1914. Five days later, he joined the Australian Imperial Force as a captain and was appointed officer commanding 'D' Company, 11th Battalion, which embarked for Egypt in November. He was promoted major on 1 January 1915.

The 11th Battalion took part in the landing at Gallipoli on 25 April and, although immediately wounded in the leg, Denton remained on duty, distinguishing himself by obtaining and transmitting information to ships' guns and field and mountain batteries. Later he and twenty men held a trench for over six days, during which time they repulsed several determined attacks. Only after these feats, for which he was mentioned in dispatches, was Denton evacuated for treatment of his wound. He returned to duty on 12 May and when, in June, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for 'gallantry and devotion to duty', he became the first officer of both the 11th Battalion and the 3rd Brigade to win that honour.

On 18 July Denton was again evacuated and hospitalized at Malta. He rejoined his unit in Egypt in January 1916 as second-in-command and, after training and garrison duties in the Canal Zone, embarked for France on 30 March. The 11th moved into the line at Fleurbaix on 20 May and, in the savage fighting at Pozières in July and August, sustained heavy casualties. At Ypres on 22 September Denton was made temporary lieutenant-colonel and, except for leading the 10th Battalion on 27-30 September at Hill 60, held temporary command of the 11th until 3 October. He was then granted three months home leave, as his wife was mortally ill.

After resuming duty Denton briefly commanded the 70th Battalion in England, then on 20 March 1917 was appointed commanding officer of the 49th. He crossed to France on 10 September and though wounded on 26 September remained on duty; his rank was confirmed next day. He commanded the battalion in several major operations, including the battle of Dernancourt, until he was wounded again on 22 May 1918 and evacuated to England. On 3 June he was made commander of the 3rd Training Brigade, a post which he held until January 1919. His A.I.F. appointment ended in August, and in 1920 he was placed on the reserve of officers, Australian Military Forces, in the rank of lieutenant-colonel.

After demobilization Denton took up farming in the Berkshire valley, Western Australia. He married Alice Marguerite Donovan at St Thomas Catholic Church, Claremont, on 22 February 1922. The year before he had entered politics (as member of the Legislative Assembly for Moore) because he believed that returned soldiers would not receive adequate rehabilitation benefits unless they had political representation. Although originally elected on the Country Party ticket, he joined the Nationalists in 1923. Having lost his seat in 1927, he retired from politics in 1929 after failing to win Irwin. In 1935-40 he was State general secretary of the New Settlers' League of Australia, an organization with which he had been associated since the war. While in parliament he had criticized the criteria used for selecting migrants to take up farming in Western Australia: he had advocated selection only of rural workers, that they should be medically examined to determine their fitness to go on the land, and that preference should be given to ex-servicemen from the eastern States.

A progressive man, Denton eschewed the conservative or traditionalist approach. He once showed his disregard for convention by inviting his wife into the chamber of the Legislative Assembly during prayers, an act which earned him the displeasure of the House.

Denton's second wife predeceased him and, survived by their son, he died on 3 June 1963 at Nedlands, Perth. He was buried in Karrakatta cemetery with Catholic rites. Despite his distinguished war record he was, in his own words, 'a man of peace and not a militarist'.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Limb, History of the 10th Battalion, A.I.F. (Lond, 1919)
  • C. B. L. Lock, The Fighting 10th: A South Australian Centenary Souvenir of the 10th Battalion, A.I.F., 1914-1919 (Adel, 1936)
  • W. C. Belford, Legs-Eleven: Being the Story of the 11th Battalion (A.I.F.) in the Great War of 1914-1918 (Perth, 1940)
  • London Gazette, 3 June, 5 Aug 1915.

Citation details

R. D. Manley, 'Denton, James Samuel (1875–1963)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/denton-james-samuel-5959/text10167, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 23 October 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

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