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Vincent, James (1895–1950)

by Graham McLennan

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

James Vincent (1895-1950), soldier and farmer, was born on 20 October 1895 at Willoughby, Sydney, son of Thomas Vincent, labourer, and his wife Virginia, née Brooks. He left school at 14, worked for five years as an oil company storeman, was a member of the militia for two years and joined the Australian Imperial Force in December 1914.

With a 'very bad feeling inside', Private Vincent sailed for Egypt in February 1915 with reinforcements for the 13th Battalion. He landed at Anzac Cove on 6 May. Three days before that, he had sharpened his bayonet. 'God help the Turks for everyone aboard means business', he recorded in his diary. Wounded once and twice evacuated because of illness, he volunteered to return to Gallipoli and was in one of the last groups to leave on 19 December. He had learned 'the horrors of war'. Promoted corporal in March 1916, he joined the 45th Battalion which reached France in June. On the Western Front Vincent repeatedly proved his skill and daring. He was twice mentioned in dispatches and, despite differences with his officers, was promoted company sergeant major in February 1917.

An unprecedented bombardment began the allied advance east of Messines, Belgium, on 7 June. For his work during the assault on Owl Trench, Vincent won the Distinguished Conduct Medal. With his battalion shattered and most of its officers dead, he encouraged the survivors to further efforts, scouted for intelligence and rescued wounded men during the next seventy-two hours. Commissioned in the field as second lieutenant on 21 June, Jimmy returned to his battalion as a scout officer in March 1918, following training in England.

Lieutenant Vincent won the Military Cross for service on 5 April at Dernancourt, France, scouting continuously under heavy machine-gun fire. A Bar was added when he again displayed continuous gallantry and ability east of Hamel on 8-11 August. He laid jumping-off tapes in near-impenetrable fog, guided tanks and troops into position, led a patrol that pinned down the enemy with three Lewis-guns, and saved many casualties. On patrol he captured more than one hundred of the enemy.

Wounded on 17 July, he was seconded to the 5th Army for courts martial in October. His brigadier, S. C. Herring, recorded that he was 'a really remarkable soldier'. Vincent's elder brother Edward (19th Battalion) was killed in action on 5 June 1918. James was demobilized in Australia in April 1919.

City life was unbearable for him after the war. From 1924 he was a wheat farmer at Wongonbra, near Lockhart, New South Wales. At Lockhart, on 10 February 1926, he married a schoolteacher, Mabel Clare Steenholdt (d.1985), her wedding ring being made from the lucky sovereign James had carried throughout the war. In 1938 the family purchased a grazing property, Pine Tree, near Armidale. James was a bush craftsman, an avid reader and a respected local figure; quietly spoken, with brown eyes and hair, he was 5 ft 6 ins (168 cm) tall.

He loved the sea and in 1949 built a house overlooking Port Macquarie where he died of heart disease on 25 October 1950. Survived by his wife, two daughters and a son, he was buried in the local cemetery with Anglican rites. His diaries, faithfully kept for most of the war, provide a lively record of his service.

Select Bibliography

  • C. E. W. Bean, The A.I.F. in France, 1918 (Syd, 1942)
  • recommendation files for honours and awards, AIF, 1914-18, entries under Vincent (Australian War Memorial)
  • J. Vincent, transcript of diaries 1914-17 (privately held)
  • private information.

Citation details

Graham McLennan, 'Vincent, James (1895–1950)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/vincent-james-8924/text15661, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 20 November 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

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