Australian Dictionary of Biography

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John Hamilton (1896–1961)

by William A. Land

This article was published:

John Hamilton (1896-1961), by unknown photographer

John Hamilton (1896-1961), by unknown photographer

Australian War Memorial, P02939.006

John Hamilton (1896-1961), soldier and wharf labourer, was born on 24 January 1896 at Orange, New South Wales, son of William Hamilton, butcher, and his wife Catherine, née Fox. Nothing is known of his schooling but he described himself as a butcher when he enlisted as a private in the Australian Imperial Force on 15 September 1914; he had had prior service in the militia. He was posted to the 3rd Battalion, 1st Brigade, and embarked from Sydney in October. After training in Egypt his battalion sailed for Gallipoli and took part in the Anzac landing on 25 April 1915. A month later he was evacuated with influenza and did not resume duty until 2 June.

At 4 a.m. on 9 August, during the battle of Lone Pine, the Turks launched a bomb attack followed by a violent general assault with intense rifle and machine-gun fire. Near Sasse's Sap the 3rd Battalion counter-attacked and drove them back but soon afterwards Turkish soldiers again streamed down the sap. Lieutenant Owen Howell-Price, adjutant of the 3rd Battalion, ordered several men, including Hamilton, to scramble onto the parapet and fire on the enemy in the trenches while he confronted those advancing along the sap. Exposed to intense fire and protected only by a few sandbags, Hamilton lay out in the open for six hours telling those in the trenches where to throw their bombs while he kept up constant sniper fire. A dangerous assault was thus halted. For his 'coolness and daring example' he received the Victoria Cross, the only one awarded to his unit during the war. The 3rd Battalion was decimated at Lone Pine but, after reorganization in Egypt, left for France in March 1916 and went into the line at Armentières. Hamilton was promoted corporal on 3 May and fought at Pozières in July, Mouquet Farm in August and Flers in November. He was promoted sergeant in May 1917 and that year his battalion served at Bullecourt, Menin Road and Broodseinde.

On 5 July 1918 Hamilton was posted to No.5 Officer Cadet Battalion at Cambridge, England; he was commissioned second lieutenant in January 1919 and promoted lieutenant next April. He rejoined a much-depleted 3rd Battalion in France late that month and returned to Australia in August. His A.I.F. appointment ended on 12 September. After demobilization he lived at Tempe, Sydney, and was a wharf labourer for over thirty years; he also worked as a shipping clerk, storeman and packer. He was an active member of the Waterside Workers' Federation and was Labor nominee for the position of Sydney branch secretary in 1952. During World War II he served as a lieutenant with the 16th Garrison Battalion and several training battalions. In 1942 he went to New Guinea with the 3rd Pioneer Battalion, then served with Australian Labour Employment Companies until 1944 when he transferred to the Australian Army Labour Service. He was promoted captain in the Australian Military Forces in October 1944. He returned to Sydney in April 1946.

Hamilton died of cerebro-vascular disease in the Repatriation General Hospital, Concord, Sydney, on 27 February 1961 and was buried in Woronora cemetery. He was survived by his wife and one son.

Select Bibliography

  • C. E. W. Bean, The Story of Anzac, vol 2 (Syd, 1924), and The A.I.F. in France, 1916-17 (Syd, 1929, 1933)
  • E. Wren, Randwick to Hargicourt …, 3rd Battalion, A.I.F. (Syd, 1935)
  • L. Wigmore (ed), They Dared Mightily (Canb, 1963)
  • London Gazette, 15 Oct 1915
  • Reveille, Dec 1930
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 1, 6, 7 July 1952, 19 May 1956, 28 Feb 1961
  • records (Australian War Memorial).

Citation details

William A. Land, 'Hamilton, John (1896–1961)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 20 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (Melbourne University Press), 1983

View the front pages for Volume 9

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

John Hamilton (1896-1961), by unknown photographer

John Hamilton (1896-1961), by unknown photographer

Australian War Memorial, P02939.006