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William Donovan Joynt (1889–1986)

by Bill Gammage

This article was published:

William Joynt, c.1918

William Joynt, c.1918

Australian War Memorial, A03534A

William Donovan Joynt (1889-1986), soldier, printer and publisher, was born on 19 March 1889 at Elsternwick, Melbourne, third son of Edward Kelly Joynt, a commercial traveller from Ireland, and his Victorian-born wife Alice, née Woolcott. He attended the Grange Preparatory School, South Yarra, and Melbourne Church of England Grammar School (1904) before taking office jobs, including one with an accountancy firm in 1906-07. In 1909 he sailed for Rockhampton, Queensland, walked to Mackay, joined a coastal steamer bound for Cairns, and did bush and farm jobs in North Queensland. He then worked in the Victorian Mallee and in Western Australia, and was dairying and digging potatoes on Flinders Island, off Tasmania, when World War I began.

Having served as a corporal in the Victorian Rifles, Militia, Joynt enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 21 May 1915. Commissioned on 24 December, he arrived in France in May 1916 and joined the 8th Battalion in July. On 30 September he was shot in the shoulder during a raid on the German trenches at The Bluff in the Ypres sector, Belgium. He was evacuated to England, commended in divisional orders and in December promoted to lieutenant. In January 1917 he rejoined his battalion and, except for three months at an army school and on leave during the 1917-18 winter, served with the unit on the Western Front until August 1918, fighting in the second battle of Bullecourt and at Menin Road and Broodseinde. Charles Bean’s official history published his vivid diary account of the fighting near Merris on the Somme on 12-14 April 1918.

On 23 August 1918, when an attack near Herleville was pinned down, with heavy losses, by intense fire from Plateau Wood, Joynt rallied the attackers and led an advance which cleared the wood’s approaches, then in a bayonet charge captured it and over eighty prisoners. For his `most conspicuous bravery’ he won the Victoria Cross. He was seriously wounded in the buttock on 26 August and evacuated to England. Promoted to captain in October, he was posted to AIF Headquarters, London, in March 1919. In February 1920 he returned to Melbourne, where his AIF appointment terminated on 11 June. His elder brother Gerald, a lieutenant in the 57th Battalion, had been killed at Polygon Wood, Belgium, on 25 September 1917.

Joynt had studied agriculture and sheep-breeding in England in 1919, and in 1920 he became a soldier settler, dairy farming near Berwick. By 1926 he had a manager on his block, and when it was resumed in 1929 was pursuing interests in Melbourne. He was a pioneer of colour printing in Australia. About 1920 he had formed Queen City Printers Pty Ltd and with Walter Dexter arranged an exhibition of war photographs in colour, and printed its catalogue. He then formed Colarts Studios Pty Ltd and bought the rights to a German colour-printing process. The business failed during the Depression, but under various business names Joynt remained a printer and publisher for over sixty years. He called himself a `master printer’ when he married Edith Amy Garrett, a trained nurse, in a civil ceremony at Hawthorn on 19 March 1932, his forty-third birthday.

An inaugural member of Melbourne Legacy in 1923, Joynt helped to lead the club’s successful campaign to have Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance built in its present form on its present site. He was active in the Militia in 1926-33, being promoted to major in February 1930. Mobilised on 26 September 1939, he commanded the 3rd Garrison Battalion at Queenscliff and then, from March 1941, Puckapunyal camp. From June 1942 he was camp staff officer then quartermaster at Seymour camp. He was placed on the Retired List as an honorary lieutenant colonel on 10 October 1944. He and his wife rented then bought Tom Roberts’s old home, Talisman, at Kallista and lived there until they built their own home nearby. Joynt wrote three autobiographical books: To Russia and Back Through Communist Countries (1971), Saving the Channel Ports, 1918 (1975) and Breaking the Road for the Rest (1979).

Short and dark, with twinkling grey eyes, Donovan Joynt was a chirpy cock sparrow of a man, self-reliant, dogmatic, conservative, a nominal Anglican, a Freemason from 1924, a dedicated advocate of returned-soldier causes, a special constable during the 1923 Melbourne police strike, a keen club-man and a life member of the Naval and Military Club. In 1979 he described himself as a `Royalist’ with a `love of all things British’, while an old Legacy comrade called him `a dedicated “King’s Man”, a true-blue adherent of all the best traditions and heritages of his British ancestry’. His wife died in 1978. The last surviving of Australia’s World War I VC winners, he died on 5 May 1986 at Windsor and was buried with full military honours in Brighton cemetery. He had no children.

Select Bibliography

  • C. Blatchford, Legacy (1932)
  • C. E. W. Bean, The A.I.F. in France 1917 (1933)
  • C. E. W. Bean, The A.I.F. in France 1918, 2 vols (1937, 1942)
  • L. Wigmore (ed), They Dared Mightily (1963)
  • R. J. Austin, Cobbers in Khaki (1997)
  • Mufti, 1 Dec 1937, p 17
  • Age (Melbourne), 7 May 1986, p 5
  • 2DRL/0765 (Australian War Memorial)
  • series B884, item V80044 (National Archives of Australia)
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Bill Gammage, 'Joynt, William Donovan (1889–1986)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 20 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (Melbourne University Press), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

William Joynt, c.1918

William Joynt, c.1918

Australian War Memorial, A03534A

Life Summary [details]


19 March, 1889
Elsternwick, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


5 May, 1986 (aged 97)
Windsor, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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