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Frederick Hamilton (Fred) March (1891–1977)

by Peter Sekuless

This article was published:

Frederick Hamilton March (1891-1977), by unknown photographer, c1919

Frederick Hamilton March (1891-1977), by unknown photographer, c1919

Australian War Memorial, P03444.001

Frederick Hamilton (Fred) March (1891-1977), soldier and adventurer, was born on 6 August 1891 at Bowning near Yass, New South Wales, son of George Henry March, fettler, and his wife Jane, née Gurnett, both from Gundaroo. Fred claimed that after running away from home he stowed away on a ship sailing from Sydney to San Francisco and that in the United States of America he worked with General Motors at their Cadillac plant, Detroit. Certainly his mechanical skills led to a lifelong association with motor cycles, cars and machinery. He returned to New South Wales before World War I, ran hire cars at Moss Vale, and also worked as a picture show man.

Giving his occupation as chauffeur, March enlisted as a private in the Australian Imperial Force in September 1915. He served in the Middle East with the 7th Light Horse Regiment, attained the rank of sergeant and was discharged in Egypt in 1919. He never returned to Australia. In Cairo he was chauffeur to the governor-general of Sudan, Sir Lee Stack, who was fatally wounded on 19 November 1924 in an assassination attempt. Although wounded himself, March by skilful driving evaded a second hail of bullets. King George V awarded him the medal of the civil division of the Order of the British Empire (the Empire Gallantry Medal—later translated into a George Cross). With compensation money he had received for his injuries March bought a garage in Cairo.

In World War II he worked on military road-building projects in Sinai and Palestine. He spent the rest of his working life with the Sudanese Ministry of Agriculture—mainly supervising excavation of remote water-storage catchments. Appointed M.B.E. on his retirement in 1957, he was awarded the Queen's Silver Jubilee Medal in 1977. But for his longevity he would have been totally forgotten in Australia, having lost contact with his family after his mother's death in 1948.

March outlived his capacity to provide for himself and his wife Teresa Bongi, an Eritrean refugee whom he had married in Khartoum on 2 September 1967. His residence overseas precluded a normal Australian pension but strenuous activities by friends, diplomatic staff in Cairo and Khartoum and the Returned Services League of Australia finally resulted in the granting of an act of grace pension in 1973. Through this campaign Australians became aware of claims about March's alleged exploits, such as swimming ashore ahead of the Gallipoli landing and chauffeuring Colonel T. E. Lawrence during the victorious drive into Damascus.

None of these claims can be verified, nor can they all be totally dismissed. In the small European community in Khartoum legends about colourful characters such as March flourish; they lost nothing in the re-telling in Australian newspapers. Survived by his wife, he died on 30 October 1977 and was buried in the Christian cemetery, Khartoum. Next year he was reinterred in the adjacent Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery at the insistence of the R.S.L.

Select Bibliography

  • P. Sekuless, Fred: An Australian Hero (Brisb, 1981)
  • records (Australian War Memorial)
  • private information.

Citation details

Peter Sekuless, 'March, Frederick Hamilton (Fred) (1891–1977)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 18 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (Melbourne University Press), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Frederick Hamilton March (1891-1977), by unknown photographer, c1919

Frederick Hamilton March (1891-1977), by unknown photographer, c1919

Australian War Memorial, P03444.001