Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Edward Benjamin Picton (1894–1963)

by Peter Burness

This article was published:

Edward Benjamin Picton (1894-1963), by John Longstaff, 1928

Edward Benjamin Picton (1894-1963), by John Longstaff, 1928

Australian War Memorial, ART11354

Edward Benjamin Picton (1894-1963), soldier and railway worker, was born on 23 July 1894 at Narrabri, New South Wales, eighth of twelve children of Thomas Edward Picton, drover and later grazier, and his wife Mary Jane, née Morrish, both locally born. After attending a one-room bush school he found work on local farms, in the shearing sheds and droving. He was working as a carrier when he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 29 October 1914. On 19 December he embarked with the 7th Light Horse Regiment and after training in Egypt saw active service on Gallipoli from May 1915.

Ben Picton distinguished himself in the light horse's mounted campaigns in Sinai and Palestine. He was promoted lance corporal in 1916, corporal in 1917, mentioned in dispatches and twice decorated for his bold work in a campaign in which very few bravery awards were made. 'He is a very reliable NCO, and shows plenty of dash and pluck, and is very cool under fire', his commanding officer wrote.

During the 1st battle of Gaza, on 26 March 1917, Picton and three men galloped straight onto an enemy encampment and captured forty prisoners. In a similar incident near Beersheba on 31 October he led a charge while most of his regiment was held up by heavy shell-fire. Again he took about forty prisoners. For these courageous actions he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal and the Military Medal.

On 28 March 1918, in the 1st battle of Amman, Picton received a severe wound which was to leave him with a permanent limp. During his regiment's withdrawal he and another wounded man were left lying out in an advanced position which was over-run by the enemy. Initially reported as missing in action, he was taken prisoner and sent to Turkey. Following the Armistice he was brought to Alexandria on 7 November 1918 for his return to Australia.

On returning home, Ben Picton was honoured by the citizens of Narrabri and eventually acquired a local soldier-settlement property, Rossmore. On 7 April 1920 he married Miriam Heather Annie Craig at St Lawrence's Anglican Church, Narrabri; they had six children. Failing to make good on the land, Picton worked as a bootmaker in country towns including Tamworth and Lithgow before settling his family in Sydney where he joined the railways.

During World War II he enlisted in the 2nd A.I.F., accepted despite his age and war disabilities. He embarked with the 1st Railway Construction Company in September 1940 and served as a sergeant in Egypt and Syria before returning to Australia in 1942. He was transferred to the canteen service and was a warrant officer, class 2, when discharged on 16 October 1945.

He resumed work on the railways, but his health deteriorated and forced his retirement in 1949. Despite being one of the most decorated soldiers of the Australian Light Horse's famous 1917-18 campaign, Ben Picton remained a modest man who lived quietly with his family; 'a normal everyday type of man never expecting anything more from life than what he had'. He took an interest in gardening, fishing, and ex-servicemen's activities until his death at Kogarah, Sydney, on 28 January 1963 from acute pulmonary oedema; his wife, a son and three daughters survived him. His portrait by John Longstaff is in the Australian War Memorial.

Select Bibliography

  • J. D. Richardson, The History of the 7th Light Horse Regiment A.I.F. (Syd, 1923)
  • H. S. Gullett, Sinai and Palestine (Syd, 1939)
  • private information.

Citation details

Peter Burness, 'Picton, Edward Benjamin (1894–1963)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 14 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (Melbourne University Press), 1988

View the front pages for Volume 11

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Edward Benjamin Picton (1894-1963), by John Longstaff, 1928

Edward Benjamin Picton (1894-1963), by John Longstaff, 1928

Australian War Memorial, ART11354