Joseph Maxwell was born in 1896 at Forest Lodge, Sydney NSW. A boiler-maker's apprentice before the war, he enlisted in the AIF in February 1915, and was assigned to (No 607) 18 Battalion. Maxwell served with the battalion at Gallipoli, and travelled with it to France in 1916, being promoted to Sergeant late in the year; and to Warrant Officer in mid 1917. His first decoration, the Distinguished Conduct Medal, came as a result of an attack near Westhoek, Belgium, in September 1917. Within a period of 12 months, he was further decorated three times for gallantry. Commissioned in 18 Battalion as a 2nd Lieutenant, and soon promoted to Lieutenant, he was awarded the Military Cross in March 1918 for leadership of a patrol near Ploegsteert, Belgium; and a bar to the award in August, for taking command of his company during the great Allied offensive. Joe Maxwell was recommended for the Victoria Cross for bravery in one of the final Australian actions of the war, at Beaurevoir in October 1918; which he received from the King at Buckingham Palace in March 1919.
Between the wars, he held a variety of jobs in the ACT and NSW, and in 1932 published his colourful and highly successful autobiography "Hell's Bells and Mademoiselles". During the Second World War, he attempted several times to enlist in the 2nd AIF under an assumed name; eventually being successful in Queensland, where he was not so well known. His identity was soon revealed, however, and he was given a position in a training battalion. Maxwell died in Sydney in July 1967.
The recommendation for the award of the Victoria Cross reads as follows: 'On 3rd. October 1918 he took part as a Platoon Commander in the attack on the BEAREVOIR-FONSOMME Line, near ESTRÉES, North of ST. QUENTIN. His Company Commander was severely wounded soon after the jump off and Lieut. MAXWELL at once took charge of the Company. When the enemy wire was reached, they were met by a hail of machine gun fire and suffered considerable casualties including all other officers of the company.
The wire at this point was six belts thick, each belt being 25 to 30 feet wide. Lieut. MAXWELL pushed forward single handed through the wire and attacked the most dangerous machine gun. He personally killed three of the crew and the remaining four men in the post surrendered to him with a machine gun. His company followed him through the wire and captured the trenches forming their objective. Later, it was noticed that the Company on his left was held up in the wire by a very strong force on the left flank of the Battalion. He at once organised a party and moved to the left to endeavour to attack the enemy from the rear. Heavy machine gun fire met them. Lieut. MAXWELL again dashed forward single handed at the foremost machine gun, and with his revolver shot five of the crew, so silencing the gun. Owing to the work of this party, the left Company was then able to work a small force through the wire and eventually to occupy the objective and mop up the trenches.
In the fighting prior to the mopping up, an English speaking prisoner who was captured stated that the remainder of the enemy were willing to surrender. Lieut. MAXWELL and two men with this prisoner, walked to a post, containing more than twenty Germans. The latter at once seized them and disarmed them. Lieut. MAXWELL waited his chance and then with an automatic pistol which he had concealed in his box respirator, shot two of the enemy and with the two men escaped. They were pursued by rifle fire, and one was wounded. However, Lieut. MAXWELL organised a small party at once, attacked and captured the post. Throughout the day, this young Officer set a most remarkable example of personal bravery, tempered with excellent judgement and aggressive decision. There is no doubt that, had it not been for his personal dash, the operation could not have succeeded as quickly as it did. He handled a most involved situation with very fine leadership.'