MICA long field
William Dunstan was born on 8 March 1895 at Ballarat, Victoria to William John and Henrietta (nee Mitchell) Dunstan. He was educated at Golden Point State School and was reportedly an excellent pupil. After leaving school at the age of 15, he worked as a delivery boy and clerk with Snow's Drapery store in Ballarat, studying at home in the evenings. Dunstan served three years in senior cadets under the compulsory training scheme where he reached the cadet rank of captain. This was followed by a transfer to the 70th Infantry (Ballarat Regiment) as lieutenant in July 1914. Following the outbreak of the First World War he enlisted in Melbourne on 2 June 1915 and was posted as a private (no. 2130) with the 6th reinforcements to 7 Battalion (7Bn). He embarked with the reinforcements on HMAT A62 Wandilla on 17 June, bound for Egypt and joined his battalion at Gallipoli on 5 August 1915. On the same day he was made acting corporal.
The following day, at 5.30pm, 7 Bn took part in the attack on the enemy trenches at Lone Pine. The assault was a diversionary tactic designed to occupy the enemy forces of Turkish Commander Essad Pasha, and prevent him from reinforcing his troops at Sari Bair, site of the main British push. The offensive soon overwhelmed many of the enemy trenches but at great cost. 7 Bn, originally directed to take Johnson's Jolly at dawn on the 7th following a successful assault on Lone Pine by 1 Brigade (1Bde), was gradually depleted of men as urgent requests for reinforcements from other units came in. At 4am on 7 August the battalion was given orders to stand to arms for their attack on Johnson's Jolly but no order to proceed eventuated so the men waited in reserve. By the afternoon of 8 August, the remaining units of 7Bn moved into Lone Pine to relieve the exhausted troops of 1 and 2 Bns.
In the early hours of 9 August the Turks made a determined counter-attack against the captured trenches. The historian CEW Bean wrote that the intensity of the fire was such that '[a]ll the periscopes of the watching sentries were quickly shattered. Bayonets were broken. Sandbags, torn and ripped, emptied themselves and then slipped into the trenches...' At Goldenstedt's Post in the southern sector, a heavy attack was temporarily repulsed by Lieutenant Symons who was then ordered to retake Jacob's Trench, which had been overrun by the Turks. Symons was replaced at Goldenstedt's by Lieutenant Tubb, together with 10 men, including Dunstan.
The lull at Goldenstadt's following Symons' actions soon ended. The Turks attacked in force, using bombs (hand grenades) with great effect. Tubb had ordered two men, Corporals Webb and Wright, to remain on the trench floor to return the bombs before they could explode or to smother them with sandbags or Turkish overcoats that had been left behind by the enemy. The other men manned the parapet, shooting any Turks that made their way up the trench or who attempted to rush the post across the open ground between the opposing trenches. Wright was killed when a bomb exploded in his face and Webb lost both hands to a bomb and died while walking to the rear. Fierce fighting on the parapet continued to deplete Tubb's little company. Only Tubb and corporals Dunstan and Burton remained when the barricade protecting the post was hit with a violent explosion that blew down the sandbags and threw the remaining men to the ground. The three men managed to drive off the attackers and were attempting to rebuild the barricade when a bomb exploded among them, killing Burton and severely injuring Dunstan in the face and eyes. Tubb managed to obtain more men from an adjoining trench but by that time the Australian defence had prevailed and the fighting had eased. For their actions all three men were awarded the VC, though only Dunstan would survive the war.
The recommendation for the award of the Victoria Cross to Corporals Dunstan and Burton reads as follows: 'I have the honour to recommend that the names of No. 2130, Corporal W. Dunston, [sic] and No. 384, Corporal A.S. Burton (killed) both of 7th Battalion, A.I. Force, be submitted to the G.O.C.-in-Command for consideration for the Victoria Cross in recognition of conspicuous gallantry in action. On the morning of August 9th at Lone Pine, the enemy made an attack on the centre of the line in great force at a point held by Lieut. F.A. Tubb with a party of men and acting Corporals Burton and Dunstan. The enemy advanced up the sap in the dark and placed a charge of guncotton or other explosive against the parapet of sandbags, which hurled the parapet and the party guarding it back with great violence. About 1 foot of the parapet still remained. This Officer and NCO's rushed to the remains of the parapet to defend it against the enemy, whom they repulsed with loss and built up the parapet again. The enemy advanced, and under a hail of bombs placed another charge, which again demolished the parapet, and inflicted a painful wound on Lieut. Tubb's head, which dazed him for the moment. The two NCO's however, again pushed back and restored the parapet, Corporal Burton being killed by a bomb, which struck him in the face, and the parapet was again destroyed. Corporal Dunstan and Lieut. Tubb again restored it with the assistance of another man. Corporal Dunstan was severely wounded and Lieut. Tubb received a painful wound in the arm.'
Later that same day Dunstan was evacuated to a hospital ship for medical attention to his face and eyes, before being sent on to Alexandria for further treatment. His eyesight had not fully recovered when, in early September, he was invalided back to Australia on HMAT A38 Ulysses. He was medically discharged on 1 February 1916 and Mentioned in Dispatches by General Sir Ian Hamilton the following month.
Soon after returning, his old employer presented him with £50. The residents of Ballarat offered to add to the sum but he declined saying that there were hundreds of other Australians less lucky than him who had earned equal praise. Despite his injuries, Dunstan joined the Citizen Forces as a lieutenant and was actively engaged in the pro-conscription debate, attending various rallies in its support. In one interview later in the war he said '[i]f I had a thousand votes I would give every one of them in favour of conscription.'
21 year old Dunstan was presented with his VC on the steps of Parliament House in Melbourne on 9 June 1916 by the Governor-General, Sir Ronald Munro-Ferguson. A humble though outgoing person, Dunstan felt uncomfortable with the attention and public adoration afforded him and, as was reported at the time, had his opinion been sought he 'would doubtless expressed a preference for the trenches at Lone Pine again.'
He would have to suffer another public spectacle when on 23 October 1918 the Minister for Defence, Sir George Foster Pearce, with all the pomp and ceremony of an actual award presentation, conferred on him a gold lifetime pass to the Tivoli Theatres, given to all VC recipients by the owner of the Tivoli, Hugh Donald McIntosh MLC. McIntosh later told reporters in London that the passes, made in the likeness of a VC, entitled the holder and their families to free admission to 'all the theatres and variety houses controlled by him throughout the Commonwealth.'
Dunstan married Marjorie Carnell on 10 November 1918. The couple had three children, a daughter and two sons. Both sons, William and Keith, served in the Second World War.
Though he was celebrated for his actions at Lone Pine he avoided talking of his time as a soldier. His war experiences were never discussed in the family home. His VC and medals spent years in a box under the stairs, rarely seeing the light of day. On the few occasions that Marjorie took them out to show the children, it was done without William's knowledge. He was haunted by his time at Gallipoli and the injuries he sustained continued to take a toll on him. He periodically suffered severe headaches from shrapnel lodged in his head; a condition that remained with him for the rest of his life.
Despite this he had a successful business career. Soon after the war he became private secretary to Sir Nicholas Lockyer, the acting Secretary of the Repatriation Department. In 1921 he joined the staff of the Herald and Weekly Times as an accountant, rising to the position of general manager in 1934 until his retirement in 1953. During this time his career expanded to include seats on the boards of various media and textile companies. With the outbreak of the Second World War, Dunstan contacted General Blamey to secure a command, only to be rejected on medical grounds. As well as his business interests he took a keen interest in horse racing.
William Dunstan died on 2 March 1957 after suffering a heart attack while he was returning from the Caulfield racecourse.