John Patrick Hamilton VC

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John Patrick Hamilton VC. Image courtesy Australian War Memorial.

Service no: 943 [1]

Place of birth: Orange, 24 January 1896

Address: Carruthers Street, Penshurst

Occupation: Butcher

Next of kin: William Hamilton (father), Carruthers Street, Penshurst, later Rozelle Cottage, Quigg Street, Belmore

Date of enlistment: 15 September 1914

Place of enlistment: Sydney

Age at enlistment: 19

Fate: Embarked Sydney 18 October 1914. Awarded VC 15 October 1915. Appointed Corporal 3 May 1916. Promoted to Sergeant 13 May 1917. Promoted 2nd Lieutenant 2 January 1919. Promoted Lieutenant 2 April 1919. Returned to Australia 26 August 1919. Appointment terminated 12 September 1919.

Date of death: 27 February 1961, Concord Repatriation General Hospital of cerebro-vascular disease

Buried: Woronora Cemetery

Born in Orange on 24 January 1896, John Hamilton was working as a butcher in Penshurst when he enlisted in the AIF in September 1914. He was posted to the 3rd Battalion, 1st Brigade and boarded the Euripides in Sydney in October for training in Egypt. Private Hamilton was part of the landing at Anzac Cove, Gallipoli on 25 April 1915, his battalion coming ashore in the 2nd and 3rd waves.

On 9 August during the battle of Lone Pine the Turks launched an intense assault with unrelenting rifle and machine-gun fire. For six hours Hamilton lay in the open, protected only by a few sandbags, yelling instructions to his comrades in the trenches about where to direct their bombs whilst maintaining constant sniper fire. For this act of bravery he was awarded the Victoria Cross. His VC is on display at the Australian War Memorial; it was the only one awarded to Hamilton's unit during the war.

Hamilton was promoted to Corporal on 3 May and fought at the Battle of Pozières in July, the Battle of Mouquet Farm in August, and Flers in November. He was promoted to Sergeant in May 1917 and served at Bullecourt and the Battle of Passchendale at Menin Road and Broodseinde.

In July 1918 Hamilton was posted to No.5 Officer Cadet Battalion at Cambridge in England. He was promoted to Second Lieutenant in January 1919, followed by Lieutenant in April. Hamilton returned to Australia in August and was discharged from the AIF on 12 September 1919.

Hamilton returned to active service during the Second World War, serving as a Lieutenant with the 16th Garrison Battalion and the 3rd Pioneer Battalion. In 1944 he joined the Army Labour Service and was promoted to Captain.

John Hamilton died in Sydney in February 1961.

John Hamilton’s VC was awarded for 'most conspicuous bravery on 9 August 1915 in the Gallipoli Peninsula. It was one of only nine VCs awarded to Australians at Gallipoli. During a heavy bomb attack by the enemy on the newly-captured position at Lone Pine, Private Hamilton, with utter disregard to personal safety, exposed himself under heavy fire on the parados, in order to secure a better fire position against the enemy’s bomb throwers. His coolness and daring example had an immediate effect. The defence was encouraged and the enemy was driven off with heavy loss.' Commonwealth Gazette No. 28 February 24, 1916. John Hamilton's Victoria Cross was one of nine VCs awarded to Australians at Gallipoli.

The following article was first published in Orange Family History Group Journal No. 53, November 2001, pp. 4-5.

John Hamilton was born in Orange on 24 January 1896 to William and Catherine Hamilton. His parents were married on 11 April 1893 in St Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church in Orange. Catherine was the daughter of Ambrose Fox and his wife Ann Elizabeth [nee Frost] who was the eldest daughter of Samuel Frost the Orange brickmaker. Samuel made the bricks for many of the principal buildings of Orange, including the Holy Trinity Church Orange and the Orange Public School.

John and his family were living in Lithgow in 1910 when his mother died. John, age 14, was the eldest of six surviving children. By 1914 John was working as a butcher in his father’s shop at Penshurst in Sydney.

Enlisting on 15 September 1914, he joined the 3rd Battalion, then being formed. He embarked with the unit on 18 October as a Private, and took part in the original landing at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915.

At age 19 John took part in the bloody battle at Lone Pine. Of the 883 officers and men of the 3rd Battalion at the time of the assault, only 291 marched out. Shortly after 4am on 9 August the Turkish troops launched a violent general attack extending over a large part of the front. To counter an assault on the 3rd Battalion headquarters the adjutant Howell-Price instructed six men including Hamilton to get out on the parapet and attack the Turks in the trench and those coming across open ground. Most prominent among the handful of Australian sharp-shooters lying out in the open, John Hamilton’s courage had already been noted during the bitter fighting. He played a key role in the bombing duels which became such a deadly feature of the battle. As well as hurling improvised jam-tin bombs at the Turks, Hamilton picked up enemy bombs and threw them back before they exploded. The extraordinary spirit of the Australian bombers was revealed by Lt. A.F. Burrett: “two of my bombers Norton and Hamilton – the latter won his VC there – were up on the parapet throwing bombs as fast as they could light them”.

Having survived innumerable bomb fights which maimed and killed so many of his comrades, Hamilton proved himself equally adept with a rifle. From an exposed position on top of the parapet he sniped the Turks as they attempted to bomb the Australians. Alone of the six instructed onto the parapet, Hamilton held his position for six hours. Protected by a few sandbags, he shouted back instructions to his comrades where to direct their bombs as well as sniping at anything that moved.

On 15 October 1915 the London Gazette announced the award of the Victoria Cross to No. 943, Pte. John Hamilton. Given the number of witnesses the citation ignored his bombing exploits.

“For most conspicuous bravery on 9 August 1915 in the Gallipoli Peninsula. During a heavy bomb attack by the enemy on the newly-captured position at Lone Pine, Private Hamilton, with utter disregard to personal safety, exposed himself under heavy fire on the parados, in order to secure a better fire position against the enemy’s bomb throwers. His coolness and daring example had an immediate effect. The defence was encouraged and the enemy was driven off with heavy loss.”

After a spell in England, during which he was presented with his Victoria Cross by King George V at Buckingham Palace, Hamilton proceeded to France with his unit, and fought at Pozieres, Mouquet Farm and Flers during the Somme offensive with the rank of corporal.

In May 1917 he was promoted to sergeant and a recommendation for commission. On July 1918 he was posted to No. 5 Officer Cadet Battalion based at Cambridge, England, which ended his active war service. During the three years of his frontline service there is no record of him ever having been wounded. He was commissioned second lieutenant in April 1919. After his return to Australia he was demobilized on 12 September 1919.

John Hamilton settled at Tempe, Sydney, and worked as a docker, shipping clerk, storeman and packer. He was an active member of the Waterside Workers’ Federation.

During the Second World War John Hamilton returned to active service as a lieutenant on 3 June 1940 and served with the 16th Garrison Battalion until September 1942. He served overseas with the 3rd Pioneer Battalion in New Guinea. In 1944 he joined the Army Labour Service, and was promoted to Captain on 21 October. With his unit he supported the Australian forces who landed on Bougainville in July 1945. His second period of war service was terminated on 19 August 1946.

John Patrick Hamilton, a son of Orange, died of cerebro-vascular disease in the Repatriation General Hospital, Concord, Sydney on 27 February 1961, leaving his widow Myrtle and a married son Alwyn. After a private funeral he was buried in Woronora cemetery in Sydney.

In 1985 on the 70th anniversary of his winning the Victoria Cross his only son Alwyn presented his father’s medals to the Australian War Memorial.

This article was prepared by Orange Family History Group member Jim Shepherd of Brisbane. Jim’s grandmother Catherine Mary Hamer [nee Livingstone] through her mother Catherine, a member of the Fox family, was a cousin of John Hamilton. Catherine Hamer (1875-1949) was the widow of Thomas Hamer (1870-1928), who had a butcher’s shop on the Bathurst road at East Orange and was the eldest son of Thomas Hamer (1846-1896), a leading Orange butcher and businessman.

  • Harding, Bruce and Wigmore, Lionel, 1963, 1986, They Dared Mightily, Australian War Memorial, Canberra, A.C.T
  • Histon, Michael, research. Michael of Sydney is a distant cousin of Jim Shepherd and a direct descendant of Ambrose Fox
  • Pillinger, Dennis and Staunton, Andrew, Victoria Cross presentations and locations
  • Snelling, Stephen, VCs of the First World War: Gallipoli
Descendants of John Patrick Hamilton with Orange City Cr Reg Kidd, NSW Member for Calare, Andrew Gee and Orange RSL sub-branch vice-president Chris Colvin. Image courtesy Orange City Library.

On 21 April 2017 a statue dedicated to the memory of John Patrick Hamilton was unveiled in Orange. [2] Fifty people attended the ceremony, including descendants of John Patrick Hamilton VC spanning three generations. Guest speakers included Orange mayor, Cr John Davis OAM, Orange Ex-Services’ Club Senior Vice President, Graham Gentles, The Hon Katrina Hodgkinson, MP, NSW Member for Calare, Andrew Gee, and Ian Burrett JP, whose father, Lt Col Athol Frederick (Joe) Burrett DSO was John Hamilton’s commanding officer.

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