Feature Articles - Private Henry Dalziel V.C.

Henry Dalziel CITATION: For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty when in action with a Lewis gun section.

His company met with determined resistance from a strong point which was strongly garrisoned, manned by numerous machine-guns and, undamaged by our artillery fire, was also protected by strong wire entanglements.

A heavy concentration of machine-gun fire caused many casualties, and held up our advance.  His Lewis gun having come into action and silenced enemy guns in one direction, an enemy gun opened fire from another direction.  Private Dalziel dashed at it and with his revolver, killed or captured the entire crew and gun, and allowed our advance to continue.

He was severely wounded in the hand, but carried on and took part in the capture of the final objective.  He twice went over open ground under heavy enemy artillery and machine-gun fire to secure ammunition, and though suffering from considerable loss of blood, he filled magazines and served his gun until severely wounded through the head.

His magnificent bravery and devotion to duty was an inspiring example to all his comrades and his dash and unselfish courage at a critical time undoubtedly saved many lives and turned what would have been a serious check into a splendid success.
London Gazette: 17th August 1918

Henry 'Harry' Dalziel was born in a small mining camp near Irvinebank, Far North Queensland on 18 February 1893, the son of James and Eliza Maggie (nee McMillan) Dalziel.

He and his brother Victor as young boys are credited with the discovery of tin samples which led to the opening of the Boulder Mine near Emuford.  This mine - one of the largest mines in the area - remained in production until the 1960s.

On leaving school 'Harry' worked as a apprentice fireman with the Queensland Government Railways on the scenic route between Cairns and Atherton where he then lived with his parents.

'Harry' Dalziel enlisted on 16 January 1915 and in July he went to Egypt with reinforcements for the 15th Battalion, serving with this unit in Gallipoli.

Following the evacuation of Gallipoli the 15th trained in Egypt until 31 May 1916 when they sailed for France as part of the 4th Infantry Brigade of the newly formed 4th Division AIF, which had been formed in Egypt three months earlier.

The 4th were at first stationed briefly near Armentieres, before in August they relieved the 2nd Division on the Pozieres Heights where they repulsed a major German counter attack.  After twice seeing action at Mouquet Farm, they fought at Flers in September.

In April 1917 they fought at Gueudecourt, Lagnicourt and Bullecourt where the Division had 1170 officers and men taken prisoner by the Germans, and in June at Messines before, on 16 October, Harry was wounded by shrapnel while participating in the Battle of Polygon Wood.

There was a lull in the severity of the fighting during the period from January to mid-March 1918: the quietest of the whole war.

The revolution in Russia had led to the collapse of its military involvement in the war, allowing the Germans to concentrate their efforts on the Western Front.  Wishing to attack before the Americans entered the Front, General Ludendorff planned an all out spring offensive against the Allied forces.

Thus in the early hours of 21 March the German commenced a five hour bombardment by 6,000 German guns against the allies, before lunching an attack by 50 Divisions (a million men) against the Allies on a 50 mile front.  To counter this the Australian Division was rushed to the Somme region to try and halt the German offensive there.

The 4th Division was in May joined by the other four Australian Divisions and for the first time in the war the five Australian Divisions were brought together as the Australian Corps.  In July at Hamel for the first time the Australians had with them a number of Americans who were facing their baptism of fire on their country's Independence Day.

Dalziel's actions, for which he was later awarded the Empire's highest bravery award the Victoria Cross, occurred on July 4, and was the 1000th such award made to a Commonwealth serviceman.

During the Battle of Hamel the 15th Battalion had been given the task of capturing a position known as Pear Trench.  Artillery fire had been brought down on Pear Trench but this proved ineffective as it failed to damage the strong wire entanglements that protected the enemy position; neither the trench or its garrison were sufficiently affected so as to diminish their resistance against the Australians.

Three tanks had been allotted to the 15th but had failed to appear, and it became necessary for the infantry to push on without their support.  Some men managed to get through the wire, but the attack virtually came to a halt in the face of heavy enemy fire from Pear Trench.

Each Australian platoon now had two Lewis guns; Capt. E. K. Carter, M.C. directed his gunners - one of whom was Harry Dalziel - to fire from the hip over the tall crops, a tactic which succeeded in limiting the high number of casualties previously caused by the German machine-gunners.

When Carter's gunners succeeded in silencing two German machine-guns his men rushed the enemy trenches only to be held up by another machine-gun to their left.

Dalziel saw this, left his gun in the able hands of one of his team and drawing his revolver he singlehandedly rushed the German machine-gunners, shooting two and capturing the third.

Dalziel, who lost his trigger finger when it was blown away by a machine gun bullet during this action, was ordered to the rear.  He made off as if to obey, but later when Pear Trench was finally stormed and taken Dalziel was discovered still in the thick of the fight.

Again he was ordered back to the regimental aid-post, but went instead to retrieve boxes of ammunition which had been parachuted onto open ground but were inaccessible due to the enemy's constant fire.  Ignoring the enemy fire he proceeded to bring in the ammunition a case at a time and had loaded his Lewis gun when he was shot in the head.

The wound smashed his skull exposing his brain.  Both Australians and Americans who saw Dalziel despaired at this brave man's seemingly inevitable death.  This wasn't to be: fortunately long and skilful treatment in England saw him fit enough to leave England for Australia on 5 January 1919 and he was discharged in Brisbane in July 1919.

Unable to return to his old job with the railways he went back to Atherton and worked a small farm "Carmelbank".  In 1921 he married a Brisbane nurse named Hilda Maud Ramsay.

During the depression years Dalziel was forced to travel as far south as Sydney seeking employment.  He and his brother (ex #58085 Pte Victor Dalziel who had enlisted in Cairns in June 1918 and served with the 9th Battalion) were gold mining in Bathurst, New South Wales when the serious illness of Hilda forced Harry's return to Queensland.

In 1933 Dalziel joined the Citizen Military Forces 9th/15th Battalion as a Sergeant and the first VC to be a member of the Guard of Honour at the opening of the Queensland Parliament as a member of the King's Colour escort.

On Anzac Day 1938 he took part in the Anzac Day march through the streets of Sydney.  At that time Harry was a prolific writer of songs, having many copyrighted, and was also successful as (variously) an artist, potter and poet.

Like many who were awarded the Victoria Cross while serving in the First World War Harry served again during the Second World War, albeit in a limited capacity: his duties consisted of speaking during recruitment drives and fund appeals, and he also visited many training camps advising and talking to the troops.

In 1956, he sailed on the SS Orcades along with other Australian VCs who were among the 301 Victoria Cross recipients from across the Commonwealth who attended the Victoria Cross Centenary Celebrations in London.

Dalziel visited Hamel on 4 July and placed a wreath on the Cenotaph, but he was unable to identify the spot where he had won his decoration some thirty eight years earlier in the now lush agricultural area.

He was living in Oxley, Queensland when he died on 24 July 1965 aged 72 years.  He was cremated at the Mt Thompson crematorium, Brisbane.  A memorial plaque can be found on Wall 12, Section 16, No 106, at the crematorium.

The Bar at the Atherton Returned Serviceman's Club has a display of photographs and Medals featuring 'Harry' Dalziel VC and is named The Harry Dalziel VC., Memorial Bar.  In a park near the club, a mounted First World War artillery piece stands as a memorial to Pte Harry Dalziel VC.

Dalziel's medals amounted to the Victoria Cross., the 1914/15 Star, the British War Medal, the Victory Medal, War Medal 1939/45, Australian Service Medal, King George V1 Coronation Medal and Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Medal.

My thanks to Mr Tony Derksen, Director of the Loudoun House Museum, Irvinebank, Queensland, for his assistance in researching this story.

Article contributed by Harry Willey

'White Star' was a German mixture of chlorine and phosgene gas, so-named on account of the identification marking painted on the delivery shell casing.

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