DARTNELL Wilbur Taylor
Lieutenant, 25th (Frontiersmen) Battalion, The Royal Fusiliers (City of London)
On 3 September 1915, near Maktau, Kenya, during a mounted infantry engagement, the enemy were so close that it was impossible to get the more severely wounded away. Lieutenant Dartnell, who was himself being carried away wounded in the leg, seeing the situation, and knowing that the enemy's black troops murdered the wounded, insisted on being left behind, in the hope of being able to save the lives of other wounded men. He gave his own life in a gallant attempt to save others.
Wilbur Dartnell was born at Collingwood, Melbourne, on 6 April 1885, to Henry and Rose Dartnell. He was educated in Melbourne, became an actor, and was only 15 years old when he enlisted into the 5th Contingent of the Victorian Mounted Rifles in February of 1901. Dartnell served with the unit in South Africa from March 1901 until it left to return to Australia in March 1902.
He married Elizabeth Edith Smyth at Queen street, Melbourne, on 15 April 1907 and they settled in Fitzroy. In 1912 or 1913 he returned to South Africa, and was in East London when war broke out in 1914. He worked for the Standard Printing Company and frequently contributed articles to their Saturday newspaper, The Weekly Standard.
Soon after the declaration of war Dartnell convened a meeting of Australians living in East London who were willing to proceed overseas on active service. As chairman of the meeting he placed his name at the head of the list and cabled the British War Office offering their services. He left for Britain on 23 September and on 12 February 1915, using the name of Wilbur Taylor Dartnell, joined the 25th (Service) Battalion (Frontiersmen), the Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment) as a temporary Lieutenant.
Initially he was stationed at Swaythling near Southampton whence he made trips to Belgium in charge of drafts of Artillery horses.
In April 1915 Dartnell embarked for British East Africa with the fusiliers and arrived in Mombasa on 6 May. They went at once to their post on the Uganda Railway as their main task was to protect the railway from enemy raiding parties. From mid June they were engaged in raids on Bukoba, the German base for attacks on the Ugandan Frontier.
On 22 June at the battle of Bukoba, Dartnell led the attack and was the first man to enter the enemy's fort and haul the German flag down, for which he was Mentioned in Despatches and recommended for the Distinguished Service Order.
In August the Battalion returned to British East Africa and established its headquarters at Voi with two of its companies stationed at Maktau to patrol the frontier. Dartnell, whose promotion to Lieutenant had been confirmed on 25 July, was assigned on 1 September to a mounted infantry patrol. Two days later, near Maktau, his party was ambushed. In the subsequent fighting Dartnell was wounded in the leg and was being carried away when he realised that the badly wounded could not be removed. Believing that the enemy's African troops (Askaris) killed the wounded, he insisted on being left behind in the hope of being able to save the lives of the other wounded men. Though he was twice asked to leave he ordered his men to abandon him and began firing on the Germans who were within 25 metres of his post. When his body was found, seven enemy dead lay around it.
He was awarded the Victoria Cross for giving his own life in a gallant attempt to save others. Dartnell was burried in Voi Cemetery, Kenya. He was survived by his wife and a daughter. The Victoria Cross was presented to Dartnells widow by Sir Ronald Munro-Ferguson, The Governor General of Australia, at a private ceremony at Government House, Melbourne, on 7 October 1916. Dartnell's widow attended the Victoria Cross centenary celebrations in London in 1956. His Victoria Cross and other service medals were auctioned and then donated to the Australian War Memorial in 1984.