Military History

The Highest Honour #1 | Charles Anderson | Thomas Axford

By The Cove January 18, 2021


Lieutenant Colonel Charles Groves Wright Anderson, VC, MC (1897–1988, 91yo)

Middle-aged, bespectacled, and a veteran of an earlier war, Anderson did not look like a Hollywood-style war hero. He had been born in South Africa and was awarded the Military Cross in the First World War before coming to Australia in 1934. Already an officer in the militia, he was appointed second-in-command of the 2/19th Battalion on its formation in 1940. The battalion was sent to Malaya; and in August 1941 Anderson was appointed its commanding officer.

During the Japanese advance in January 1942, the 2/19th was ordered to the Bakri area in a futile attempt to help stop the enemy. Following heavy casualties, Anderson took command of the brigade and led it in a fighting withdrawal towards Parit Sulong village. Cut-off, surrounded, and without air support, Anderson personally led attacks against road-blocks and enemy positions during the ensuing four-day action that became one of the most desperate in Australian military history.

At Parit Sulong, Anderson found his decimated force trapped with no hope of relief. Finally, he ordered that the vehicles and guns be destroyed and surviving troops form groups and try to make their own way southward. He was later distressed to learn that the Japanese had massacred the wounded who had been left behind. For his command and exploits he was awarded the Victoria Cross.

Anderson was taken into captivity on 15 February 1942, when the British forces in Singapore surrendered. He endured the misery and squalor of being a prisoner of war, commanding “Anderson force” on the Burma–Thailand Railway. Despite a high rate of death and illness, “he maintained a high level of morale among his men … all of whom would have followed him to hell and back”. After the war he returned to farming. In 1949 he was elected to parliament as Country Party member for Hume, New South Wales, and served three terms. Source: The Australian War Memorial:https://www.awm.gov.au/visit/exhibitions/fiftyaustralians/1

Charles Groves Wright Anderson was the highest ranked Australian soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross.

 

Thomas Leslie "Jack" Axford VC, MM (1894–1983, 89yo)

Leslie Axford was born on 18 June 1894 at Carrington, South Australia. He moved to Coolgardie, Western Australia with his family at the age of two, and worked at the Boulder Brewery after leaving school.

Axford enlisted in the Citizen Military Forces military forces in 1912. He served in the 84th Infantry Regiment until July 1915, when he joined the Australian Imperial Force (AIF). Axford was assigned to the 11th Reinforcements of the 16th Battalion on 9 August 1915, which left Australia on HMAT Benalla that November.

Axford was wounded in August 1916 and again in August 1917, the second time so badly that he did not rejoin his battalion until January 1918. In February 1918, he was promoted to Lance Corporal. On 24 May 1918, Axford was awarded the Military Medal.

On 4 July 1918, the events took place for which Axford was awarded the Victoria Cross, the citation reads:

On 4 July 1918 during the attack at Vaire and Hamel Woods , France, when the advance of the adjoining platoon was being delayed in uncut wire and machine-gun fire, and his Company Commander had become a casualty, Lance Corporal Axford charged and threw bombs amongst the enemy gun crews. He then jumped into the trench, and charging with his bayonet, killed 10 of the enemy and took six prisoners. He threw the machine-guns over the parapet and the delayed platoon was able to advance. He then rejoined his own platoon and fought with it during the remainder of the operations.

In addition to the VC, Axford was also that month promoted to Corporal. Axford returned to Western Australia in October 1918, and was discharged on 2 February 1919.

In November 1919 Axford was working as a miner in Kalgoorlie. In June 1941, during the Second World War, he re-enlisted and served with the Western Australian Echelon and Records Office. He was discharged with the rank of Sergeant in April 1947. In later life he lived for many years in Perth in the suburb of Mount Hawthorn. He died on 11 October 1983 and was cremated at the Karrakatta Crematorium in Perth. His Victoria Cross is displayed at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra. Axford Park in Mount Hawthorn, and the Thomas Axford ward at the former Repatriation General Hospital, Hollywood, are named in his honour.


Portrait

Biography

The Cove

The home of the Australian Profession of Arms.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.



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