Military History

The Highest Honour #4 | Frederick Birks | John Bisdee

By The Cove February 8, 2021


Second Lieutenant Frederick Birks VC, MM (1894 - 1917, 23yo)

Frederick Birks was born in North Wales and migrated to Australia in 1913 where he initially worked as a labourer in Tasmania and Victoria.  On 18 August 1914 he enlisted into the Australian Imperial Force.

He was posted to the 2nd Field Ambulance, Australian Army Medical Corps where his unit went into action at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915, providing medical support for the 2nd Infantry Brigade.  While serving as a stretcher bearer, Birks was wounded by shrapnel but remained at Gallipoli until September.  Birks went on to serve in Egypt and the first battle of Somme and at Pozières in 1916 was awarded the Military Medal by General Birdwood for constant good services.

Birks was selected for officer training and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the 6th Battalion on 4 May 1917.  On 20 September, while his battalion was advancing in Glencorse Wood, Birks and a Corporal rushed a pillbox which was holding up the advance.  The Corporal was wounded but Birks went on himself, killed those manning the pillbox and captured a machine gun.  Shortly afterwards he raised a small party and attacked another strong point, capturing sixteen men and killing or wounding nine others.  During an Artillery bombardment the following day, Birks was killed while trying to rescue some of his men who had been buried by an explosion.  For his 'conspicuous bravery' he was awarded the Victoria Cross posthumously.

Birks was buried in Zillebeke cemetery, Belgium and in 1921 a memorial was erected in his honour in St Matthews schoolyard, Buckley.

Trooper John Bisdee VC, OBE (1869 - 1930, 60yo)

John Bisdee was born in Tasmania, educated in Hobart and worked on his father's property until 1900.  In April 1900 he enlisted for service in the South African War as a Trooper in the 1st Tasmanian Imperial Bushmens' Contingent.

Bisdee sailed on 26 April and served in operations in Cape Colony, the Transvaal and the Orange River Colony. On 1 September, near Warmbad, Transvaal, he was with a scouting party ambushed by Boers in a rocky defile; six of its eight men were wounded, including an officer whose horse broke away and bolted. Bisdee dismounted, put the wounded man on his own horse and ran alongside, then mounted behind him and withdrew under heavy fire. For this action he received the Victoria Cross—the first awarded to a Tasmanian. Wounded during the ambush, he was transported home but, on recovering went back to South Africa as a Lieutenant in No.1 Company, 2nd Tasmanian Imperial Bushmens' Contingent, and served from March 1901 until the end of the war.

In 1908 he joined the 12th Australian Light Horse Regiment as a temporary Lieutenant, saw active duty in WW1 and discharged as a Lieutenant Colonel in 1919.

Bisdee died in 1930 and was buried in St James churchyard, Jericho, in the same grave as his sister who died the next day.


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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