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Bennett, Alfred Joshua (1865–1946)

by Darryl McIntyre

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

Alfred Joshua Bennett (1865-1946), soldier, educationist and administrator, was born on 10 January 1865 at Dry Valley Farm, Wagga Wagga, New South Wales, son of Barnett Basil Bennett, farmer, and his Irish-born wife Bridget Elizabeth Maria, née Russell. Educated at Wagga Wagga State School and Fort Street Training College, Sydney, he became a teacher with the Department of Public Instruction.

In 1885 Bennett enlisted in the Sudan Contingent as a corporal and saw action in the advance on Tamai. On his return he took up a teaching post at Wagga Wagga and on 10 April 1886 joined the local company of the New South Wales volunteer infantry as a second lieutenant. He was promoted lieutenant in December 1894 (he was then teaching at Windsor) and captain in March 1898. When the South African War broke out in October 1899 Bennett enlisted as a captain in the 1st New South Wales Mounted Rifles and was given command of 'D' Squadron. He was in action from February 1900 to March 1901, was severely wounded at Driefontein on 10 March 1900 and for 'courage and resource' at Bothaville on 5-6 November was awarded the Distinguished Service Order. His unit returned to Australia in April 1901 but Bennett, promoted major on 30 March, was transferred to the 3rd New South Wales Mounted Rifles Regiment and remained until May 1902. He commanded an independent mobile column under General Rimington, was mentioned in dispatches, and later attended the coronation of King Edward VII.

In 1902 Bennett resumed his career in the Department of Public Instruction and was a head teacher in 1914. On 13 August he was commissioned by Colonel H. N. MacLaurin to form the 3rd Battalion, Australian Imperial Force, which he expected to lead, but was appointed second-in-command to his close friend Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Owen, a regular soldier. The unit reached Egypt in December and went into training at Mena Camp where Bennett, who dealt severely with shirkers and malingerers, was soon nicknamed 'Defaulter's Waterloo'. A week after the landing at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915 he was promoted lieutenant-colonel and given command of the 4th Battalion. He led this unit during the Turkish attack on 15 May and soon afterwards became commander of the 1st Battalion. He served with distinction in the fierce battles for Lone Pine in August, when he was second-in-command to Brigadier General (Sir) Nevill M. Smyth. Wounded in action, he was evacuated with paratyphoid on 2 September and invalided to Australia; he received the Volunteer Officers' Decoration and was later appointed C.M.G. for his services at Lone Pine. From October 1916 to April 1917 he was in charge of troops on the transport Ulysses, then resumed active service in 1918, commanding the 20th Battalion in France from February to June. Invalided from the line, he was appointed commandant of the Australian reinforcements camp at Charlleroi, Belgium.

Demobilized in October 1919, Bennett returned to the Department of Public Instruction and became supervisor of evening continuation colleges. On 18 November 1920 he married Catherine Josephine Lawler at St James Catholic Church, Glebe. He remained with the department until 1929 when he was headmaster of Waverley Public School. He was then appointed administrator and chief magistrate of Norfolk Island for a three-year term, after which he went into retirement. He had retired from the Australian Military Forces in 1925 with the rank of colonel; during World War II he served as a manpower officer. Survived by his wife, he died of cancer on 1 August 1946 at Randwick and was buried in South Head cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • Australian Defence Department, Official Records of the Australian Military Contingents to the War in South Africa, P. L. Murray ed (Melb, 1912)
  • C. E. W. Bean, The Story of Anzac (Syd, 1921, 1924), and The A.I.F in France, 1918 (Syd, 1942)
  • E. Wren, Randwick to Hargicourt: History of the 3rd Battalion, A.I.F. (Syd, 1935)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1887-88, 7, 804, 1889, 3, Blue Book p 41
  • Parliamentary Papers (New South Wales), 1912, 3, 123
  • London Gazette, 19 Apr 1901, 29 July 1902
  • Reveille (Sydney), 1 July 1937, 1 Sept 1946
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 20 June 1932
  • records (Australian War Memorial).

Citation details

Darryl McIntyre, 'Bennett, Alfred Joshua (1865–1946)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.online.anu.edu.au/biography/bennett-alfred-joshua-5208/text8765, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 23 November 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

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