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From Bank to Battlefield

Douglas Kitto

Photo of Douglas Kitto
 

Douglas Kitto was born in Lefroy, Tasmania in 1895. His ancestors were miners for many generations in Cornwall before his father, Thomas Kitto, immigrated to Australia in the 1850s to try his luck on the Victoria goldfields, before eventually moving to Tasmania to work in the mines. Douglas began his military service at the tender age of 16 when he enlisted in the Australian Field Artillery, where after three years he achieved the rank of Corporal and, finally, Lieutenant. Kitto chose a markedly different career path to that of his father and grandfather and in 1914 entered the employment of the Hobart Branch of the Commonwealth Bank as a clerk. By 1915 he had transferred to the Launceston branch of the bank and in September of that same year he enlisted in the 6th Field Artillery Brigade. Entering service with his previous military experience, he was immediately awarded the rank of 2nd Lieutenant and quickly promoted to Lieutenant by the time his unit had reached France. By March 1917 he was serving with the 11th Field Artillery brigade, remaining with this unit until the end of the war. Kitto’s service is recorded as both distinguished and eventful and it eventually saw him rise to the rank of Major with no less than five wounded stripes.

April 1917 saw Kitto chase the retreating German forces to the Hindenburg line. His conduct earned him a mention in the dispatches of Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig for his actions while his unit operated under enfilade machine gun fire. The battle had disrupted the allies’ communication line, so under heavy shell and rifle fire Douglas relayed the information himself. Despite being wounded he remained at his post with his men until he was ordered to stand down to receive medical treatment. By the end of April he had been more seriously wounded and was evacuated to England to recover from his multiple injuries. However, displaying the determination and strength he was so often commended for, Kitto returned to his unit within less than a month, which was now in position for the battle of Messines on 7 June 1917. In September his unit was deployed to Bailleau, where under heavy bombing he was injured for a third time, suffering a shrapnel wound to the scalp before being evacuated to England for two months to recover. Once again displaying the formidable nature and strength of character that would later see him earn him a military honour, he returned to his Battalion and spent the European winter in the trenches of Ploegsteert, Belgium.

In April 1918 Kitto was awarded the military Cross for his ’gallantry in action and devotion to duty’. After suffering a serious gunshot wound to the head, he displayed great bravery and determination in single-handedly helping to maintain the position of the Australian battalions. In full daylight, and in order to obtain an advantage over the enemy, he walked to the front line and climbed down a forward slope exposed to enemy fire. From this position he was able to observe the locations of the German machine guns, trench mortars and assess the effectiveness of the fire of his own Battery. After a further two months spent recovering from this wound, he once again returned to the front before being wounded for a fifth time, just a month later. Maintaining the position of his unit on what was described as a relatively quiet day, a shell landed directly on the Battery’s position and Kitto suffered wounds to his right side, head, right hand, leg and arm. After yet another miraculously short period of recovery he was promoted to the Rank of Major and returned to his unit in France.

At the end of the war Douglas returned to Hobart and his position with the Commonwealth Bank for a short period before moving to Victoria. He then married Marion McKay, raised three children and obtained a Batchelor of Commerce degree from the University of Melbourne.

Not one to ever miss an opportunity to serve his country and return to battle, in 1934 Kitto reenlisted in the army, serving first as Lieutenant- Colonel and, by the time WWII had begun, a Colonel. Douglas retired from the Army in March 1945 as Brigadier. After suffering some very serious wounds and injuries during WWI (from which even the most resilient soldiers did not recover) it is astonishing that Douglas not only survived the war, but that he passed away 4 December 1988 at the prodigious age of 93.

Source: National Archives of Australia

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