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From Bank to Battlefield

Ronald Grahame Henderson

Photo of Lieutenant Ronald Grahame Henderson
 

Ronald Henderson was born in North Sydney to Stephen and Helen Henderson, and was the eldest of two sons. At 22 years old he was the first member of the Commonwealth Bank's Wagga Wagga Branch to enlist when he joined up on 17 April 1915. He spent the first six months of his military career training in Australia before he embarked for Egypt in October 1915, joining the 18th Infantry Battalion as part of the 5th Reinforcements.

Barely a month after joining his battalion in Egypt, Ronald was already displaying the bravery and determination that were to make him a respected and popular officer throughout his military career. By February 1916 he had earned a promotion to Corporal and two weeks later was embarking for France to join the fighting in the trenches of the Western Front.

Ronald entered the trenches near Armentieres at the end of April 1916, and remained there until June when he was wounded in the right thigh by a shell after being caught in a heavy artillery bombardment. He spent almost three months recovering in hospital in England before he was able to rejoin his battalion in France. His return to the front was only brief as, recognising his intrepid spirit and leadership qualities, he was promoted to Temporary Sergeant and sent to join the No.6 Officer Cadet battalion at Balliol in Oxford.

The training course Ronald attended in Oxford helped him to gain an appointment as 2nd Lieutenant upon his return to his battalion in March 1917. Two months later he was appointed Intelligence officer for the 5th Brigade and by June he had been made a Lieutenant. This swift advance up the ranks only solidified Ronald's daring and courageous character. During the Battle of Menin Road in September 1917, his fearless actions and dedication to duty earned him the Military Cross, which he was awarded on 1 January 1918. In the recommendation for this decoration he was commended for his “absolute disregard of personal safety” running the gauntlet of the constant and unrelenting shell fire to gain valuable information and bring back an accurate sketch of the front line.

In October, Ronald was badly injured for a second time in the mud-drenched battlefield of Poelcappelle in Belgium. During the fierce fighting he suffered gunshot wounds to both arms and his right hand which required a long convalescence in England. It was more than four months before Ronald was fully recovered, only being deemed medically fit to return to the front in February 1918.

While Ronald was demonstrating his bravery and endurance in the heavy fighting in Belgium, his younger brother, Hugh, enlisted in the 35th battalion in early July 1917, just two months after his 18th birthday. Tragically, Hugh never reached his 19th birthday. On 4 April 1918 he died of his wounds near Villers-Bretonneux less than two months after he had first arrived in France.

It is unlikely that Ronald ever knew about the death of his younger brother. Only five days after Hugh's death, Ronald was killed in an artillery bombardment near Villers-Bretonneux while extricating his platoon from their billets. It was only in death that the two brothers were reunited when, after peace had been declared, their bodies were re-interred side-by-side in the Adelaide Military Cemetery near Villers-Bretonneux. A photograph of the two gravestones marking their sons' final resting places in that distant field in France was their parents’ final memorial of their lost children.

WWI Service Summary 17 April 1915, enlisted in 18th Infantry Battalion, Australian Imperial Forces
5 October 1915, embarked HMAT A32 Themistocles, Sydney
7 June 1916, wounded in action,
9 October 1917, wounded in action
1 January 1918, awarded Military Cross
9 April 1918, killed in action
Rank Lieutenant
Service Number 2395
Age at enlistment 22 years
Role at Bank Clerk

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