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Duncan, Walter John (1894–1939)

Walter Duncan (1894–1939), n.d. photographer unknown

Walter Duncan (1894–1939), n.d. photographer unknown

from Bank of NSW Roll of Honour

Walter John Clare Duncan was born at Inverell, New South Wales, on 27th January, 1894, and was educated at the Inverell Grammar School. His parents are Mr. Walter Sydney Duncan and Mrs. Margaret McIntyre Duncan. His grandfather was General John Duncan; one of his uncles is Brig.-General Duncan (for a time Chief of Staff of the A.I.F. in Egypt); and another is Major Harry Duncan.

Walter Duncan joined the Bank at Barraba, New South Wales, on 23rd September, 1910; was transferred to Narrabri in April, 1911; to Coonabarabran, as teller, in July, 1915. In January, 1916, he was removed to the Head Office, and in the same month sent to Gunnedah as teller. Meanwhile, two days after the war began, Walter Duncan had offered himself for enlistment, but was rejected as medically unfit. In October he received a commission in the Commonwealth Military Forces, and in March, 1916, he was accepted for service abroad and appointed lieutenant in the 33rd Battalion, A.I.F.

On 21st November, 1916, Lieutenant Walter Duncan landed in France with his battalion and was frequently in action. At the Battle of Messines Ridge, in June, 1917, he led the assault with great courage and dash, and himself killed three of the enemy. When the new line was consolidated he held his position for eighty hours without relief until severely wounded. By his conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty, his wonderful cheerfulness and optimism during the continuous heavy shelling, he greatly inspired his men and set them a splendid example. For these services he was awarded the Military Cross and was decorated by His Majesty in the following August.

Lieut. Duncan had been recommended for promotion to captain after Messines, and the promotion was gazetted on 1st November, 1917.

On 4th April, 1918, he took part in the defence of Villers Bretonneux, one of the greatest feats of the A.I.F. For his services in this battle Captain Duncan was awarded the D.S.O. The official statement of the conduct which gained the decoration is as follows:—

“For conspicuous gallantry, excellent leadership, and devotion to duty. On April 4th, 1918, in the defence of Villers-Bretonneux, Captain Duncan commanded the company on our left flank. Owing to the troops on the left being pressed back, our flank was in serious jeopardy. Captain Duncan led his company forward with great skill and dash, and engaged the enemy with a heavy and accurate fire, causing him to withdraw. He followed the retirement up and took up an excellent defensive position. Throughout the day his company maintained a very effective fire, inflicting many casualties and greatly hampering the enemy’s consolidation. In the afternoon attack, when our right flank suffered, he rendered immediate help by giving covering fire and sending two platoons there, thus greatly relieving the situation. He later led his company in a counter attack in conjunction with the cavalry and again drove the enemy back, inflicting heavy casualties. Early in the morning of April 5th his company made an advance of 600 yards and materially improved our position. He kept Headquarters constantly supplied with the most useful information. This officer displayed sound judgement and initiative, and by his gallant, fearless, and cheerful bearing greatly enthused his men. The value of his work cannot be overestimated.”

He was decorated by H.M. the King on 8th July, 1918.

Captain Duncan won high praise for his gallant and skilful conduct south-west of Bouchavesnes on 31 st August, 1918. He commanded the left assaulting company against heavy machine-gun fire. Outflanking these guns, they killed 10 of the enemy, rushed the position and captured two machine-guns and 11 prisoners. Later on he led a charge and captured two more machine-guns and 20 prisoners. He continued his advance against the enemy, capturing more prisoners, guns and trench mortars, besides inflicting heavy casualties. As a result of his co-operation with the Londoners, held up at Marrieres Wood, 100 of the enemy surrendered, and the English regiment was able to advance. Captain Duncan’s company, reduced to thirty, continued their advance to the Bapaume-Peronne Road and rushed a position at the Old Quarry, capturing 60 prisoners, five machine-guns, and four trench mortars; he returned under heavy fire and took back 50 English troops to hold the important position his little company had gained. “It was by his magnificent leadership and fighting-spirit that success against seemingly overwhelming odds was attained.” For these services he was awarded a bar to the Distinguished Service Order, and was decorated by the King on 9th November, 1918.

For further conspicuously able conduct Captain Duncan was mentioned in despatches by the Commander-in-Chief, Field-Marshal Haig, on 18th November, 1918, and again on 16th March, 1919.

In December, 1918, Captain Duncan left England for India, and was appointed on probation for twelve months to the 1st Battalion of Queen Victoria’s Own Corps of Guides. In July, 1919, he was appointed Staff-captain of the 66th Infantry Brigade of the Indian Army, and thereupon resigned from the Bank’s service.

Original Publication

  • Bank of New South Wales Roll of Honour, 1921, p 106-108

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Citation details

'Duncan, Walter John (1894–1939)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://peopleaustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/duncan-walter-john-6044/text31195, accessed 17 February 2020.

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