On 3 September 1915, near Maktau, Kenya, during a mounted infantry engagement, the enemy were so close that it was impossible to get the more severely wounded away. Lieutenant Dartnell, who was himself being carried away wounded in the leg, seeing the situation, and knowing that the enemy's black troops murdered the wounded, insisted on being left behind, in the hope of being able to save the lives of other wounded men. He gave his own life in a gallant attempt to save others.
He was born William Thomas Dartnell on 6th April 1885 in Collingwood, Melbourne, Australia. His father was English and his mother Australian. He became an actor after leaving school but joined up to serve in the Boer War. In 1907 he married Elizabeth Smyth and they lived in Fitzroy. At the age of 27 he was living in South Africa, but when war broke out he sailed to England to join the army. On 12th Feb 1915 he enlisted in the 25th Frontiersmen Battalion under the name of Wilbur Taylor Dartnell and went with them to East Africa. In June, Dartnell retrieved the Imperial Ensign from the local German HQ at Bukoda.
He and 8 other European troops were buried at Maktau but after the war they were re-buried in the Commonwealth War Grave Cemetery at Voi, 100 miles inland from the port of Mombasa on the East African coast. His headstone with the VC emblem lies to the right of the entrance to the Cemetery. His Victoria Cross is displayed at the Australian War Memorial. There is also a plaque in the foyer of Covent Garden Theatre in London.
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