No. 3229 Private Stephen Banks
Stephen Banks was born in Footscray, in 1892 to Thomas Banks and Euphemia Anderson. He had four brothers:
Stephen enlisted into the Army at Melbourne, Victoria on 6 July 1915. He was aged 22 years and 3 months and he was 5 feet and 2 and a half inches tall. Stephen weighed 10 stone and had a chest measurement of 31 and a half to 33 and a half inches. His complexion was listed as sallow, with blue eyes and dark brown hair. All of this was recorded at the time of his enlistment.
A labourer prior to enlistment, he was assigned to the 11th Reinforcements, 5th Infantry Battalion.
Stephen was taken on strength from the 57th Battalion to the 58th Battalion, at Ferry Post on 15 March 1916.
He and his new mates left Australia on 11 October 1915 bound for Egypt. In February 1916, the AIF created the 59th Battalion – half made up with veterans from the 7th Battalion that had suffered greatly on Gallipoli and the other half, fresh recruits from Australia like Private Stephen Banks.
By May 1916, the 59th Battalion was in France. Its first taste of action was during the Somme campaign that began on 1 July 1916. The Australians launched an assault at Fromelles on 19 July. It was a disaster as recorded in the battalion’s war diary: “7.00pm: 59th Battalion attacked enemy positions in four waves, first wave going over the parapet at 6.45pm other three waves following at five minute intervals. Attack did not penetrate enemy trenches being held up by intense rifle and machine gun fire approximately 100 yards from enemy front line.”
At roll call the following day, 4 officers and 90 other ranks answered their name. By 20 July the picture was far clearer – 13 officers had been wounded, five were missing, two had died of wounds. For the ‘other ranks’ 13 were killed, 381 were wounded, 269 were missing presumed dead or captured, and 11 had died of their wounds.
On that list was Private Stephen Banks who had suffered gunshot wounds to his neck and hand during the assault. He was treated in the field before being sent to a Canadian General hospital at Boulogne in northern France on 21 July 1916. From there, to Manchester in England for further treatment and convalescence.He marched with the 15th Battalion on 30 August 1916 and proceeded overseas to join his unit on 1 September 1916. At the end of August, he was sent to a training battalion before rejoining the 59th Battalion on 30 September 1916.
He spent the winter of 1916-1917 rotating in and out of the front line.
He then went to the 15th Australian Machine Gun Battalion from the 59th, reporting for duty – ex detachment, on 23 March 1917.
By March 1917, the Germans had begun to build and occupy their new defensive positions that became known as the Hindenburg Line, and the 59th Battalion was on hand to help slow their consolidation.
By the end of March, Private Banks had been detached to the 15th Australian Machine Gun Company and subsequently with the 5th Australian Machine Gun Battalion.
It would appear that he was never very far away from his mates in the 59th Battalion because in April 1918 he and his unit were close to a village called Villers-Bretonneux. It was taken by the advancing Germans in late April before being recaptured by British, French and Australian forces in early May – but again, at a terrible cost. The allies suffered 15,500 casualties, including over a thousand Australians, and the Germans around 8,000.
Private Stephen Banks was caught in a mustard gas attack on 25 April as the Germans prepared to assault Villers-Bretonneux.
Stephen was admitted to Whipp Cross Hospital in Leytonsland on 2 May 1918 – gassed. He was transferred to the 1st Auxiliary Hospital in Harefield on 22 May 1918 and admitted on 24 May 1918. From May 1918 to August 1918, he was with the Overseas ING Brigade and then joined his unit on 24 August in France.
While some histories will tell you that gas wasn’t a very effective weapon in terms of immediate fatalities, the legacy for its victims was horrendous. Those who survived mustard gas attacks were often badly scarred, suffered from visual impairment including blindness – not to mention the spectre of an early death because scarring of their lungs meant susceptibility to both tuberculosis and bronchial pneumonia. Soldiers on all sides died in their thousands post-war until new drugs were developed in the early 1940s.
These were the hidden victims of the Great War, because their deaths were rarely recorded as being as a consequence of their war service.Stephen Banks stayed in France until January 1919, where he marched out to England on 31 January 1919. He then returned to Australia and disembarked on 22 May 1919.
Stephen lived in Chirnside Street, Footscray from 1915 to 1937 according to Electoral rolls, and then 243 Geelong Road, Footscray from 1942 to 1949. His occupations were listed as Striker, Labourer, and Iron worker, during this period. On 1
October 1921, in the Victoria Police Gazette, he reported that some items were stolen from his Chirnside-street, West Footscray address, namely a new navy-blue sac suit and a Big Ben alarm clock.
His mother Cath, died in Footscray in 1934. Stephen died in 1951, in Caulfield. He was 59 years old.
Medals & Entitlements:
- 1914/15 Star Medal
- British War Medal
- Victory Medal
National Archives of Australia
Gould Genealogy & History