No. 2 Captain James Ernest Newland
James Ernest Newland was born at Highton, a suburb of Geelong, Victoria on 22 August 1881.
A career soldier, his first taste of military life occurred in 1899 when he enlisted in the Commonwealth Military Forces as just a young man. He was sent to Cape Town, South Africa as part of the 4th Battalion, Australian Commonwealth Horse, arriving just prior to the signing of the peace treaty between the Boers and the British government in May 1902.
His eldest brother, William Andrew Newland, had also served in the Boer War the previous year as part of the 2nd Scottish Horse cavalry regiment that was raised in Melbourne.
On his return to Australia, he stayed in the Army other than a 12 month stint as a policeman in Tasmania. Clearly, the pull of the military was too strong and he rejoined the army serving in artillery regiments in Victoria and Tasmania.
When war was declared in August 1914, James Newland was living in Sheffield, Tasmania with his wife, Mrs Florence May Newland. They had been married just over 12 months when war was declared.
He was 33 years old when he enlisted with the 12th Battalion, 3rd Brigade, AIF in Portville, Tasmania on 17 August 1914.
The 12th Battalion was raised in Tasmania – half of its contingent coming from that state and a quarter each from South Australia and Western Australia.
The Battalion departed Australia in October 1914 and, following a brief stay in Albany in Western Australia, sailed for Egypt, arriving in December.
For the next four months or so, the Battalion underwent intensive training, preparing them for the attack on Gallipoli on 25 April 1915.
The 12th Battalion was the first ashore on that fateful day, landing around 4.30am and acting as a covering force for thousands who were to follow on ANZAC Beach.
Regimental Quartermaster Sergeant James Newland was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant in the field on 2 June. He had already been wounded in the arm during the previous month.
During the same month as his promotion, he was sent to Alexandria in Egypt to take charge of the Battalion’s transport section. Further promotions followed quickly, and by the time the Battalion left for France in March 1916, James Newland was already a Captain and adjutant, responsible for the Battalion’s administration.
By July 1916, the 12th Battalion was in place near Pozieres in the Somme.
The British Expeditionary Force had launched a major attack on 1 July that was to go down in history as the Battle of the Somme. It raged until mid-November and more than a million soldiers on all sides were killed, wounded, taken prisoner or deemed missing in action.
In August 1916, Captain Newland – now leading A Company – was in action at Mouquet Farm (christened Moo Cow Farm by the Diggers).
During the battle, he received a ‘mention in despatches’ (MID) which read: "Mentioned in Sir Douglas Haig’s despatch of 13/11/1916 for distinguished and gallant services and devotion to duty".
The original recommendation was for a Military Cross, but this was 'downgraded' to an MID.
After action in the Somme, the 12th Battalion was sent briefly to the Ypres Salient in Belgium before returning to the Somme in December 1916.
In 1917, the Battalion was involved in attacks on German troops who were retreating to the Hindenburg Line. It was during this action that Captain James Ernest Newland was awarded the Victoria Cross. The citation reads:
“For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in the face of heavy odds on three separate occasions. On the night 7/8 April 1917, Capt. NEWLAND organised the attack by his Coy. on the WINDMILL on the BAPAUME-CAMBRAI Road west of BOURSIES, and having moved forward the platoons he personally and under heavy M.G. and rifle fire led a bombing attack on the main road.
“Owing to the heavy enemy fire two of his Coy. Officers became casualties; he then personally rallied the Coy. and was one of the first into the objective.
“On the night 8/9th April, 1917, the enemy counter attacked his position at the WINDMILL after a heavy barrage of smoke bombs and trench mortars. By his own personal exertions and utter disregard of the heavy enemy fire, he brought up a platoon from the reserve Coy. and with the remnants of his own Coy. charged the enemy and succeeded in regaining the position.
“On the morning of the 15th April, 1917, Capt. NEWLAND was in command of the 2nd Coy. from the left of the Bde (brigade) line N.E. of LAGNICOURT. At dawn the enemy attacked in great force overpowering the Coy. on his left, and entered LAGNICOURT, from the N.W. thus taking Capt. NEWLAND’s Coy. in rear.
“Capt. NEWLAND at once brought back the left of his Coy. and beat off a combined enemy attack from three quarters. These attacks were renewed three or four times, and it was Capt. NEWLAND’s tenacity, and disregard for his own safety that encouraged the men to hold out. On seeing the enemy attacks weakening he personally led twenty men against them and took forty prisoners. The position on the left of LAGNICOURT was at this time most critical.
“The stand made by this Officer was one of the most important factors in enabling reserves to be moved up in time to stem the enemy advance and to deliver a successful attack.”
Captain Newland was wounded in May 1917 – a dangerous gunshot wound that penetrated his armpit. It was during his treatment and convalescence in England that his Victoria Cross was presented by King George V at Buckingham Palace in 21 July 1917.
96 Australians have been awarded the Imperial Victoria Cross, first instituted by Queen Victoria in 1856 for acts of valour from the Boer War to the Vietnam War.
In 1991, the Victoria Cross for Australia was introduced and four Australians have been awarded the medal since then.
Captain James Ernest Newland VC MID returned to Australia in September 1917 and was discharged from the AIF in March 1918.
Once recovered from his wound, Captain Newland VC soon resumed his military career. He was promoted to Major in 1930 and was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal in 1935.
His wife, Florence May Newland, died of tuberculosis in 1924. He married Heather Vivienne Broughton in 1925 and they had one daughter.
During World War II, Major Newland VC was seconded to duty in 1940. At the age of 60 in 1941, he was placed on the retired list with the honorary rank of Lieutenant-Colonel.
He died on 19 March 1949 at Caulfield, a suburb of Melbourne, and was buried with full military honours at Brighton Cemetery.
His daughter presented the Australian War Memorial with Major Newland’s medals where they remain on permanent display.
For a photograph of James Ernest Newland VC in his uniform click here.
Medals and Entitlements:
- 1914/15 Star
- British War Medal
- Victory Medal
In the late 1960s, the Anzac medallion and lapel badge that was made available to surviving Gallipoli veterans or their descendants was given to the family.
In addition to James Ernest Newland and William Andrew Newland, two other brothers also served in WWI. 2nd Lieutenant Alfred Lindsay Newland, who had joined the 22nd Infantry Battalion and then transferred to the 6th Machine Gun Company, was killed in the Somme by enemy shellfire in November 1916. He had received his officer’s commission in the field just the previous month. Lieutenant Herbert Leslie Newland rose from the ranks serving with various field artillery units of the AIF. He, like his brothers William and James, survived the war.
Service Record: NAA: B2455, NEWLAND James Ernest
https://www.awm.gov.au/units/unit_11199.asp - 12 Battalion history