For his great gallantry in rallying his men under enemy machine gun and shell fire and the dash and courage which had inspired the men under his command, Sergeant Roland Denny was awarded the Military Medal and Bar.
Roland’s outstanding feats of bravery in October 1917 and July 1918 place him among the most decorated soldiers of the Canungra district to serve in the Great War.
He was one of many men whose names are listed on Canungra’s war memorial who shared in the victory at Broodseinde Ridge on October 4, 1917. The third operation in the Ypres offensive, which was also known as the Battle of Passchendaele for the ruined Belgian village which was its final objective, the British attack at Broodseinde Ridge involved 12 divisions, including 16 Australian infantry battalions.
Among those was the 25th Battalion in which Roland Denny had enlisted on March 3, 1916.
An engineer, he was 27 years old and embarked for overseas service as part of the 14th reinforcements of the 25th Battalion on the Itonus, which sailed from Brisbane on August 8, 1916.
The ship docked at Plymouth on October 18 and for the next two months Roland trained at Rollestone, where he forfeited six days pay for being absent without leave from December 4 to 6.
Roland and his comrades left for France on the SS Victoria from Folkestone on December 13, arriving to one of the worst winters the country had experienced in decades.
Roland’s first major action of the war was at the Second Battle of Bullecourt, in northern France, where the 25th Battalion played a supporting role in May 1917.
However, it was September 20, as part of the first wave in the Battle of Menin Road, in Belgium, that Roland and his comrades faced their next biggest challenge.
Roland, promoted to Lance Corporal in April and then temporary Corporal in May, was appointed Lance Sergeant on September 24, after Lance Sergeant Rupert Hill was evacuated to England suffering trench fever.
The victory at Menin Road was followed by the capture of Broodseinde Ridge, near Zonnebeke, in Belgium. There, on October 4, according to his recommendation for the Military Medal, Roland:
“during an attack on an enemy position…showed great gallantry in rallying his men and mopping up enemy posts under heavy enemy shell fire. Again on 9/10/17 at the same place while in charge of a party carrying ammunition to the front while under heavy shell and machine gun fire, he showed great courage and by personal example and exertion, rallied his men and brought the ammunition safely to the front line.”
Three weeks later, Roland was wounded in action during a poison gas attack on October 29 and was evacuated to England.
He was admitted to hospital in Liverpool on November 4 but had recovered sufficiently to be released on furlough in November.
Due to report to Sutton Veny on December 14, Roland finally returned from furlough on December 18 and was severely reprimanded by Lieutenant Colonel Knox for being absent without leave, forfeiting five days’ pay.
He was absent without leave again from midnight of February 25, 1918 until he was seen by military police at 5.30am, and was this time admonished by Captain Chumleigh.
It was March, 1918, before Roland finally returned to France and the front, via Southampton.
He rejoined his battalion in the field on March 9 as the 25th was beginning an exhausting year of fierce fighting.
In April the battalion was part of the massive allied effort to turn back the German Spring Offensive. It went on to fight at Morlancourt, where Roland was promoted to Sergeant after Sergeant George Barkley, also a Military Medal recipient, was killed in action on June 10.
Next month the 25th fought in the Battle of Hamel – considered a textbook success and a turning point of the war – achieving victory in only 93 minutes on July 4.
It was during this action, while in charge of a platoon “which he led with great dash and courage” that Roland was recommended for a Bar to his Military Medal.
Signed by 2nd Australian Division Commander, Major General Charles Rosenthal and Australian Corps Commander General John Monash, the recommendation tells of Roland’s “conspicuous gallantry and leadership”.
“During the operation of 4th July N.E. of Villers-Bretonneux, he had charge of a platoon which he led with great dash and courage. Later his platoon was withdrawn to support, when it was noticed that the enemy had regained a footing in a strong post and were forcing the Company on the right to withdraw. He was ordered to take his platoon and make this strong point good. This he did with great initiative, in capturing the position again and establishing a block in the trench,” it reads.
“Later the enemy made a second bombing attack on this Post, but owing to Sergeant Denny’s prompt action and the splendid guidance of his men, the enemy was unable to make any progress. Throughout he showed conspicuous gallantry and master leadership which was most inspiring to the men in his command.”
Two weeks later, on July 17, Roland was wounded in action for the second time, suffering multiple injuries including a severe shrapnel wound to the head and scalp, concussion, a badly broken jaw and a bruised right arm.
After being treated in France, he was invalided to England and admitted to the King George Hospital in London on August 4.
Roland was discharged from hospital on September 30 and granted leave until October 30 when he had to report back to the hospital. He continued to receive treatment for his wounds until March 1919.
On June 21, 1919, Roland embarked for Australia with his wife, Louisa, nee Campion, whom he married in England in early 1918.
They arrived in Sydney on August 16, 1919, on the Konigin Luise, one of the German ships ceded to Britain as war reparations, and travelled by train to Brisbane, where Roland was discharged from the Army on October 2.
Louisa and Roland had three children, Betty, Frederick and Joan.
Roland lived until a few months before his 86th birthday, passing away on June 7, 1973, at the Concord repatriation hospital in Sydney.
Roland’s half brother, Keighley Denny, who served as a Light Horseman in the Middle East, is also commemorated on Canungra’s war memorial.