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DENNIS, John Vernon (1891-1970)

DENNIS, John Vernon (1891-1970)

John Vernon Dennis, the son of Richard Vinicombe Dennis and Ada Caroline nee Lawrence, was born at Uondo, Warncoort on the 26 November 1891. He was enrolled at Geelong College in 1905. In 1906, he gained 1st prize in Scripture in the Middle 4th Form. The Geelong College enrolment register records his birth date as 4 October 1891 though elsewhere including his WWII records list the above date of 26 November.

After leaving College, he took a two year course at Dookie Agricultural College, graduating with a Diploma of Agriculture. He followed pastoral pursuits at Uondo, then went into partnership with Cyril James Dennis at Nambrok, near Rosedale.

On 29 March 1915, during World War I, he enlisted (No 94) as an Able Seaman Driver with the Royal Australian Naval Bridging Train Unit, embarking on HMAT A39 Port Macquarie on 4 June.
Ron Austin explained the arrival of the Bridging Train on Gallipoli:

'This small naval unit was not part of the AIF, but was formed in Melbourne from reservists of the Royal Australian Naval Brigade serving at the Port Melbourne training depot. A few members had served with the Expeditionary Force which went to German New Guinea in August 1914, but most sailors had only served in shore postings. Originally formed with a view to providing logistic support such as the building of bridges over the rivers and canals of France and Belgium, the impending British landings at Suvla led to the Bridging Train being diverted to Gallipoli for pier building.'

Dennis had proceeded to Suvla Bay by way of India, owing to desertion of stokers from the transport at Bombay he was detailed for stokers’ duty until the ship reached Suez.

John F Williams in German Anzacs: First World War went further to describe the naval train’s work:
'The Naval Train set off for England on 3 June 1915 but was diverted to the Dardanelles in support of the planned landing at Suvla Bay. ‘Consequently, control of the train passed from the Admiralty to the British IX Army Corps. It was the only Australian unit at the (Suvla Bay) beach-head.’

The whole Suvla Bay campaign could almost serve as a prime example of military incompetence. The men of the naval train, according to Rost, were thrown in at the deep end and expected to manage as best they could. ‘Naval ratings who had just mastered the techniques of bridge building and horse management were flung into pontoon construction, in which they had received no training. They learned it the hard way, exposed to Turkish shrapnel from the heights above Suvla Bay while they laboured to build pontoon piers stretching from the beach into water deep enough to float lighters from which supplies could be unloaded.’

Dennis was at the Suvla Bay Landing, and was attached to the last detachment left to fire stores on evacuation from Suvla Bay.

After the evacuation he was one of the 189 men involved in the mutiny at Mudros of Royal Australian Naval Bridging Train Unit personnel. This was solely a pay-related matter, as the men had not been paid for almost a month after the Evacuation, and their allotments were also ceased, after their transfer from the RAN Bridging Train to the AIF, when no-one wanted to own them. They refused to fall in on 13 January 1916, and were placed under arrest, eventually Admiral Wemyss, RN, decided to ‘wash out’ the charge of mutiny after some ten days, and the blame for the trouble was placed fairly and squarely at the feet of their commanding officer, ‘who had not investigated the problem and had allowed the situation to reach a point where the men saw no choice but to mutiny’.

Dennis then served with the unit in the Suez Canal Zone, before his transfer on 1 April 1916 to 12th Brigade, Field Artillery of 4th Division, with the rank of Bombardier. He then served on the Western Front, where he was promoted Lieutenant. Prior to demobilisation he was engaged in listing claims by Belgian people for war damage. He returned to Australia on 12 July 1919.

John Dennis died on 25 March 1970.

His father, Richard Vinicombe Dennis, attended Scotch College, Melbourne and two brothers, Alexander William Dennis (1887-1969), and Richard Lawrence Dennis (1888-1972) were educated at Geelong College.

Sources: 'Geelong Collegians at the Great War' compiled by J. Affleck. pp.169-70 (citing Alexander Henderson, 'Early Pioneer Families of Victoria and Riverina' (1936); Thomas Frame and Greg Swinden, 'First In, Last Out: The Navy at Gallipoli'; John F Williams, 'German Anzacs: First World War'; Ronald J Austin: 'Gallipoli: An Australian Encyclopaedia of the 1915 Dardanelles Campaign'; Allan Rost, 'A German in the A.I.F.' (Queensland Family Historian, Vol 21, no 2, May 2000); Pegasus; National Archives).
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