Joe Maxwell VC MC DCM
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Joseph Maxwell VC MC DCM (1896 - 1967)

Joseph (Joe) Maxwell VC MC DCM
Born in Forest Lodge, New South Wales (Australia)map
Husband of — married 14 Feb 1921 (to 1926) in Bellevue Hill, New South Wales, Australiamap
Husband of — married 6 Mar 1956 in Sydney, New South Wales, Australiamap
Father of
Died in Matraville, New South Wales, Australiamap
Profile last modified | Created 7 May 2019
This page has been accessed 1,348 times.



Notables Project
Joe Maxwell VC MC DCM is Notable.

Joseph "Joe" Maxwell VC MC & Bar DCM was born on 10th February 1896 in the family's tiny workers' cottage at 268 (now numbered 234) Hereford Street, Forest Lodge, New South Wales (Australia). He was the youngest of five surviving children, with an older brother and three older sisters, of John Maxwell and Elizabeth Stokes. [1][2] Soon after Joe's birth the family moved to the New South Wales' Hunter Valley, where John found work in the East Greta coalfields. Joe was educated at Gillieston Public School and then commenced a boilermaking apprenticeship at J & A Brown’s Hexham engineering workshop. In 1913, he enlisted in the Citizens' Military Force. [3][4]

First World War

Joe Maxwell VC MC DCM is an Anzac who served in World War One.

On 6th February 1915, Joe enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force for service overseas during the First World War. [5][6] The 'pocket dynamo', 163cm (5'4.5") tall and weighing 57kgs (126lbs), was posted to B Company, 18th Australian Infantry Battalion, 5th Brigade, whereupon he was promptly promoted to Lance Corporal.[7] The battalion embarked for the Middle East aboard HMAT A40 Ceramic on 25th June 1915. [8]

LT Joe Maxwell VC DCM MC & Bar
Joe saw action at Gallipoli from 22nd August to 2nd December 1915. The battalion had not been ashore a day when it was committed to the last operation of the August Offensive: 'the attack on Hill 60' which lasted until 29th August and cost it fifty per cent casualties. [9]
Roll of Honor
Joe Maxwell VC MC DCM was wounded at France during The Great War.

Arriving in Marseilles, France, Joe was admitted to the 7th Australian Field Ambulance (transferred to a Canadian general hospital and a convalescent depot) following wounds sustained during battle. He also spent short amounts of time admitted to 5th Field Ambulance (transferred to a hospital ship, auxiliary hospital and convalescent depot) and 6th Field Ambulance, as well as to the Australian Dermatological Hospital, due to illness. [9]

On the Western Front he took part in the Battles of Pozières and the Somme, and received a promotion to Sergeant in October 1916. In 1917 the 18th participated in the follow-up of German forces during their retreat to the Hindenburg Line, and was involved in some particularly heavy fighting around Warlencourt in late February. The battalion took part in three major battles before the year was out: the second Bullecourt (3-4th May) in France; and Menin Road (20-22nd September) and Poelcappelle (9-10th October) in Belgium. Joe was promoted to Company Sergeant Major on 7th August 1917. He took part in the Battle of the Hindenberg Line. He was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant on 29th September 1917 and promoted to Lieutenant on 1st January 1918. In 1918, the 18th participated in the battles that pushed the German Army ever closer to defeat: Amiens on 8th August, the legendary attack on Mont St Quentin on 31st August, and the forcing of the Beaurevoir Line around Montbrehain on 3rd October. [9]

Exceptional gallantry

Joe Maxwell is recognised as the second-most decorated soldier of the First World War, with four separate instances of exceptional gallantry and inspirational leadership that led to the awarding of the: [4]

  • Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM), 20th September 1917, Menin Road; recommended on 25th September 1917: "'... This warrant officer took command of a platoon, and led it forward with great dash. On one of our strong points being heavily barraged, he went forward on his own initiative, and moved the men forward clear of the barrage, during which operations only one casualty was sustained. The action of this warrant officer undoubtedly saved many lives. Throughout the operations he carried out his duties with great skill and was a source of great inspiration by his splendid example." [10][11]
  • Military Cross (MC): "... While in command of a patrol he observed a party of about fifty of the enemy entering a disused trench. He attacked them with bombs and rifle fire, and then assaulted the position and captured a prisoner. He showed splendid initiative and determination." [12]
  • Bar to Military Cross: "... in the advance at Rainecourt, Amiens on 9th August 1918. Within thirty minutes of zero he was the only officer left with his company, but kept his men well in hand, notwithstanding machine gun fire, besides fire from an anti-tank gun and a battery of 77mm. He was close to a tank which was struck by a shell and set on fire, and, though shaken by the explosion, he rushed to the doors and opened them in time for the crew to escape. He showed a fine example of courage and presence of mind." [13][14]
    Joe Maxwell VC MC DCM was awarded the Victoria Cross.
  • Victoria Cross (VC): "... in the attack on the Beaurevoir-Fonsomme line, near Estrees, north of St Quentin, on the 3rd October 1918. His company commander was severely wounded early in the advance and Lieutenant Maxwell at once took charge. The enemy wire when reached under intense fire was found to be exceptionally strong, and closely supported by machine guns, whereupon Lieutenant Maxwell pushed forward single handed through the wire and captured the most dangerous gun, killing three and capturing four enemy. He thus enabled his company to penetrate the wire and reach the objective. Later, he again dashed forward and silenced, single handed, a gun which was holding up a flank company. Subsequently, when with two men only he attempted to capture a strong party of the enemy, he handled a most involved situation very skilfully, and it was due to his resource that he and his comrades escaped. Throughout the day Lieutenant Maxwell set a high example of personal bravery, coupled with excellent judgment and quick decision." [15][16] He was invested on 8th April 1919 by King George V at Buckingham Palace. [17][18]

Joe commenced his return to Australia aboard HT China on 1st May 1919, disembarking at Port Melbourne on 8th June 1919. Back in Sydney, he was discharged from the AIF and the army on 20th August 1919. [9] He was awarded the 1914-1915 Star, British War Medal and Victory Medal for his service in the war.

Regaining 'normality'

"... had his own demons, which haunted him despite his jovial front to the world."
- Mike Scanlon
Hell's Bells and Mademoiselles

Following demobilisation, Joe struggled to 'fit back in' to civilian society. He obtained work as a gardener, moving between Moree, the Maitland district and Canberra. [3] Mike Scanlon, history journalist of the Newcastle Herald, wrote that Joe Maxwell: "... had his own demons, which haunted him despite his jovial front to the world." [19]

Joe married 19-year-old tailoress, Mabel Maxwell, (unrelated) in a Roman Catholic ceremony at Bellevue Hill, Sydney on 14th February 1921. [20] The marriage produced a daughter, Jean, before being dissolved in 1926 upon Mabel's instigation. [3]

On 11th November 1929, Maxwell attended the New South Wales Dinner for recipients of the Victoria Cross in Sydney. That year, the federal government slashed army pensions, Joe's pension being cut to 25% of its former amount. Within months, Joe had the bitter and humiliating experience of being incarcerated in Long Bay Jail for being unable to pay maintenance arrears due to his young daughter, Jean, and ex-wife, Mabel. [3]

In 1932 Joe published Hell's Bells and Mademoiselles, a book written in collaboration with Hugh Buggy about his experiences in the war. Buoyed by the book's success, he wrote a further manuscript, entitled From the Hindenburg Line to the Breadline. Sadly, it was never published and the manuscript has since been lost. [4]

Still thinking of his men's welfare, in 1933 Joe acted as a defence witness in the trial of Alfred Jamieson, who was accused of housebreaking. Joe had been Jamieson's former platoon commander in France and testified that Jamieson had been of good character but had been strongly affected by the war. [3]

Joe was awarded the King George VI Coronation Medal in 1937. [4]

Second World War

Joe Maxwell VC MC DCM is a Military Veteran.
Served in the Second Australian Imperial Force 1940-1940

Upon the declaration of (the Second World) war, Joe made several attempts to enlist in the Second Australian Imperial Force; each unsuccessful due either to his age or deteriorating health. He circumvented the bureaucracy by travelling north to Warwick, Queensland, where he enlisted under the alias of Joseph Wells on 27th June 1940. It was not long, however, before his identity was discovered and he was transferred into a training position with 7th Cavalry Division, a militia division. Dissatisfied with the level of service he was to be permitted to give, he was released from the army on 9th September 1940. [21][22]

Later life

In 1953, Joe joined the contingent of Victoria Cross recipients invited to the coronation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. He was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Medal that year. [3]

Having just turned sixty years of age, Joe married widow, Annie Martin, née Burton, on 6th March 1956 at Sydney. [23]

He then attended the Victoria Cross centenary celebrations in London in mid-1956, following which he joined other veterans to re-visit the battlefields in France. In 1964, together with Annie, Joe attended the opening of the VC Corner in the Australian War Memorial, Canberra (AWM). He used the forums created by being a VC-holder to speak on veteran welfare. He determined that his Victoria Cross should not wind up in the collection, believing that the award would be devalued by "'lumping' them together. [3]

Final parade

Joe Maxwell passed away, aged 71 years, after collapsing on 6th July 1967 on a street near his home at Matraville, New South Wales. Following a funeral service with full military honours in St Mathias' Anglican Church, Paddington, his remains were cremated and ashes spread as per his wishes in the Garden of Remembrance at Eastern Suburbs Memorial Park, Matraville. [24]

Before Annie passed away two years later she presented her husband's medals to the Army Museum of New South Wales at Victoria Barracks, Paddington. In 2003, however, Joe's medals were presented to the Australian War Memorial on a permanent loan basis (the AWM currently holds 66 of Australia's 100 VCs). [25]

Joseph Maxwell medal set
  • Victoria Cross
  • Military Cross with Bar
  • Distinguished Conduct Medal
  • 1914-1915 Star
  • British War Medal
  • Victory Medal
  • King George VI Coronation Medal
  • Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Medal
Thank you for your service, Joe Maxwell VC MC & Bar DCM


  1. New South Wales Birth Index #1032/1896
  2. The Glebe Society: Who lived in your street? Joseph Maxwell; accessed 8 May 2019
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 Howard, E J H. Maxwell, Joseph (1896–1967), Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, published first in hardcopy 1986; accessed online 7 May 2019
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Wikipedia profile: Joseph Maxwell; accessed 7 May 2019
  5. Australian War Memorial nominal roll: 607 Joseph Maxwell; accessed 8 May 2019; care should be taken not to confuse Joe with another private in the 18th of the same name, serial no. 6936
  6. The AIF Project: 607 Private Joseph Maxwell; accessed 7 May 2019
  7. Australian War Memorial unit record: 18th Australian Infantry Battalion; accessed 7 May 2019
  8. Australian War Memorial embarkation roll: Joseph Maxwell; accessed 8 May 2019
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 Australian War Memorial biography and timeline: Joseph Maxwell; accessed 8 May 2019
  10. Australian War Memorial Honours and Awards: Distinguished Conduct Medal; accessed 8 May 2019
  11. Commonwealth Gazette No. 95, 27 June 1918 on page 1397 at position 6
  12. Australian War Memorial Honours and Awards: Military Cross; accessed 8 May 2019
  13. Australian War Memorial Honours and Awards: Military Cross; accessed 8 May 2019
  14. Commonwealth Gazette No. 67, 3 Jun 1919
  15. Australian War Memorial Honours and Awards: Victoria Cross; accessed 8 May 2019
  16. Commonwealth Gazette No. 61, 23 May 1919
  17. Staunton, Anthony. Victoria Cross: Australia's Finest and the Battles they Fought. Hardie Grant Books, Prahran, Victoria, Australia, 2005. ISBN 1-74066-288-1
  18. Blanch, Craig and Pegram, Aaron. For Valour: Australians awarded the Victoria Cross. New South Publishing, Sydney NSW, 2018. ISBN 978 17422 35424
  19. Newcastle Herald 21 Apr 2017: 'Hunter's almost forgotten hero'
  20. New South Wales Marriage Index #2366/1921; registered at Woollahra
  21. Australian War Memorial nominal roll: QX11054 Private Joseph Wells / Joseph Maxwell; accessed 7 May 2019
  22. The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957) Sat 3 Aug 1940 Page 3 JOE MAXWELL, V.C., DEVIL-MAY-CARE DIGGER HERO; accessed 8 May 2019
  23. New South Wales Marriage Index #1141/1956
  24. New South Wales Death Index #3390/1967
  25. Victoria; accessed 7 May 2019

Further reading

  • Blanch, Craig and Pegram, Aaron. For Valour: Australians awarded the Victoria Cross. New South Publishing, Sydney NSW, 2018. ISBN 978 17422 35424.
  • Macklin, Robert. Bravest: How Some of Australia's Greatest War Heroes Won Their Medals. Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest, New South Wales, Australia, 2008. ISBN 978-1-74114-882-4.
  • Ramsland, John. Venturing Into No Man's Land: The Charmed Life of Joseph Maxwell VC, World War I Hero. Brolga Publishing Pty Ltd, Melbourne, Australia, 2012. ISBN 9781-9220-36-636.
  • Staunton, Anthony. Victoria Cross: Australia's Finest and the Battles they Fought. Hardie Grant Books, Prahran, Victoria, Australia, 2005. ISBN 1-74066-288-1.

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