Remembrance Day is a day to remember the heroes and heroines who put their lives at stake to defend what we hold most dear. Although Frederick Banting is often remembered for his discovery of insulin, he is not as frequently acknowledged as a war hero.
Banting served in both the First and Second World Wars. Banting’s attempts to enlist during the First World War were rejected twice due to poor eyesight. However, as the war continued, the military was in desperate need of doctors, leading to Banting’s deployment to England and then to France as an orthopedic surgeon. During the Cambrai Offensive of September 1918, Banting was injured in the right arm by shrapnel. Rather than evacuating as ordered, he remained on the front lines (some reports say for 17 additional hours!) to help other soldiers. He referred to himself as “the luckiest boy in France” because the war was over by the time his arm had healed. He was awarded the Military Cross in February 1919. This is the second highest honour awarded in the British Empire after the Victoria Cross.
Banting insisted on serving in the Second World War just as he had served in the First. He was promoted from Captain to the rank of Major. His knighthood transformed his official title to “Major Sir Frederick Banting, MC.” Because of his research, the Canadian government would not allow him to serve on the front lines. However, they urged him to continue his involvement with the National Research Council of Canada. He worked on such diverse projects as treatments for mustard gas, anti-gravity suits and oxygen masks, and biological and chemical warfare.
In February 1941, Banting was given the opportunity to return to England for three weeks. He was sent to review wartime medical research in England, with the possibility of bringing some of this research back to Canada for protection. At 8:30pm on February 20, 1941, he left with a crew of three on Hudson Bomber Flight T-9449. Approximately half an hour later, the oil cooler failed, leading to the failure of both engines and the radio. Captain Mackey attempted to land the plane on Seven Mile Pond, Newfoundland (eventually renamed Banting Lake). The aircraft clipped the trees and was brought down only metres away from a potentially safe landing place. Two of the crew died upon impact; Banting and Mackey survived. Mackey left to get help. Wouded and delirious, Banting wandered away from the plane and died of exposure.
The bodies of the three passengers were recovered on February 23rd. A funeral ceremony was held in Toronto on March 4, 1941, and Banting was buried in Toronto’s Mount Pleasant Cemetery. Lady Banting was given the Memorial Cross on Major Sir Frederick Banting’s behalf.
More information about Banting’s military service can be found at the museum, where the Military Cross and the Memorial Cross are also displayed. We will be offering free admission and guided tours of the museum this Thursday evening.
Major Sir Frederick Grant Banting MC
Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps
November 14, 1891 – February 21, 1941
Lest we forget
This post was written by Stacey Devlin, graduate research assistant at Banting House NHSC. Stacey Devlin is an M.A. candidate in Public History at Western University.