Dr Fred Banting the War Hero

As members of the diabetes community we are all aware of the role Sir Fred Banting played in treating Type One Diabetes, his idea to isolate animal insulin has literally saved the lives of millions of people. However, he is not as famously acknowledged for the roles he played in both World Wars and as today is  Remembrance Sunday, we also salute Fred Banting and remember the selfless acts of bravery he showed as a war hero.

Banting tried to sign up to the Canadian Army in the First World War, but he was rejected twice due to his poor eyesight. As the war progressed, the military were in dire need of Doctors, the University of Toronto fast tracked the class of 1917 through their medical training to enable them to enlist. Banting joined the Canadian Medical Corps the day after completing his studies and  was sent to Europe to work as an orthopaedic surgeon in the military, treating wounded soldiers.

Banting in his WW1 Uniform

During the Battle of Cambrai in September, 1918, Banting himself was seriously injured in the right arm by shrapnel.he was ordered to evacuate the area but being Fred Banting, he refused to give up as the injured soldiers needed him. Dr Banting remained on the front line treating the injured for 17 hours before he was forced to stop due to the extent of his own injuries. Banting was seriously injured and was sent to Buxton, England, where he spent several months recovering. Once he was declared fit enough to return to military service, the war had ended. Dr Banting was awarded the Military Cross in February 1919, the second highest honour awarded in the British Empire after the Victoria Cross.

Despite his experiences in WW1, the fact he had discovered insulin in the 1920’s and his age at the time World War Two broke out, Banting again insisted he returned to the military to offer his services to the injured. Banting received his knighthood in 1934 for his work isolating insulin, so in WW2 he was officially “Major Sir FrederickBanting, MC” and because of his research work with diabetes, he wasn’t allowed to work on the frontline. Instead, Banting undertook a role working with the government on the design of oxygen masks and biological & chemical warfare.

In February, 1941, Banting was offered the chance to go to England and advise the Government on chemical warfare. Banting and two colleagues left Canada on a bomber, which unfortunately had a failed oil cooler which caused double engine failure. The bomber came down over Newfoundland, the crew died on impact but Banting survived along with the Captain. Captain walked to try find help, but Banting was delirious and wondered away from the place. Banting’s body was found three days after the accident, he had died of exposure to the cold. Banting and his colleagues were burried in Toronto’s Mount Pleasant Cemetery, his wife was given the Memorial Cross on Major Sir Frederick Banting’s behalf.

The last known photo of Banting, in his WW2 uniform and shortly before his death

Sir Frederick Banting 14/11/1891 – 20/02/1941

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