Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Monday, January 30, 2023

The Military Service in Two World Wars of Insulin's Co-Discoverer, Major Frederick Banting

Banting in World War I

By Stacey Devlin, Banting House

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.

Canadian with Dead German Gunner at Canal du Nord

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. Banting played his greatest WWII role in helping organize Canada's effort in researching the medical aspects of military aviation.

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 8:30 p.m. on 20 February 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 meters away from a potentially safe landing place. Two of the crew died upon impact; Banting and Mackey survived. Mackey left to get help. Wounded and delirious, Banting wandered away from the plane and died of exposure.

Banting in World War II

The bodies of the three passengers were recovered on 23 February. A funeral ceremony was held in Toronto on 4 March 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.

Source: Banting House — Birthplace of Insulin


  1. Article needs more about his discovery of insulin. I am diabetic and dependent on insulin daily. I still fail to understand after over 100 years that insulin is still not as cheap as aspirin.

  2. Minor point: The MC (Military Cross), is not the second-highest honour in the British Empire after the Victoria Cross. The Distinguished Service Order (DSO) comes between them. These are the awards for Officers: the equivalents for Other Ranks are Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) and Miltiary Medal (MM), though since the 1990s all ranks have been awarded the DSO and MC. To complicate matters further, these are the Army awards; the Navy and RAF have equivalents. To complicate matters still further (the British award system is VERY compicated!) these are just the military awards; there are many civilian awards which come between the VC and DSO, i.e if you have them that is the order in which they follow your name.

  3. The photo captioned "Dead Canadian Lewis Gunner" is actually a dead German MG08/15 gunner. The photo location is, however, correct. This photo was, taken as Canadian troops advanced on Cambrai - the battle in which Banting served and was wounded.