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Allan, Herbert Trangmar (1895–1967)

by A. J. Hill

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

Herbert Allan, by Douglas Watson

Herbert Allan, by Douglas Watson

Australian War Memorial, ART22685

Herbert Trangmar Allan (1895-1967), army officer, was born on 5 January 1895 at Woolwich, Sydney, second son of Percy Allan, civil engineer, and his wife Alice Mary, née Trangmar, both native-born. Educated at St Ignatius' College, Riverview, where he shone as a scholar and an athlete, Herbert enrolled at the University of Sydney in 1914. He was commissioned in the 38th Battalion, Australian Military Forces, on 16 June; transferring to the Australian Imperial Force, in February 1917 he joined the 17th Battalion on the Western Front.  

In the attack on Passchendaele Ridge, Belgium, on 9 October 1917 Allan found himself the sole surviving officer of two companies and successfully controlled them both: for his leadership in the action, he was awarded the Military Cross. 'Blue' Allan (he had fiery, red hair) was promoted captain on 24 November. At the storming of Mont St Quentin, France, in August 1918, he boldly altered the axis of his company's advance when he saw that the battalion's flank would be exposed. He was gassed in October. His A.I.F. appointment terminated in Sydney on 26 May 1919. Allan's brothers Myron and Keith had served in the 20th Battalion; Myron died from wounds in 1916. 'Blue' returned to university and studied law before completing a bachelor of arts degree (1920). Seeking a more adventurous life, he went to the mandated Territory of New Guinea and worked as a goldminer and plantation overseer. On 19 February 1929 he married Gertrude May Hodge (d.1957) in St Mary's Catholic Church, North Sydney, and also at Randwick with Presbyterian forms; they were to remain childless.

While at Wau, New Guinea, in 1934-39, Allan was a leading member of the Returned Sailors' and Soldiers' Imperial League of Australia and president of the New Guinea Mining Association. In March 1939 he visited Canberra to persuade the government to build a road between Wau and Salamaua; he also impressed on W. M. Hughes the strategic and economic importance of the Territory to Australia, and suggested that it be annexed. When World War II broke out in September, Allan hastened to Sydney where he served in the 2nd Garrison Battalion until seconded to the A.I.F. in May 1940. He embarked for the Middle East in October as a company commander in the 2nd/17th Battalion. Promoted major on 7 January 1941, he became the battalion's second-in-command in Libya. After the withdrawal to Tobruk in April, he was made brigade major, 20th Infantry Brigade. His performance during the German and Italian siege of Tobruk led to his being appointed O.B.E. in 1942. At El Alamein, Egypt, he was on headquarters staff, 9th Division.

Back in Australia by February 1943, Allan proved especially useful during training for jungle warfare. In June he was promoted temporary lieutenant colonel and proceeded to Papua as Australian army representative, Staff of Co-ordination, Milne Bay. It was probably a private arrangement that enabled him to accompany the 20th Brigade in the landing at Finschhafen, New Guinea, on 22 September. He quickly made contact with the luluai (headman) of Tareko to arrange for carriers and observers to report on Japanese movements. As the army advanced along the northern coast, base sub-areas were established and Allan successively took charge of several. Promoted temporary colonel, he commanded the Pacific Islands Regiment from October 1945 to February 1946; he was mentioned four times in dispatches for his service in World War II and transferred to the Reserve of Officers on 7 May with the rank of honorary colonel. 'A burly, muscular man who radiated confidence', Allan was 5 ft 11 ins (180.3 cm) tall. He was a courageous and practical leader, with a 'strong personality concealed under a cloak of irresponsibility'; he loved whisky and smoked heavily.

With two partners, after the war Allan operated a transport company at Rabaul, New Britain. As a delegate to the 1947 national congress of the R.S.L., he criticized Australian policy towards the Territory of Papua-New Guinea and again urged its annexation. In 1951 he warned of the possibility of a local, communist, guerilla movement. A devoted couple, 'Blue' and Gertrude lived in Sydney, travelled in Europe and finally settled on a banana-farm at Mullaway, near Woolgoolga, New South Wales. Allan died there on 23 May 1967 and was buried in the Catholic section of Coffs Harbour cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • C. E. W. Bean, The A.I.F. in France, 1917-18 (Syd, 1933, 1942)
  • K. W. Mackenzie, The Story of the Seventeenth Battalion A.I.F. in the Great War, 1914-1918 (Syd, 1946)
  • D. Dexter, The New Guinea Offensives (Canb, 1961)
  • B. Maughan, Tobruk and El Alamein (Canb, 1966)
  • Pacific Islands Monthly, July, Oct 1967
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 14, 22 Mar, 4, 17 Apr 1939, 29, 30 Oct 1947, 14 May 1951
  • Sunday Herald (Sydney), 21 May 1950
  • private information.

Citation details

A. J. Hill, 'Allan, Herbert Trangmar (1895–1967)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/allan-herbert-trangmar-9331/text16381, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 23 November 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

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