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Allen, Arthur Samuel (Tubby) (1894–1959)

by A. J. Sweeting

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

Arthur Samuel Allen, by William Dargie

Arthur Samuel Allen, by William Dargie

Australian War Memorial, ART22346

Arthur Samuel Allen (1894-1959), army officer and accountant, was born on 10 March 1894 at Hurstville, Sydney, fifth child of John Allen, a native-born engine driver, and his English wife Annie, née Hadfield. Educated at Hurstville Superior Public School, Arthur worked as an audit clerk in the New South Wales Government Railways. He served in the cadets and in the 39th Battalion, Australian Military Forces; commissioned in September 1913, he transferred to the 38th Battalion. On 24 June 1915 he was appointed to the Australian Imperial Force and in August embarked for Egypt with reinforcements for the 13th Battalion. In March 1916 he became a platoon commander and was promoted captain in the newly-formed 45th Battalion.  

Arriving in France on 8 June, Allen survived the terrible German artillery barrage at Pozières in August and endured the severe winter of 1916-17 on the Somme. In the battle of Messines, Belgium, from 7 to 11 June 1917, he led repeated bombing attacks on enemy trenches, capturing 120 prisoners and two machine-guns. So intense was the fighting that the battalion lost 16 officers and 552 soldiers; for much of the time it was organized as one company with Allen as its front-line commander. For his deeds, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order. Promoted major in July, he commanded the 45th during the fighting at Dernancourt, France, in April 1918. Next month, as temporary lieutenant colonel, he had charge of the 48th Battalion in the costly attempt to seize Monument Wood, near Villers-Bretonneux. From June to October he attended the senior officers' course at Aldershot, England. On 20 November he was promoted substantive lieutenant colonel and, at the age of 24, given command of the 13th Battalion. A buoyant leader, he was mentioned in dispatches and awarded the French Croix de Guerre for his service on the Western Front.

Although Allen's A.I.F. appointment terminated in Australia on 10 November 1919, he remained active in the Militia. On 7 December 1921 at Rollands Plains, New South Wales, he married Agnes Mona Blair Mackay with Presbyterian forms. Establishing himself as an accountant, he became a partner in the firm of Truman Harrison & Co., Sydney, and a fellow (1932) of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Australia. Allen successively commanded the 13th, 41st, 18th and 36th battalions until 1933 when he was promoted colonel and took charge of the 14th Brigade. On 1 May 1938 he was made brigadier and in October 1939 chosen to command the 16th Brigade, 6th Division, A.I.F. He was blunt, honest, 'choleric yet kindly', and 'completely without affectation or pomposity'. His military lore stemmed from experience rather than study, and 'was based on a wide and sympathetic knowledge of men in battle'. Short, thickset and powerfully built, he was affectionately known as 'Tubby'.

Having sailed in the first Australian-New Zealand convoy to the Middle East, on 13 February 1940 Allen and his staff proceeded to Palestine to establish the nucleus of a divisional headquarters. He forged good relations with British troops, government officials and the local community, and ensured the comfort of future A.I.F. contingents by improving camps, services and amenities; for his efforts, he was appointed C.B.E. in 1941. During the British advance into Libya the 16th Brigade breached the Italian defences at Bardia (3-5 January) and Tobruk (21-22 January). Allen's organization, enthusiasm and attention to detail contributed to the defeat of the enemy in both engagements, and he was to be appointed C.B. later that year.

He left on 18 March 1941 for Greece. There he was confronted by a powerful German army which had the crucial advantage of air superiority. The Anzac Corps fought a series of rearguard actions, enabling each part of the force to withdraw in ordered sequence. At the Piniós Gorge on 17 April, Allen coolly held his ground until the pre-arranged time to fall back; he called it 'a fantastic battle'. He embarked with his troops from the port of Kalámai (Kalamáta) on 27 April and was awarded the Greek Military Cross for his part in the campaign.

On 18 June Allen took command of the 7th Division, then engaged against Vichy-French forces in Syria; his temporary promotion to major general was to be made permanent in August. Following the defeat of the French in July, he spent the next five months preparing the Tripoli fortress for a possible German attack. Mentioned in dispatches, he returned to Australia in March 1942.

Allen arrived in Port Moresby, Papua, on 13 August to take charge of operations against Japanese units advancing over the Owen Stanley Range. His division halted the Japanese at Ioribaiwa and moved on the offensive, but harsh terrain and logistical problems impeded progress. From 11 October Allen became the target of galling messages from General Douglas MacArthur and General Sir Thomas Blamey, criticizing the slowness of the advance. The complaints were based on ignorance of the conditions and were not justified. Though his forces broke through at Eora Creek on 28 October, throwing open the mountain paths to Kokoda, Allen was relieved of his command next day. He later served in appointments of lesser operational importance in Port Moresby and the Northern Territory.

At a subsequent interview with Allen, MacArthur expressed real or feigned surprise that his messages had distressed him, and claimed to have nothing but praise for Allen and his troops, whom he had merely been urging to greater efforts. Allen replied: 'Well, that's not the way to urge Australians'. He was further vindicated in October 1944 when Blamey recommended that he be appointed K.B.E. Allen was transferred to the Reserve of Officers on 30 April 1945. He possessed experience of front-line warfare rare among generals in any army. A knighthood, which would have been automatic in World War I, did not eventuate.

After the war he became senior partner in the firm of A. S. Allen & Co., chartered accountants of Sydney. His recreations were golf and bowls. Survived by his wife and two sons, he died of hypertensive cerebrovascular disease on 25 January 1959 at Concord; following a military funeral, he was cremated. Allen's portrait by (Sir) William Dargie is in the Australian War Memorial, Canberra.

Select Bibliography

  • C. E. W. Bean, The A.I.F. in France, vols 4-6 (Syd, 1933, 1937, 1942)
  • J. E. Lee, The Chronicle of the 45th Battalion, A.I.F. (Syd, 1924)
  • T. A. White, The History of the Thirteenth Battalion, A.I.F. (Syd, 1924)
  • G. Long, To Benghazi (Canb, 1952)
  • G. Long, Greece, Crete and Syria (Canb, 1953)
  • L. Wigmore, The Japanese Thrust (Canb, 1957)
  • D. McCarthy, South-West Pacific Area—First Year (Canb, 1959)
  • D. M. Horner, Crisis of Command (Canb, 1978)
  • Reveille (Sydney), 1 Nov 1939
  • Australian War Memorial records.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

A. J. Sweeting, 'Allen, Arthur Samuel (Tubby) (1894–1959)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/allen-arthur-samuel-tubby-9337/text16391, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 21 June 2018.

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

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