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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Bailey, Eric George (1906–1945)

by Christa Ludlow

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

Eric George Bailey (1906-1945), policeman, was born on 14 October 1906 at Tenterfield, New South Wales, ninth child of Arthur Peter Bailey, compositor, and his wife Jane, née Bush, both native-born. Eric worked as a postal assistant before joining the New South Wales Police Force on 16 March 1927. After training, he was transferred to Sydney's No.4 Division on 14 June, and sent to The Rock in 1928; he then served at Gundagai, Narrandera and other rural stations. Bailey was confirmed an ordinary constable on 16 March 1928. He married Florence May O'Connor at Mount Carmel Catholic Church, Waterloo, on 24 November that year.

Promoted constable 1st class on 23 April 1938, Bailey was next stationed at Moruya on the south coast. In 1940 he arrested a criminal at Batemans Bay and was commended for bravery, cool-headedness and devotion to duty. Learning that a fishing trawler had been attacked by a Japanese submarine off Moruya on 3 August 1942, he and Sergeant Horace Miller set out at night in a pleasure launch in heavy seas to assist with the rescue of the survivors. Bailey was highly commended and awarded six months seniority for conspicuous bravery; he also received a certificate of merit from the Royal Shipwreck Relief and Humane Society of New South Wales.

On 4 January 1945 Bailey was transferred to Blayney, south-west of Bathurst. On a hot summer evening eight days later, while on duty in Adelaide Street, he was informed that a drinker at the Exchange Hotel was displaying a revolver. When Bailey questioned the offender, Cyril Norman, and declared that he would search his room, Norman drew a revolver and shot him. In the ensuing struggle two more shots were fired, but Bailey managed to handcuff Norman and restrain him until Constable Grady arrived. Bailey told Grady: 'He shot me through the back. Don't let him get away . . . I had a go. I didn't squib it'. Fatally wounded by the first shot, Bailey died hours later on 12 January 1945 in Orange Base Hospital, his wife at his side.

Norman was charged with the murder and that of Maurice Hannigan, a Sydney shopkeeper from whom he had stolen guns and ammunition. Although he was convicted, the death sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment.

Bailey was posthumously awarded the George Cross, instituted in 1940 by King George VI and intended primarily for civilians, which recognized 'acts of the greatest heroism or of the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme danger'. The first Australian policeman to be so honoured, he was also posthumously promoted sergeant 3rd class and awarded the George Lewis trophy in 1945 for the most courageous act by a policeman. Bailey was accorded an official police funeral in Sydney and was buried in the Anglican section of Rookwood cemetery. His daughter and son John, who was to join the New South Wales police at the age of 16, also survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • I. Bisset, The George Cross (Lond, 1961)
  • L. Wigmore (ed), They Dared Mightily (Canb, 1963)
  • Police News (Sydney), Feb 1945, p 7, Sept 1945, p 9, Oct 1947, p 44
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 14, 20 Jan, 8, 22 Feb, 5 Aug 1945, 30 Oct 1946, 11 Sept 1947
  • Sun (Sydney), 17 Jan 1979
  • service records of E. G. Bailey (police registry, New South Wales Police Dept, Sydney).

Citation details

Christa Ludlow, 'Bailey, Eric George (1906–1945)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 4 August 2020.

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

View the front pages for Volume 13

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