Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Clews, Hugh Powell Gough (1890–1980)

by John Atchison

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

Hugh Powell Gough Clews (1890-1980), surveyor and army officer, was born on Christmas Day 1890 at Rotherham, Yorkshire, England, son of William Henry Clews, restaurateur, and his wife Helen Powell, née Sharp. After a basic education, Hugh completed a two-year apprenticeship as a surveyor. At 5 ft 6¼ ins (168 cm), he was considered too short for the Royal Engineers, so he enlisted in the Sherwood Foresters in July 1909. He left the British Army in 1911 and migrated to Western Australia.

On 1 August 1912 Clews joined the Permanent Military Forces as a sergeant in the survey section of the Royal Australian Engineers. He was employed as a mapmaker in South Australia and—with the new (Royal) Australian Survey Corps—in Victoria and Western Australia. In December 1917 he transferred to the Australian Imperial Force. Before embarking for England, on 10 January 1918 he married Alice May Reeves with Anglican rites at Holy Trinity Church, Balaclava, Melbourne. Clews served in France from June 1918 to April 1919. Back home, he reverted to the P.M.F. in July and next year was posted to New South Wales where he carried out topographical surveys and established survey control for mapping.

Commissioned lieutenant and made officer commanding No 3 Survey Section in November 1933, he took command of No.2 Field Survey Company in October 1940 and was promoted major next month. From successive headquarters at Strathfield and Kyogle, and Childers and Ingham in Queensland, he supervised coastal triangulation, geodetic control and topographic mapping. 'Iron Man' Clews endeared himself to his subordinates by his feats of endurance, and by his humanity and charm. In June 1944 he reluctantly gave up field-work for staff duties in Sydney. Placed on the Retired List on 29 July 1949 as an honorary lieutenant colonel, he established a home in the bush at Bell.

In early 1950 Clews entered into an initial five-year contract as a senior surveyor with the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority. Wiry and white haired, he wore a battered hat and loved being the first into new territory. His reconnaissance surveys, carried out on foot through harsh terrain, preceded the construction of roads and tunnels, and anticipated the work of hydrologists, other surveyors and blasting teams as the vast water-diversion project took shape. 'The Major's' courage and leadership made him a legend among fellow workers, many of whom were European refugees. He retired in February 1958 to a forty-acre (16 ha) lease at Indi, near Khancoban, where he built a pisé house. Eccentric but by no means a recluse, he enjoyed the Illustrated London News, the works of Rudyard Kipling, the music of Sibelius, gardening, a pipe and a drink of rum. He wrote Strzelecki's Ascent of Mount Kosciusko (Melbourne, 1970).

Until the 1970s 'Clewsie' continued to march on Anzac Day in Sydney and was a regular visitor to the army's School of Survey at Bonegilla, Victoria. Increasingly frail, he moved to Khancoban, then to Frankston, Melbourne. Survived by his son and two daughters, he died there on 22 August 1980 and was cremated. A granite cairn at Indi commemorates him.

Select Bibliography

  • L. Fitzgerald, Lebanon to Labuan (Melb, 1980)
  • S. McHugh, The Snowy (Melb, 1989)
  • B. Collis, Snowy (Syd, 1990)
  • Australian Surveyor, 6, no 7, Sept 1937, 23, no 7, Sept 1971
  • National Bulletin of Survey Corps Associations, Nov 1966, Sept 1975, Nov, Dec 1980, Dec 1981
  • Survey Ex-Servicemens Association (New South Wales), Bulletin, 66, 1980, 67, 1981
  • Sabretache, 31, Oct-Dec 1990
  • private information.

Citation details

John Atchison, 'Clews, Hugh Powell Gough (1890–1980)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/clews-hugh-powell-gough-9763/text17249, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 27 June 2017.

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

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