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Collett, Herbert Brayley (1877–1947)

by David Black

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

Herbert Brayley Collett (1877-1947), librarian, soldier and politician, was born on 12 November 1877 at St Peter Port, Guernsey, Channel Islands, son of Frank Collett, auctioneer, and his wife Laura Augusta, née Wedlake. The family arrived in Western Australia in October 1884 and he was educated at Perth Grammar School, joining the staff of the Victoria Public Library, Perth, in 1891. On 20 April 1904 he married Anne Whitfield at St George's Anglican Cathedral.

At 16 Collett had joined the Metropolitan Rifle Volunteers as a private. He rose rapidly to captain and in 1901 commanded a company in the Western Australian contingent to the Sydney ceremonies inaugurating the Commonwealth of Australia. Later that year he was adjutant to the 1st Battalion in the Western Australian Infantry Brigade and, in 1903-06, militia adjutant to the 11th Australian Infantry Regiment. He attended a senior officers' course at the University of Sydney in 1907 and assumed command of the regiment next year—a lieutenant-colonel at 31. From 23 April 1915 Collett commanded the 28th Battalion of the Australian Imperial Force which he organized and trained to become 'one of the finest in the force'. It embarked for Egypt on 9 June. He served with the battalion at Gallipoli, in Egypt and Sinai, and in France from March 1916. On 29 July he was severely wounded at Pozières. Recuperating in England, he commanded the 4th Training Brigade at Codford before returning to the 28th on 12 October 1917 during the battle of Passchendaele. He acted as brigade commander for several weeks. On 1 June 1918 he was promoted colonel in charge of No.2 Command Depot at Weymouth where he remained until his discharge from the A.I.F. in September 1919. Collett was mentioned in dispatches, received the Distinguished Service Order in 1916, the C.M.G. in 1919 and was promoted brevet-colonel in the Australian Military Forces for 'specially meritorious service'. He published the first volume of his battalion's history, The 28th: A Record of War Service …, in 1922.

In Western Australia in 1915-33 Collett was assistant general secretary to J. S. Battye at the combined Public Library, Museum and Art Gallery. He commanded the 22nd Brigade in 1920-21 and the 13th Infantry Brigade until 1927. He was aide-de-camp to the governor and to the governor-general and from 1929 honorary colonel of his old battalion (A.M.F.). In 1925-33 he was president of the State branch of the Returned Sailors and Soldiers' Imperial League; during his term, although hampered by government indifference, the R.S.L. built the State war memorial in 1929 and drew up plans for headquarters at Anzac House. He disagreed with (Sir) Gilbert Dyett over tactics and State autonomy, and opposed in vain Dyett's re-election as federal president in 1928, 1929 and 1930.

On 6 April 1933 Collett was chosen by the governor-in-council to fill a Senate vacancy; his election was confirmed by State parliament in July. At the 1934 and 1940 Senate elections he was returned as a Nationalist but in 1946 he was defeated, vacating his seat on 30 June 1947. His main policy interests were defence and ex-servicemen's welfare and he was unofficial spokesman for his State's R.S.L. branch. He was minister in charge of war service homes in 1939-41; vice-president of the Executive Council and minister in charge of scientific and industrial research from August to October 1940; and minister assisting the minister for repatriation from August 1940 to June 1941, after which he was minister for repatriation until the Fadden government fell in October. He chaired the Western Australian War Industries Committee in 1941 and sat on joint committees investigating ex-servicemen's benefits. In 1942-44 he presided over the National Party in Western Australia.

Collett was a Freemason, and patron of the Totally and Permanently Disabled Soldiers' Association of Australia. Survived by his wife and two sons, he died from heart disease on 15 August 1947 and was buried in the Anglican portion of Karrakatta cemetery. A reserved man who inspired respect rather than affection, he possessed a dry humour and had a great concern for his men's welfare: he did not hesitate to criticize inefficiency even when his superiors were involved.

Select Bibliography

  • J. S. Battye (ed), Cyclopedia of Western Australia, vol 1 (Adel, 1912)
  • C. E. W. Bean, The Story of Anzac (Syd, 1924), and The Australian Imperial Force in France, 1916 (Syd, 1929)
  • H. K. Kahan, The 28th Battalion, Australian Imperial Force (Perth, 1965)
  • G. L. Kristianson, The Politics of Patriotism (Canb, 1966)
  • Listening Post (Perth), 16 Feb 1923, 23 Oct 1925, 26 Oct 1928, 23 Sept 1932, Apr-Oct 1933
  • Reveille (Sydney), 1 Oct 1933
  • Nationalist (Perth), Dec 1942, May, June 1944
  • West Australian, 6 Apr, 3 May 1933, 16 Aug 1947.

Citation details

David Black, 'Collett, Herbert Brayley (1877–1947)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/collett-herbert-brayley-5728/text9693, published in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 1 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

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