This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981
Hugh John Connell (1884-1934), soldier, teacher and politician, was born on 12 June 1884 at Woollahra, Sydney, son of Hugh Connell, ironmoulder, and his wife Jessie, née Blumer. Educated at Woollahra and Paddington Public schools, he later joined the New South Wales Department of Public Instruction and in 1905 was posted to two half-time schools at Gongolgon and Tarcoon. He married Mary Elizabeth Woods at Broken Hill Baptist Church on 28 December 1910. Always interested in things military, Connell was commissioned in the Australian Military Forces in 1912 and on the outbreak of World War I, when he was teaching at Burwood, was called up for home service with the 16th Infantry Battalion.
After serving on the instructional staff in various Australian Imperial Force camps, Connell enlisted for overseas service on 8 March 1916 as a lieutenant in the 35th Battalion. He was promoted captain on 1 May, the day he embarked for England, and underwent a period of training on Salisbury Plain before his unit moved into the Armentières-Houplines sector, France, in November. Connell was given command of 'C' Company which he was to lead through most of its active service. In June 1917 the 35th Battalion took part in the battle of Messines and Connell was awarded the Military Cross for fine leadership, thoroughness and personal courage: during a reconnaissance of the assembly trenches on battle eve he showed 'great coolness and determination' and his was the only successful one of three parties. He was wounded in action on 17 July and resumed duty in September in the Zonnebeke sector. In October his battalion fought at Passchendaele, then in the winter of 1917-18 served in the Ploegsteert area.
After the great German offensive of March 1918 the 35th Battalion (part of the 9th Brigade) was rushed from Flanders in anticipation of an enemy thrust towards Amiens; it was in these critical days, while he was acting as staff officer to Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Goddard, that Connell's gallantry and devotion to duty were most evident. For his exemplary courage and determination during the German assault of 4 April he was awarded a Bar to his Military Cross. For further gallantry in this period he was promoted major in June and awarded the Distinguished Service Order. He later took part in operations at Morlancourt, Bray-sur-Somme and Curlu but was evacuated to England in September because of injuries received when his horse fell on him during a reconnaissance. In addition to his decorations he was also twice mentioned in dispatches.
Connell returned to Australia in May 1919. He had joined the Labor Party before the war, and in 1909 had been rebuked by the Department of Public Instruction for his public activity at Broken Hill. He resigned from the department on 29 March 1920. That month he headed the poll for Labor in the five-member seat for Newcastle in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly; he held his seat until 1927 when single-member electorates were restored. Member for Kahibah until 1930, from then on he represented Hamilton until his death. In 1930-32 he was deputy Speaker and chairman of committees during the last Jack Lang government. He made a name for himself as a quick thinker, a keen debater and a hater of hypocrisy. Though a strong disciplinarian in parliament, he never allowed his strongly held views to disturb his friendships with those of different persuasions.
Survived by his wife and daughter, Connell died of heart disease on 31 January 1934 and was buried in Sandgate Methodist cemetery. His estate was sworn for probate at £1398.
A. R. Roberts, 'Connell, Hugh John (1884–1934)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/connell-hugh-john-5752/text9743, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 6 July 2015.
This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981