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Dibdin, Edward John (1886–1963)

by Margot Z. Simington

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

Edward John Dibdin (1886-1963), soldier and accountant, was born on 4 January 1886 at Rockhampton, Queensland, ninth surviving child of Robert Lowes Dibdin, auctioneer and later accountant, and his wife Emma, née Horler, both London-born. Educated at Rockhampton state and grammar schools, he became an accountant and joined the Mount Morgan Mining Co. On 6 October 1909 at St Paul's Anglican Cathedral, Rockhampton, he married Amelia Lucy McMaster.

Dibdin had long been attracted to soldiering, having entered the senior cadets in 1901 and attained the rank of sergeant. In 1904 he joined the 15th Australian Light Horse Regiment as a trooper and rose through the ranks to be commissioned as second lieutenant in 1908. Two years later he took up soldiering as a profession when appointed temporary area officer at Mount Morgan. In July 1912 he became second lieutenant in the 1st Australian Light Horse Regiment (Central Queensland Light Horse) and area officer for Rockhampton, an appointment he held when war began. In March 1915 he took on temporary duties for the Administrative and Instructional Staff and in July was promoted lieutenant.

Dibdin joined the Australian Imperial Force as a lieutenant on 1 April 1916 and on 1 May was promoted captain and appointed adjutant of the 42nd Battalion, embarking from Sydney on 5 June. Following training in England and service in the trenches at Armentières and Ploegsteert, France, until April 1917, he had two months in hospital, missing the battle of Messines. He returned as adjutant of the 42nd and served through the 3rd battle of Ypres. Early in 1918 he took part in operations on the Somme at Sailly-Le-Sec, Morlancourt, Villers-Bretonneux and Hamel, and was promoted major on 10 May. His administrative ability showed out during reorganization of the 11th Brigade in late June-early July. On 4 July he commanded the 42nd 'with great skill and initiative' during the battle of Hamel and later in life remembered this offensive as his most dramatic wartime experience.

In the battle of 8 August the 42nd was left flank battalion of the Australian Corps; following tanks it achieved all its objectives and also captured over 300 prisoners, machine-guns and trench-mortars, while suffering few losses. Casualties were severe in the attack on German positions at St Germain's Wood four days later, mainly because this operation was carried out in daylight and without artillery support. Under Dibdin's skilful leadership the enemy post was captured and held in spite of heavy shelling with mustard gas and high explosives. From late August to 9 September he successfully led the 41st Battalion in the advance from Mont St Quentin to Roisel. He was mentioned in dispatches in November and awarded the Distinguished Service Order in the 1919 New Year honours for distinguished service from February to September 1918.

Back in Australia by mid-1919, Dibdin resumed militia service with the 5th Light Horse and in 1921-24 served as captain, major and commanding officer of the 49th Battalion. Having in 1920 become honorary secretary of the Queensland branch of the Returned Sailors' and Soldiers' Imperial League of Australia, in 1924 he took up the paid position of federal secretary for the league in Melbourne. Working closely with the president, (Sir) Gilbert Dyett, he campaigned for preference in employment for returned soldiers and easier financial terms for soldier-settlers, and was adept in lobbying governments. In 1929 he became the league's representative on the Commonwealth War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunal, a position he held until retirement in 1949.

Meanwhile, apart from Masonic activities, Dibdin had regarded soldiering as his recreation. For five years to 1930 he commanded the 32nd (Footscray) Regiment in Melbourne, retiring as its honorary colonel. His reputation for sound administration, courageous soldiering and especially for humane leadership endeared him to the 42nd Association which he helped found and which elected him president in the immediate post-war years. He helped compile the battalion history and, assisted by his wife's hospitality, maintained his wartime friendships. Predeceased by her, he died at Windsor, Melbourne, on 19 August 1963, survived by a son and a daughter. He was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • C. E. W. Bean, The Australian Imperial Force in France, 1918 (Syd, 1937)
  • V. Brahms (ed), The Spirit of the Forty-Second (Brisb, 1938)
  • G. L. Kristianson, The Politics of Patriotism (Canb, 1966)
  • London Gazette, 31 Dec 1918, 1 Jan 1919
  • Dibdin file, war records section (Australian War Memorial).

Citation details

Margot Z. Simington, 'Dibdin, Edward John (1886–1963)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/dibdin-edward-john-5974/text10193, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 17 December 2018.

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

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