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Doyle, Alec Broughton (1888–1984)

by Andrew Moore

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

Alec Broughton Doyle (1888-1984), naval officer, was born on 5 October 1888 at his family’s property, Invermien, Scone, New South Wales, youngest of five children of James Henry Doyle, grazier, and his wife Rebekah, née McDonald, both born in New South Wales. Alec was educated at Scone Grammar School and at The King’s School, Parramatta, where he excelled at sport and served as school captain (1907). At the University of Sydney (BE (Mech. & Elec.), 1911), he studied engineering, boxed, rowed and played cricket and Rugby. He went to England to gain further industry experience.

On 23 March 1912 Doyle was commissioned in the Royal Australian Navy. After training in Britain, he returned home in 1913 as an engineer lieutenant in the new battle-cruiser HMAS Australia. When World War I broke out in August 1914, he was engineer officer of HMAS Parramatta. The ship sailed immediately to German New Guinea, then patrolled South-East Asian waters. During the deployment Doyle became bored by inactivity and disdainful of his superiors’ competence. He was senior engineer of Encounter (1917-18) and Australia (1919-20) before being appointed as engineer officer of Williamstown Naval Depot, Melbourne. Athletic and dapper, he married Charlotte Madge Lillies on 18 December 1917 at St George’s Church of England, Malvern. Much of their married life was spent in naval lodgings, though in 1950 the couple settled at Vaucluse, Sydney.

As Doyle’s career flourished he spent most of his time ashore in shipbuilding and repair installations. In December 1923 he became engineer commander at the refit and repair establishment on Garden Island, Sydney Harbour. Later he worked at Cockatoo Island Dockyard, where he was overseer for the building of the sea-plane carrier Albatross, in which vessel he served (1929) as engineer officer. Having been fleet engineer officer in Sydney in 1925, he was squadron engineer officer in Australia and Canberra in 1929-32. From 1933 he was engineer manager at Garden Island. He was promoted to captain in 1934 and appointed CBE in 1937. On the night of 31 May 1942, when Japanese midget submarines penetrated Sydney Harbour, he was awakened in his married quarter on the island by gunfire from USS Chicago. A Japanese torpedo ran aground, without exploding, on a small beach beneath the bedroom in which his wife remained sleeping.

In September 1942 Doyle was appointed to Navy Office, Melbourne, as director of engineering (naval). Twelve months later he was promoted to rear admiral and named third naval member of the Naval Board and chief of construction. He retired from the navy on 5 October 1948. In December 1950 he was appointed to a Commonwealth government manpower allocation committee. The Institution of Engineers, Australia, awarded him the (Sir) Peter Nicol Russell medal in 1953.

Doyle’s politics were conservative and sometimes clandestine. Although there was a ban on serving Commonwealth defence personnel joining paramilitary groups, during the Depression he was apparently connected with The Country (Northern Division), part of the secretive Old Guard. His trenchant anticommunism and his belief that apathy permeated Australian political life inspired his prominence in The Call to the People of Australia, a Cold War project announced on Armistice Day 1951. This movement called for a spiritual renaissance against the `moral dry rot’ and lassitude that had reputedly overtaken the country. Doyle became deputy-chairman of the State standing committee of The Call in 1953, and chairman in 1957. Co-trustee of The Call’s funds in New South Wales, he belonged to a discreet policy committee that devised ways and means of collecting money.

After he retired, Doyle’s many projects included the family pastoral company, Dr Barnardo’s Homes (Dr Barnardo’s in Australia), the Royal Society of St George, and the Institution of Engineers, Australia. He was a regular letter writer to the Sydney Morning Herald, pontificating on themes such as the need for enhanced civic amenity and active citizenship, and the importance of coastal shipping, local shipbuilding and defence planning, while denouncing the perils of communists undermining Australia’s maritime industry and its universities. An article of his, published in the Sydney Morning Herald on 28 April 1955, argued that Middle East oil lines were the weak link in Australian security, creating vigorous debate. He became a competent family historian and genealogist, between 1956 and 1960 preparing a manuscript on the descendants of his ancestor Andrew Doyle, an Irish rebel transported to New South Wales for his part in the `troubles’ of 1798 and 1801. Alec Doyle’s belief in participatory citizenship and active engagement in the democratic process accorded with the principles of his forebear. His work How Shall I Vote? (1952), with which he was assisted by his friend Malcolm Ellis, was a passable history of political parties in Australia intended for working-class readers.

Doyle was active in Liberal Party circles in the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney, a member of preselection committees in the seat of Wentworth and occasionally a campaign manager. Though he was enthusiastic, many of his proposals reflected a lack of political experience. His insistence that The Call remain wedded to the White Australia policy did not assist that organisation’s longevity.

Bespectacled and trim, Alec Doyle remained physically active, playing tennis twice a week at the Royal Sydney Golf Club until well into his seventies. In 1963, Doyle, aged 75, left Vaucluse to manage Invermien. He served as chairman of the Scone branch of the Graziers’ Association of New South Wales and delegate to the district council. After Charlotte died of cancer in 1951, he enjoyed the companionship of his friend and housekeeper, Hilda Lomax. Following her death, Invermien was sold in 1973 and Doyle lived with family at Boggabilla, where he died on 30 June 1984. Survived by his two sons, he was cremated.

Doyle had a self-effacing streak and was quick to acknowledge his foibles. In 1970 he reflected:

for one of a nervous and unadventurous nature, painfully and foolishly self conscious and shy even up to an advanced age, and not overgifted with brains, one whose main assets were robust health and vigour allied with persistence and good fortune, I feel that, superficially at least, it was a modestly successful career.

Select Bibliography

  • I. Chapman, Sydney University Regiment (1996)
  • Navy (Sydney), Sept 1947, p 19
  • Journal of the Institute of Engineers, Australia, Dec 1953, p 253
  • King’s School Magazine, Dec 1984, p 116
  • E. Ulacco, A Call to the People of Australia 1951-1959 (BA Hons thesis, University of Wollongong, 1992)
  • series A6769, item Doyle A B (National Archives of Australia)
  • Doyle papers (State Libary of New South Wales)
  • King’s School Archives (Parramatta, Sydney)
  • private information.

Citation details

Andrew Moore, 'Doyle, Alec Broughton (1888–1984)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/doyle-alec-broughton-12436/text22361, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 22 October 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

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