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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Dunkley, Harry Leslie Ewen (1911–1979)

by Syd Trigellis-Smith

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

Harry Leslie Ewen Dunkley (1911-1979), army officer and schoolmaster, was born on 22 December 1911 at Creswick, Victoria, third child of Edwin Ewen Dunkley, mounted policeman, and his wife Priscilla, née Williams, both native-born. Edwin had numerous postings and Harry spent much of his childhood with his mother at her parents' home. After attending North Creswick State and Ballarat High schools, he went to Sebastopol Primary School as a student-teacher, trained at Melbourne Teachers' College in 1933-34 and studied part time at the University of Melbourne (B.A., 1947). In 1935 he gained a position at Geelong College as a boarding-house master; his manner and bearing transmitted confidence to the boys.

Having served (1927-33) in the 8th Battalion, Militia, and risen to corporal, in 1937 Dunkley was appointed lieutenant in the senior cadets. On 18 November 1939 he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force. Posted to the 2nd/6th Battalion, he was commissioned lieutenant on 27 November and selected as battalion intelligence officer. In April next year he embarked for the Middle East. At Bardia, Libya, between 28 December 1940 and 2 January 1941 he made frequent reconnaissances of the forward area and repeatedly obtained information under enemy fire during the attack on 3 January. He was awarded the Military Cross.

In April Dunkley took part in the Greek campaign and in July transferred to the 2nd/7th Battalion as adjutant. Promoted captain in February 1942, he was based in Ceylon from March to July, then returned to Australia and was sent to Milne Bay, Papua, in October. Next month he was promoted major and seconded to 17th Brigade headquarters as brigade major (learner). By early 1943 he was in New Guinea for the Wau-Salamaua operations. Rejoining his battalion in May, he commanded 'B' Company and was severely wounded in the chest on 11 September.

Dunkley was intermittently hospitalized until January 1944 and between June and October. He was mentioned in dispatches for his New Guinea service. On 28 December 1943 at the office of the government statist, Melbourne, he had married a clerk and friend from his days at teachers' college, Grace Stuart McCutchan. In October 1944 he was promoted lieutenant colonel and given command of the 7th Battalion, then in the Solomon Islands. From April to August 1945 he led the unit in the Bougainville campaign; for his relentless aggression against the enemy and tactical skill in minimizing casualties among his men, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order.

Relinquishing his command in November, Dunkley returned to Melbourne and transferred to the Reserve of Officers on 16 January 1946. He lived at Brighton and completed his degree before rejoining Geelong College in 1947 as master-in-charge of social studies in the senior school. In 1948-68 he commanded the school's cadet unit. He was a gifted organizer and an enthusiastic teacher. War-related ill health caused him to retire in December 1970. Survived by his wife and daughter, he died of myocardial infarction on 21 October 1979 at Geelong West and was buried in Highton cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • W. P. Bolger and J. G. Littlewood, The Fiery Phoenix (Melb, 1983?)
  • D. Hay, Nothing Over Us (Canb, 1984)
  • A. Pedder, The Seventh Battalion 1936-1946 (Melb, 1989)
  • Geelong College, Pegasus, June 1971, p 14
  • private information.

Citation details

Syd Trigellis-Smith, 'Dunkley, Harry Leslie Ewen (1911–1979)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 21 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

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