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Ferguson, Ian Bruce (1917–1988)

by A. Argent

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

Ian Bruce Ferguson (1917-1988), soldier, was born on 13 April 1917 in Well­ington, New Zealand, only child of D’Arcy Stuart Ferguson, a Sydney-born manager, and his Melbourne-born wife Ethel May (later known as Helen), née Rattray. His parents divorced when he was about 10 and his mother married Sydney Wren, a journalist with Reuters Ltd.

Educated in Wellington, Melbourne, London, Paris and Dunedin, New Zealand, Bruce began his working life as a cadet journalist in Wellington and was with the Sydney Sun when World War II was declared. On 3 November 1939 he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force. Allotted to the 2/1st Battalion, he was soon transferred to the intelligence section of headquarters, 16th Brigade. In February 1940 he arrived in the Middle East and was promoted to sergeant. He was commissioned probationary lieutenant on 27 June. As brigade intelligence officer, he was active in the capture of Bardia and Tobruk, Libya, in January 1941. He joined the 2/2nd Battalion in May and served with it in Egypt and Syria.

In March 1942 Ferguson arrived with his unit in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and was promoted to temporary captain (substantive in September). He took over command of `B’ Company from Major Charles Green and returned to Australia in August. The battalion sailed to Port Moresby in September and Ferguson led his company across the Owen Stanley Range to Sanananda in October-December. The 2/2nd began the crossing with 550 all ranks and mustered only eighty-eight when it came out of the line. Ferguson spent the next nine months in and out of hospitals due to malaria and dengue fever. He was awarded the Military Cross for his leadership in the hard-fought action at Templeton’s Crossing on 20 October.

Appointed liaison officer at headquarters, 6th Division, in September 1943, Ferguson was promoted to temporary major that month (substantive May 1945). He attended the junior wing of the Staff School (Australia) at Cabarlah, Queensland, and in October 1944 was posted to the 1st Australian Combined Operations Section. Attached to headquarters, 7th Division, to assist in the planning of amphibious landings, he served on Morotai and was at Balikpapan, Borneo, when the war ended in August 1945. He was mentioned in despatches. Volunteering for service in the British Commonwealth Occupation Force, Japan, he commanded a company of the 67th Battalion at Kaitaichi, near Hiroshima, and then on Eta Jima island. In 1947 he was appointed second-in-command of the battalion. He was attached to headquarters, BCOF, in 1948. On 26 June that year he married Alice Elizabeth (Betty) Browne, from the staff of the Canadian Legation, Tokyo.

Ferguson displayed his organisational skills when the battalion, now designated the 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, was ordered to the Republic of (South) Korea in 1950 to join what was later to be the 27th British Commonwealth Brigade. That there was a structured unit re-equipped and organised for war when Green, the new commanding officer, arrived only a fortnight before the battalion embarked for Korea in September was mainly due to Ferguson’s drive.

On 8 November Ferguson was appointed to command 3RAR as a temporary lieutenant colonel (substantive October 1957) after Green was mortally wounded in the Democratic People’s Republic of (North) Korea. During his command he led the battalion through all the phases of war, beginning with the withdrawal from North Korea to south of Seoul during the bitter winter months, the advances and attacks across the 38th Parallel and the battle of Kapyong in April 1951, for which he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order and his battalion a United States Presidential Unit Citation. Then followed a further withdrawal to the Han River and another arduous advance across mountains and in rain, and finally a move north-west to the Imjin River. His command of 3RAR officially ceased on 5 July.

Ferguson had a good eye for terrain and was an excellent map reader. His orders were clear and concise. He was invariably close to the action, with his tactical headquarters behind the leading company. The battalion was always balanced and ready for the next orders from brigade headquarters. Those close to him in the field knew that his somewhat brusque manner was a mask for a sensitive nature. He cared deeply for the battalion that had been his home for more than five years.

After Korea, Ferguson commanded the 1st Battalion, RAR, and the 13th National Service Training Battalion, served (1952-53) in Japan, instructed (1959-62) at the Royal Military College, Duntroon, Canberra, and performed (1963-66) staff duties with the South-East Asia Treaty Organization in Bangkok. On 14 April 1967 he retired from the army and was granted the rank of colonel. He was secretary of the Union Club, Sydney, in 1969-74. Survived by his wife and their three sons, he died on 21 December 1988 in Canberra and was cremated with Anglican rites.

Select Bibliography

  • A. J. Marshall (ed), Nulli Secundus Log (1946)
  • D. McCarthy, South-West Pacific Area—First Year (1959)
  • S. Wick, Purple Over Green (1977)
  • R. O’Neill, Australia in the Korean War 1950-53, vol 2 (1985)
  • A. Argent, `The Next Leader: Bruce Ferguson’, in D. M. Butler et al, The Fight Leaders (2002)
  • private information.

Citation details

A. Argent, 'Ferguson, Ian Bruce (1917–1988)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/ferguson-ian-bruce-12484/text22457, published in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 1 November 2014.

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

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