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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Frank, Kendall Thomas (1904–1951)

by L. L. Durrant

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

Kendall Thomas Frank (1904-1951), wireless operator and engineer, was born on 21 November 1904 at Mornington Mills, Western Australia, fourth child of native-born parents Henry Joseph Frank, inspector, and his wife Alice, née Templar. Little is known of Ken's childhood and education, other than that in 1920 he studied physics at the Kalgoorlie School of Mines. In December 1927 he joined Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Ltd as a ship's radio-operator and served in the M.V. Kangaroo. Four months later he transferred to the Coastal Radio Service in which he gained the reputation of being 'a genius', 'a brilliant larrikin' and 'the fastest operator of all time'. He read Morse code at the extraordinary speed of seventy words per minute. It was even said that he was capable of receiving Morse while rolling a cigarette and holding a conversation.

From December 1928 when Frank was posted to the A.W.A. radio station at Port Moresby, that town became his home. He assisted the A.W.A. engineer responsible for constructing a new high-frequency station (opened in March 1931) which was to provide direct communication with Sydney. In 1934 Frank returned to Sydney where he worked with A.W.A.'s engineering department in developing radio for aviation. Back in Papua, in October 1935 he set up radio-station 4PM, making many of the transmitting components himself; from December he was officer-in-charge of Port Moresby Radio. At Ela Protestant Church, Port Moresby, on 3 September 1938 he married a divorcee, Prudence Waldby, née Jeffrey; they were to have a daughter before being divorced.

Following the outbreak of World War II, Port Moresby Radio played a crucial role in military communications in the South-West Pacific Area. Apart from operating special communication channels for the army and navy, the A.W.A. staff—under instructions from the Royal Australian Navy—marshalled hundreds of outpost teleradio stations throughout the territories into an intelligence network. Reporting via Port Moresby Radio on a secret frequency, coastwatchers provided information from behind enemy lines on movements of Japanese troops, ships and aircraft. This system was to help allied forces to turn the tide of the war in the Pacific.

To escape bombing raids, the radio station was moved in February 1942 to Wonga, about five miles (8 km) beyond the town, and an emergency backup station was installed at Eilogo, thirty miles (48 km) away. As officer-in-charge at Wonga, Frank also built a station for the army at Rouna, providing direct communication with Land Headquarters in Melbourne. In June he installed another station at Bisiatabu, through which communication was to be maintained with the 7th Division on the Owen Stanley Range. As allied forces won back the islands, he built a series of radio stations for General Douglas MacArthur's successive forward headquarters. Once hostilities ended, Frank was responsible for rebuilding several war-damaged coastal radio stations in New Guinea. In 1947, soon after the Overseas Telecommunications Commission (Australia) took control of Australia's external radio-communication services, he was appointed officer-in-charge, Papua and New Guinea.

On 26 May 1950, at the general registry office, Port Moresby, Frank married another divorcee, Sybil Molly Bingham, née Denyer. He died from injuries received in a motorcar accident on 21 August 1951 at Woodstock, Queensland, and was buried with Catholic rites in Townsville cemetery; his wife and the daughter of his first marriage survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • E. Feldt, The Coast Watchers (Melb, 1975)
  • I. Mackay, Broadcasting in Papua New Guinea (Melb, 1976)
  • J. Sinclair, Uniting a Nation (Melb, 1984)
  • L. Durrant, The Seawatchers (Syd, 1986)
  • Transit (Overseas Telecommunications Commission (Australia)), Sept 1951
  • Newsletter (Overseas Telecommunications Veterans' Association), Nov 1981
  • Officer's history (staff life assurance), Oct 1946-Aug 1951 (OTC, Australia, Archives, Sydney)
  • private information.

Citation details

L. L. Durrant, 'Frank, Kendall Thomas (1904–1951)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 27 October 2020.

This article has been amended since its original publication. View Original

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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