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Harrison, Arthur Mander (1912–1986)

by David Wilson

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

Arthur Mander Harrison (1912-1986), civil engineer and air force officer, was born on 30 June 1912 in South Brisbane, second of four sons of Reginald Ainsworth Harrison, a Victorian-born warehouse manager, and his English-born wife Winifred Nellie, née Jones. Peter Firman Harrison was his younger brother. Educated in Sydney, Arthur studied civil engineering at Sydney Technical College and town planning at the University of Sydney. In 1928 he was employed as a draughtsman. Next year he was appointed assistant-engineer with Petersham Municipal Council. He became engineer manager of Australian Roads Ltd in 1935 and of C. R. McKenzie Pty Ltd in 1939. On 4 September 1941 at All Saints Church of England, Woollahra, he married Dorothy Lorraine Foster.

Having served in the Militia for four years, Harrison was commissioned in the Royal Australian Air Force on 20 October 1941; for reasons unknown he gave his year of birth as 1906. He was posted to the Directorate of Works and Buildings, RAAF Headquarters, Melbourne. In January 1942 he was sent to the North-Western Area, where he selected sites for airfields. He was promoted to flying officer in April. From October he was engaged in designing, and supervising the construction of, airfields and other works in Queensland. Appointed commanding officer of No.9 Works Maintenance Unit (later Airfield Construction Squadron) in February 1943, he was responsible for establishing airfields and facilities in the Northern Territory, most notably airstrips for fighters on Melville Island. Made temporary flight lieutenant in August and acting squadron leader in March 1944 (temporary in January 1945), he was mentioned in despatches (1945). In May 1945 he took part in the invasion of Tarakan Island, Borneo, while attached to No.61 Airfield Construction Wing. He took No.9 ACS from Australia to Balikpapan, Borneo, in September.

Posted to No.5 ACS at Labuan in November, Harrison assumed command in December. The squadron was deployed to Japan in February 1946 as part of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force; it played a vital role in the rebuilding of airfields and facilities at Bofu, Miho and Iwakuni. Harrison was promoted to acting wing commander in December (substantive in March 1950). He impressed the air officer commanding the British Commonwealth Air Group, Air Vice-Marshal (Sir) Cecil Bouchier, as a `man of integrity’ who had `great personal charm’ and who was `a born leader of men’. After returning to Australia in October 1948, he commanded No.2 ACS in February-September 1949 and performed staff duties. From July 1951 he again commanded No.5 ACS. He was appointed OBE in 1953. In May 1955 his squadron moved to Darwin, where it extended the runway and built domestic and operational facilities.

Harrison was promoted to acting group captain in October 1957. On 1 July 1960 he was placed on the Retired List and granted the honorary rank of group captain. He set up as a consulting engineer. Divorced in February 1971, he married Judith Mary Rogers (d.1984), a typist, on 11 May that year at the district registrar’s office, St Leonards, Sydney. He died on 15 July 1986 at Mosman and was cremated; the daughter of his first marriage survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Stephens, Going Solo (1995)
  • D. Wilson, Always First (1998)
  • A. M. Harrison RAAF service record (Department of Defence, Canberra).

Citation details

David Wilson, 'Harrison, Arthur Mander (1912–1986)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/harrison-arthur-mander-12595/text22685, published in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 19 September 2014.

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

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