Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Harrison, Eric Fairweather (1880–1948)

by Chris Clark

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

Eric Fairweather Harrison (1880-1948), by Vincent Kelly, 1930s

Eric Fairweather Harrison (1880-1948), by Vincent Kelly, 1930s

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an24212049

Eric Fairweather Harrison (1880-1948), soldier and politician, was born on 16 April 1880, at Stanmore, Sydney, son of English-born James Start Harrison, accountant, and his Australian wife Jane Ann, née Crane. He was educated at Sydney Church of England Grammar School (Shore) and Bedford Grammar School, England. In 1898 he entered Trinity College, Cambridge (B.A., 1901; M.A., 1902); he rowed in a Trinity crew which won the Thames Cup at Henley Royal Regatta.

Harrison returned to Australia and in 1903 was appointed second lieutenant in the militia garrison artillery in New South Wales. On 1 April 1904 he was commissioned lieutenant in the Royal Australian Artillery, Australian Military (permanent) Forces, and in 1906 was sent to Thursday Island and in 1908 to Western Australia. In January 1910 he became the first Australian to attend the Staff College at Quetta, India, and was promoted captain in March 1911. He then served on the general staff at Kohat for three months and on the headquarters staff until December 1912. He was appointed to the district staff in Victoria in January 1913 and was promoted major in May 1914.

As the duty staff officer at Army Headquarters on the outbreak of war Harrison gave the order to the fortress commander at Port Phillip Heads to fire across the bows of the German steamer Pfalz and prevent its escape. Shortly afterwards he was appointed director of military training at Army Headquarters, then in October 1915 director of military art at the Royal Military College, Duntroon, with temporary rank of lieutenant-colonel. When, in March 1916, a school was established there to train junior officers for the Australian Imperial Force he also became chief instructor. He ended his term at Duntroon in October 1917 and next month joined the A.I.F. as a major and served in France with 1st Division Headquarters during operations at Hazebrouck, Strazeele, Flêtre and on the Somme. In September 1918 he joined the staff of the 3rd Division and took part in operations against the Hindenburg line. He was made brevet lieutenant-colonel in January 1919 and mentioned in dispatches in March.

After the war Harrison served as a staff officer in Tasmania for nine months in 1919-20 and was acting commandant for four months. Further appointments followed on the district staff in Victoria and at Army Headquarters. He married Roma Wingfield Zilla Clarke at St John's Anglican Church, Toorak, on 9 November 1920. In 1925 and from 1927 he was director of military operations and intelligence until appointed commandant of the R.M.C. in January 1929; in July he was promoted colonel and temporary brigadier. He considered the move of the college to Sydney in 1930, as an economy measure, a severe blow to the 'Duntroon spirit'. He was transferred to Army Headquarters in January 1931, placed on the unattached list in March, and then retired to Clondrisse, his farming property on the Mornington Peninsula, Victoria. At the 1931 Federal elections he won Bendigo as United Australia Party candidate and in parliament spoke frequently on defence issues and matters affecting rural industry; he took a strongly anti-communist stance. Re-elected in 1934, in 1937 he unsuccessfully sought party endorsement for the new seat of Deakin.

In 1936 Harrison had been a government delegate to the International Labour Conference in Geneva and in 1937-43 was president of the Australian Council of Employers' Federations. As chairman of the Victorian branch of the Australian Defence League he was involved in the 1938 campaign to stimulate voluntary recruitment for the Citizen Military Forces. In World War II he was called from the reserve of officers and again appointed commandant of the R.M.C. on 1 August 1940 as an honorary brigadier; he was also responsible for a school for trainees seeking A.I.F. commissions. One of the Duntroon cadets named him 'Banana Body': it 'may have been irreverent but it was apt; in profile Brigadier Harrison, an imposing figure, was not fat but noticeably convex'. He retired from the R.M.C. on 15 January 1942. In 1944 he became president of the Victorian Employers' Federation and represented employers as a member of the Discharged Servicemen's Employment Board. He was still holding these posts when he died in Melbourne on 15 April 1948; he was cremated with Anglican rites.

Harrison was survived by his wife (d.1974), a son and a daughter. His son Alastair Brian, a captain in the 2nd A.I.F., in 1946 inherited a family estate in England and was Conservative member for Maldon (Essex) in the House of Commons in 1955-74.

Select Bibliography

  • Who's Who in the World of Women (Melb, 1930, 1934)
  • J. A. Venn, Alumni Cantabrigiensis, Pt II, Vol II (Cambridge, 1947)
  • J. E. Lee, Duntroon (Canb, 1952)
  • G. D. Solomon, A Poor Sort of Memory (Canb, 1978)
  • Royal Military College, Duntroon, Dec 1950
  • Royal Military College, Duntroon, Reports, 1915-17, 1930, 1940, 1941
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 19 Apr 1880
  • Argus (Melbourne), 1, 17, 29 Dec 1931, 24 Aug, 26 Sept 1934, 3 July, 12 Aug 1937, 30 Nov 1938, 16, 17 Apr 1948
  • Evening News (London), 12 Nov 1938
  • Times (London), 16 Apr 1948
  • Bulletin, 21 Apr 1948
  • E. F. Harrison file (war records section, Australian War Memorial)
  • private information.

Citation details

Chris Clark, 'Harrison, Eric Fairweather (1880–1948)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/harrison-eric-fairweather-6584/text11331, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 22 December 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

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