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Heron, Alexander Robert (1888–1949)

by Diane Menghetti

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

Alexander Robert Heron (1888-1949), soldier and pharmacist, was born on 25 December 1888 at Charters Towers, Queensland, son of Scottish-born Alexander Barbour Heron, pharmacist, and his English wife Susie Henrietta, née Holland. The family moved to Bowen in 1890 and he was educated at Bowen State School and Brisbane Grammar School, afterwards working on the family property, Allensleigh, and being apprenticed to his father as a chemist. In 1908 he joined the 15th Light Horse Regiment (renamed the 27th L.H.R. in 1912) as a private, was commissioned in February 1912 and promoted captain in September 1915. He had married Margaret Bolger at Bowen with Presbyterian forms on 29 August 1912.

On 16 February 1916 Heron enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force and was posted to the 42nd Battalion as a captain on 1 April. His unit joined the 3rd Australian Division in England then moved to the Belgian front in December as part of II Anzac Corps. Early in 1917 it served at Armentières and Ploegsteert Wood and on 6 June moved forward for the battle of Messines. Heron, who had been promoted major on 22 February, was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for leading his company 'to the relief of a battalion through extremely heavy shell fire, with great success and few casualties'. Despite a heavy barrage he sent back information to battalion headquarters. The citation praised 'skill and devotion' which had 'contributed largely to the successful holding of our line' and concluded: 'throughout the whole period in the trenches his work has been consistently thorough'.

On 6 July Heron, as a lieutenant-colonel, was given command of the 41st Battalion whose entire staff had been lost in a mortar-attack. His command continued through the 3rd battle of Ypres and on 4 October the 41st was among the battalions which spearheaded the attack on the strategically important Broodseinde Ridge; it also participated in the unsuccessful assault on Passchendaele. During the winter the battalion served at Bois Grenier and Le Bizet until the German counter-attack began in March 1918. It then moved up to the front to play its part in halting the German advance at Villers-Bretonneux and Dernancourt and on 4 July was used in the attack on Hamel. When the great Allied offensive began on 8 August the 41st under Heron captured two enemy batteries and in September took part in attacks on the Hindenburg outpost line and in the final breach of the line itself. For his services throughout the Somme operations and for the 'marked ability and determination with which he led his command in the final attack on the Hindenburg Line' Heron was appointed C.M.G. During the last battle of the Somme he had held temporary command of the 11th Brigade four times. He was also mentioned in dispatches four times in 1917-19.

At the end of the war Heron was posted to London to assist with demobilization and repatriation. He embarked for Australia in October 1919 and next February returned to Bowen where he completed his apprenticeship and managed his father's pharmacy until World War II. He had been placed on the reserve of officers, Australian Military Forces, as a lieutenant-colonel in 1927, was recalled in 1939 and in 1942 commanded the 1st Australian Garrison Battalion and the 29th and 5th Australian Infantry Training Battalions. In 1944 he retired with the honorary rank of colonel. In the inter-war years he had played an active role in Bowen affairs and was president of the Royal Society of St George, the Kennedy Hospital Board, the cycling club and the local branch of the Returned Sailors' and Soldiers' Imperial League of Australia. A keen Freemason, he was an office-bearer in the Kennedy Lodge and compiled its history. In all his activities he showed the thoroughness, determination and great energy which had characterized his military career. He died suddenly in Brisbane on 22 October 1949, survived by his wife, two daughters and a son. His elder son, Lieutenant Robert Heron, had been killed in action in 1942. Colonel Heron was cremated with military honours after a Presbyterian service.

Select Bibliography

  • C. E. W. Bean, The A.I.F. in France, 1917-18 (Syd, 1933, 1936, 1942)
  • Bowen Independent, 24 Oct 1949
  • A. R. Heron file (war records section, Australian War Memorial)
  • private information.

Citation details

Diane Menghetti, 'Heron, Alexander Robert (1888–1949)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/heron-alexander-robert-6650/text11459, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 20 October 2018.

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

View the front pages for Volume 9

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