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Hodgson, William Roy (1892–1958)

by Alan Watt

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

William Roy Hodgson (1892-1958), by unknown photographer, c1945

William Roy Hodgson (1892-1958), by unknown photographer, c1945

Herald & Weekly Times Portrait Collection, State Library of Victoria, H38849/1957

William Roy Hodgson (1892-1958), soldier and public servant, was born on 22 May 1892 at Kingston, Victoria, son of Robert Hodgson, schoolmaster, and his wife Margaret, née Willson. He was educated at the School of Mines, Ballarat, and, as a member of the original class of 1911, at the Royal Military College, Duntroon, Australian Capital Territory. Graduating in 1914, he was posted to the Administrative and Instructional Staff, Australian Military Forces, on 15 August and three days later was appointed to the Australian Imperial Force. He embarked for Egypt in October as lieutenant in the 5th Battery, 2nd Field Artillery Brigade.

After the landing on Gallipoli on 25 April 1915 Hodgson was detailed as forward observing officer for his battery; his commanding officer subsequently praised his 'great gallantry' in a position of 'great risk and responsibility'. On the third day, however, Hodgson was wounded in the hip joint by a Turkish sniper. Reported dead, he was able to read his own obituary, while he lived to survive numerous operations in Egypt and England which left him with one leg considerably shorter than the other, necessitating the use of a walking-stick. Mentioned in dispatches and awarded the Croix de Guerre avec palme in 1916, he was invalided back to Australia next year. Undeterred by his physical disability which denied him the active service career in which he would undoubtedly have made his mark, Hodgson remained an army man at heart, with a quick mind and a bold spirit. He was attached to the A.M.F. General Staff, Army Headquarters, in Melbourne in 1918 and, after serving in the training and administrative sections, became head of military intelligence in 1925. He was promoted major on 1 January 1926. He resigned from the permanent military forces in 1934, being placed on the unattached list with the honorary rank of lieutenant-colonel although he continued his involvement with military intelligence until 1936.

In his spare time Hodgson had acquired accountancy qualifications and studied law at the University of Melbourne, graduating LL.B. in 1929. That year he was seconded for six months to the Development and Migration Commission. In 1932 he applied for the position of Australian political liaison officer, London, but although given strong supporting testimonials by General Sir Harry Chauvel and Major General (Sir) T. A. Blamey, was unsuccessful. In 1934 he became assistant secretary supervising that branch of the Prime Minister's Department which dealt with external affairs; next year he was made secretary of external affairs as a separate department. As adviser on foreign affairs he attended the 1937 Imperial Conference in London. By the time of his resignation as head of the department in 1945 he had contributed substantially to the development of a professional diplomatic service.

In 1945-57 Hodgson served overseas as Australian head of mission, carrying out a wide variety of functions at international conferences and on international commissions. Acting Australian high commissioner in Canada in 1945, he was appointed minister (later ambassador) to France the same year. He was involved in the formative stages of the United Nations Organization and was Australian delegate to the first General Assembly, held in London in 1945-46, and Australian representative on the Security Council and the Human Rights Commission. He was also an Australian delegate to the Paris Peace Conference in 1946. In 1949 he was sent to Tokyo as British Commonwealth representative on the Allied Council for Japan, and, in 1952, to South Africa as Australian high commissioner. Appointed O.B.E. in 1934 and C.M.G. in 1951, he retired from the diplomatic service in 1957.

Always something of a martinet, Hodgson, known to his friends as 'Hoddy', was not cut out temperamentally for the life of a diplomat. His direct, blunt and rather aggressive style was apt to give offence, as shown in the degree of resentment aroused in Dutch circles when during a 1948 Security Council session he described the terms of the 'ultimatum' which preceded the second Dutch 'police action' in Indonesia as 'even worse than what Hitler did to the Netherlands in 1940'. A voracious reader, Hodgson was a connoisseur of old silver and Chinese porcelain and took a keen interest in most forms of sport. He had married Muriel Daisy McDowell on 18 October 1919 at Christ Church, South Yarra, Melbourne; her death in Paris in 1946 left him a somewhat lonely and less secure man. But the courage and determination which had marked his career never left him. He died of cancer on 24 January 1958 in Sydney and was cremated. A son and a daughter survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • P. Hasluck, Diplomatic Witness (Melb, 1980)
  • UN Security Council, Official Records, no 133, 390th, 391st Meeting (Paris), 23 Dec 1948
  • Stand-To (Canberra), May-June 1954, p 15
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 3 Feb 1945, 24, 31 Dec 1948, 25 Jan 1958
  • Hodgson papers (privately held).

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Citation details

Alan Watt, 'Hodgson, William Roy (1892–1958)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 28 October 2016.

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

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