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Hurst, John Herbert (1869–1953)

by Richmond Cubis

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

John Herbert Hurst (1869-1953), soldier and architect, was born on 26 December 1869 at Teddington, London, son of John Hurst, builder, and his wife Elizabeth, née Reader. Educated at the Queen Elizabeth Grammar School, Kingston-on-Thames, and the Protestant Grammar School, Shoreham, Sussex, he migrated to Western Australia in February 1887 with his family and joined his father as a builder and contractor in Perth. He later turned to architecture, although he does not seem to have gained formal qualifications, and worked with his brother-in-law, (Sir) J. Talbot Hobbs.

In March 1887 Hurst enlisted in the Western Australian volunteer forces (field artillery) and was commissioned lieutenant on 24 May 1897. On 28 March 1894 at St George's Cathedral, Perth, he had married Emma Florence Rostron. Forsaking architecture and building, he 'went for a soldier' and was commissioned lieutenant in the permanent artillery on 20 February 1899. Promoted captain in January 1908, he went to England that year to attend the long gunnery staff course, returning to Australia in February 1910. After a period as instructor, Australian Garrison Artillery (militia) in Victoria, he was promoted major and served as chief instructor, School of Gunnery, Sydney, in 1911-13. He returned to Perth in 1913 and was commanding Fremantle coast defences when World War I broke out.

After the destruction of the German Pacific Fleet at the Falkland Islands in December 1914 the threat of enemy attacks against Australian ports diminished and the permanent members of the Royal Australian Garrison Artillery were free to enlist in the Australian Imperial Force. From about 450 members of the R.A.G.A. the Australian Siege Brigade was formed on 21 May 1915. This was a little known but unique force. The men were regular soldiers, enlisting under A.I.F. conditions of service but their unit was officially part of the British Army and was known as the 36th Heavy Artillery Group, Royal Garrison Artillery. It consisted of headquarters and two batteries, the 54th and 55th. Hurst took command of the 55th Battery. Apart from a small transport unit, the siege brigade was to provide the first Australian troops in action in France, arriving early in March 1916. The unit served on the Somme in 1916, at Vimy Ridge (where they were the only Australians involved), at Passchendaele and Cambrai in 1917 and in Flanders in 1918. The brigade served in support of some seventeen allied formations during the war.

Hurst also commanded the 22nd Field Artillery Brigade in July-December 1916. He then commanded the 36th Heavy Artillery Group, R.G.A., until wounded in action on 23 September 1917. Next day he was promoted brevet lieutenant-colonel for 'specially meritorious service'. In October-December his unit was attached to the British XIX Corps and then to the Belgian Army. He retained command throughout 1918, serving with the Australian Corps in Flanders until April and with British and French Army Corps at Armentières, Meteren, Passchendaele and Warneton. In January 1919 he was transferred as a major and personnel staff officer to the 5th Australian Division during the A.I.F.'s final months in France. For his war service he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order, the Belgian Croix de Guerre and Ordre de la Couronne and was twice mentioned in dispatches. He returned to Australia in August 1919 and resumed duties as commander of the garrison artillery at Fremantle.

Hurst was appointed lieutenant-colonel, Australian Military Force, and chief instructor at the School of Artillery, Sydney, from May 1921 until August 1922 when he was placed on the unattached list. He returned to architecture, being registered by the Board of Architects in Sydney in December 1922; he became 'a long time secretary and councillor of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects'. During World War II he undertook war-work with the departments of Defence Co-ordination and Labour and National Service.

Survived by his son and daughter, Hurst died on 7 July 1953 at his Vaucluse home and was cremated with Anglican rites.

Select Bibliography

  • J. M. Freeland, The Making of a Profession (Syd, 1971)
  • London Gazette, 25 Dec 1917, 25 July 1918, 3 June, 11 July 1919
  • Age (Melbourne), 8 July 1953
  • B. M. Morris, The Australian Siege Brigade 1916-18 (held at School of Artillery, Sydney)
  • records, Royal Australian Institute of Architects, New South Wales Chapter, Sydney
  • J. H. Hurst file (war records section, Australian War Memorial).

Citation details

Richmond Cubis, 'Hurst, John Herbert (1869–1953)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/hurst-john-herbert-6775/text11717, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 19 October 2017.

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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