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Langley, George Furner (1891–1971)

by A. W. Hammett

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

George Furner Langley (1891-1971), by Stella Bowen

George Furner Langley (1891-1971), by Stella Bowen

Australian War Memorial, ART26273

George Furner Langley (1891-1971), educationist and soldier, was born on 1 May 1891 at Port Melbourne, son of English-born Jabez Langley, grocer, and his wife Fanny, née Furner, from South Australia. He was educated at Melbourne Continuation (High) School before attending Melbourne Teachers' College and the University of Melbourne (Dip.Ed., 1914; B.A., 1926). He excelled at Australian Rules football and athletics.

Langley taught at Williamstown High School before being transferred to Mansfield Agricultural High School where he was teaching at the outbreak of World War I. A lieutenant in the Senior Cadets from October 1913, he enlisted as a private in the Australian Imperial Force in December 1914 and was commissioned lieutenant in the 21st Battalion on 24 March 1915. His unit embarked for Egypt in May and after training embarked on the Southland for Gallipoli. The ship was torpedoed on 2 September and Langley, who had been promoted captain that day, was blown into the air, falling back through a hatch into the bilge. Although badly shaken he organized the disembarkation of his men until he collapsed. The battalion was established on Gallipoli by 8 September and Langley, despite jaundice, served until the evacuation in December.

On returning to Egypt Langley was seconded to the Imperial Camel Corps on 26 January 1916 to raise and train the 1st Australian Company. During 1916 he led his company on six months of prolonged, exhausting and wide-ranging patrolling against the Senussi in the Western Desert. He was promoted major on 11 September and mentioned in dispatches after the advance on El Arish. In December the companies of the Imperial Camel Corps were brigaded; Langley was transferred to the 1st (Anzac) Battalion, appointed commanding officer and promoted lieutenant-colonel on 24 January 1917.

He led his unit until May 1918, taking it through the Sinai Desert and Palestine to the Jordan valley. They fought at Rafa, in the three battles for Gaza, the Amman raid where Langley was wounded, the defence of the Jordan valley, and the raid on Es Salt. In February 1917 he was awarded the Serbian Order of the White Eagle. In June 1918 the 1st (Anzac) Camel Battalion was reformed as the 14th Australian Light Horse. Langley commanded this regiment in the advance to Damascus where he won the Distinguished Service Order for 'skilful leadership and conspicuous gallantry'. He was later mentioned three times in dispatches for outstanding leadership. The regiment was en route to Aleppo when the Armistice was signed.

In Cairo in December Langley married Edmee Mary Plunkett. He was appointed in January 1919 to officiate in command of the 5th Light Horse Brigade to help suppress the Egyptian rebellion. He returned to Australia in August and his A.I.F. appointment terminated on 2 November; he was then appointed lieutenant-colonel on the reserve of officers, Australian Military Forces.

In 1920 Langley became headmaster of Mansfield Agricultural High School and then, in 1924, of Warrnambool High School where he remained for sixteen years. He retained his army links by commanding the 20th and then the 4th Light Horse Regiments but he was first and foremost a teacher and educational administrator. To those roles he brought the military virtues of briskness, efficiency and devotion to the ideas of courage and honour. At the same time he was a man of warm affections, civilized values and largeness of view. His students remember his infectious enthusiasm, the passion he brought to the teaching of French, and the morning assemblies when he spoke of the issues of the day, condemning small-mindedness and introducing, on occasion, radical perspectives on such questions as the Italian invasion of Abyssinia or the Spanish Civil War. In 1940 he moved to Bendigo High School and was appointed commanding officer of the 38th Battalion, A.M.F., in September. Promoted temporary brigadier in April 1942, he took the 2nd Infantry Brigade to Western Australia, then to Darwin, raising it to a high level of efficiency.

As war wounds precluded active service abroad Langley retired from the A.M.F. on 10 March 1944 as honorary brigadier. He joined the Australian Red Cross Field Force as commissioner in England and the Middle East, serving until 1946. He was appointed an officer of the Order of St John of Jerusalem. In 1946-47 Langley was headmaster at Mordialloc High School. He moved to Box Hill High School in 1948 before being appointed headmaster of Melbourne High School in 1949. During his eight years there he inspired unselfish service. His dedication, enthusiasm and energy influenced all associated with the school.

After retirement Langley became a director of Robertson & Mullens bookshop, a Victorian film appeal censor, a foundation fellow of the Australian College of Education and a member of the Melbourne City Development Association. He was a life member of the Victorian High School Headmasters' Association, having been president for seven years. He was appointed C.B.E. in 1958.

In 1970 the Langleys moved to Sydney. Survived by his wife and two daughters, he died at Killara on 24 August 1971 and was cremated with Presbyterian forms. The later years of his life were spent preparing a history of the Australian Camel Corps; his wife completed the task and published Sand, Sweat and Camels in 1976.

Select Bibliography

  • C. E. W. Bean, The Story of Anzac, vols 1, 2 (Syd, 1921, 1924)
  • H. S. Gullett, The A.I.F. in Sinai and Palestine (Syd, 1923)
  • University of Melbourne, Record of Active Service (Melb, 1926)
  • D. McCarthy, South-West Pacific Area — First War (Canb, 1959)
  • London Gazette, 22 Sept 1916, 13 Feb 1917, 12 Jan 1918, 21 Jan, 8 Mar 1919, 11 June 1920
  • Melbourne High School, Unicorn, Dec 1955
  • Melb High School Old Boys' Association, Old Unicornian, Nov 1971
  • Age (Melbourne), 3 Sept 1958, 25 Aug 1971
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 25 Apr 1976
  • private information.

Citation details

A. W. Hammett, 'Langley, George Furner (1891–1971)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/langley-george-furner-7030/text12229, published in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 21 October 2014.

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

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