This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012
Cranston Albury McEachern (1905-1983), army officer and solicitor, was born on 9 September 1905 at Dongarra, Western Australia, only child of Archibald Hector Cranston McEachern, tailor, and his wife Lillian Emma, née Dumbrell; his father was born in New South Wales and his mother in Victoria. Educated at Brisbane Grammar School, Cranston trained as a solicitor and, admitted on 2 May 1928, immediately established his own law firm. He had been commissioned in the Australian Field Artillery, Militia, in 1924; by 1936 he was commanding the 11th Field Brigade as a major (1929). On 24 April 1936 at St John’s Anglican Cathedral, Brisbane, he married Clarice Jean Lynagh Smith. They separated in January 1940 and—shortly after his divorce was finalised—on 17 October at the Ann Street Presbyterian Church, Brisbane, he married Hazel Lawson Lyon, a clerk.
In February 1937 McEachern had been promoted to lieutenant colonel. Following the outbreak of World War II, he gave up his law practice and on 1 May 1940 joined the Australian Imperial Force as a major. He regained his lieutenant colonelcy in October on being appointed to command the 2/4th Anti-Tank Regiment, which deployed to Malaya (Malaysia) with the 8th Division. The unit saw action against the Japanese from 27 December 1941 until the surrender on 15 February 1942. When enemy tanks appeared, particularly at Bakri on the Muar-Parit Sulong Road on 18 January, they were promptly dealt with and positions saved. McEachern’s superior, Brigadier C. A. Callaghan, reported that, throughout the operations, he was ‘an inspiration to his Regiment owing to his outstanding ability, command and control which were exercised without regard for personal safety’. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (1947). From 6 February he commanded the divisional artillery in Callaghan’s absence.
In captivity McEachern was assigned to command the Australian part (2220 men) of ‘D’ Force, sent in March 1943 to work on the Burma-Thailand Railway. At the Hintok Road camp, Thailand, he commanded the whole formation plus Dunlop Force, some 5000 Australian and British troops. His men worked on the ‘Pack of Cards Bridge’ and ‘Hell Fire Pass’. He was promoted to colonel and temporary brigadier with effect from April 1942. When Japan surrendered in August 1945, he was the senior Allied officer in Thailand. He took charge of repatriating approximately 30 000 troops. Claiming an authority he did not hold, he persuaded Japanese officers not to comply with Allied orders to concentrate their former prisoners in the Bangkok area. He knew that the already emaciated and malnourished soldiers would have been marched long distances, sometimes more than one hundred miles (161 km), and hundreds might have died. In November he returned to Australia. For his services while a prisoner of war he was mentioned in despatches. He transferred to the Reserve of Officers on 19 February 1946 as an honorary brigadier.
McEachern resumed his legal practice; Cranston McEachern & Co. (sometimes as a partnership) became a major Brisbane law firm. In the 1946 Senate election he was a candidate for the Service Party of Australia. He was president (1946-61) of the United Service Institute, Queensland, and chairman of directors and honorary solicitor of the Queensland Vasey Housing Auxiliary of the War Widows’ Guild of Australia, Queensland. In addition, he was president (1964-69) of the Young Men’s Christian Association of Brisbane and honorary colonel (1966-70) of the Australian Cadet Corps, Northern Command. He continued in full-time practice until his death on 15 October 1983 at Bridgeman Downs, Brisbane. After a service with Presbyterian forms, he was cremated. His wife and their daughter and two sons, and the son of his first marriage, survived him.
John Blaxland, 'McEachern, Cranston Albury (1905–1983)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/mceachern-cranston-albury-15776/text26965, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 30 June 2016.
This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012