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New, Esmond Walter (1900–1982)

by Steve Eather

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

Esmond Walter Cecil New (1900-1982), Presbyterian minister and air force chaplain, was born on 22 August 1900 at Bromley, Kent, England, son of Frederick William New, meat salesman, and his Victorian-born wife Jane Mary, née Adams.  Educated at Bromley, Esmond farmed and served briefly in World War I in the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy, before migrating to Australia.  After working on the land near the Strezlecki Ranges, Victoria, in 1922 New became a sales assistant with Myer (Melbourne) Pty Ltd.  Attracted to the Presbyterian church, he trained for the ministry at Ormond College, University of Melbourne.  Ordained in 1934, he joined the Australian Presbyterian Mission in Korea where the Japanese occupiers classified him as 'dangerous' and placed him under constant surveillance.  Tensions in Asia increased, and he and his family returned to Victoria in 1939.

New preached in various churches and studied painting at Melbourne Technical College before moving to Perth, where he became chaplain (1940-41) to the 16th Cameron Highlanders.  On 1 January 1942 he was appointed as a chaplain in the Royal Australian Air Force with the rank of flight lieutenant.  He served on several RAAF bases in Western Australia, Queensland, New Guinea and Borneo.  In 1943 he worked on intelligence duties, preparing information papers for the United States Army on aspects of Japanese culture.  Promoted to chaplain, 3rd class, in December 1944, New was demobilised on 18 December 1945 with the rank of temporary squadron leader and placed on the Air Force Reserve.  From 1946 to 1951 he ministered at St Kilda Presbyterian Church, Melbourne.

With the advent of the Korean War, New transferred from the reserve to the Active Citizen Air Force in December 1950.  Appointed as an intelligence officer, Special Duties Branch, he was attached to the British Commonwealth Occupation Force in Japan.  Fluent in Korean, he was asked to search in Korea for two missing pilots who had been shot down.  It was a dangerous assignment because communist guerrillas operated in the area.  The searches, which confirmed the pilots’ deaths, were undertaken in 1950-51 and were subsequently described as 'daring and imaginative'.  New then served as a chaplain with the Far East Air Force in Singapore and Malaya before returning to Australia in October 1952.  His appointment terminated on 16 January 1953 and he accepted calls to minister at Birregurra and Echuca, Victoria.  In 1959 he was appointed MBE and became Victorian foreign mission secretary of the Presbyterian Church of Australia.

On 9 February 1929 at Knox Presbyterian Church, Ivanhoe, New had married Annie Fitzroy McNair.  Following her death in a car accident in 1974, he married Rose Nuttall on 14 December 1975 at Tecoma, Victoria.  He wrote books about Korea and shell collecting, and an autobiography, Not a Dull Moment (1978?).  Broadminded and with a good sense of humour, New was equally at home in an air force chaplain’s uniform as in civilian dress.  His first-hand knowledge of the cultures of East Asia, especially his fluency in the Korean language, was a rare attribute for an Australian in the 1940s and 1950s.  In retirement at Ocean Grove, he taught painting and exhibited his own art works.  Survived by his wife and the three sons and one daughter from his first marriage, New died on 25 May 1982 at Gawler, South Australia, and was buried in Willaston cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • R. O’Neill, Australia in the Korean War, 1950-53. Volume 2 (1985)
  • A12372, item O34411 (National Archives of Australia)

Citation details

Steve Eather, 'New, Esmond Walter (1900–1982)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/new-esmond-walter-14986/text26175, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 18 June 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

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