Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Ogle, Robert William George (1904–1981)

by Garth Pratten

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

Robert William George Ogle (1904-1981), engineer and army officer, was born on 21 November 1904 at Georgetown, Newcastle, New South Wales, son of Robert William Ogle, a locally born blacksmith, and his English-born wife Edith Alice, née Kempster. Educated at Newcastle High School and Sydney Technical College, Bob undertook an apprenticeship in mechanical engineering with Rylands Bros (Australia) Pty Ltd. In 1927 he began a career in the electrical industry as a draftsman with the New South Wales Government Railways and Tramways. On 21 February 1931 at the Methodist Church, Waratah, Newcastle, he married Hazel Jean Matilda Golding, a stenographer. He joined the Southern Electricity Supply of New South Wales in January 1939 and oversaw the construction of a 132-kV powerline connecting Port Kembla to Goulburn.

From 1920 Ogle had served in the Citizen Military Forces, first in the engineers then in the infantry, and by 1934 had risen to major; in 1938-39 he commanded the 13th Battalion as a temporary lieutenant colonel but relinquished the appointment on moving to Port Kembla. Although in a restricted occupation in World War II, he volunteered for overseas service and in May 1940 began full-time duty in the Australian Imperial Force as a major. Arriving in the Middle East in January 1941 as brigade major of the 24th Brigade, he saw service from April in the siege of Tobruk, Libya. On 13 June he was promoted to lieutenant colonel and appointed to command the 2/15th Battalion. At Tobruk, Ogle established a reputation as a straightforward and aggressive commander. He routinely visited the battalion’s forward posts, regularly conducted reconnaissance and supervised work in no man’s land. The patrolling and raiding program that he maintained won the praise of his superiors. His men found him approachable but insistent on high standards of discipline and physical fitness.

Operation Bulimba—near El Alamein, Egypt, on 1 September 1942—proved to be the sternest test the 2/15th had yet faced in the war. Intended as a diversion, the operation required the unit to breach the German obstacle belt and to seize a series of strong-points on high ground. The objectives were ambitious and the battalion was embroiled in fierce hand-to-hand fighting amid the German posts. Moving to intervene after one of his companies was pinned down by heavy enemy fire, Ogle was seriously wounded when his Bren-gun carrier hit a mine but he continued to direct the battle until his second-in-command came forward to relieve him. For these actions Ogle was awarded the Distinguished Service Order. A fractured right ankle and multiple shrapnel wounds resulted in his evacuation to Australia and later employment in staff positions (1943-45) at Advanced Land Headquarters. He had been twice mentioned in despatches for his conduct in the Middle East. On 12 December 1945 he transferred to the Reserve of Officers.

Ogle returned to Southern Electricity Supply in January 1946, as the distribution engineer, Cootamundra. With the formation of the Electricity Commission of New South Wales in 1950, he was appointed its transmission division construction engineer, located in Sydney; by 1958 he was the distribution superintendent. In these positions he co-ordinated major electricity-transmission construction  projects, including one of the most significant in New South Wales to that time. The works he undertook were crucial in alleviating the frequent blackouts that plagued Sydney in the late 1940s and early 1950s, and in creating the first State-wide grid. Widely respected in the commission, at his retirement in January 1965 he was described as ‘the portrait of a truly admirable man’.

In his spare time Ogle enjoyed gardening and was heavily involved with Sydney Legacy. Childless, he centred his work with Legacy on its junior welfare activities, including counselling for fatherless families, night education classes, and country holidays for city children. He died on 28 January 1981 in his home at Beecroft and was cremated. His wife survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • H. G. Conde, The Organisation of the Electricity Commission of New South Wales (1956)
  • Power: A Decade of Progress, 1950-1960 (1960)
  • R. J. Austin, Let Enemies Beware! ‘Caveant Hostes’ (1995)
  • M. Johnston and P. Stanley, Alamein (2002)
  • G. Pratten, Australian Battalion Commanders in the Second World War (2009)
  • Network (Electricity Commission of New South Wales), vol 7, no 7, 1965, pp 2, 7, vol 7, no 8, 1965, p 2
  • Sydney Legacy Bulletin, no 2385, 26 Feb 1981, p 3
  • “Caveant Hostes”, vol 1, no 22, 1981, p 1
  • B883, item NX12305 (National Archives of Australia).

Citation details

Garth Pratten, 'Ogle, Robert William George (1904–1981)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/ogle-robert-william-george-15833/text27032, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 25 March 2019.

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

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