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Olden, Arthur Charles (1881–1949)

by Ian Jones

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

Arthur Charles Niquet Olden (1881-1949), soldier and dentist, was born on 3 July 1881 at Ballarat, Victoria, eighth child of Swedish mining agent Olaf Samuel Olden and his Queensland-born wife Sophia Louisa, née Niquet. Arthur was educated at Ballarat College and went on to study dentistry. In 1904 he was registered by the Dental Board of Western Australia, having been admitted by examination, and set up practice at Narrogin. He joined the West Australian Mounted Infantry, Australian Military Forces, as a second lieutenant in January 1913.

With the outbreak of war in 1914 Olden enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 28 October and in February 1915 embarked for Egypt as lieutenant with 'C' Squadron, 10th Light Horse Regiment. He landed at Anzac on 20 May and was twice wounded—in May and July, missing the charge at The Nek. Promoted captain and major early in 1916, he was detached to other units for much of the Sinai campaign but returned to the 10th L.H.R. for the Gaza-Beersheba operations of 1917, briefly assuming command when the two senior officers were wounded. In the ill-starred trans-Jordan operations of 30 April to 4 May 1918, Major Olden (now second-in-command) directed two squadrons in a dismounted bayonet-charge against a Turkish redoubt guarding Es Salt. The action was superbly executed and enabled the 8th L.H.R. to capture the town. Subsequently Olden's squadrons held a large enemy force on the Amman road until ordered to withdraw.

In September 1918 when the 10th L.H.R. led the Australian Mounted Division in 'The Great Ride' to encircle the Turkish armies in Sharon and Samaria, Olden was in command as temporary lieutenant-colonel. His cavalry work, like his earlier mounted infantry exploits, showed a fine balance of dash and caution. He took the town of Jenin with a splendid charge by a single squadron and captured 8107 prisoners and five field-guns in two days. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order.

On 1 October, with the British poised outside Damascus, Olden led a 3rd Light Horse Brigade vanguard through the city's outskirts in pursuit of retreating Turks. Investigating a large crowd outside the Hall of Government (at 6.30 a.m.), he found the 'governor' of Damascus with other dignitaries in an upstairs room. Olden formally accepted the surrender of the city, receiving a remarkable document which hailed him as 'the first British officer to enter Damascus, in the bravest manner known of the Saxon race'. He left the city two hours before the triumphant arrival of Lawrence of Arabia. Olden was subsequently mentioned in dispatches.

Succeeding to command of the 10th L.H.R. in January 1919, Lieutenant-Colonel Olden led 'Olden's Force' during suppression of the Egyptian nationalist rebellion. On 23 March his column of 400 moved up the Nile to engage a large rebel concentration at Bedrasheen and, in his words, 'jolly soon had them cold'. Some Egyptians were killed and part of the village burnt. A British court of inquiry was mildly critical of him for tacitly approving the incendiarism. This was possibly intended as a safety valve for the dangerous temper of his men, inflamed by alleged Egyptian atrocities.

Relinquishing command of the 10th L.H.R. in July, Olden went to the United States of America where he furthered his dental studies and commanded a parade of 500 Empire veterans welcoming the Prince of Wales to Philadelphia. When he returned to Australia in February 1920 and settled in Perth for work on the history of his regiment, a reporter commented that the 10th L.H.R. had become his 'foremost religion'. In March 1921 Olden became lieutenant-colonel of the 10th L.H.R., A.M.F., and soon afterwards completed his Westralian Cavalry in the War, one of the A.I.F.'s most sought-after unit histories. On 20 September 1922 he married Doris Ruth Padbury at St Matthew's Anglican Church, Guildford.

Olden relinquished command of the 10th L.H.R. in 1923 and in 1924 went to the reserve of officers. Over the next twenty-five years he conducted dental practices in and around Perth, successfully prospected for gold and oil and pursued his sporting interests, polo and trotting. He was on the State executive of the Returned Sailors' and Soldiers' Imperial League of Australia for twenty years and during World War II served briefly in the Australian Army Medical Corps (Dental) as lieutenant-colonel. He died of hypertensive vascular disease on 5 October 1949 in the Hollywood Repatriation Hospital, Perth, and was cremated in uniform at Karrakatta; his ashes were scattered at sea. His wife, two sons and two daughters survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • W. T. Massey, Allenby's Final Triumph (Lond, 1920)
  • H. S. Gullett, The A.I.F. in Sinai and Palestine (Syd, 1923)
  • S. Brugger, Australians and Egypt (Melb, 1980)
  • London Gazette, 8 Mar 1919, 11 June 1920
  • West Australian, 9, 20 Feb 1920, 7, 8 Oct 1949
  • war diary, 10th Light Horse Regiment, AIF (Australian War Memorial)
  • records (Australian War Memorial)
  • Olden papers (privately held)
  • private information.

Citation details

Ian Jones, 'Olden, Arthur Charles (1881–1949)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/olden-arthur-charles-7899/text13735, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 22 September 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

View the front pages for Volume 11

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