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Oliver, Donald Percy (1892–1972)

by John Mordike

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

Donald Percy Oliver (1892-1972), soldier and baker, was born on 14 April 1892 at North Melbourne, fourth of six children of William Oliver, a builder from Dundee, Scotland, and his Victorian-born wife Mary, née Walker. He completed an apprenticeship as a pastrycook in a bakery at Prahran and also served as a citizen soldier in the Victorian Scottish Regiment for three years before World War I.

Oliver enlisted in 'A' Company, 29th Battalion, Australian Imperial Force, on 7 July 1915 and after training in Egypt his unit arrived in France in late June 1916. Promoted temporary corporal on 23 July, he fought in the battle of Fromelles and was confirmed as a corporal on 7 September. In October the 29th Battalion went into the line on the Somme at Flers where Oliver contracted trench foot; he was evacuated to England in December and while on leave met his sister's pen-friend, Dorothy Emily Abbott of Luton, Bedfordshire, whom he was later to marry. After rejoining his unit he fought at Polygon Wood on 26-27 September and was wounded in the left thigh by shrapnel; he resumed duty on 18 November.

On 23 March 1918 Oliver was promoted lance sergeant and on 24 May at Sailly-le-Sec east of Amiens he showed great initiative. While on a patrol trying to obtain intelligence he rushed an enemy post accompanied by two men. That night he was one of two volunteers who crossed open ground swept by enemy machine-guns to rescue a wounded officer. For these actions he was awarded the Military Medal. Promotion to sergeant followed on 25 July and three nights later he commanded a platoon in an attack on enemy trenches at Morlancourt. His platoon not only accomplished its objective but also captured a machine-gun: for his cool, fearless leadership Oliver won a Bar to his Military Medal. During the final assault on the Hindenburg line he remained a platoon commander and at Bellicourt, during the advance on Nauroy on the night of 29 September, he led his men out under heavy machine-gun fire to successfully occupy a railway cutting. Two days later he commanded a platoon attack on an enemy strong-point. Undeterred by heavy machine-gun fire, he pressed forward until ordered to retire; then, unconcerned for his own safety, he rescued wounded men from his platoon in the face of sharp enemy fire. He was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal.

In October Oliver was sent to an officer training unit and was commissioned second lieutenant on 5 January 1919. By the time of his discharge from the A.I.F. in July 1920 he had been promoted lieutenant. After the war he worked as a baker with the refreshment service branch of the Victorian Railways and remained there until retiring as a foreman baker in 1957. On 16 February 1929 he had married Dorothy Abbott at St Alban's Anglican Church, Armadale, Melbourne. They lived at Armadale and retired to Bentleigh where Don grew chrysanthemums, went fishing off Frankston and followed the St Kilda football team. He was also active in ex-servicemen's associations. Survived by his wife and daughter, Oliver died at Brighton on 1 June 1972 and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • C. E. W. Bean, The A.I.F. in France (Syd, 1929, 1933, 1937, 1942)
  • war diary, 29th Battalion, AIF (Australian War Memorial)
  • family papers (privately held)
  • private information.

Citation details

John Mordike, 'Oliver, Donald Percy (1892–1972)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/oliver-donald-percy-7903/text13743, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 5 April 2020.

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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