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Phillips, Owen Forbes (1882–1966)

by R. C. H. Courtney

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

Owen Forbes Phillips (1882-1966), soldier, was born on 9 June 1882 at Warwick, Queensland, eldest child of Welsh parents Arthur Owen Henry Phillips, physician and surgeon, and his wife Amy, formerly Scott, née Forbes. Educated at The Armidale School, New South Wales, he was a member of the cricket and football teams and a keen athlete. He was a corporal in the school cadet force and in 1898-1900 won prizes for gymnastics, running and photography.

In 1900 Phillips joined the Queensland Artillery (militia) as a lieutenant and next year was absorbed into the Royal Australian Garrison Artillery; he was allotted to garrison artillery duty at Brisbane, Lytton and Townsville in 1902-06. Promoted captain in 1911, he was transferred to the Royal Australian Field Artillery, Victoria, and then had a year of instruction in England. He was promoted major in May 1914 and appointed adjutant to the 7th Field Brigade, Royal Australian Artillery, in Victoria. At the outbreak of World War I he became a captain in the Australian Imperial Force, 2nd Brigade, Divisional Artillery, and was promoted major commanding the 4th Battery in September.

Phillips was in command of the 4th Battery, 2nd Field Artillery Brigade, during the Gallipoli landing on 25 April 1915 but because of the difficulty of positioning field-guns in the rugged terrain his unit was not in action until early May when his guns were manhandled onto 400 Plateau to cover front-line positions; his battery was then in continuous action throughout the campaign and especially distinguished itself in the defence of Quinn's and Courtney's Posts in May and during the bombardment of Lone Pine in August. Falling ill in November Phillips was invalided to England and for meritorious service at Gallipoli was mentioned in dispatches.

In February 1916 he transferred to the 14th Field Artillery Brigade stationed in Egypt. Promoted lieutenant-colonel in March, he organized and trained the new brigade which he took to France in June. Phillips remained in France and Belgium for the rest of the war and saw action at Bullecourt, Lagnicourt, Ypres and Mont St Quentin. From October 1917 to August 1919 he held the temporary rank of brigadier general in command of the 2nd Divisional Artillery. At Petillon on 19-20 July 1916 he showed great ability and resourcefulness in commanding eleven batteries and was awarded the Distinguished Service Order, and in February 1917 he was made a cavalier of the Order of St Maurice and St Lazarus (Italy) for conspicuous service in supporting attacks near Fleurbaix. He was mentioned in dispatches five times in 1916-19, was appointed C.M.G. in 1919 and that year received the Distinguished Service Medal (United States of America).

On his return to Australia he reverted to his substantive rank of major, Australian Military Forces. He was appointed temporary lieutenant-colonel and chief instructor of the School of Gunnery in August 1919, then commander Royal Artillery, 1st Division, until August 1922. He was staff officer, 1st Cavalry Division (1922-23), chief instructor, Artillery Schools of Instruction (1923-24), aide-de-camp to the governor-general (1924-25), and administrative assistant and quartermaster general, 1st Cavalry Division (1925-26).

Phillips was given the honorary rank of brigadier general in 1926 and made commander of field troops and base commandant in South Australia where he met Olive Myrtle Loftes, née Young, a divorcee whom he married at Scots Church, Adelaide, on 4 December 1929. He was then transferred as director of ordnance services at Army Headquarters, Melbourne, a position he held until 1933. In 1934-39 he was quartermaster general and master general of ordnance, Victoria, and was promoted major general in 1936. At the outbreak of World War II he was appointed inspector of coastal and anti-aircraft defences; he retired from the Army in June 1942.

Phillips retired to Beaumaris, Melbourne, in the early 1950s. Survived by his wife, he died there on 15 May 1966 and was buried in New Cheltenham cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • C. E. W. Bean, The Story of Anzac (Syd, 1921, 1924)
  • C. E. W. Bean, The A.I.F. in France, 1916-18 (Syd, 1929, 1933, 1936, 1942)
  • London Gazette, 5 Nov 1915, 28 Jan, 29 Dec 1916, 2 Feb, 25 Dec 1917, 28 May 1918, 3 June, 11, 12 July 1919
  • war diaries, 14th Field Artillery Brigade, AIF (Australian War Memorial)
  • records from honours and awards collection (Australian War Memorial)
  • information from The Armidale School Historical Committee and R.S.L. sub-branch, Beaumaris, Melbourne.

Citation details

R. C. H. Courtney, 'Phillips, Owen Forbes (1882–1966)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/phillips-owen-forbes-8039/text14017, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 16 November 2018.

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

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