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Pope, Harold (1873–1938)

by Suzanne Welborn

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

Harold Pope (1873-1938), railway administrator and soldier, was born on 16 October 1873 at Ealing, Middlesex, England, son of Edward Pope, solicitor, and his wife Mary Jane, née Pope. He was raised by a nanny, educated at Thanet Lodge, Margate, and at St Saviour's College, Ardingly, Sussex, and at 16 joined the clerical staff of the Great Northern Railway. In August 1895 he arrived in Western Australia where he joined the railways. On 23 October 1896 he married Susan Matilda Slater at St John's Anglican Church, Albany. He joined the Western Australian Military Forces in July 1900 as a second lieutenant, and by 1908 he was a lieutenant-colonel.

On 13 October 1914 Pope was appointed lieutenant-colonel commanding the 16th Battalion, 4th Brigade, Australian Imperial Force. At dusk on 25 April 1915, at Gallipoli, he led part of his battalion and some New Zealanders to a vital unguarded gap, soon known as Pope's Hill. There, exposed to Turkish fire from both front and rear, the 16th began its work on Gallipoli. This included the failed 2 May attack on Bloody Angle where the unit had its numbers halved, the holding of Quinn's Post where on 29 May Pope commanded an attack, the 7 August night advance on Sari Bair and the 8 August attempt to take Hill 971. On 9-17 October Pope was temporary commander of the 4th Brigade, nominated by Brigadier General (Sir) John Monash who held him in the highest regard. Pope was a popular figure on Gallipoli with his confident bearing, strong face and kindly eyes. In October he was evacuated to Lemnos with illness. 'No-one', he wrote after the December evacuation, 'could have hoped to have seen greater bravery and endurance in human nature than I have seen in the officers and men of the 16th'. He had been mentioned in dispatches in June and appointed C.B. in October.

In France, as temporary colonel Pope led the 14th Brigade, 5th Division, in the disastrous battle of Fromelles on 19-20 July 1916. He had written in his diary: 'Have done everything possible that I know of for tomorrow'. He directed his part of the attack which began at 6 p.m. until he received orders at 5.40 a.m. on 20 July to withdraw his brigade which was isolated and in a desperate situation. He recorded that more than 2000 of his men were either dead or wounded. At 3 p.m., exhausted, he fell into a heavy sleep. At 4.30 p.m. his divisional commander Major General (Sir) James McCay tried to waken him without success, concluded that he was drunk and next day dismissed him. Pope protested his innocence. He asked A.I.F. commander Lieutenant-General Sir William Birdwood to grant him a court-martial where he could produce witnesses to prove his sobriety but Birdwood, to avoid scandal, refused the request.

On 22 July Pope lost his rank and his brigade command. On 1 October, after he had returned to Western Australia, his A.I.F. appointment was terminated. Convinced that he could no longer live in Australia under such a cloud, he went to Melbourne to 'look to the Australian Government for justice' and the chance to fight again on the Western Front to clear his name. In November he was put in charge of the transport Hororata as a continuous service officer without pay. On arrival in England he continued to protest his innocence but found that 'M'Cay remains obstinate in his original opinion in spite of all I put before him'. Birdwood, however, acknowledged the confusion which existed about the events of 20 July. On 16 February 1917 Pope accepted Birdwood's offer to command the 52nd Battalion with his original rank of lieutenant colonel and in late March once more led men to the front line, this time as part of the 13th Brigade under Major General (Sir) Talbot Hobbs. On 7 June Pope was seriously wounded by shrapnel in the right thigh while leading his battalion in the battle of Messines. He was mentioned in dispatches in December and in February 1918 was invalided home.

In August, at his request, Pope was appointed for transport duty on troopships. On 1 January 1919 Hobbs wrote to him: 'No man, under the circumstances, could have done more than you have done. It is nothing but sheer bad luck that has prevented you from finishing perhaps without as many decorations as many other men, but certainly there are few who enjoy more the respect and admiration of their friends than yourself'.

On 1 September 1919 Pope was appointed acting commissioner of railways in Western Australia and was confirmed in office six months later. He was commissioner in 1920-28, a period of flux within the department. After the war he was faced with substantial administrative and organizational problems which he 'attacked with verve'. For three years from 1919 the railways ran at a financial loss, mainly because of previous unsatisfactory administration, and a royal commission in 1922 largely cleared Pope of criticism levelled against him. As commissioner he introduced many reforms. He retired in October 1928 because of failing health.

In 1925-30 he was honorary colonel of the 16th Battalion and in 1926 was aide-de-camp to the governor-general. Survived by his wife, three sons and two daughters, Pope died in Perth on 13 May 1938 of heart disease and was buried in Karrakatta cemetery with Anglican rites.

Select Bibliography

  • C. Longmore, The Old Sixteenth (Perth, 1929)
  • C. E. W. Bean, The A.I.F. in France, 1916-18 (Syd, 1929, 1933, 1937, 1942)
  • C. E. W. Bean, Anzac to Amiens (Canb, 1946)
  • G. Serle, John Monash (Melb, 1982)
  • Railway Gazette, Sept 1919
  • Western Mail (Perth), 3 Aug 1922, 11 Oct 1928
  • records (Australian War Memorial).

Additional Resources

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Citation details

Suzanne Welborn, 'Pope, Harold (1873–1938)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/pope-harold-8079/text14101, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 22 June 2018.

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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