Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Potts, Arnold William (1896–1968)

by W. J. Edgar

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

Arnold William Potts (1896-1968), by unknown photographer, 1945

Arnold William Potts (1896-1968), by unknown photographer, 1945

Australian War Memorial, 099103

Arnold William Potts (1896-1968), army officer and farmer, was born on 16 September 1896 on the Isle of Man, younger child of William Potts, schoolmaster, and his second wife Mary, née Matthew. In 1904 the family migrated to Perth. Educated at Cottesloe State School and (as a boarder) at Guildford Grammar School, Arnold began work at Fairbridge Farm School, Pinjarra.

On 18 January 1915 Potts enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force and was posted to the 16th Battalion. He served at Gallipoli from July and was promoted sergeant in October. Commissioned in January 1916, he was sent to the Western Front where he commanded the 4th Light Trench Mortar Battery as a captain. For his actions in August at Mouquet Farm and at German Strong-Point 54, on the Somme battlefield in France, he won the Military Cross. In February 1918 he rejoined the 16th Battalion. He was severely wounded at Vaire Wood, near Hamel, in July and evacuated to England in August. His A.I.F. appointment terminated in Western Australia on 9 March 1919. He had been mentioned in dispatches.

Although Potts was still classified as 20 per cent disabled, he went jackerooing on Boolaloo station, about 150 miles (241 km) south-east of Onslow. In 1920 he bought a property just west of Kojonup and called it Barrule after the twin peaks on the Isle of Man. At the chapel of his old school on 9 November 1926 he married Doreen Helena Wigglesworth with Anglican rites.

Potts joined the 25th Light Horse (Machine-Gun) Regiment in April 1939 and was appointed temporary major in December. He transferred to the A.I.F. on 1 May 1940 and was posted to the 2nd/16th Battalion which sailed for the Middle East in October. For his leadership during the Syrian campaign in June-July 1941 he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order and again mentioned in dispatches. In August he was placed in command of the 2nd/16th and promoted lieutenant colonel. Back in Australia, he was granted the temporary rank of brigadier and given command of the 21st Brigade on 6 April 1942.

The 21st Brigade was sent to Papua early in August and Potts was ordered to recapture the village of Kokoda from the Japanese. Reaching Alola on the Owen Stanley Range on 23 August, he took command of Maroubra Force (then comprising two beleaguered Militia battalions and some Papuan troops). Because of inadequate supplies, he could only take defensive action. When the Japanese attacked on the 26th, the timely arrival of leading elements of two battalions (2nd/14th and 2nd/16th) of his brigade enabled him to hold his ground. After four days of fighting, often hand-to-hand, at Isurava, he retreated along the Kokoda Track to Efogi, maintaining a tenacious rearguard action. On 5 September part of the 2nd/27th Battalion joined him at Mission Ridge (Brigade Hill). When his headquarters came under attack three days later, he withdrew his force to Menari on the 9th.

On 10 September 1942 Potts was instructed to report to headquarters, New Guinea Force, Port Moresby. He later rejoined his brigade which had been withdrawn to Sogeri to re-form. General Sir Thomas Blamey criticized him, and notified him on 22 October that he was to be relieved of his command and sent to Darwin next day. 'Pottsy's' removal grieved him and angered many of his men. In a letter to his wife he wrote: 'the reason for my dismissal is political mostly. Heads were needed . . . and mine was one of them'.

Blamey was under intense pressure from the Australian government and General Douglas MacArthur to bolster resistance in Papua. Lieutenant General (Sir) Edmund Herring, who succeeded (Sir) Sydney Rowell as commander of N.G.F., later claimed to have initiated Potts's replacement in the belief that he needed resting. None the less, Potts thought that the actions of the high command amounted to 'moral cowardice'. His superiors showed little understanding of the difficulties he had confronted and a lack of awareness of his valiant and inspiring leadership. Potts took over the 23rd Brigade in Darwin and led it on Bougainville from September 1944 until he left for Australia on 5 December 1945. He was twice mentioned in dispatches for his service in this campaign, but his deeds in Papua remained unrecognized.

Potts resumed farming at Barrule. In 1949 he stood unsuccessfully for the House of Representatives seat of Forrest as a Country Party candidate. He later became involved in numerous community organizations and was appointed O.B.E. (1960). After suffering two strokes in December 1964, he was confined to a wheelchair. Survived by his wife, and their son and two daughters, he died on New Year's Day 1968 at Kojonup and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • D. M. Horner, Blamey (Syd, 1998)
  • B. Edgar, Warrior of Kokoda (Syd, 1999), and for bibliography.

Citation details

W. J. Edgar, 'Potts, Arnold William (1896–1968)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/potts-arnold-william-11448/text20405, published in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 24 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014

Arnold William Potts (1896-1968), by unknown photographer, 1945

Arnold William Potts (1896-1968), by unknown photographer, 1945

Australian War Memorial, 099103