Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Proby, Lawrence Sherlock (1919–1969)

by P. L. Edgar

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

Lawrence Sherlock Proby (1919-1969), soldier and businessman, was born on 20 July 1919 at Osborne, near Mornington, Victoria, second child of Harley Lawrence Proby, orchardist, and his wife Janet Agnes, née Sherlock, both Victorian born. Lawrence was raised in several Melbourne suburbs, and educated in turn at Bentleigh State and Brighton Technical schools until he was about 15 years old. By 1939 he was working as a storeman. Five ft 11½ ins (182 cm) tall, with blue eyes and brown hair, he was a good-looking young man, with a characteristically cheerful grin.

Mobilized in the Militia in April 1940, Proby was posted to the 58th (later the 58th/59th) Battalion. After attending officers' training school at Seymour, he was promoted sergeant and called up for full-time duty in October 1941. He was commissioned lieutenant on 2 February 1942 and transferred to the Australian Imperial Force on 28 July. At St Mark's Anglican Church, Casino, New South Wales, on 2 February 1943 he married Norma Dorothy Gorton, a draper's assistant. Thirty-four days later he embarked for New Guinea.

In June 1943 the raw 58th/59th Battalion joined the fight for Bobdubi Ridge, the key to the Japanese stronghold at Salamaua. The Australians gradually advanced until they encountered a horseshoe-shaped fortress on a site known as Old Vickers. It withstood repeated attacks. On 28 July four platoons of the 58th/59th were involved in a new assault, with Proby's platoon in the centre. The approach was along a ridge so narrow that only one man could advance at a time. 'Butch' Proby was first to penetrate the enemy's defences and directed his men in mopping up enemy strong-points. Dazed by an exploding grenade, he regained consciousness while receiving medical attention and rejoined the action, trailing yards of bandage. For his leadership and courage, which played a significant part in the capture of the fortress, he was awarded the Military Cross.

Admitted to hospital, first with dengue fever and then with malaria, Proby returned to Queensland in August 1944. Within five months he was sent to Bougainville. During the push towards Buin, 'A' Company of the 58th/59th (with Proby in temporary command) was ordered on 29 June 1945 to assault Japanese positions on the east bank of the Mobiai River. Coming under intense fire from a heavy machine-gun, Proby charged the pillbox, killed its four crew and captured the weapon. Soon after, he leapt into the river—while under further fire—to rescue two wounded men. He then led a flanking attack which overwhelmed another post upriver, securing the high ground controlling the Buin Road. He won a bar to his M.C.

Proby came home to Australia in September 1945. He held a staff post in Melbourne before being placed on the Reserve of Officers on 18 January 1947. After working for a paper-manufacturing firm in the city, he ran a newsagency at Shepparton. A few years later he opened an office-equipment business in the town. Survived by his wife, and their daughter and two sons, he died of cardiac disease on 14 March 1969 in Melbourne and was buried in Shepparton cemetery with Methodist forms.

Select Bibliography

  • D. Dexter, The New Guinea Offensives (Canb, 1961)
  • R. Mathews, Militia Battalion at War (Syd, 1961)
  • G. Long, The Final Campaigns (Canb, 1963)
  • private information.

Citation details

P. L. Edgar, 'Proby, Lawrence Sherlock (1919–1969)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/proby-lawrence-sherlock-11463/text20437, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 22 October 2019.

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

View the front pages for Volume 16

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2019