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Secombe, Victor Clarence (1897–1962)

by P. J. Greville

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

Victor Clarence Secombe (1897-1962), by unknown photographer, 1945

Victor Clarence Secombe (1897-1962), by unknown photographer, 1945

Australian War Memorial, 116295

Victor Clarence Secombe (1897-1962), army officer, was born on 9 January 1897 at Glen Wills, near Omeo, Victoria, third son of William Secombe, miner, and his wife Katie, née Schlitz, both Victorian born. As a young man Victor was a good Australian Rules footballer, a successful middle-distance runner and an outstanding horseman. He attended Swifts Creek State School, boarded at St Patrick's College, Ballarat, and entered (1915) the Royal Military College, Duntroon, Federal Capital Territory, from which he graduated in December 1917. Appointed lieutenant in the Australian Imperial Force on 1 January 1918, he embarked for England in the following month. He joined the 15th Field Company, Engineers, in France in September and became adjutant of the 5th Divisional Engineers in January 1919. After undertaking a course at the School of Military Engineering, Chatham, England, he returned to Australia in December.

A series of staff and command postings with the Royal Australian Engineers in coastal defence and field units took Secombe to Western Australia (1920 and 1926-28), Tasmania (1920-21), Victoria (1921-25) and New South Wales (1928-32). He studied civil engineering at the University of Melbourne in 1922-23 and was promoted captain in 1926. At St Mary's Catholic Cathedral, Perth, on 22 May 1929 he married Dorothea Mary Teresa Hayes.

In 1932 Secombe was a member of a party sent to Darwin to construct coastal defences. He became assistant-director of works at 2nd District Base, Sydney, in 1934. Two years later he was promoted major and posted to Duntroon. As staff officer, engineer services, he supervised the reconstruction of the college. In December 1936 he became engineer instructor. G. D. Solomon recalled 'Sec' as having 'a gravelly voice, a welcome sense of humour and a temper which was always quick'. With a lifelong interest in breeding and racing thoroughbreds, he took an active role in local riding events. Promoted temporary lieutenant colonel in November 1939, he was transferred to Army Headquarters, Melbourne, next month.

On 4 April 1940 Secombe was seconded to the A.I.F. and given command of the 7th Divisional Engineers. In October he sailed for the Middle East. From January 1941 the engineers of the 7th served in North Africa where, in addition to his field engineering duties, Secombe took charge of works at Tobruk and Benghazi, Libya, and Mersa Matruh, Egypt. Promoted colonel and appointed the division's assistant-adjutant and quartermaster general in May, he participated in the Syrian campaign (June-July). He was appointed C.B.E. and mentioned in dispatches for his work in the Middle East. In November he was made temporary brigadier and appointed deputy-director, supply and transport, at I Corps headquarters, with which he moved to Java in January 1942 and to Australia in March.

After six months as senior administrative staff officer at Headquarters, Second Army, Secombe was sent to Port Moresby in October 1942 as deputy-head of the Combined Operational Service Command, which co-ordinated all construction and lines of communications activities for allied forces in Papua and New Guinea. From March 1943 he filled administrative posts, first at I Corps and New Guinea Force, and then at Land Headquarters, Brisbane. Attached to Northern Territory Force in April 1944 for logistics planning, he returned to Brisbane in September as acting deputy quartermaster general. In October he was posted to Advanced Land Headquarters, which were located first at Hollandia, Netherlands East Indies, and later at Morotai whence he organized administrative support for operations in Borneo and Brunei. By July 1945 he was back at Land Headquarters as D.Q.M.G. He was twice mentioned in dispatches (1943 and 1947), and was awarded the American Medal of Freedom with Silver Palm (1948).

In March 1946 Secombe became engineer-in-chief at Army Headquarters. He supervised the transition of the R.A.E. from war to peace. Promoted temporary major general in January 1949 (substantive September 1950), he was appointed master-general of the ordnance and fourth military member of the Military Board. In November 1950 he moved to Brisbane as general officer commanding, Northern Command. Twelve months later he was transferred to Sydney as G.O.C., Eastern Command, and made temporary lieutenant general. He returned to Northern Command in May 1952. Of middle height, Secombe was immaculate in appearance and in bearing. He had the ability to be friendly with subordinates, without losing their respect, and gained the trust of all.

Secombe retired from the army on 4 April 1954 as an honorary lieutenant general. In 1955 he was appointed C.B. and colonel commandant of the R.A.E. After breeding Herefords on a 10,000 acre (4047 ha) property near Gatton, Queensland, he bought a small orchard at Kenmore. He died of cancer on 3 February 1962 in the Mater Misericordiae Hospital, South Brisbane, and was buried in Toowong cemetery. His wife, and their daughter and elder son survived him; their younger son, also a graduate of Duntroon, predeceased him.

Select Bibliography

  • J. E. Lee, Duntroon (Canb, 1952)
  • A. S. Walker, Middle East and Far East (Canb, 1953)
  • D. McCarthy, South-West Pacific Area—First Year (Canb, 1959)
  • G. D. Solomon, A Poor Sort of Memory (Canb, 1978)
  • R. McNicoll, The Royal Australian Engineers 1919 to 1945 (Canb, 1982)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 5 Feb 1962
  • private information.

Citation details

P. J. Greville, 'Secombe, Victor Clarence (1897–1962)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/secombe-victor-clarence-11648/text20807, published in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 23 July 2014.

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

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