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Selby, Arthur Roland (1893–1966)

by Peter Londey

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

Arthur Roland Selby (1893-1966), army officer, was born on 16 March 1893 at Armidale, New South Wales, third child of native-born parents John Selby, builder, and his wife Elizabeth, née Vaughan. In the mid-1890s the family moved to Leederville, Perth. Arthur attended Scotch College, Claremont, and in June 1911 was among the first intake at the Royal Military College, Duntroon, Federal Capital Territory. When World War I broke out, the senior cadets at R.M.C. graduated early to be available for active service. Lieutenant Selby joined the Australian Imperial Force on 14 August 1914 and sailed for the Middle East with the 11th Battalion in November. At the Garrison Church, Kasr-el-Nil, Cairo, on 24 February 1915 he married with Anglican rites Susanna Gertrude Bryant whom he had met in Perth; they were to have a daughter.

After landing at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915, Selby was severely wounded in the right elbow on 7 May near Lone Pine. Evacuated to Egypt and thence to England, he was repatriated in November. In 1916 he was appointed adjutant of the wartime officers' training school, near Duntroon. For the rest of the war he held staff posts in Western Australia and Tasmania.

Promoted captain and brevet major in early 1920, Selby was sent in 1923 to the Staff College, Quetta, India, where he became a popular officer. He returned to Australia in 1925 and in the following year was invited back to Quetta as an instructor; he took up the four-year post in September 1926, with the temporary rank of lieutenant colonel. Because opportunities for advancement in the Australian Military Forces were limited, he resigned in September 1930 to join a British regiment, the Royal Ulster Rifles. He served in England in 1932-36, attended the 1937 course at the Imperial Defence College, London, and returned to India.

When World War II began, Selby was a temporary brigadier on the British staff in Egypt. In 1940-41 he commanded an infantry brigade around Mersa Matruh and Sidi Barrani. Granted the acting rank of major general in March 1941, he served as an area commander and then as deputy quartermaster general at General Headquarters, Middle East. Following a period in Eritrea, he moved to Persia and Iraq Command where he was acting commander-in-chief (as temporary lieutenant general) in 1943-44. Mentioned six times in dispatches in 1941-43, he was appointed C.B.E. (1941), C.B. (1943), and to the Russian Order of Kutuzov (1944). His final appointment was that of major general, administration, at Headquarters, Western Command, England.

In February 1946 Selby retired and moved to South Africa. He took up a citrus farm at Muden, Natal, but his dreams of a quiet life were disrupted by the election (1948) of a Nationalist government intent on making South Africa a republic. Selby became a prominent member of a militant opposition group, the Torch Commando. In 1953 he helped to found the Union Federal Party which failed to win any seats at provincial council elections.

Never one to change direction, Selby clung to the imperial ideal. He resigned from the U.F.P. in 1955 to devote his efforts to the Anti-Republican League, but failed to stem the nationalist tide which took South Africa out of the British Commonwealth in 1961. Weakened physically and financially by his dedication to a lost cause, Selby retired to New Hanover, Natal. He died on 30 August 1966 at Greytown and was buried in a Pietermaritzburg cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • C. E. W. Bean, The Story of Anzac (Syd, 1921, 1924)
  • W. C. Belford, Legs-Eleven (Perth, 1940)
  • J. E. Lee, Duntroon (Canb, 1952)
  • I. S. O. Playfair, The Mediterranean and the Middle East, vol 1 (Lond, 1954)
  • B. Pitt, The Crucible of War (Lond, 1980)
  • Times (London), 11 May 1953, 24 May 1955
  • West Australian, 12 Sept 1966
  • A10302, item 1956/1248 and A1838, items 201/2/2/9 and 201/2/7/1 (National Archives of Australia).

Citation details

Peter Londey, 'Selby, Arthur Roland (1893–1966)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/selby-arthur-roland-11652/text20815, published in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 31 July 2014.

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

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