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Sinclair, Frank Roy (1892–1965)

by Robert Hyslop

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

Frank Roy Sinclair (1892-1965), public servant, was born on 6 December 1892 at Nurrabiel, near Horsham, Victoria, eleventh child of Alexander Sinclair, a clerk from Scotland, and his English-born wife Mary Ann, née Featherby. Educated at the local state school and the Continuation School, Melbourne, Frank joined the Department of Defence as a junior clerk in 1910. He worked initially in the correspondence section and later the finance branch. At the Methodist Church, North Melbourne, on 15 September 1917 he married Louisa May Pearce (d.1946); they were to have six children.

Sinclair rose to accountant (army) in 1929 and became secretary of the Defence Committee in 1937. Promoted assistant-secretary in March 1938, he served on the secretariat of the War Cabinet and the Advisory War Council in 1940, and acted as head of the department in January-May 1941 while (Sir) Frederick Shedden was abroad. On 21 August 1941 Sinclair was appointed secretary of the Department of the Army. As head of a service department in wartime, he carried heavy responsibilities and proved an effective and shrewd adviser to his ministers Frank Forde and James Fraser. In periodic disputes with the military staff he strictly insisted on civilian oversight of departmental administration: 'command' lay unarguably in the hands of the commander-in-chief General Sir Thomas Blamey, but 'control'—with its political, financial and administrative implications—continued to be the responsibility of the minister and his departmental secretary.

For its part, the army warned Sinclair of the gravity of civil interference in operational matters. His advocacy in December 1941 of guerrilla warfare in the event of a Japanese invasion had been criticized as defeatist by the chief of the General Staff (Sir) Vernon Sturdee. The report Sinclair wrote (after a visit to New Guinea in October 1942) which detailed alleged army wastefulness was sternly rebutted by Blamey, who asked that his response be circulated to members of the War Cabinet. None the less, Sinclair proved a highly capable defence administrator who handled the difficulties of wartime army staff with care and effectiveness.

After World War II ended, Sinclair set out to devise an effective modern administration for the army. He still challenged aspects of military policy, but (Sir) Sydney Rowell, vice-chief and later chief of the General Staff, readily acknowledged his support and help. Sinclair also retained the confidence and respect of his postwar ministers Cyril Chambers and (Sir) Josiah Francis.

On 19 May 1950 at St Cuthbert's Presbyterian Church, Brighton, Melbourne, Sinclair married Joan Marie Robinson, a 33-year-old teacher. In 1952 he was appointed C.B.E. Robust in build, and gifted with a warm and friendly nature, he was a keen cricketer and an active participant in public-service social functions. Towards the end of his life he took up bowls. On 29 January 1955 ill health forced him to resign as secretary; he remained on the unattached list until his formal retirement in April 1956.

Sinclair died on 21 March 1965 at Avoca Beach, New South Wales, and was cremated. His wife, and the three daughters and one of the three sons of his first marriage survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • J. A. Hetherington, Blamey (Melb, 1954)
  • D. M. Horner, Blamey (Syd, 1998)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 18 Mar 1938, 6 Aug 1941, 12 June 1946, 14 Jan 1955
  • Age (Melbourne), 23 Mar 1965
  • A5954, item 70/5 (National Archives of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Robert Hyslop, 'Sinclair, Frank Roy (1892–1965)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/sinclair-frank-roy-11701/text20913, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 25 November 2014.

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

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