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Stokes, Sir Harold Frederick (1899–1977)

by Jacqueline Abbott

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

Sir Harold Frederick Stokes (1899-1977), engineer, company director and hospital president, was born on 7 January 1899 at Hawthorn, Melbourne, son of Victorian-born parents Frederick Percy Stokes, accountant, and his wife Nellie Henrietta Owen, née Wilcox. His grandfather Thomas Stokes had set up in Melbourne in 1856 as a die-sinker and manufacturer of medals and buttons. The business was to continue as Stokes & Sons Pty Ltd (from 1911) and Stokes (Australasia) Ltd (from 1962). Harold attended Melbourne Church of England Grammar School and entered Trinity College, University of Melbourne (B.Sc., 1921; B.E.E., 1924). He began work in 1924 as an assistant-engineer with William Adams & Co. Ltd; by 1927 he was head of its engineering department.

On 25 June 1936 at Christ Church, South Yarra, Stokes married with Anglican rites Ruth Alison Baird Good (d.1975), the 26-year-old daughter of a grazier. Appointed captain, Citizen Military Forces, on 20 May 1941, and promoted temporary major in October, he carried out ordnance engineering duties with Southern Command. His hopes of serving in Singapore were dashed when the island fell to the Japanese. In July 1942 he transferred to the Australian Imperial Force and in September rose to temporary lieutenant colonel (substantive March 1944). He was commander, electrical and mechanical engineers, Northern Territory Force, from June 1943 to May 1944, before becoming assistant-director of mechanical engineering, Land Headquarters, Melbourne. His A.I.F. appointment terminated on 8 November 1945.

Stokes retired from William Adams & Co. Ltd in 1951. A director (from 1936) of the family firm, he took on the role of its roving consultant. During World War II the company had produced munitions, including bomb casings and metal canteens. Subsequently, Stokes helped to turn the enterprise towards manufacturing components for Australia's automotive and domestic-appliance industries. After travelling abroad and seeing advances in technology, he modernized production methods and eventually introduced robotic welding. He sat on the boards of numerous other companies, among them Climatemaster Engineering Pty Ltd and Regent Insurance Ltd.

In 1952-74 Stokes was president of the Austin Hospital and chairman of the board of the Cancer Institute. His kindly and energetic leadership assisted the transition of the Austin from an institution for people with incurable diseases or conditions to a major general hospital with a university clinical school. For his services to the community, he was appointed C.B.E. (1966) and knighted (1974). He loved rural life, and took a hand in running the pastoral properties owned by his wife's family near Warrnambool and later near Lismore. Sir Harold was a member of the Royal Melbourne and Barwon Heads golf clubs, the Royal South Yarra Lawn Tennis Club, the Melbourne Club and the Naval and Military Club. When his children were young he kept a metal lathe in his garage to make model trains. Survived by his son and three daughters, he died on 4 August 1977 at Malvern and was cremated. A wing of the Austin Hospital was named after him.

Select Bibliography

  • E. W. Gault and A. Lucas, A Century of Compassion (Melb, 1982)
  • Age (Melbourne), 1 Jan 1966, 15 June 1974
  • private information.

Citation details

Jacqueline Abbott, 'Stokes, Sir Harold Frederick (1899–1977)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/stokes-sir-harold-frederick-11778/text21067, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 24 November 2014.

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

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