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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Taylor, George Francis (1903–1979)

by Mark Wheeler

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

George Francis Taylor (1903-1979), secret service officer and banker, was born on 13 January 1903 at Prahran, Melbourne, son of George Arthur Taylor, merchant, and his wife Annie Mary, née Ryan, both Melbourne born. George was educated at Xavier College (dux 1921) and at the University of Melbourne (B.A. Hons, 1925; M.A., 1927; LL.B., 1928) where he won prizes for debating. He freelanced as a journalist and occasionally wrote on foreign affairs before joining the Shell Co. of Australia Ltd in 1930.

Business, and his ambition to write a book on British foreign policy, took Taylor to London in the mid-1930s. At the Church of the Oratory, Kensington, on 17 June 1937 he married with Catholic rites 21-year-old Judith Vivian Rose Price. In July 1939 he was employed by Major Laurence Grand in section D (for 'Destruction') of the Secret Intelligence Service. The section had been established (1938) to investigate the potential of sabotage and subversion in time of war. Early in 1940 Taylor was appointed head of its Balkan network—which had the task of staunching the flow of Romanian oil to Germany—but his contribution lay as much in defining strategy and tactics as it did in conducting operations. Before the fall of France, he advocated sabotage of communications by local patriots under British direction; after June, he was an architect of the 'secret army' strategy, by which Britain hoped to foment uprisings in occupied Europe.

The Special Operations Executive, created in July 1940, incorporated section D. Taylor became chief of staff to Sir Frank Nelson, S.O.E.'s first executive head. Finding that Taylor's Balkan organization was the only functional asset inherited from the section, Nelson sent him to the region in January 1941 to oversee measures to counter the Germans' expected offensive. When the Yugoslav government succumbed to Nazi coercion on 25 March, S.O.E. agents promoted the military coup which toppled it thirty-six hours later. After the Germans invaded, Taylor and most of his colleagues were captured by the Italians while trying to escape from the Adriatic coast. Mistakenly assumed to be a diplomat, he was held for two months before being released. Back in London, he was made director of overseas groups and missions in March 1942. In mid-1943 he briefly served as chief of staff to Sir Charles Hambro, who replaced Nelson. Taylor saw out the war as director of S.O.E.'s Far East group, which entailed extensive travel. He had been given the honorary rank of colonel and been appointed C.B.E. (1943).

A short, dark man with sharp features and methodical habits, Taylor had impressed Julian Amery in 1940 by eating identical meals in the same restaurant on three successive evenings. He was invariably described by admirers and detractors as utterly ruthless, though his friends added 'but brilliant'. The last chief under whom he served, Major General (Sir) Colin Gubbins, regarded him as 'a very able, quick-thinking officer, of great energy and persistence, who at times presses his points too hard'. Taylor became a director (1950), deputy-chairman (1966) and chairman (1970) of the Bank of London & South America Ltd, and helped to implement its merger (1971) with Lloyds Bank Europe Ltd. He returned to Australia in the mid-1970s and settled in Perth. Survived by his wife, and their son and two daughters, he died on 17 January 1979 at Nedlands and was buried in Karrakatta cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • B. Sweet-Escott, Baker Street Irregular (Lond, 1965)
  • J. Amery, Approach March (Lond, 1973)
  • P. Auty and R. Clogg (eds), British Policy Towards Wartime Resistance in Yugoslavia and Greece (NY, 1975)
  • D. Stafford, Britain and European Resistance, 1940-1945 (Lond, 1980)
  • C. Cruickshank, SOE in the Far East (Oxford, 1983)
  • Xavier College, Xaverian, 1921-22 and 1925-29
  • Bank of London and South America Ltd, Report and Accounts, 1970
  • SOE papers (National Archives of the United Kingdom)
  • G. Taylor personal file (Foreign and Commonwealth Office, London).

Citation details

Mark Wheeler, 'Taylor, George Francis (1903–1979)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 8 August 2020.

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

View the front pages for Volume 16

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