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Torr, Alexander George (1907–1952)

by Garth Pratten

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

Alexander George Torr (1907-1952), by F. J. Nestor, 1945

Alexander George Torr (1907-1952), by F. J. Nestor, 1945

Australian War Memorial, 107771

Alexander George Torr (1907-1952), army officer and engineer, was born on 8 April 1907 at Newtown, Sydney, third child of John Alexander Torr, an engineer from England, and his Sydney-born wife Emily Jane, née Williams. Educated at Randwick High School and Sydney Technical College, Alex was employed as a mechanical engineer, first with the British Tobacco Co. (Australia) Ltd and then with the British-Australasian Tobacco Co. Pty Ltd. After serving in the cadets, he was commissioned in January 1926 in the 19th Battalion (Militia). At St Luke's Church of England, Concord, on 24 February 1931 he married Nola Harris West. In April 1932 he transferred to the (Royal) Australian Engineers (Militia). He was promoted captain in May 1937.

Seconded to the 6th Divisional Engineers, Australian Imperial Force, on 13 October 1939, Major Torr embarked for the Middle East in January 1940 as officer commanding the 2nd/1st Field Company. He remained a citizen-soldier in outlook. His informal style proved popular with his men, but led to criticism in some quarters about the standard of discipline in his company.

The 2nd/1st Field Company went into action at Bardia, Libya, on 3 January 1941 and at Tobruk on 21 January. Torr led from the front during both battles. At Tobruk he personally disarmed anti-tank mines and removed wire entanglements. For his leadership he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order and mentioned in dispatches. He led his unit during the ill-fated campaigns (April-May) in Greece and Crete. On Crete he was the senior Australian engineer officer, but there was a shortage of plant and equipment, and he had little opportunity to employ his men in their intended role.

After the evacuation of Crete, Torr became liaison officer to the engineer-in-chief at General Headquarters, Middle East. He was made temporary lieutenant colonel on 2 September and appointed general staff officer, grade 1, at A.I.F. Headquarters, Middle East. In December he was again mentioned in dispatches. Torr excelled as an engineer staff officer, displaying great ability as a planner and organizer. Returning to Australia in May 1942, he was chief engineer of New Guinea Force (January-September 1943 and May-July 1944), of I Corps (September 1943-April 1944), of II Corps (April-May 1944) and of the First Army (August 1944-May 1945). He was promoted temporary brigadier on 1 January 1943. Energetic and technically gifted, he showed efficiency in overcoming numerous engineering challenges presented in difficult terrain. His most acclaimed work was with N.G.F. when he oversaw complex engineering planning for the Huon Peninsula operations (September-October 1943). He was appointed C.B.E. (1945) for his work in the South-West Pacific Area and twice more mentioned in dispatches (1944 and 1946).

Torr saw out World War II as deputy engineer-in-chief, Australian Military Forces. Placed on the Reserve of Officers on 22 February 1946, he returned to British-Australasian Tobacco as chief engineer and moved to Melbourne. Later he became general manager of Gibson Battle & Co. Ltd. He died of lung cancer on 9 August 1952 at the Repatriation General Hospital, Heidelberg, and was cremated. His wife and two sons survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • The Corps of Royal Australian Engineers in the Second World War 1939-45 (Melb, 1946)
  • G. Long, To Benghazi (Canb, 1952)
  • G. Long, Greece, Crete and Syria (Canb, 1953)
  • R. McNicoll, The Royal Australian Engineers 1919 to 1945 (Canb, 1982)
  • Sunday Herald, 10 Aug 1952
  • AWM 168 (Australian War Memorial).

Citation details

Garth Pratten, 'Torr, Alexander George (1907–1952)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/torr-alexander-george-11874/text21259, published in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 2 September 2014.

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

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