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Townsend, Alfred Richard (1893–1984)

by Ian Jones

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

Alfred Richard Townsend (1893-1984), soldier and farmer, was born on 11 October 1893 at Leckhampton, Gloucestershire, England, son of George Townsend, master baker, and his wife Eliza Jane, née Spiers. The family migrated to Australia and, after learning his father's trade, Alfred worked as a farm labourer in western New South Wales where he became a proficient horseman. He enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 14 January 1915 and embarked for Egypt with the 12th Light Horse Regiment.

Sent to Anzac as a reinforcement for the 7th L.H.R., he was promoted corporal in December and sergeant when the 12th L.H.R. was re-formed in Egypt in February 1916. At the 2nd battle of Gaza, Townsend—now squadron quartermaster sergeant—was wounded on 19 April 1917, but returned to the firing-line. He was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal. On 31 October he rode with 'B' Squadron, 12th L.H.R., in the charge at Beersheba. When a Turkish redoubt on the left flank directed heavy fire at the Australians, he and a fellow sergeant attacked the position, killing ten of the enemy, capturing two and scattering the remainder. For his action Townsend was awarded a Bar to his D.C.M., a distinction gained by only two Australian lighthorsemen during the war. Two days after the charge, he was commissioned second lieutenant. He was mentioned in dispatches in January 1918 and promoted lieutenant next month.

Townsend returned to Australia in November 1919 and next year was allocated a soldier-settler block of 640 acres (259 ha) in the red-soil country of the New South Wales central Riverina at Billabong (later Rand). Naming his property Ramleh after a town in Palestine, he worked with eight- and ten-horse teams to grow wheat, bought more paddocks to graze sheep and share-farmed with a neighbour. Despite floods, droughts, pests and the Depression, he eventually farmed nearly 2000 acres (809 ha). He also undertook a range of community service, becoming a councillor of Urana Shire in 1928, and president in 1937 and in 1939-50. On 17 July 1929 Townsend had married Eleanor Mary Jobson with Catholic rites at Culcairn; she died in 1944, leaving him with two young daughters. He married her sister Amabel Alice Jobson on 26 February 1945 at the Presbyterian church, Culcairn.

President of the Shires' Association of New South Wales in 1947 and of the Australian Council of the Local Government Association in 1948, Townsend was disturbed by the increasing influence of party politics in the local arena. The trend so disheartened him that he retired from his shire presidency in 1950, sold his farm and moved to Sydney where he worked as merchandise manager of the Farmers & Graziers' Co-operative Grain, Insurance & Agency Co. Ltd. In 1953 Townsend was appointed M.B.E. for his services to local government. He retired in 1958.

Survived by his wife, a daughter of his first marriage, and a son and daughter of his second, he died at West Ryde, Sydney, on 13 October 1984 and was cremated. He is commemorated by the Townsend Bridge over Billabong Creek at Rand, a modest memorial for an extraordinarily modest man whose military and civilian lives were equally characterized by courage, determination and concern for others.

Select Bibliography

  • H. S. Gullett, The A.I.F. in Sinai and Palestine (Syd, 1923)
  • W. A. Bayley, Billabidgee (Urana, NSW, 1959)
  • Back to Rand 1926-1976 (Rand, NSW, 1976)
  • London Gazette, 12 Jan, 14 Feb, 26 Mar 1918
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 1 Jan 1953
  • war diary, 12th Light Horse Regiment, AIF and records (Australian War Memorial)
  • taped interview with Townsend (1976, held by Rand Public School)
  • private information.

Citation details

Ian Jones, 'Townsend, Alfred Richard (1893–1984)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/townsend-alfred-richard-8835/text15501, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 27 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

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