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Treloar, John Linton (1894–1952)

by Denis Winter

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

John Linton Treloar (1894-1952), by unknown photographer, 1941

John Linton Treloar (1894-1952), by unknown photographer, 1941

Australian War Memorial, P03568.001

John Linton Treloar (1894-1952), public servant, was born on 10 December 1894 at Port Melbourne, Victoria, son of William Henry Treloar, grocer, and his wife Jane Freeman, née Caddy, both Victorian born. Educated at Albert Park State School where he was an outstanding athlete, in 1911 he was appointed a military staff clerk in the Commonwealth Department of Defence. In August 1914 he enlisted in the 1st Division, Australian Imperial Force, and served as a staff sergeant at Gallipoli from April to September 1915 when he was evacuated with enteric fever and later invalided to Australia. In February 1916 he resumed duty as a lieutenant (equipment officer) in No.1 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps, went to Egypt and then in July to France as confidential clerk to Brigadier General (Sir) Brudenell White at 1st Anzac Corps Headquarters.

In May 1917 Treloar was selected to organize the Australian War Records Section. 'Treloar works enormously hard', Charles Bean observed, the 'Section is simply his creation. He tries to read and criticise every unit war diary'. A 'fair-haired, pink-cheeked youngster … with very new captain's stars on his shoulder straps', Treloar represented Australia on the Imperial War Trophies Committee. On 5 November 1918 at the Wesleyan Chapel, Lancaster Road, London, he married Clarissa Maud Weir Aldridge. In the same month he was promoted major. Next year he was appointed O.B.E. After the Armistice, with the aid of a vast staff of ex-diggers, Treloar classified war documents under thirty-six subjects, each further divided into five sections. The result of his work, which concluded in 1932, was an archival record of remarkable detail and accessibility.

His second great contribution was to establish on a firm footing the Australian War Memorial of which he was director (1920-52). Treloar worked a six-day week and, when moved from Melbourne to Canberra, lived in rooms next to his office: only his strict observance of a Methodist Sunday and his passion for watching cricket interrupted this régime. Treloar's 'boyish ingenuous face and simple direct address' gave little indication of his shrewdness and alertness of mind. Shy and reserved, he pursued his goals with inflexible purpose. In a period of uncertainty during the Depression, a trust fund provided crucial financial support: Bean recorded in 1929 that the fund was 'entirely due to Treloar's brain and effort'. When Bean's multi-volume Official History of Australia in the War encountered difficulties in the 1930s, the war memorial took over publication and distributed it through a government order scheme, another of Treloar's innovations.

Appointed head of the new Department of Information in September 1939, Treloar became officer-in-charge of the military history section at Army Headquarters, Melbourne, in October 1941 and began to lay the foundations for the collection of World War II records and relics. As a lieutenant-colonel and liaison officer, he worked with the Department of Information, the War Memorial Board and the 2nd A.I.F. in the Middle East. With the section absorbed by army public relations, record gathering was a shadow of that done for World War I.

Treloar died suddenly after an intestinal haemorrhage on 28 January 1952 in Canberra Community Hospital and was buried in Canberra cemetery. His wife, two daughters and a son survived him; another son had been killed in action with the Royal Air Force in 1943.

Select Bibliography

  • Reveille (Sydney), 1 Oct 1939
  • Canberra Times, 29, 31 Jan 1952
  • Bulletin, 6 Feb 1952
  • C. E. W. Bean papers (Australian War Memorial)
  • letter from J. Treloar to G. M. Long on the Military History Section, World War II, 7 June 1949 (Australian War Memorial registry files)
  • private information.

Citation details

Denis Winter, 'Treloar, John Linton (1894–1952)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/treloar-john-linton-8846/text15525, published in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 22 September 2014.

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

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