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Wark, Blair Anderson (1894–1941)

by Richard Gorrell

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

Blair Wark, by unknown photographer, 1919

Blair Wark, by unknown photographer, 1919

Australian War Memorial, P01046.001

Blair Anderson Wark (1894-1941), army officer and quantity surveyor, was born on 27 July 1894 at Bathurst, New South Wales, fourth child of Alexander Wark, a gas engineer from Scotland, and his native-born wife Blanche Adelaide Maria, née Forde. Educated at Fairleigh Grammar, Bathurst, St Leonards Superior Public School (North Sydney) and Sydney Technical College, Blair worked as a quantity surveyor while pursuing his military interests. A senior cadet in 1911-12, he enlisted in the 18th (North Sydney) Infantry, Australian Military Forces, and was provisionally commissioned in 1913.

On 5 August 1915 Wark was appointed to the Australian Imperial Force and embarked for Egypt with the 30th Battalion in November. A captain from 20 February 1916 and a company commander, he reached the Western Front in June. He was wounded in the battle of Fromelles. On his return to duty in November, he joined the 32nd Battalion. His conduct at Fromelles and in action at Sunray Trench in March 1917 led to his recommendation for the Distinguished Service Order. Though no award was made, he was promoted major on 27 April. In late September and early October, while in command of the front line east of Ypres, his vigorous patrolling and personal reconnaissance kept his sector secure and enabled him to repulse one counter-attack and to thwart another. He won the D.S.O. for this achievement and for his previous courage and devotion to duty. In May 1918 he was mentioned in dispatches.

Experienced and self-reliant, careless of his own safety, yet solicitous for his men, at the age of 24 Wark was given temporary command of the 32nd Battalion in operations against the Hindenburg line that began on 29 September. Often moving ahead of his troops in the face of heavy fire, he secured the help of a passing tank near Bellicourt and attached two hundred leaderless Americans to his command before rushing a battery of 77mm guns which were firing at his rear companies: he captured four guns and ten of their crews. With two non-commissioned officers, he surprised and captured fifty Germans near Magny-la-Fosse. On 1 October he 'dashed forward and silenced machine-guns which were causing heavy casualties'. For his bravery he was awarded the Victoria Cross. His brothers Alexander and Keith also served in the A.I.F.; Keith won the Distinguished Conduct Medal.

On 31 May 1919 at the parish church, Worthing, Sussex, Wark married Phyllis Marquiss Munro and returned to Australia where his A.I.F. appointment was terminated in September. He became a principal of Thompson & Wark, quantity surveyors, a director of several companies, a councillor of the National Roads and Motorists' Association, a committee-member of the Hawkesbury Race Club and a life governor of the Benevolent Society of New South Wales. Divorced in 1922, Wark married Catherine Mary Davis on 10 December 1927 at St Stephen's Presbyterian Church, Sydney.

In April 1940 he was appointed to the 1st Battalion, A.M.F., and assumed command on 26 July with the rank of temporary lieutenant-colonel. While bivouacked at Puckapunyal, Victoria, he died suddenly of coronary heart disease on 13 June 1941. Wark was cremated after a military funeral at which it was said that he 'liked the wind in his face and lived the life of three men'. His wife, their son and two daughters survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • L. Wigmore (ed), They Dared Mightily (Canb, 1963)
  • B. Greaves (ed), The Story of Bathurst (Syd, 1976)
  • C. E. W. Bean, The A.I.F in France, 1918 (Syd, 1942)
  • Reveille (Sydney), 1 Dec 1933, 1 July 1941
  • war diary, 30th and 32nd Battalion, AIF (Australian War Memorial)
  • letters and family papers (privately held).

Additional Resources

Citation details

Richard Gorrell, 'Wark, Blair Anderson (1894–1941)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/wark-blair-anderson-8986/text15817, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 19 October 2018.

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

View the front pages for Volume 12

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