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Wrigley, Hugh (1891–1980)

by Chris Clark

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

Hugh Wrigley (1891-1980), army officer, was born on 1 December 1891 at Scarsdale, Victoria, sixth child of John Wrigley, a mine-engine driver from England, and his Scottish-born wife Isabella, née McGeachin. Educated at state schools and privately, Hugh joined the Department of Defence, Melbourne, as a military staff clerk in May 1911.

On 17 August 1914 Wrigley enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force as a staff sergeant and was allotted to 3rd Brigade headquarters. He served at Gallipoli from April 1915 and was made temporary warrant officer in October. Commissioned on 20 February 1916 in Egypt, he was posted to the 59th Battalion. In June he was promoted lieutenant and sent to France as adjutant of the 60th Battalion. For his 'gallant leadership' at the battle of Fromelles (19 July), during an attack on enemy trenches in which he was severely wounded, he was awarded the Military Cross. He spent two months in hospital in England and was promoted captain in November. Rejoining the 60th Battalion in January 1917, he resumed duty as adjutant in May.

Wrigley transferred to the Indian Army in July and joined the 6th Rajputana Rifles as a second lieutenant. He took part in campaigns in Afghanistan (1919), Iraq (1920-21) and Waziristan (1922) as a captain before returning to Australia in 1922. In partnership with several Indian Army friends, he bought a grazing property at Balmoral, Victoria. On 8 January 1926 at Gardiner Presbyterian Church, Melbourne, he married Alison Grove Wilson; they had a son before being divorced. After moving to a property at Urangeline, New South Wales, Wrigley worked (from 1930) as a representative of the Vacuum Oil Co. Pty Ltd, first at Hay and later at Sale, Victoria.

An active member of the Militia in 1933-36 and again from March 1939, Major Wrigley was appointed second-in-command of the 2nd/6th Battalion, A.I.F., on 13 October. He embarked with the unit for the Middle East in April 1940. In December he was promoted lieutenant colonel and given command of the 2nd/5th Battalion. At Bardia, Libya, he was wounded in the shoulder by shell-fire on 3 January 1941. After convalescing, he rejoined the 2nd/6th Battalion in March and led it in the Greek campaign in April. A 'respected commander', he was seen by his soldiers as a 'severe man' who wielded 'uncompromising authority' over his unit. Privately he was gentle, with a good sense of humour.

In January 1942 Wrigley was promoted colonel. Next month he took charge of the A.I.F. Reinforcement Depot in Palestine. Appointed temporary brigadier on 28 September, he commanded the 20th Brigade at the Battle of El Alamein, Egypt, where he displayed 'personal courage, power of command, and battle knowledge of a high order'. On 27 October he relinquished his acting rank and resumed his post at the reinforcement depot. He was mentioned in dispatches and appointed C.B.E. (1943).

Back in Australia in February 1943, Wrigley served as commandant of various training depots and bases, again as a temporary brigadier. He assumed control of the 1st Base Sub-Area in September 1944 and took it to Morotai, Netherlands East Indies, in March 1945. Following the Japanese surrender in August, he led the 3rd Australian Prisoner of War Reception Group in Manila. There he managed the recovery of over 12,000 British and 3000 Australian personnel from the Japanese. In November he was given command of the 33rd Brigade on Ambon, N.E.I. He returned to Australia in February 1946 and was transferred to the Reserve of Officers on 30 April.

Wrigley was appointed to the Department of Commerce and Agriculture in November 1946. Next year he joined a trade delegation sent to Japan to buy textiles, then stayed for two years as commercial counsellor at the Australian mission. Later he was trade commissioner in Hong Kong and the Philippines (1949-52), and at Bombay, India (1953-55), and Vancouver, Canada (1955-57). He was interested in art and antiques, and enjoyed golf and riding; in Hong Kong and India he had owned racehorses.

Retiring in Australia, Wrigley became a company director and bought property in New South Wales at Bringelly and Wagga Wagga, in partnership with his son. At the Presbyterian Church, Burleigh Heads, Queensland, on 18 September 1968 he married Jean Stewart, née Pirrit, a widow. Survived by his wife and the son of his first marriage, he died on 3 June 1980 at Caringbah, Sydney, and was cremated. H. W. Parry's portrait of Wrigley was submitted for the 1944 Archibald prize.

Select Bibliography

  • C. E. W. Bean, The A.I.F. in France, 1916 (Syd, 1929)
  • G. Long, To Benghazi (Canb, 1952)
  • G. Long, Greece, Crete and Syria (Canb, 1953)
  • B. Maughan, Tobruk and El Alamein (Canb, 1966)
  • H. Gullett, Not as a Duty Only (Melb, 1976)
  • D. Hay, Nothing Over Us (Canb, 1984)
  • S. Trigellis-Smith, All the King's Enemies (Vic, 1988)
  • Australian Women's Weekly, 16 Apr 1949
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 7 Nov 1946, 27 Mar 1947, 11 Oct 1952, 5 Sept 1953
  • A. R. Taysom, History of the Australian Trade Commissioner Service, vol 2 (typescript, 1983, National Library of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Chris Clark, 'Wrigley, Hugh (1891–1980)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/wrigley-hugh-12078/text21669, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 14 November 2018.

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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