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Arthur Jeffery Anderson (1912–1985)

by Garth Pratten

This article was published:

Arthur Jeffery Anderson (1912-1985), gold refiner, soldier and intelligence officer, was born on 19 November 1912 at Boulder, Western Australia, fourth child of Australian-born parents Arthur Anderson, photographer, and his wife Florence Edith, née Basten. Educated at the local state school, he was remembered by a schoolmate as being a `dapper little fellow’ who often sported a bow tie. He moved into the mining industry and worked as a refiner in the gold room of the Lake View and Star mine. At the Cathedral of St John the Baptist, Kalgoorlie, on 28 September 1935 he married with Anglican rites Thyra Elizabeth Phillips, a nurse.

In 1938 Anderson was commissioned as a lieutenant in the Militia. On 1 May 1940 he was appointed to the Australian Imperial Force and posted to the 2/16th Battalion. Because he was prone to responding to complaints by troops with `I’ll fix it’, he quickly earned the nickname `Fixit’. Promoted to captain in September, he arrived in the Middle East in November. He was detached to the 21st Infantry Training Battalion, but rejoined the 2/16th in time for the final stages of the Syrian campaign in July 1941.

Anderson returned to Australia in March 1942 and two months later was posted to the 39th Battalion as a temporary major. Sent to Port Moresby in June, he fought with the Militia unit along the Kokoda Trail (July-September) and in the brutal battles for Gona and Sanananda (December 1942-January 1943). Back in Australia in March, he was transferred to the 2/3rd Battalion when the 39th was disbanded in July. On 20 October 1944 he was promoted to lieutenant colonel and given command of the 24th Battalion.

More aloof than his gregarious predecessor, Lieutenant Colonel G. F. Smith, Anderson has been remembered as an abrupt, sharp-tongued commanding officer. Although firm, his application of discipline was considered fair, and he worked hard for the welfare of his troops. When the battalion was sent to Bougainville in January 1945, he was assiduous in ensuring that the men received frequent mail deliveries, good food and regular periods of rest.

As a battlefield commander, Anderson was aggressive, but also thorough in his planning. He led from among his forward companies and effectively employed air and artillery support. A report compiled after the war noted that `by training and temperament’ he was most suited to the command of troops in the field. For his `determined leadership, personal courage and outstanding organising ability’ on Bougainville, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order.

In December 1945 Anderson came home to Australia. Transferring to the Reserve of Officers on 28 September 1946, he returned to Kalgoorlie and resumed his previous occupation as a gold refiner. However, on 12 October 1948 he joined the Interim Army. In 1951 he attended the Staff College, Quetta, Pakistan. This equipped him for several postings on the headquarters of Western and Northern commands. His wife died in February 1956, and on 25 February 1957 at St George’s Cathedral, Perth, he married Doris Emily Burke, née Bevan, a hotel proprietress and a widow.

Anderson retired from the Australian Regular Army in November 1959 and became a senior member of the Australian Security Intelligence Organization. His military career, however, seems to have been the formative influence on his character and he was known, by friends and family alike, as `the Colonel’ until the day he died. In retirement he retained an active interest in public affairs and his other great passion, sport. A keen shooter, he was a founding member of the Perth Gun Club and president of the Western Australian Field and Game Association. He also enjoyed fishing, football and racing. In his later years he suffered from ill health and blindness. Survived by his wife, two stepsons and a stepdaughter, and by the son of his first marriage, he died of self-inflicted shotgun wounds to his head on 30 March 1985 at his Sorrento home and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • M. Uren, A Thousand Men at War (1959)
  • G. Christensen (ed), That’s the Way it Was (1982)
  • V. Austin (compiler), To Kokoda and Beyond (1988)
  • West Australian, 2 Apr 1985, p 40
  • Pigeon Post, June 1985, p 2
  • Red and White Diamond, June 1985, p 2, Dec 1985, p 7
  • AWM54, item 613/7/75 (Australian War Memorial).

Citation details

Garth Pratten, 'Anderson, Arthur Jeffery (1912–1985)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 26 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (Melbourne University Press), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

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