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Frank Pogson Bethune (1877–1942)

by Peter Chapman

This article was published:

This is a shared entry with John Walter Bethune

Frank Pogson Bethune (1877-1942), by unknown photographer

Frank Pogson Bethune (1877-1942), by unknown photographer

Australian War Memorial, H01961

Frank Pogson Bethune (1877-1942), soldier and clergyman, and John Walter Bethune (1882-1960), clergyman and headmaster, were first cousins and close, lifelong friends. Frank was born on 8 April 1877, second son of Walter Ross Munro Bethune, stock-owner, and his wife Louisa Gellibrand, née Pogson. John was born on 5 November 1882, only son of Walter Ross Munro's brother, John Charles Bethune, lawyer and sheep-farmer, and his wife Annie Emily, sister of Louisa Pogson. They lived on the family estate, Dunrobin, near Hamilton, Tasmania, established by their grandfather W. A. Bethune; both boys were born there. John's mother died when he was a child, his father moved away and he was raised by his uncle and aunt.

The cousins were educated at The Hutchins School, Hobart, and John also attended the Launceston Church Grammar School. Frank spent some years farming but both completed their education at Selwyn College, University of Cambridge, England, where they read theology and were active in sport. John (B.A., 1904; M.A., 1908) topped his final year with first-class honours and won a university prize; Frank, who won a half-blue for boxing, was rusticated for a term for burning college fences on 'Mafeking night', but also graduated with first-class honours (B.A., 1905; M.A., 1908).

In Tasmania John was ordained in 1905 and was curate of St David's Anglican Cathedral, Hobart, for two years. He was rector of St Paul's Church, Launceston, and chaplain to the Launceston General Hospital in 1908-15. Frank married Laura Eileen Nicholas on 3 January 1907 at Ouse. He was ordained in 1908, and was curate at St John the Baptist Anglican Church, Hobart, and later at Sheffield and Ranelagh parishes.

In World War I John served as chaplain to the army training camp at Claremont. Frank became a fighting padre, enlisting as a private in 1915; he was commissioned as second lieutenant in the 12th Battalion in December. On 2 April 1916 he conducted a service on the troopship Transylvania on the way to France, preaching a memorable sermon which was widely reported in the Australian press. 'We are not heroes', he said 'and we do not want to be called heroes … We are on that great enterprise, with no thought of gain or conquest, but to help right a great wrong …' He rose to the rank of captain, was awarded the Military Cross for bravery in action in 1917, and was wounded twice and gassed. In March 1918 Bethune, then commanding No. 1 section, 3rd Machine Gun Company, was ordered to defend an exposed position at Passchendaele. His group of seven men became isolated, but held the position for eighteen days. Bethune issued the following orders, later described by The Times as 'inspiring and famous':

1.This position will be held and the section will remain here until relieved.

2.The enemy cannot be allowed to interfere with this programme.

3.If the section cannot remain here alive, it will remain here dead, but in any case it will remain here.

4.Should any man, through shell shock or other cause, attempt to surrender, he will remain here dead.

5.Should all guns be blown out, the section will use Mills grenades, and other novelties.

6.Finally, the position, as stated, will be held.

They survived until relieved. The orders passed into military history, were circulated throughout the allied armies in France and embodied in British Army Orders until 1940. Twenty-two years later, after the fall of Dunkirk, they were reproduced as posters under the caption 'The spirit which won the last war' and displayed throughout England.

Frank never entirely recovered from his wartime injuries and privations. He returned to Tasmania in 1919 and moved with his family to Dunrobin where he farmed till 1936, assisting occasionally in the Hamilton parish. He died of cerebro-vascular disease in Hobart on 4 December 1942. He was survived by his wife, two daughters and two sons; the elder Walter Angus became a Tasmanian premier. Despite stern qualities, Bethune had been popular with his men and his parishioners. His whimsy was exemplified when, pinned down in a shell-hole by enemy gunfire, he passed the time calculating the cost to Germany of keeping him there.

After the Armistice in 1918, John Bethune accepted appointment as headmaster of the Launceston Church Grammar School, a position he held until 1928. 'Responsible for a new era' at the school, he initiated and supervised its move in 1924 from Elizabeth Street to Mowbray Heights, and was the driving force in raising funds for rebuilding. He reorganized it on the lines of a modern public school; during his period numbers doubled. In 1927 he was appointed C.B.E. for his services to education, and next year he retired. After a period as rector of Wynyard, he was chaplain to the Hobart gaol and active in charity work. A bachelor, he died on 2 October 1960, at Hobart. Like his cousin, he placed significant emphasis on the values of Empire and the English public school.

Select Bibliography

  • B. W. Rait, The Official History of The Hutchins School (Hob, 1935), and The Story of the Launceston Church Grammar School (Launc, 1946)
  • C. E. W. Bean, The A.I.F. in France, 1917, 1918 (Syd, 1933, 1937)
  • Reveille (Sydney), May 1941
  • G. H. Stephens, ‘Three schools and the Great War’, Papers and Proceedings of the Tasmanian Historical Research Association, 24 (1976), no 3
  • Tasmanian Mail, 19 Jan 1907
  • Mercury (Hobart), 24 June, 12 Aug 1916, 23, 26 Feb, 27 Apr 1917, 13 June 1919, 19 Apr 1923, 3 June 1927, 5 Dec 1942, 3, 5 Oct 1960
  • Examiner (Launceston), 27 Apr 1917, 19 Apr 1923, 3 June 1927
  • Daily Post (Hobart), 12 May 1917
  • 'Obituary', Times (London), 24 Dec 1942, p 7
  • Australasian Post (Melbourne), 23 Feb 1956
  • Bethune family papers (privately held).

Citation details

Peter Chapman, 'Bethune, Frank Pogson (1877–1942)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 21 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (Melbourne University Press), 1979

View the front pages for Volume 7

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Frank Pogson Bethune (1877-1942), by unknown photographer

Frank Pogson Bethune (1877-1942), by unknown photographer

Australian War Memorial, H01961

Life Summary [details]


8 April, 1877
Hamilton, Tasmania, Australia


4 December, 1942 (aged 65)
Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.