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Francis Plumley Derham (1885–1957)

by Jeffrey Grey

This article was published:

This is a shared entry with Alfred Plumley Derham

Francis Plumley Derham (1885-1957), soldier and lawyer, and Alfred Plumley Derham (1891-1962), soldier and physician, were born on 15 May 1885 and 12 September 1891 at Camberwell, Melbourne, first and fourth sons of Thomas Plumley Derham, a solicitor from England, and his Victorian-born wife Ellen Hyde, née Hodgson. Frederick Thomas Derham was the brothers' uncle and Enid their sister. Richard Hodgson was their mother's brother.

Alfred was educated at Scotch College and the University of Melbourne (M.B., B.S., 1918; M.D., 1923), but interrupted his medical studies when World War I broke out. Formerly a subaltern in the Melbourne University Rifles, he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 26 August 1914 and was posted to the 5th Battalion. He was commissioned next month and sailed for Egypt in October. On 25 April 1915 he landed at Gallipoli as a platoon commander. Wounded that day, he refused to be evacuated until the 30th, and conducted himself in the meantime with such gallantry and energy that he was awarded the Military Cross and mentioned in dispatches. Derham transferred to the staff of the 2nd Brigade in August. He left the peninsula in December, moved from Egypt to France in March 1916 and was permitted to embark for Australia in November to complete his degree. On 10 July 1917 he married a schoolteacher Frances Alexandra Mabel Letitia Anderson at St Mary's Anglican Church, Caulfield, Melbourne.

Francis completed the articled clerks' course at the University of Melbourne and on 1 August 1906 was admitted as a solicitor. In 1907 he was commissioned in the Australian Field Artillery. He married Adeline Matilda Bowden on 7 October 1909 at the Presbyterian Church, Hawthorn; they were to remain childless. Promoted major in January 1915, he transferred to the A.I.F. in October, embarked for Egypt next month and by March 1916 was on the Western Front. For his service as a battery commander in the 4th Field Artillery Brigade he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order and mentioned in dispatches. He commanded the 14th F.A.B. as lieutenant colonel in 1917-19. Awarded the French Croix de Guerre and thrice more mentioned in dispatches, he was repatriated in July 1919.

Between the wars the brothers lived in Melbourne and continued their careers as citizen-soldiers: Alfred rose to lieutenant colonel in the Australian Army Medical Corps and commanded field-ambulances in the Militia in the 1930s; Francis was promoted colonel in December 1930, and commanded artillery and infantry brigades. Establishing a private practice at Preston in 1920, Alfred moved his premises to the city in 1922. He specialized in children's diseases, was honorary physician to the Children's Hospital and held the post of medical officer for the city of Kew. Francis practised as a solicitor with Moule, Hamilton & Derham, of which he was co-founder. He appears, as well, to have been involved in the leadership of the 'White Army', a clandestine, right-wing organization.

On 10 April 1940 Alfred was appointed colonel in the A.I.F. Made assistant director of medical services to the 8th Division, he organized and trained its medical units and flew to Malaya in April 1941. That month he was appointed A.D.M.S., A.I.F. headquarters, Malaya. In the campaign which followed the Japanese invasion in December, Derham inspired his staff while supervising the evacuation of medical units across the Causeway to Singapore. Captured when Singapore fell on 15 February 1942, he was incarcerated in Changi prisoner-of-war camp for six months, and subsequently shipped to Formosa and then to Manchuria. He arrived home in September 1945 and his A.I.F. appointment terminated on 26 March 1946. That year he was appointed C.B.E. Alfred's period of captivity ruined his health. Survived by his wife and four of their five sons, he died of myocardial infarction on 26 June 1962 at the Repatriation General Hospital, Heidelberg, and was cremated. His son David became professor of jurisprudence and later vice-chancellor of the University of Melbourne.

Francis enjoyed higher rank than Alfred, but had no opportunity for active service. Promoted temporary major general on 2 May 1940, he held command of the 4th Division (1940-42), and of the 1st Division (1942-43) which functioned purely in a training role in New South Wales. He transferred to the Reserve of Officers on 7 November 1943 and was appointed C.B. in 1944. Resuming his legal practice in Melbourne, he appeared regularly in the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration for employers' groups. Francis was a director of G. J. Coles & Co. Ltd and of numerous other companies; he was founding president (1935) of the Victorian Society for Crippled Children and served on the Royal Melbourne Hospital's committee of management. Survived by his wife, he died on 22 October 1957 in East Melbourne and was cremated with Anglican rites.

Select Bibliography

  • C. E. W. Bean, The Story of Anzac, vol 1 (Syd, 1921)
  • A. S. Walker, Middle East and Far East (Canb, 1953)
  • M. Cathcart, Defending the National Tuckshop (Melb, 1988)
  • G. L. McDonald (ed), Roll of the Australasian College of Physicians, vol 1 (Syd, 1988)
  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), 22 Apr 1947
  • Herald (Melbourne), 24 Oct 1957, 26 June 1962
  • A. P. Derham papers (University of Melbourne Archives).

Citation details

Jeffrey Grey, 'Derham, Francis Plumley (1885–1957)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 18 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (Melbourne University Press), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


15 May, 1885
Camberwell, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


22 October, 1957 (aged 72)
East Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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