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Harold Clive Disher (1891–1976)

by Bryan Egan

This article was published:

Harold Clive Disher (1891-1976), medical practitioner, army officer and pastoralist, was born on 15 October 1891 at Rosedale, Victoria, third and youngest child of Henry Robert Disher, grazier, and his wife Mary Louise, née Hagenauer, both Victorian born. Educated at Rosedale State School, Gippsland College, Sale, and Scotch College, East Melbourne, Clive entered Ormond College, University of Melbourne (M.B., B.S., 1916; M.D., 1921). He had rowed in Scotch's 1910 and 1911 Head-of-the-River crews and became an exceptional oarsman at university.

On 17 May 1917 Disher was appointed captain, Australian Army Medical Corps, Australian Imperial Force. By November he was in France with the 5th Field Ambulance. As regimental medical officer of the 4th Field Artillery Brigade from March 1918, he achieved a reputation for efficiency and bravery, and was recommended for the Military Cross. In 1919 he moved to England and stroked the A.I.F. VIII which won the King's Cup at the Royal Henley Peace Regatta; his name was later inscribed on the Helms trophy as Australasia's outstanding amateur athlete for that year.

Returning to Victoria in November 1919, Disher served part time in the Militia. He rose to major (1924) and lieutenant colonel (1930), and from 1928 to 1936 commanded the 5th Cavalry Field Ambulance. A keen and efficient officer, in 1938 he was promoted temporary (substantive 1939) colonel and appointed assistant-director of medical services, 2nd Cavalry Division. On 6 November 1926 at St John's Anglican Church, East Malvern, he had married a nurse Doris Parks Kitson. Disher pursued his medical career mainly as an anaesthetist. In 1936 he obtained a Diploma in Anaesthetics issued jointly by the Royal College of Physicians, London, and the Royal College of Surgeons, England. He was an honorary anaesthetist (1928) and senior honorary anaesthetist (from 1938) at Royal Melbourne Hospital.

On 8 December 1939 Disher joined the A.I.F. and that month embarked for the Middle East as assistant-director of medical services, Australian Overseas Base. Appointed A.D.M.S., 6th Division, on 16 April 1940, he had responsibility for medical services in the Australian operations in North Africa in early 1941. His 'skilful dispositions of dressing stations', 'attention to detail and inspiring influence' ensured that 'casualties were collected and received attention at the earliest possible moment'. He was appointed C.B.E. (1941). In April he took part in the Greek campaign, experiencing the dangers of the retreat and subsequent voyages to Crete and Egypt.

Back in Australia in August, Disher was A.D.M.S., 1st Armoured Division, until April 1942 when he was promoted temporary brigadier and made deputy-director of medical services, II Corps. In November he was sent to Port Moresby as D.D.M.S., New Guinea Force. His final post was D.D.M.S., First Army, which he assumed in Brisbane in July 1943. Given leave without pay from October 1944, he transferred to the Reserve of Officers on 22 June 1945 as honorary brigadier.

Retiring from medicine after the war, Disher lived at Strathfieldsaye, a sheep- and cattle-station on the banks of Lake Wellington, near Stratford, Gippsland. His grandfather had acquired the property in 1869 and Clive became sole owner in 1944. He found life on the land more attractive than resuming his civilian medical career. Family ties meant much to him; he and Doris were childless and she died in 1946. At Strathfieldsaye he helped youth organizations and institutions such as the Kyndalyn Retarded Children's Home; a fête for charity was held each year in the grounds.

Disher died on 13 March 1976 at Sale and was cremated with Presbyterian forms. His estate was sworn for probate at $919,888. He bequeathed Strathfieldsaye, valued at about $588,500, and its records, to the University of Melbourne which established the Strathfieldsaye Institute of Teaching and Research in Agriculture and Allied Sciences. Sir William Dargie's posthumous portrait of Disher is held by Melbourne University Boat Club.

Select Bibliography

  • A. S. Walker, Middle East and Far East (Canb, 1953)
  • M. Fletcher, Strathfieldsaye (Churchill, Vic, 1992)
  • Great Scot, May 1976, p 3
  • Gippsland Writer, vol 1, no 1, Winter 1986, p 27
  • Herald (Melbourne), 16 Mar, 14 May 1976
  • F. Strahan, Historical notes, Strathfieldsaye Estate (typescript, May 1978, Sale District Historical Society)
  • Disher papers (University of Melbourne Archives).

Citation details

Bryan Egan, 'Disher, Harold Clive (1891–1976)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 29 November 2023.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (Melbourne University Press), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2023

Life Summary [details]


15 October, 1891
Rosedale, Victoria, Australia


13 March, 1976 (aged 84)
Sale, Victoria, Australia

Religious Influence

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