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John Harold McKenzie Edwards (1894–1942)

by C. Neumann

This article was published:

John Harold McKenzie Edwards (1894-1942), soldier and superintendent of native labour in New Guinea, was born probably on 10 June 1894 at Terang, Victoria, son of Charlotte Edwards. Little is known of his early life, though before World War I he was a labourer at Brunswick, Melbourne.

On 9 April 1915 he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force as a private, giving his name as Harold Edwards and his age as 24; throughout his military career his date of birth was therefore recorded as April 1891. He embarked in Melbourne on 8 May as a sergeant in the 21st Battalion, served at Anzac and left Egypt for France in March 1916. Wounded on 26 August 1916 during the battle of Mouquet Farm, he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for 'conspicuous gallantry and able reconnaissance work' in this action; he had been 'in command of a carrying party which made three endeavours to reach a post, under very heavy shell and machine-gun fire'. His D.C.M. was gazetted on 20 October and seven days later he was awarded the Military Medal, the first to be won by the battalion. He received it for his part in a brigade raiding-party on the night of 29-30 June.

Edwards was taken on strength of the permanent cadre at No.1 Command Depot in England on 12 May 1917 and in December was commissioned as second lieutenant and posted to general infantry reinforcements. He returned to the 21st Battalion on 12 January 1918 and was promoted lieutenant on 1 April. As a platoon commander he was involved in the fighting at Ville-sur-Ancre in May. On 6 July he was wounded again at Villers-Bretonneux and, for daring reconnaissance work resulting in the capture of a German trench-mortar and the destruction of several others, received the Military Cross. The combination of decorations he had won for individual bravery was very rare. He resumed duty with the 21st Battalion on 11 September.

Edwards was demobilized in Melbourne in August 1919 and next January became a lieutenant on the reserve of officers, Australian Military Forces. On 13 April 1921 he joined the permanent staff of the A.M.F. as a probationary staff sergeant major on the Queensland Instructional Staff. Four months later he was provisionally promoted warrant officer, class 2 and was confirmed in this rank in October. While a member of the Australian Instructional Corps he served with the 11th Mixed Brigade in Queensland. On 11 April 1923 he left the shrinking permanent army at his own request and later moved to New Guinea where he was employed by Burns Philp & Co. as a native labour overseer at Rabaul. There, on 12 February 1930, he married Susan Jean McKenzie; there were no children of the marriage. On 13 October 1939 Edwards was appointed a lieutenant in the New Guinea Volunteer Rifles but was not called up for full-time duty. He was officially presumed to have died as one of about 200 Australian civilian prisoners of war on 1 July 1942 when the Japanese transport, the Montevideo Maru, on a journey from Rabaul to Hainan Island, was torpedoed by an American submarine off Luzon in the South China Sea. He was survived by his wife who had been evacuated to Australia the previous January.

Select Bibliography

  • C. E. W. Bean, The Australian Imperial Force in France, 1918 (Syd, 1942)
  • L. Wigmore, The Japanese Thrust (Canb, 1957)
  • London Gazette, 20, 27 Oct 1916, 26 May 1917, 24 Sept 1918
  • Pacific Islands Monthly, Jan 1946, supp, p vii
  • Australian Territories, 7 Feb 1961 p vii
  • B. O. C. Duggan, History of the 21st Battalion, A.I.F. (Australian War Memorial)
  • file A77/470, series A452, item 59/1337 (National Archives of Australia).

Citation details

C. Neumann, 'Edwards, John Harold McKenzie (1894–1942)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 18 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (Melbourne University Press), 1981

View the front pages for Volume 8

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