Australian Dictionary of Biography

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John Farrell (1883–1955)

by Barrett J. Carr

This article was published:

John Farrell (1883-1955), teacher and soldier, was born on 20 March 1883 at Hamilton, Scotland, son of Joseph Farrell, coalminer, and his wife Mary, née McLaughlan. His father migrated to Australia in 1886 and next year his wife and three children joined him at Eidsvold, Queensland. Farrell completed his primary education there and remained as a pupil-teacher. In 1901 the family moved to Howard where he was a pupil-teacher and an assistant teacher in 1903-11. In 1901 he had joined the Wide Bay Infantry Regiment (militia) as private; he was commissioned in 1905 and promoted lieutenant in 1908 and captain in 1910.

In 1911-14 Farrell taught at Rockhampton Central School. On 19 December 1912, at Rockhampton, he married May Watson Williams, a teacher, with Presbyterian forms. He was transferred to Charters Towers as acting headmaster in April 1914 and later that year became an assistant teacher at Leichhardt State School; in 1915 he was headmaster at Macknade. On moving to Rockhampton he had joined the Port Curtis Infantry Regiment, first as quartermaster and then as company commander and adjutant, and in September 1915 the Department of Education released him for full-time military duty. Until his appointment as a captain in the Australian Imperial Force on 1 April 1916 he was a company commander at Brisbane training camp, then quartermaster and assistant adjutant at Enoggera. Promoted major in May, he was appointed second-in-command when the 42nd Battalion was formed, and reached Armentières, France, in November. In 1917 he fought at Ploegsteert Wood, the battle of Messines and at Warneton and in October commanded the battalion in its successful attack at Zonnebeke. He again held command from December to 12 January 1918 at Bois Grenier and Le Biset.

In February 1918 Farrell was promoted lieutenant-colonel and transferred to the 43rd Battalion as commanding officer, a post he held until the end of the war. Under his leadership the 43rd distinguished itself in actions at Sailly-le-Sec and Villers-Bretonneux, in the battle of Hamel in June, and in the August offensive at the capture of Méricourt-sur-Somme and operations near Bray-sur-Somme. On 1-2 September the battalion saw action near Mont St Quentin and captured Haut Allaines. Farrell was mentioned in dispatches in December and awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his leadership in the capture of Hamel.

In August 1919 he returned to Australia and resumed teaching at Wooloowin State School, Brisbane. After transfer to Ascot as an assistant teacher he was promoted to head-teacher at Woodford. He was head-teacher at Barcaldine in 1921-23 and Mount Morgan in 1924, then next year was appointed an assistant district inspector and in 1926 a district inspector; he was based in Brisbane from 1934. Though he retired in 1949, in 1950-53 he was officer-in-charge of special schools for recent migrants. Survived by his wife, two sons and a daughter, he died on 9 December 1955 at Windsor, Brisbane, and was cremated.

Farrell was largely responsible for moulding the 42nd Battalion into an exceptional fighting unit with an excellent esprit de corps. His able administration and efficient leadership was recognized by his appointment as commander of the 43rd Battalion. He was a leader who took a strong personal interest in the welfare of his men and who understood and tolerated their exuberant spirits when out of the line. He never sought popularity but his fine example won him the respect of those he led.

Select Bibliography

  • E. J. Colliver and B. H. Richardson, The Forty-Third (Adel, 1920)
  • V. Brahms, The Spirit of the Forty-Second (Brisb, 1938)
  • London Gazette, 31 Dec 1918, 1 Jan 1919
  • Department of Education, Queensland, records
  • records (Australian War Memorial)
  • private information.

Citation details

Barrett J. Carr, 'Farrell, John (1883–1955)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 17 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

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


20 March, 1883
Hamilton, Lanarkshire, Scotland


9 December, 1955 (aged 72)
Windsor, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.