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Harold Dunstan Gordon Ferres (1885–1978)

by Neil Smith

This article was published:

Harold Dunstan Gordon Ferres (1885-1978), army officer, grazier and farmer, was born on 4 September 1885 at Ararat, Victoria, fifth child of Robert Ferres, a native-born civil servant, and his wife Caroline Elizabeth, née Tonkin, from England. In 1894 the family moved to the Gippsland district and took up farming. Nicknamed 'Pung', Harold attended Alberton State School and became a good footballer, cyclist and horseman. He cleared and improved grazing blocks around Toora, and raised cattle. An acclaimed shearer, he worked on stations as far away as North Queensland.

On 13 January 1915 Ferres enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force. Commissioned on 29 May, he sailed to Egypt and briefly served in the 5th Battalion before transferring to the 57th Battalion in February 1916. The unit arrived in France in June and next month fought in the battle of Fromelles. In August Ferres was promoted captain and posted to the 58th Battalion. He was mentioned in dispatches for outstanding conduct as a company commander from July to September. Suffering from fever, he was evacuated to a hospital in London in April 1917 and did not return to the 58th until October. On the night of 13-14 March 1918, near Messines, Belgium, he led a successful raid against enemy trenches and was awarded the Military Cross. After the Germans broke through the front line east of Hamel, France, on 4 April he organized defences to prevent them from reaching the Somme Canal; for this work he won a Bar to his M.C.

Promoted temporary major in May 1918 (substantive in September), Ferres was again mentioned in dispatches. On 2 September he commanded his battalion in an attack against Péronne. Although he was severely wounded in the thigh, he continued to direct the assault, despite intense pain and loss of blood. His quick decisions and resolute actions led to the taking of the strongly defended town, with minimal casualties to his own men. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order. While recovering from his wound in Scotland, on 16 December 1918 he married Joanna Mary Scott Todd with United Free Church forms at her mother's Edinburgh home; they were to have four children.

Back in France, Ferres commanded in turn the 58th and 59th battalions as temporary lieutenant colonel. In May 1919 he embarked for Australia where his A.I.F. appointment terminated on 29 December; as major, he was placed on the Reserve of Officers in 1922 and transferred to the Retired List in 1925. One of the A.I.F.'s most decorated soldiers, he maintained links with his battalion association, but avoided publicity and 'was reticent about his own deeds'. In 1919 he had resumed farming on a new property near Emerald, Victoria; he devoted the rest of his life to his family and his passion for the land. 'To him, the outside world was unimportant'. He was never idle and had stern words for those who were. Predeceased by his wife, he died on 5 July 1978 at Kallista and was cremated with Anglican rites; his daughter and two of his three sons survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • C. E. W. Bean, The A.I.F. in France, 1916-18 (Syd, 1929, 1933, 1937, 1942)
  • Ferres Family (compiler), Bath and Beyond (1988)
  • Australian War Memorial records.

Citation details

Neil Smith, 'Ferres, Harold Dunstan Gordon (1885–1978)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 16 June 2024.

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, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


4 September, 1885
Ararat, Victoria, Australia


5 July, 1978 (aged 92)
Kallista, Victoria, Australia

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