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Arthur Edward Forbes (1881–1946)

by A. E. E. Bottrell

This article was published:

Arthur Edward Forbes (1881-1946), soldier, minister of religion and military chaplain, was born on 4 December 1881 in Brisbane, son of William Joseph Kirnshaw Forbes, butcher, and his wife Martha, née Barrett, both London-born. He was educated locally.

At 19 Forbes enlisted for service in the South African War as a bugler with the 3rd (Queensland Mounted Infantry) Contingent and reached Cape Town in April 1900. After a skirmish at Koster River on 22 July his commanding officer reported: 'The most notable act of bravery … was that of Bugler Forbes … [He] took my horse and his own to what was supposed to be cover … and held these horses until they were both shot … During that trying time he had a bullet sent through his haversack'. He then took refuge in a farmhouse with others of his unit and when 'ammunition commenced to run short, Forbes under fire went out amongst the shot horses and ransacked the saddle wallets' for bullets. For this action he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal and mentioned in dispatches.

His unit returned home in June 1901 and in September the people of Brisbane presented Forbes with a silver-mounted bugle and a purse of sovereigns. He went back to South Africa in March 1902, serving with the 1st Australian Commonwealth Horse as a bugler until August. During his two periods of active service he served in the Transvaal, Rhodesia, Cape Colony and the Orange Free State.

Conscious of a call to a ministry in the Church, Forbes studied at the Glasgow Bible College, Scotland, in 1907-09 and, on being ordained a Baptist minister, returned home for mission work with the Queensland Evangelization Society. Based at Beaudesert, he worked amongst shearers, miners and Melanesian cane-cutters and in 1910-11 also studied part time at a Baptist Union theological college. He married Ruby Loloma Ruddle on 1 March 1911 at Bundaberg Methodist Church. In August 1912 he transferred membership from the Baptist Union to the Churches of Christ denomination, remaining with the latter for the rest of his life. That year he became pastor at Albion, Queensland.

In 1914 Forbes moved to the parish of Belmore, Sydney, and when war began, volunteered for service as a military chaplain. On 1 March 1915 he was commissioned as a chaplain (4th Class) but, chafing at the delay in being posted overseas with the Australian Imperial Force, resigned his commission and enlisted as a gunner in a medium trench-mortar battery, rising to the rank of sergeant. Just before embarkation he was discharged from the battery and attested as a chaplain in June 1917. He sailed for England in August and from October served in A.I.F. depots in England and France; he returned to Australia in May 1919 and was discharged in June. Of his war service a Lieutenant L. Price wrote from England: 'he is having a great time. The fellows leave the other services and come to his. Forbes gives them the stuff they like—bed-rock principles and not orthodoxy'.

After demobilization Forbes took charge of the Auburn Church, Sydney, applying himself with typical zeal. While stationed there he was a part-time chaplain with the Australian Military Forces and in 1919-22 held appointments as chaplain 1st Class and senior chaplain, 2nd Military District; he reverted to chaplain 4th Class in 1922. He moved to Croydon parish, South Australia, in January 1923 and three years later was appointed the evangelist for the Churches of Christ. In 1923-27 he was also a chaplain with the 4th Military District. Late in 1927 he transferred to Brighton Church, Melbourne, and was pastor there until 1931. For the next four years he was engaged in commerce but then returned to Brighton, again as pastor. While living in Victoria he held the rank of military chaplain, 2nd Class, from 1930 and was awarded the Efficiency Decoration in 1938. In 1940 he was posted to Mile End Church, South Australia, ministering there until September 1941 when he became a full-time military chaplain. A veteran of three wars, he was placed on the retired list, A.M.F., on 16 January 1944 and that year became pastor of the Hamilton Church, Victoria.

A year later, after suffering from nephritis and a coronary occlusion, he retired to Sandringham. Survived by his wife and three daughters, he died there on 19 April 1946 and was buried in New Cheltenham cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • Australian Defence Department, Official Records of the Australian Military Contingents to the War in South Africa, P. L. Murray ed (Melb, 1911)
  • London Gazette, 27 Sept 1901
  • Churches of Christ (Brisbane), Australian Christian, 22 Aug 1912, Apr-May 1946
  • Brisbane Courier, 2 Mar 1900, 13-17 June 1901
  • private information.

Citation details

A. E. E. Bottrell, 'Forbes, Arthur Edward (1881–1946)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 13 July 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]


4 December, 1881
Brisbane, Queensland, Australia


19 April, 1946 (aged 64)
Sandringham, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.