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Ronald Nicholas Lamond Hopkins (1897–1990)

by Jeffrey Grey

This article was published:

Ronald Nicholas Lamond Hopkins (1897-1990), army officer, was born on 24 May 1897 at Stawell, Victoria, son of William Fleming Hopkins, surgeon, and his wife Rose Margaret Burton, née Lamond, both Victorian born. His father died in 1900 while serving in the South African War. Educated at Melbourne Church of England Grammar School, Ronald entered the Royal Military College, Duntroon, Federal Capital Territory, in February 1915. He graduated in December 1917 and was commissioned lieutenant, Australian Imperial Force, on 1 January 1918. Arriving in the Middle East in April, he served in Palestine with the 6th Light Horse Regiment, on the staffs of the 2nd and 3rd Light Horse brigades and the Anzac Mounted Division, and at AIF Headquarters, Cairo, where he helped to supervise the repatriation of Australians from Egypt.

Returning, himself, in August 1919, Hopkins held the usual succession of regimental and staff postings characteristic of the period, including a stint as orderly officer to the inspector-general Sir Harry Chauvel in 1921-22. Known as `Hoppy’ to his friends, he was promoted to captain in January 1926. On 15 December that year at St Michael’s Church of England, Mitcham, Adelaide, he married Nora Frances Reissmann (known as Riceman), before sailing for India, where he attended the Staff College, Quetta, in 1927-28. Further staff jobs in Australia followed, with the 1st and 3rd Cavalry brigades and at Army Headquarters, Melbourne. He rose to major in September 1936.

Hopkins’s professional focus since commissioning had been on the mounted arm, and the 1930s were characterised by intense and growing debate on mechanisation, motorisation and the future of the horse in war. At the beginning of 1937 he was sent to Britain to undertake training with armoured vehicles and to report on moves to mechanise the British Army. Attached to the 1st Light Battalion, Royal Tank Corps, he became an ardent exponent of armoured forces and after his return to Australia in April 1939 was posted as general staff officer, grade 2 (mechanisation and armoured fighting vehicles), at Army Headquarters. While in Britain he had sent back reports advocating the wholesale conversion of the Australian army from horses to horsepower which, while prescient, were also premature in that they largely ignored the severe financial constraints under which the interwar army operated.

Promoted to temporary lieutenant colonel in November 1939, Hopkins was given command of the 7th Divisional Cavalry Regiment, AIF, in April 1940. In November, however, he was seconded to Army Headquarters, where he played an important part in planning the organisation of what became the 1st Armoured Division. Having been promoted to colonel in May 1941, he reached the Middle East in June and served with the 7th Division for only a month before returning to Australia and the position of GSO1 on the headquarters of the 1st Armoured Division. There his knowledge of armour and armoured operations was put to good use as the division formed and trained for possible deployment to the Middle East.

The remainder of Hopkins’s war service involved increasingly more senior staff positions. Made temporary brigadier in August 1942, he was brigadier, general staff, at headquarters, New Guinea Force, from September to February 1943, and liaison officer with the United States of America’s VII Amphibious Force in 1943-44 during the landings at Lae and Finschhafen. He was appointed CBE (1943) for his `marked energy and drive’ while with New Guinea Force, and to the United States’ Legion of Merit (1944) in recognition of his `judgment, industry, and high professional military skill’. From September 1944 he headed the Staff School (Australia), which was renamed the Australian Staff College in February 1946.

Opportunity for extended leadership in the field came only with the occupation of Japan and the command (from April 1946) of the 34th Infantry Brigade, formed especially for that purpose. The early period of the occupation posed numerous challenges, although most were not of a purely military nature. The manpower needs of the Australian Regular Army, established in 1947, saw the gradual run-down of the Australian component of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force, and Hopkins returned to Australia at the end of 1948. While in Japan he had worked closely and amicably with the commander-in-chief of BCOF, Lieutenant General (Sir) Horace Robertson.

Back in Australia, Hopkins assumed command of the 4th Military District (from January 1949) and of Central Command (from January 1950), before becoming deputy-chief of the General Staff in May 1950 as a temporary major general (substantive 21 September). In February 1951 he received his final appointment in uniform, that of commandant of RMC, Duntroon. He retired from the army on 25 May 1954. His retirement was highly active. He cultivated business interests, and for twelve years worked in public relations with the Advertiser newspaper in Adelaide. Appointed chief executive officer of the first Adelaide Festival of Arts, in 1960, he provoked public controversy when he threatened to resign if the festival staged Alan Seymour’s play The One Day of the Year, a critique of Anzac Day and returned servicemen. The festival board backed him, and the play was withdrawn. He was also a keen golfer.

Hopkins wrote the history of the Royal Australian Armoured Corps, published as Australian Armour (1978). Far more than a parochial regimental history, the book engaged seriously with the development and use of armour by the Australian army from World War II to Vietnam, and was informed by his close personal knowledge of its genesis. Survived by his wife and their son, he died on 24 November 1990 at Walkerville and was cremated. His career exemplified the increasing professionalism of the Australian army, particularly during World War II, while his intellect, energy and sense of curiosity helped to guide and shape the armoured corps and the adoption of armour more generally.

Select Bibliography

  • D. M. Horner, Crisis of Command (1978)
  • S. Cockburn, The Patriarchs (1983)
  • P. Dennis et al, The Oxford Companion to Australian Military History (1995)
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 26 Nov 1990, p 15
  • series B2455, item Hopkins R N L Lieutenant (National Archives of Australia).

Citation details

Jeffrey Grey, 'Hopkins, Ronald Nicholas Lamond (1897–1990)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 26 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (Melbourne University Press), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

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