Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Eric Frank Lambert (1918–1966)

by D. R. Walker

This article was published:

Eric Frank Lambert (1918-1966), novelist, was born on 19 January 1918 at Upper Clapton, Hackney, London, son of Frank Lambert, commercial traveller, and his wife Marion Rosina, née Bean. The family emigrated to Sydney in 1919 and settled at Manly. Eric was educated at Manly Public, Sydney Boys' High and Manly Boys' Intermediate High schools. At 17 he left school, denied the university education he craved, and worked in a garage. On 10 June 1940 Lambert enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force. He saw action in the Middle East with the 2nd/2nd Machine-Gun Battalion (January 1941-October 1942) and the 2nd/15th Battalion (to January 1943) before sailing for Australia. From August 1943 he was in Papua with the 2nd/15th, returning home in March 1944. Throughout his service he was in and out of hospital. While in Singapore (September-October 1945) assisting the repatriation of prisoners of war from Changi, he was promoted sergeant. He was discharged in Melbourne on 7 December 1945.

The novelist Frank Hardy, one of Lambert's closest friends in the late 1940s, persuaded him to join the Communist Party of Australia in 1947. Hardy was best man when Lambert married with Unitarian forms Joyce Margaret Boyd Smith, a schoolteacher, on 6 April 1950 in East Melbourne. The Lamberts were later divorced. Eric joined the Melbourne Realist Writers' Group and was a founder (1954) of the radical nationalist journal, Overland, but fell out with its editor Stephen Murray-Smith. Unpredictable and disputative, Lambert had a growing reputation as an awkward customer, troubled by war memories, poor health and disabling jealousies.

In 1949 Lambert was awarded a Commonwealth Literary Fund fellowship. He privately published his first novel, The Twenty Thousand Thieves (1951), based on his war experiences in the Middle East. The book was soon accepted by a commercial publisher—Frederick Muller Ltd in London—and was to sell over 750,000 copies. Lambert's communism shaped the politics of the novel, as well as its reception in the sharply polarized world of the Cold War. The Veterans (London, 1954) was set in the jungles of New Guinea and also enjoyed huge sales. Both works drew clear distinctions between the common soldiers, invariably radicals and free spirits, and the officer-class, which was, just as invariably, venal and inept. Even so, the novels remain powerful and often moving accounts of World War II.

Following the 1955 World Assembly for Peace (held in Helsinki) at which Lambert was an Australian delegate, he remained based in London. In 1956 he went to Hungary, joined the revolutionaries and broke with the communists over the Russian invasion. His articles on Hungary in the Sydney Daily Telegraph further alienated the left. Lambert wrote seventeen novels under his own name, and as 'D. Brennan' retold film stories. He drew on the war in Glory Thrown In (1959) and Hiroshima Reef (1967), and on his secondment to Changi in MacDougal's Farm (1965). Nationalist and anti-authoritarian sympathies permeate his novels about Eureka, Ballarat and Ned Kelly: The Five Bright Stars (Melbourne, 1954), Ballarat (1962) and Kelly (1964). On 5 March 1963 at the register office, Wood Green, Middlesex, Lambert married a divorcee Phyllis Daphne Hogarth, née Pamplin. Survived by his wife and their two daughters, he died of acute hypertensive heart failure on 16 April 1966 at Little Maplestead, Essex.

Select Bibliography

  • Z. O'Leary, The Desolate Market (Syd, 1974)
  • D. Walker, 'The Writers' War', in J. Beaumont (ed), Australia's War 1939 to 1945 (Syd, 1996)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 7 Oct 1949, 29 Aug, 13, 24, 25 Sept 1952, 20 Apr 1966
  • S. Murray-Smith papers, box 113 (State Library of Victoria).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

D. R. Walker, 'Lambert, Eric Frank (1918–1966)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 20 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (Melbourne University Press), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Brennan, D.

19 January, 1918
London, Middlesex, England


16 April, 1966 (aged 48)
Little Maplestead, Essex, England

Cultural Heritage

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