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Eleanor Manning (1906–1986)

by Melanie Oppenheimer

This article was published:

Eleanor Manning (1906-1986), Girl Guide commissioner and army officer, was born on 22 March 1906 at Point Piper, Sydney, elder daughter of Sydney-born parents (Sir) Henry Edward Manning, barrister-at-law, and his wife Norah Antonia, née Martin. Sir James Martin was her grandfather. Eleanor was educated at Frensham, Mittagong. After leaving school, she travelled overseas and spent a year in Colorado visiting her aunt, Florence Martin. She enjoyed playing hockey, and sailing on Sydney Harbour in her father’s 16-ft (4.9-m) skiff. In 1923 she became involved in the Girl Guides’ Association, three years after this voluntary organisation was established in New South Wales. She served as a district commissioner, a general councillor (until her death) and, from 1934 to 1941, State commissioner for training.

In June 1940 Manning joined the Women’s Australian National Services, which was established to train women for war work. As a result of her experience in the Guides, she was appointed a technical instructor. Selected to be assistant controller, Eastern Command, of the new Australian Women’s Army Service, she began full-time duty in December 1941. The following month she was appointed as a major. She enlisted and trained thousands of recruits, telling them not to ‘try to look masculine just because they wore a uniform’. Opposed to women learning to shoot, Manning believed that they should do work ‘suitable to their sex’. In 1943-44 she was assistant, then deputy controller, AWAS, at Allied Forces Land Headquarters, Melbourne. From June 1944 she was chief instructor (commandant) of the Australian Women’s Services Officers’ School. Commended for her outstanding service, she transferred to the reserve in June 1945.

On her return to the Girl Guides, Manning became State assistant commissioner for training and, soon after, deputy commissioner. She worked with the Guide International Service in a rehabilitation and medical program in Malaya for several months in 1946. A small dark-haired woman, she had shown her strength of character when she publicly criticised Arthur Calwell for a delay in the issue of her passport. From 1955 to 1962 she served as the chief commissioner for Girl Guides in Australia. She was the first Australian elected to the committee of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, a position she held from 1960 to 1969. Enthusiastic about creating the Sangam World Centre for Guide training at Poona, India, she visited the site in 1965. As international commissioner for Australia (1970-75), she continued to travel the world educating people about the Guide movement.

With ‘her clear mind and straight decisions’, Manning was an outstanding organiser, administrator, educator and leader. She was given the Guide awards of the Beaver (1938) and the Silver Fish (1954). A recipient of the coronation medals of King George VI (1937) and Queen Elizabeth II (1953), she was appointed OBE in 1959. She was involved in other voluntary organisations, including the Australia-Malaysia Association, the Australia-Britain Society and the National Fitness Council of New South Wales. Miss Manning died on 21 November 1986 at Darlinghurst and was buried in Northern Suburbs cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • L. Ollif, Women in Khaki (1981)
  • M. Coleman and H. Darling, Blue and Gold (1986)
  • M. Coleman and H. Darling, From a Flicker to a Flame (1989)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 11 Nov 1941, pp 5 and 8, 12 Feb 1946, p 3, 27 Nov 1986, p 4
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 11 Nov 1941, p 5
  • Guiding in Australia, Feb 1987, p 11
  • B884, item NF278365 (National Archives of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Melanie Oppenheimer, 'Manning, Eleanor (1906–1986)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 14 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (Melbourne University Press), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

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