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Robert John (Jack) Massie (1890–1966)

by Rosslyn Finn

This article was published:

Robert John Allwright (Jack) Massie (1890-1966), sportsman, soldier and businessman, was born on 8 July 1890 at St Leonards, Sydney, son of Hugh Hamon Massie, banker and ex-international cricketer, and his wife Tryphena Agnes, daughter of (Sir) Thomas Dibbs. Jack attended Sydney Church of England Grammar School (Shore) in 1900-10. He played for his school and later the University of Sydney as a left-arm bowler, and was selected for the New South Wales State side in 1911-12 against the Marylebone Cricket Club. He learned boxing from Larry Foley and later represented the university as a heavyweight, gaining the State championship in 1914. When Massie left school he was senior prefect, with colours in cricket, football, rowing and athletics, and the Venour Nathan Shield for rifle-shooting. In his last term he was invited to row in the New South Wales eight but this his father would not allow, thinking him too young. He rowed for the university instead, before enrolling.

In 1910 Massie commenced civil engineering at the University of Sydney and in 1914 graduated B.E. with first-class honours and the University medal. He won a half-blue in boxing and blues for cricket, Rugby, rowing and athletics and represented his State in cricket (1912-14), Rugby (1912-13) and athletics (Dunn Shield). In 1914 he was regarded by many as the best bowler in Australia and a certainty for the Australian team.

After graduation Massie joined the British-American Tobacco Co. He enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 17 August 1914, was commissioned second lieutenant, 4th Battalion, on 13 September and embarked for Egypt in October. Promoted lieutenant on 1 February 1915, he landed at Gallipoli on 25 April. Next day, acting on mistaken orders, his battalion advanced courageously but blindly towards Lone Pine and was decimated. When his commanding officer was killed, Massie carried the body towards their trenches but was turned back by Turkish fire. Wounded slightly on 25 June and 20 July and severely at Lone Pine on the night of 6-7 August, he was evacuated and in December declared unfit for active service for four months. For his service at Gallipoli he was mentioned in dispatches and awarded the French Croix de Guerre. On 1 December, while returning to Australia, he was promoted captain.

On 1 May 1916 Massie was promoted major and appointed second-in-command of the 33rd Battalion; he left Sydney for England. On 21 November his unit was sent with the rest of the 3rd Division to Armentières, France. Massie was attached to divisional headquarters in May-June 1917 and in October-December attended a senior officers' course in England. Again wounded in action on 3 February 1918, he recovered to undertake a course at the machine-gun training centre at Grantham, England, and in July he was passed 'technically qualified to command a Machine Gun Battalion'. He was attached to the Australian Corps School on 12 September and appointed commandant on 24 September; promotion to lieutenant-colonel was confirmed on 21 October. After the Armistice he was appointed organizer of sport for the Australian Corps. For his service in France and Belgium he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order and was twice mentioned in dispatches. His A.I.F. appointment ended on 16 August 1919.

Massie married Phyllis Wood Lang at Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Brompton, London, on 3 June 1919. He resumed his career with the tobacco company in December 1919, in the United States of America, then returned to Sydney where he worked for the company and was esquire bedell to the chancellor of the university until 1946. A war injury to his shoulder precluded further representative cricket: instead he wrote a book, Bowling, which he presented to the Cricket Association.

Massie was chairman of directors of the British Tobacco Co. (Aust) Ltd and W. D. and H. O. Wills (Aust) in 1937-46 and a director of the Commercial Banking Co. of Sydney Ltd. Appointed director-general of supply in June 1941, he resigned to join the Board of Area Management for New South Wales, Ministry of Munitions, from April 1942 and became its chairman in May 1943. In November 1941 he had resigned his directorship with the Commercial Banking Co. because of his commitment to war work. His wife died in 1943, the year their son John was killed in action. On 20 September 1947, in Washington, D.C., he married a widow, Elizabeth Emily Squire, née Crosse. In 1946-51 he was deputy chairman of the British American Tobacco Co. Ltd in London then retired to Australia. Survived by his wife and by two daughters of his first marriage, he died of cancer on 14 February 1966 at Mosman, Sydney, and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • C. E. W. Bean, The Story of Anzac (Syd, 1921)
  • G. E. Hall and A. Cousins (eds), Book of Remembrance of the University of Sydney in the War 1914-1918 (Syd, 1939)
  • London Gazette, 28 Jan, 22 Feb 1916, 1 June 1917, 28 May, 3 June 1918
  • Torchbearer, 1964, 1966
  • war diary, 33rd Battalion AIF, and records (Australian War Memorial).

Citation details

Rosslyn Finn, 'Massie, Robert John (Jack) (1890–1966)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 22 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (Melbourne University Press), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

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