Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Sir Arthur William McIlveen (1886–1979)

by Darryl McIntyre

This article was published:

Sir Arthur William McIlveen (1886-1979), Salvation Army officer, was born on 29 June 1886 at Brodies Plains, near Inverell, New South Wales, son of native-born parents William McIlveen, farmer, and his wife Annie Lucinda, née Lockrey. At the age of 14 Arthur left the local public school to join his father as a tinminer at Tingha. Shortly afterwards William fell ill, and Arthur and his brother Alex supported the family. In a lonely bush camp Arthur made a commitment in 1910 to serve the Salvation Army. He trained (1911-12) in Melbourne where he was dux of his session of 132 cadets.

Undertaking pastoral work in the city, McIlveen soon demonstrated his skills as a public speaker, especially during street-meetings. On 12 January 1916 he married a fellow officer Elizabeth Mary Mundell at the Salvation Army Hall, Richmond. McIlveen's superiors refused him permission to go abroad with the Australian Imperial Force in World War I. He finally took matters into his own hands and enlisted on 9 July 1918, but the war ended while he was en route to Britain. Following his discharge in January 1919, he was appointed to Dubbo, New South Wales, where he and Lizzie assisted families suffering from Spanish influenza. The McIlveens were given a 'tumultuous' farewell on their departure in 1921. Posted to country towns in New South Wales (1921-24 and 1935-37), and to Sydney (1924-28, 1930-34 and 1937-39), Brisbane (1928-30) and Toowoomba (1934-35), 'Mac' earned admiration for his dedication and generosity. He was promoted brigadier in 1938.

On 26 February 1940 McIlveen was appointed welfare officer to the 18th Brigade, A.I.F. He sailed for Britain in May and reached Egypt in December. Forging a close relationship with the 2nd/9th Battalion, he also served as unofficial padre to other units in the Middle East. In April-August 1941, during the siege of Tobruk, Libya, he attended to the welfare of Australian servicemen, and Italian and German prisoners of war. He gained special affection for playing his records on a battered phonograph, and for braving enemy fire to visit soldiers in the trenches and perimeter posts. The phonograph and collection of records were later donated to the Australian War Memorial, Canberra.

Returning reluctantly to Australia in March 1942, McIlveen was the Salvation Army's secretary for prison-work in New South Wales until his retirement on 29 June 1951. He won the respect of many convicts for his principles and beliefs. In 1967 he was admitted to the Order of the Founder, the Salvation Army's highest award. The Rats of Tobruk, with whom he maintained strong links, acquired a house for him and his family at Bexley, Sydney. Appointed M.B.E. in 1961, he was knighted in 1970. His career was the subject of a television documentary screened by the Australian Broadcasting Commission on the night before Anzac Day, 1977. Survived by his son and two daughters, Sir Arthur died on 1 May 1979 at the Repatriation General Hospital, Concord, and was buried in Woronora cemetery with full military honours. The Salvation Army named its museum and research centre at Bexley North after him.

Select Bibliography

  • N. Dunster, Padre to the 'Rats' (Lond, 1971)
  • P. Everson (compiler), The McIlveen Family (Syd, 1986)
  • Reveille (Sydney), Feb 1970, July 1979
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 1 July 1951, 1, 2 Jan 1970, 2, 5 May 1979
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 8 Jan 1970
  • Australian War Memorial records
  • McIlveen collection (Salvation Army Heritage Centre, Bexley North, Sydney).

Citation details

Darryl McIntyre, 'McIlveen, Sir Arthur William (1886–1979)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 29 May 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]


29 June, 1886
Inverell, New South Wales, Australia


1 May, 1979 (aged 92)
Concord, Sydney, New South Wales, 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.