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Harold Hillis Page (1888–1942)

by A. J. Sweeting

This article was published:

Harold Hillis Page (1888-1942), public servant and soldier, was born on 8 August 1888 at Grafton, New South Wales, eighth of eleven children of Charles Page, blacksmith and coachbuilder and his wife Mary Johanna Hadden, née Cox. (Sir) Earle Christmas Grafton and Rodger Clarence George were brothers.

Harold was educated at Grafton Public School and at Teachers' College, Sydney, in 1908-09. He taught in the Department of Public Instruction in 1904-13 and in 1911-13 was a part-time arts student at the University of Sydney. In 1913 he joined the Commonwealth Public Service, working as a clerk in the Taxation Department at Lismore, then in the electoral branch, Department of Home Affairs. He enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 15 February 1915, was commissioned second lieutenant on 12 April and posted to the 25th Battalion. Promoted lieutenant on 1 June, he embarked on 29 June and reached Egypt on 4 August.

Page arrived at Anzac on 11 September where the 25th Battalion was disposed on the left of the line on lower Cheshire Ridge. There was now little heavy fighting but the Australians made frequent excursions into no man's land. Page, fair-haired and strongly built, distinguished himself on the night of 29 October when he and Sergeant A. V. Bracher made a bold reconnaissance. They disabled two Turks, threw bombs into the Turkish trenches and gained valuable information concerning the enemy's dispositions.

In a letter to his brother Earle in early December, a few days before his promotion to temporary captain, Page expressed his dissatisfaction with the conduct of the campaign. 'We are still where we were on August 6, 1915, and still have the methods that prevailed in times of the old Greeks and other ancients in almost all departments. A washout nearly describes the situation here'. Page was wounded by shell-fire on 18 December and evacuated next day; he rejoined his unit in Egypt on 19 January 1916 and on 15 March embarked for France. He was in the trenches east of Armentières in April and on 27 May was confirmed as captain. Active in patrolling, on 28 June he commanded a successful raiding party of seventy men at Ontario Farm near Messines. Though wounded in the spine during the approach, Page continued with great dash and was awarded the Military Cross. He was evacuated to England and after rejoining his unit on 25 November took part in trench defence at Le Transloy and Gueudecourt, thus experiencing the terrible Somme winter of 1916-17.

Page was twice detached to Administrative Headquarters, A.I.F., London, in 1917-18 for a total period of about six months and had charge of the general election for the whole overseas A.I.F. Promoted major on 26 July 1917, he took part in the attacks at Westhoek and Nonne Bosschen on 20 September and was second-in-command of the 25th Battalion in the attack through Zonnebeke and Broodseinde Ridge. Afterwards he took the battalion forward to form a defensive flank beyond Broodseinde. On 4 October he was captured briefly by a party of Germans. Mistaking them for Australians, he walked up to them and was seized. A British shell bursting close by caused the Germans to scatter and Page escaped.

He temporarily commanded the battalion during February-March 1918 and after it returned to the Somme in late March remained as second-in-command until the completion of operations. On 10 June he helped to organize the attack along the Bray-Corbie road and briefly commanded advanced battalion headquarters. On 4 July he led the battalion in the attack on Hamel in which his unit was the right pivot for the operation, his skilful handling ensuring its success. On 23 August he was in command in the advance on Péronne, an operation in which his careful planning ensured negligible losses. While leading the battalion at Mont St Quentin on 2 September, he was wounded in the abdomen; he was evacuated to England and did not rejoin his unit until just before the Armistice. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order and mentioned in dispatches for service during June-September.

Page returned to Australia in May 1919 and on 17 July his A.I.F. appointment ended. On 5 June at St Paul's Presbyterian Church, Lismore, he had married Anne Miller Brewster. He rejoined the Commonwealth Public Service and after completing his degree (B.A., 1920) joined the newly created New Guinea administration at Rabaul. He was briefly chief of police and director of schools, then in 1923-42 was government secretary. For nine years he was senior official member of the Executive and Legislative councils, and was deputy administrator in December 1941–January 1942 when the transfer of headquarters from Rabaul to Lae began, while Rabaul was under threat of Japanese invasion. In mid-December Page set in motion the compulsory evacuation of women and children. On 4 January Japanese aircraft began to attack Rabaul; these raids increased in intensity until the invasion on 23 January. Page was captured and in June, with 207 civilians and 845 military prisoners, was shipped from Rabaul in the Montevideo Maru. The ship was torpedoed by an American submarine in the South China Sea on 1 July 1942 and, except for a few Japanese, all on board perished. Page was survived by his wife, a son and three daughters. The son Robert, a captain in an Australian commando unit, was captured and executed by the Japanese in Singapore in July 1945 after attempting to repeat a daring raid on shipping in Singapore harbour in September 1943, for which he had been awarded the Distinguished Service Order.

Select Bibliography

  • C. E. W. Bean, The Story of Anzac (Syd, 1924)
  • C. E. W. Bean, The A.I.F. in France 1916-18 (Syd, 1929, 1933, 1942)
  • G. E. Hall and A. Cousins (eds), Book of Remembrance of the University of Sydney in the War 1914-1918 (Syd, 1939)
  • E. C. G. Page, Truant Surgeon, A. Mozley ed (Syd, 1963)
  • Pacific Islands Monthly, Jan 1946
  • H. H. Page file (Australian War Memorial)
  • war diary, 25th Battalion, AIF (Australian War Memorial)
  • private information.

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Citation details

A. J. Sweeting, 'Page, Harold Hillis (1888–1942)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 24 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (Melbourne University Press), 1988

View the front pages for Volume 11

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