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Howard Dudley Reid (1908–1999)

by Hector Donohue

This article was published online in 2024

Howard Dudley Reid (1908–1999), naval officer and businessman, was born on 16 June 1908 in Wellington, New Zealand, son of Howard Joseph Reid, merchant and general agent, and his wife Alice Maud, née Hennah. Dudley attended Wellington College, trained as an accountant, and joined Woolworths (NZ) Ltd in Wellington, becoming the company’s youngest ever chief accountant. The tall and athletic Reid was well known locally as a prominent tennis and badminton player.

In mid-1940 Reid accompanied his mother on a visit to Australia, during which on 1 September in Sydney he volunteered for service in World War II and was appointed as a probationary temporary sub-lieutenant in the Royal Australian Naval Volunteer Reserve (RANVR) under the Yachtsmen Scheme. Two weeks later he was sent to England, where he joined the reserve officers’ training establishment HMS King Alfred at Hove. In November, together with fellow RANVR officers Hugh Syme, John Stuart Mould, and James Kessack, he volunteered for service with the Royal Navy’s Rendering Mines Safe (RMS) section.

Following training at HMS Vernon in Portsmouth, Reid was promoted to provisional lieutenant in December 1940 and posted to HMS President in London for duty with the Admiralty’s Land Incident Section, which disarmed German magnetic and acoustic mines dropped by parachute across the British Isles. His colleagues knew him as a thorough man, who knew his own mind and expressed his opinions with precision.

Reid’s early assignments over December 1940 to January 1941 included two mines for which the fuse had started to run and one that had lodged into a pavement, severing a water main and power cables. He was recommended for a George Cross, but was awarded a George Medal in June 1941 for ‘gallantry and undaunted devotion to duty’ and a Bar in June 1942 for mine disposal work in Glasgow in August 1941. His final task was, as an experienced officer, to mentor Leon Goldsworthy, later Australia’s most highly decorated naval officer of World War II, for his first mine disposal task. During his eight-month attachment to the Land Incident Section, Reid personally rendered safe a total of twenty-five German mines, one of which earned him the title ‘the man who saved Fleet Street’ (Farmer 1946, 9). Another of the more memorable mines he defused was located adjacent to a Cardiff munitions factory. His final confidential report as an RMS officer noted that he was ‘fearless and competent in his work and a good example to others’ (NAA A3978). This assessment would not have reassured Reid, who suspected that overconfidence was increasing the likelihood of a fatal mistake.

In October 1941 Reid finally realised a long-held desire to be posted to sea duty. He served briefly in HMS Western Isles, flagship of the Anti-Submarine Training School, Isle of Mull, before joining the 1st Minelaying Squadron Leader, HMS Southern Prince, based at Kyle of Lochalsh, in December 1941. In May 1942 he joined the corvette HMS Wallflower on escort duties in the Atlantic. On 20 August 1942 he married English-born Elleen Kathleen (Bobbie) Livings, née Benham, at the Register Office, Chelsea, London. She was then an officer in the Mechanised Transport Corps, and they had one son, Grahame Winton (b. 1943).

On 7 January 1943 Reid was appointed first lieutenant of the corvette HMS Coltsfoot conducting convoy escort duties in the Mediterranean. He was promoted to acting lieutenant commander in September 1944, and in November was appointed to command the corvette HMS Spiraea based at Alexandria, Egypt. He left Spiraea in August 1945, his senior officer, Captain (D) Gibraltar, having found him ‘an able and energetic Commanding Officer,’ and ‘full of guts’ (NAA A3978). On 9 April 1946 he was demobilised, and he returned to Australia. Bobbie and Grahame later joined him in Sydney, but they returned to England and the couple divorced in 1950. Reid continued to support their son.

Reid established Fordigraph (NSW) Pty Ltd in Sydney which imported spirit duplicating machines from Britain. He expanded the business to an Australia-wide sales network. In 1952 in his native Wellington he married Margaret Anne Ritchie, a senior secretary at a local insurance company. They had a daughter, Belinda Louise (1953), and a son, Nicholas James (1958). The family lived in a heritage home, Garden Reach, at Hunters Hill, Sydney, and Reid became a long-time member of the Hunters Hill sub-branch of the Returned Sailors’, Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia (president 1964–65). He served in the naval reserve until June 1966, having been confirmed as a lieutenant commander in December 1948, and was also a keen game fisherman. He divorced again in 1968, and in September 1970 at the Sydney Registry Office married Margaret Elizabeth Williams, née Reardon, a hairdresser with three children.

An astute businessman, Reid amassed considerable wealth. While living in Sydney he dabbled in the cotton industry at Moree and owned a cattle property at Hanging Rock near Grafton. He later owned the 545,000-hectare Delamere station in the Victoria River District, Northern Territory, which he sold to the Sultan of Brunei in 1982. Reid separated from his wife in 1987 and returned to New Zealand, moving to Paraparaumu, north of Wellington. He died in nearby Kenepuru Hospital on 22 January 1999, attended by his three children, and was cremated.

Research edited by Stephen Wilks

Select Bibliography

  • Farmer, W. A. ‘Rendezvous with Explosive.’ Herald (Melbourne), 2 February 1946, 9
  • Kitchin, Peter. ‘Badminton Champ Saved Fleet Street.’ Evening Post (Wellington), 4 February 1999, 5
  • Macklin, Robert. One False Move. Sydney: Hachette Australia, 2012
  • National Archives of Australia. A3978, Reid H. D.
  • National Archives of Australia. A6769, Reid H. D.
  • Reid, Belinda. Personal communication
  • Southall, Ivan. Softly Tread the Brave. Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1960

Additional Resources

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Citation details

Hector Donohue, 'Reid, Howard Dudley (1908–1999)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published online 2024, accessed online 17 July 2024.

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