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Noel William Simpson (1907–1971)

by R. Sutton

This article was published:

Noel William Simpson (1907-1971), bank inspector and army officer, was born on 22 February 1907 at Balmain, Sydney, younger of twin sons of Harry Simpson, a Sydney-born orchardist, and his wife Annie Cecilia, née Thomas, who came from New Zealand. Noel attended North Sydney Boys' High School and began work with the National Bank of Australasia Ltd on 27 December 1922. A member (from 1925) of the Militia, he was commissioned lieutenant in March 1926 and promoted captain in August 1930. By November 1939 he was a temporary major in the 45th Battalion.

On 1 May 1940 Simpson transferred to the 2nd/13th Battalion, Australian Imperial Force, as second-in-command. Within five days, however, he was attached to the headquarters of the 20th Brigade. Embarking for the Middle East in October, he joined the staff of the 7th Division in January 1941 and became deputy assistant adjutant-general two months later. In June-July he took part in the Syrian campaign. At Latakia, in March 1942, he was promoted lieutenant colonel and given command of the 2nd/17th Battalion. He acquired the nickname 'Red Fox' from the emblem painted on his Bren-gun carrier. Under his direction the battalion carried out intensive training until July when it moved to Egypt. During the battle of El Alamein, which began on the night of 23 October, the 2nd/17th secured its objectives and, despite considerable casualties, withstood strong counter-attacks by enemy tanks and infantry. For his outstanding leadership Simpson was awarded the Distinguished Service Order.

Arriving back in Australia in February 1943, the men of the 2nd/17th were trained in amphibious warfare in Queensland and at Milne Bay, Papua. In September they landed in New Guinea, first at Lae and then at Finschhafen, both held by the Japanese. During the advance along the Huon Peninsula, Simpson continued to lead the battalion, despite a wound to his scalp, sustained at Finschhafen. His skill in command was again evident in October when the unit inflicted heavy casualties on the enemy in the Kumawa area and, for seventeen days, successfully defended Jivevenang ridge, a position vital to future operations against Sattelberg. He won a Bar to his D.S.O.

From November 1943 Simpson administered command, in turn, of the 24th and of the 20th brigades before rejoining the 2nd/17th in January 1944. Next month he was posted to the 2nd/43rd Battalion, which he zealously retrained in Queensland. Made temporary brigadier and given command of the 29th Brigade in March 1945, he took it to Bougainville that month. The 29th was scheduled to relieve the 15th Brigade in July and to secure the line of the Mivo River, but torrential rain delayed the operation until August, the month in which World War II ended. In reviewing the operations on Bougainville, Simpson criticized officers who had questioned the need for the campaign. Transferred to the 23rd Brigade in November, he was placed on the Reserve of Officers on 15 May 1946 and mentioned in dispatches in 1947.

Simpson returned to the National Bank. Active in the Citizen Military Forces, he commanded the 6th Brigade (1953-58) and the 3rd Division (1959-60), the latter as temporary major general. He was appointed C.B.E. in 1956 and C.B. in 1963. From 1960 to 1962 he represented the C.M.F. on the Military Board. He retired from the army on 23 February 1964. After almost ten years as an assistant-inspector, he retired from the National Bank in 1966.

Five ft 9 ins (175 cm) tall, with a fair complexion, blue eyes and fair hair, Simpson was physically fit and energetic, though not robust in appearance. He was an intelligent and articulate officer whose directions were precise and unambiguous. Well versed in the doctrines of desert and jungle warfare, he adopted training programmes that brought success in operations. Although he was a strong disciplinarian who showed no tolerance of inefficient officers, he was compassionate and knew when to relieve those under sustained battle-stress. He was highly regarded by his seniors, as well as by his own officers and men. When he was about to take over command of the 2nd/43rd Battalion, his soldiers said: 'You can borrow him for training . . . but let's have him back when we go into action'.

Simpson died of myocardial infarction on 18 November 1971 at the Repatriation General Hospital, Heidelberg, Melbourne, and was cremated with Anglican rites. His twin, Major Grosvenor Harry Simpson, was killed at Anzio, Italy, on 31 May 1944 while serving with the British Army.

Select Bibliography

  • G. H. Fearnside (ed), Bayonets Abroad (Syd, 1953)
  • D. Dexter, The New Guinea Offensives (Canb, 1961)
  • G. Long, The Final Campaigns (Canb, 1963)
  • B. Maughan, Tobruk and El Alamein (Canb, 1966)
  • G. Combe et al, The Second 43rd Australian Infantry Battalion 1940-1946 (Adel, 1972)
  • 'What We Have—We Hold!' (Syd, 1998)
  • J. Coates, Bravery Above Blunder (Melb, 1999)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 19 Nov 1971
  • private information.

Citation details

R. Sutton, 'Simpson, Noel William (1907–1971)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 24 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (Melbourne University Press), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


22 February, 1907
Balmain, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


18 November, 1971 (aged 64)
Heidelberg, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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