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Arthur Borlase Stevens (1880–1965)

by A. J. Sweeting

This article was published:

Arthur Borlase Stevens (1880-1965), soldier and railways officer, was born on 26 June 1880 at Erskineville, Sydney, son of William Borlase Stevens, commercial traveller, and his wife Elizabeth Annie, née Merchant. Educated at the College School, Summer Hill, he joined the clerical division of the New South Wales government railways. On 2 September 1903 at St James's Anglican Church, Wickham, he married Vera Eleanor McIsaac Proctor; they were to remain childless. Stevens joined the Light Horse in 1910 and spent a year in the ranks before appointment as second lieutenant to the New South Wales Lancers. He transferred to the 14th (Hunter River) Infantry and then to the 21st Infantry in 1913.

By 1914 Stevens was a railway telegraphist. Enlisting in the Australian Imperial Force on 27 August, he was one of a select group of officers chosen by its commander, Lieutenant-Colonel George Braund, for appointment to the 2nd Battalion; on 23 September Stevens was made lieutenant. Promoted captain on 18 October, he embarked that day for Egypt. He landed at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915 and was with his men during the fighting on Walker's Ridge: for three days and nights the 2nd Battalion, largely isolated and under almost constant attack, held the most vital ground in the area. The fighting was so close that at one stage Captain Stevens shot a Turk who had crept near enough to touch his bayonet. Wounded by shell-fire on 9 May, Stevens was back with his unit by 9 July. A few days afterwards he was transferred to 1st Brigade Headquarters as acting staff captain, but returned to his unit on 4 August as second-in-command with the rank of major.

Prominent in the battle of Lone Pine, Stevens led the original battalion attack and commanded it until Colonel Scobie came forward; he then directed the defence and consolidation of the left flank. On 7 August he took temporary command of the battalion when Scobie was killed. As he took charge, a stream of Turks could be seen moving along a sap towards the heart of the battalion's position; Stevens brought up a machine-gun: its fire hampered, then halted, the Turkish advance. All four of the gun's crew were recommended for the Victoria Cross. For his part in the Lone Pine fighting, Stevens was mentioned in dispatches and awarded the Distinguished Service Order. He remained on Gallipoli until the evacuation.

By February 1916, in Egypt, Stevens was the senior officer remaining in the 2nd Battalion. On 12 March he was promoted lieutenant-colonel in command. In eighteen months he had risen from second lieutenant to lieutenant-colonel. In March he embarked for France, commanding his battalion at Pozières in July when, in three days, it lost 10 officers and 500 men. The battalion was briefly engaged at Mouquet Farm in August. At Pozières and elsewhere Stevens encouraged his men by example, making himself conspicuous where enemy fire was hottest. For his service in 1916 he was appointed C.M.G.

From November he commanded the 1st Division Training School—a welcome relief from the anxieties of a fighting commander—and in March 1917 he was posted as commander of the 1st Advanced Divisional Base Depot. He resumed command of the 2nd Battalion on 19 December, after the Passchendaele battles; except for two periods totalling eight weeks when he was acting brigade commander, he led it through all but the last of the great battles of 1918. On 18 September he was granted furlough to Australia.

After the war Stevens re-entered the New South Wales railways; from being an inspector in the electrical branch, he rose to chief inspector. He maintained his interest in soldiering and in 1921-26 commanded the 36th Militia Battalion. Posted to the reserve of officers in 1931, he returned in 1940 to full-time service as commanding officer of the 9th Recruit Reception Battalion. In 1941-42 he was area commander at Narellan and then at Ingleburn, one of the State's largest training and transit camps for troops. He was placed on the retired list as an honorary colonel in October 1942. Survived by his wife, he died suddenly on 4 September 1965 at Dee Why Bowling Club, Sydney, and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • C. E. W. Bean, The Story of Anzac, vols 1, 2 (Syd, 1921, 1924)
  • C. E. W. Bean, The A.I.F. in France, 1916, 1918 (Syd, 1929, 1937, 1942)
  • F. W. Taylor and T. A. Cusack (eds), Nulli Secundus (Syd, 1942).

Citation details

A. J. Sweeting, 'Stevens, Arthur Borlase (1880–1965)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 14 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (Melbourne University Press), 1990

View the front pages for Volume 12

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