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Arthur Percy Sullivan (1896–1937)

by Anthony Staunton

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Arthur Percy Sullivan (1896-1937), by unknown photographer, 1919

Arthur Percy Sullivan (1896-1937), by unknown photographer, 1919

Australian War Memorial, A02497A

Arthur Percy Sullivan (1896-1937), soldier and banker, was born on 27 November 1896 at Prospect, Adelaide, son of Arthur Monks Sullivan, storekeeper, and his wife Eliza, née Dobbs. Educated at Crystal Brook Public School and Gladstone High School, he joined the National Bank of Australasia at Gladstone in 1913 and was transferred to Broken Hill, New South Wales, and then to Maitland, South Australia.

Sullivan enlisted as a private in the Australian Imperial Force on 27 April 1918 and embarked in July as a general reinforcement. He transferred on 5 October to the artillery, but the war was over before he was allotted to a unit in France. Promoted acting corporal on 23 May 1919, he joined the British North Russia Relief Force five days later and was officially discharged from the A.I.F. on 12 June. The relief force landed at Archangel in June and July, and relieved most of the original 1918 expeditionary force which included nine A.I.F. members. Sullivan was with the 45th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers, in L. W. de V. Sadleir-Jackson's brigade which moved 150 miles (241 km) down the Dvina River.

On 10 August the British attacked on the Dvina front in order to demoralize and disorganize the Bolsheviks and so give time for an unhindered evacuation of North Russia. During the attack, which was a complete success with minimal British casualties, Sullivan won the Victoria Cross. His unit was cut off and, while fighting their way back to their lines, an officer and three men fell from a narrow plank into a deep swamp on the Sheika River. Without hesitation and under intense fire, Sullivan jumped into the water and rescued all four, bringing them out singly. The evacuation was completed by late September and the relief force was demobilized in England. Sullivan left for Australia on 1 November without waiting to be decorated by the King. He was presented with the V.C. in Adelaide in April 1920 during the tour of the Prince of Wales who smiled and said to Sullivan: 'Aren't you the man who ran away from father?'

Known as the 'Shy V.C.', Sullivan was a popular personality. At Fairfield, Melbourne, he married Dorothy Frances Veale with Anglican rites on 5 December 1928; they were to have three children, including twins. After the war Sullivan had rejoined the National Bank and in 1929 moved to its Sydney office; in July 1934 he was appointed manager of the Casino branch. He joined the Australian contingent to the coronation of King George VI and took with him the ashes of British V.C. winner Sergeant Arthur Evans who had died in Australia. On 9 April 1937, eleven days after handing over these remains, Sullivan died when he accidentally slipped and struck his head against a kerb in Birdcage Walk near Wellington Barracks, London. After a military funeral, his ashes were returned to Australia and placed in the Northern Suburbs crematorium, Sydney. In 1939 a memorial plaque was erected on the gates of Wellington Barracks, and in 2015 a memorial was unveiled at Crystal Brook. His wife died in 1980, leaving his V.C. to the Australian War Memorial where it is displayed in the Hall of Valour.

Select Bibliography

  • L. Wigmore (ed), They Dared Mightily, second ed revised and condensed by J. Williams and A. Staunton (Canb, 1986)
  • Reveille (Sydney), July 1966, p 11
  • Defence Force Journal, no 22, May-June 1980, p 31
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 1, 2 Oct 1919
  • Times (London), 10, 12, 14 Apr 1937
  • Age (Melbourne), 30 July 1980
  • Canberra Times, 13 Feb 1980
  • News (Adelaide), 4 May 1988
  • Lummis, V.C. and G.C. files (Military Historical Society, London).

Citation details

Anthony Staunton, 'Sullivan, Arthur Percy (1896–1937)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 15 July 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

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Arthur Percy Sullivan (1896-1937), by unknown photographer, 1919

Arthur Percy Sullivan (1896-1937), by unknown photographer, 1919

Australian War Memorial, A02497A