Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Alexander John Taylor (1916–1984)

by Jean Bou

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Alexander John Taylor (1916–1984), soldier and realtor, was born on 5 July 1916 in Brisbane, eldest child of Queensland-born parents William John Taylor, a bricklayer who had enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force, and his wife Jessie Helena, née Davis; her sister married Francis de Witt Batty. Following primary schooling at Gladstone and commercial studies at the Central Technical College, Brisbane, Alexander worked as a hide-grader at the Gladstone meatworks. When World War II broke out in September 1939, his father informed him and his two brothers and sister that he expected them to volunteer. Alexander enlisted in the AIF on 29 October and was posted to the 2/9th Battalion. The unit was stationed in Britain in June-November 1940 before arriving in the Middle East in December.

In February 1941 Taylor was transferred to the 2/10th Battalion, which helped to defend Tobruk, Libya, from April. He was promoted on 1 May to lance corporal. On the night of 3–4 May his platoon was one of two ordered to clear German positions when they came under enemy machine-gun fire. Taylor’s platoon quickly knocked out one post, but the other platoon suffered several casualties and was pinned down. Sent out to locate its members, Taylor encountered another machine-gun post on one of his three forays and, attacking it single-handedly, killed all the occupants with his Thompson submachine-gun. He then covered the withdrawal of his comrades, despite being wounded. For his actions he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal.

After convalescence, Taylor rejoined his battalion in July. It was relieved in August and, following a period of garrison duties in Syria, sailed for Australia in February 1942. Taylor was promoted to acting sergeant in April. Deployed to Papua in August, his unit was involved in the fighting at Milne Bay, where it was hit hard by the Japanese and Taylor was again wounded. Soon recovered, he was commissioned as a lieutenant in October. The 2/10th fought at Buna in December 1942—where it experienced an even greater number of casualties—then at Sanananda in January 1943. Malaria caused Taylor repeated hospitalisation during 1943. On 20 March that year at the Ann Street Presbyterian Church, Brisbane, he married Nellie Margaret Wallace, a clerk.

Having transferred to the Reserve of Officers on 3 March 1944, Taylor was employed in the meatworks at Gladstone and later Maryborough. His marriage broke down in the 1950s (divorced 1966) and, perhaps as a result of the stresses of his war service, he moved around Australia through a succession of occupations, including in insurance and journalism. While working for a funeral director in Sydney, he met Gweneth Brewer, a nurse, whom he married on 16 May 1966 at the registrar general’s office. Thereafter, he pursued a career in real estate in Queensland, eventually heading an office at Caloundra.

Taylor was a generally gregarious person but it took him many years to forgive the Japanese. He was involved with the Returned Services League of Australia, the Lions Club and Legacy, and he stayed in contact with other ‘Rats of Tobruk’. Diagnosed with lymphoma in the late 1970s, he died on 23 January 1984 at Nambour and was buried in the Uniting Church section of Caloundra cemetery. His wife and their daughter and son, and the two sons of his first marriage survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • F. Allchin, Purple and Blue (1958)
  • D. McCarthy, South-West Pacific Area—First Year (1959)
  • B. Maughan, Tobruk and El Alamein (1966)
  • AWM52, item 8/3/10 (AWM)
  • B883, item QX2687 (National Archives of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Jean Bou, 'Taylor, Alexander John (1916–1984)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 21 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (Melbourne University Press), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


5 July, 1916
Brisbane, Queensland, Australia


23 January, 1984 (aged 67)
Nambour, Queensland, Australia

Cause of Death

cancer (lymphoma)

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.