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Raymond Walter Tovell (1890–1966)

by Neil Smith

This article was published:

Raymond Walter Tovell (1890-1966), by British Ministry of Information, 1940

Raymond Walter Tovell (1890-1966), by British Ministry of Information, 1940

Australian War Memorial, 002659

Raymond Walter Tovell (1890-1966), accountant, army officer and politician, was born on 9 March 1890 at Brighton, Melbourne, fourth child of Victorian-born parents Charles Edward Tovell, solicitor, and his wife Mary Annie, née Mitchell. Educated at Brighton Grammar School, where he joined the cadets, Ray qualified as an accountant in 1911, continued his studies in London in 1912-13 and began work as an auditor in Melbourne. He enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 28 April 1915. Unbeknown to him, his elder brother John had been killed in action at Gallipoli three days previously. Five ft 8½ ins (174 cm) tall, with dark hair, brown eyes and a bronzed complexion, Tovell showed leadership qualities which impressed his superiors and led to his selection for officer-training. On 6 July he was commissioned. He sailed for Egypt in October and was posted to the 4th Pioneer Battalion in March 1916.

Sent to France in June, Captain Tovell took part in battles at Pozières and suffered shell-shock near Delville Wood in December. He served with the 1st Anzac Light Railways before becoming a trainee staff officer with the 4th Infantry Brigade in July 1917. Promoted major in October, he was appointed brigade major in February 1918. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his deeds at Hebuterne (March-April), Villers-Bretonneux (May) and Hamel (June-July), and for his 'energy, cheerfulness and all-round knowledge' which assisted the commanding officers within the brigade during the August offensive. Transferred to transport duties in London in March 1919, he was granted six months leave from April to gain further experience in accountancy in England. His A.I.F. appointment terminated in Melbourne on 12 December 1919. He was thrice mentioned in dispatches.

Resuming work as a public accountant, he set up a partnership, Tovell & Lucas. At All Saints Church, St Kilda, on 10 June 1924 he married 21-year-old Madeleine Eliza Dubrelle Guthrie with Anglican rites. He served as a Brighton city councillor (1924-26) and as president (1928-35) of the local branch of the Returned Sailors' and Soldiers' Imperial League of Australia. In 1921 he had joined the Militia. Promoted lieutenant colonel (1926), he commanded the 14th Battalion (Prahran Regiment) in 1924-29 and the 46th Battalion (Brighton Rifles) in 1932-38. From October 1939 he led the 10th Brigade as a temporary brigadier.

On 1 July 1940 Tovell was seconded to the A.I.F. and appointed commander of the 26th Brigade. By December he was in the Middle East. He won a Bar to his D.S.O. for his part in the successful withdrawal to Tobruk, Libya, in April 1941, and for the manner in which his men subsequently resisted strong attacks and conducted raids on the enemy. Throughout the operations Tovell displayed 'ability, resourcefulness, thoroughness and keenness of the highest order'. After being relieved in October, his brigade prepared defences in Syria, then moved to Egypt where it was engaged in heavy fighting at Tel el Eisa in July 1942. Tovell was appointed C.B.E. (1943) for his service in the Middle East, including his temporary command of the 9th Division for periods totalling three months.

Back in Australia in November 1942, Tovell was posted to II Corps headquarters. He commanded the Southern Training Reinforcement Centre (from April 1943) and the Moresby Base Sub-Area (from January 1944). Attached to Land Headquarters in March 1944, he was appointed deputy adjutant-general two months later. In Melbourne, on 20 December 1945, he transferred to the Reserve of Officers as an honorary brigadier. He was twice mentioned in dispatches during World War II. Although he had been a hard-working commander 'with a sense of humour', who had taken 'a friendly interest in his officers and men', he 'lacked the streak of ruthlessness' common among his peers.

In 1945 Tovell entered the Legislative Assembly as the Liberal Party member for Brighton. While minister of public instruction (7 December 1948 to 27 June 1950) in the Hollway government, he endeavoured to overcome a shortage of teachers, staff accommodation and classrooms. He held this portfolio again, and that of electrical undertakings, in Hollway's three-day administration in October 1952. Tovell was one of six Hollway supporters who were expelled from the Liberal and Country Party in August 1953. He was defeated in the 1955 election. A prominent Freemason, he belonged to the United Grand Lodge of Victoria. Rifle-shooting was his favourite pastime. He died on 18 June 1966 at Brighton and was cremated; his wife and their two daughters survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • K. West, Power in the Liberal Party (Melb, 1965)
  • B. Maughan, Tobruk and El Alamein (Canb, 1966)
  • Education Department (Victoria), Vision and Realisation, vol 1, L. J. Blake ed (Melb, 1973)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 7 Dec 1948, 14 Aug 1953
  • Age (Melbourne), 14 Aug 1953
  • Canberra Times, 20 June 1966
  • AWM 43, item A879 (Australian War Memorial).

Citation details

Neil Smith, 'Tovell, Raymond Walter (1890–1966)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 27 February 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

Raymond Walter Tovell (1890-1966), by British Ministry of Information, 1940

Raymond Walter Tovell (1890-1966), by British Ministry of Information, 1940

Australian War Memorial, 002659

Life Summary [details]


9 March, 1890
Brighton, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


18 June, 1966 (aged 76)
Brighton, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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.