Australian Dictionary of Biography

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William Terry Turner (1887–1959)

by Richard Gorrell

This article was published:

William Terry Turner (1887-1959), public servant, was born on 1 December 1887 at Woolloomooloo, Sydney, youngest of four children of Fred Turner, an English-born botanist, and his wife Jane Isabella, née George, who came from Wales. Educated at St John's Parochial School, Darlinghurst, and Fort Street Model School, Bill entered the Commonwealth Public Service on 13 June 1905 as a clerk in the Department of Trade and Customs.

On 11 October 1916 Turner enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force. In December 1917 he joined the 56th Infantry Battalion in France. There he 'took his share of the infantryman's tasks—holding the line, carrying, digging, wiring, patrolling, and attacking' in the often desperate fighting at Villers-Bretonneux (April 1918), Morlancourt (July), Amiens (August) and Péronne (August-September). Promoted temporary sergeant in December 1918, he returned to Sydney in August 1919 and was discharged from the army on 15 September. He was modest about his World War I service, later describing his contribution as 'nothing really outstanding' and his survival as 'fortunate'.

At St Paul's Church of England, Chatswood, on 13 April 1920 Turner married Annie Isabella Griffiths, a 43-year-old nurse; they were childless. Annie had served in England with Queen Alexandra's Imperial Medical Nursing Service from July 1915 to June 1916. She enlisted in the Australian Army Nursing Service on 31 May 1917. Sent to Hortiach and Salonica (Thessaloniki), Greece, she was promoted sister and worked in British hospitals from August 1917 to December 1918. The nurses were 'housed in tents or huts in a barbed-wire enclosure to keep out prowlers'. For the most part, conditions were deplorable.

After the war Bill was placed in charge of the activities of the Commonwealth public trustee and then those of the Clearing Office in New South Wales. In 1932-36 he was based in New York as Australian customs representative for the United States of America and Canada. Returning home, he worked at the department's central office in Canberra. During World War II he administered economic warfare measures, restrictions on merchant shipping, and the control of exports and contraband. He became collector of customs for South Australia in September 1944 and assistant comptroller-general in July 1945. In addition, he was chairman (1944-48) of the Newsprint Pool Committee, in which capacity he advised the government on the rationing of paper.

Turner was appointed comptroller-general of customs on 7 February 1949. He was admired for his organizational abilities, capacity for hard work and 'attractive and likeable personality'. Following his formal retirement on 30 December 1952, he continued to work as a consultant. In 1953 he was appointed I.S.O. A prominent member of the Barton sub-branch of the Returned Sailors', Soldiers' and Airmen's Imperial League of Australia, he had been president of both the Canberra City Bowling Club (1948) and the Rotary Club of Canberra (1951). He died on 26 January 1959 at Canberra Community Hospital and was cremated. His wife (d.1973) survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • D. Day, Contraband and Controversy (Canb, 1996)
  • Stand-To (Canberra), 4, no 3, May-June 1954, p 47
  • Canberra Times, 27 Jan 1959
  • 1DRL/0586 (Australian War Memorial).

Citation details

Richard Gorrell, 'Turner, William Terry (1887–1959)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 25 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]


1 December, 1887
Woolloomooloo, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


26 January, 1959 (aged 71)
Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia

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