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William Charles Veale (1895–1971)

by Robert Thornton

This article was published:

William Charles Douglas Veale (1895-1971), by unknown photographer, 1945

William Charles Douglas Veale (1895-1971), by unknown photographer, 1945

Australian War Memorial, 097385

William Charles Douglas Veale (1895-1971), soldier, engineer and town clerk, was born on 16 May 1895 at Bendigo, Victoria, tenth and youngest child of John Veale, a Cornish-born mining manager, and his wife Mary Jane, née Christian, who came from the Isle of Man. Educated at St Andrew's College and the School of Mines, Bendigo, Bill was apprenticed to an engineer with the Whittlesea Shire Council at Morang.

On 14 February 1916 Veale enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force and in August he joined the 5th Field Company, Royal Australian Engineers, on the Western Front. Over a period of twenty-six hours at Broodseinde, Belgium, beginning on 9 October 1917, he helped to lay 'jumping off' tapes while under fire and then moved wounded members of his party to safety. He was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal. Commissioned in February 1918, he was posted to the 7th Field Company, R.A.E., in April and promoted lieutenant in May. Near Péronne, France, on the night of 28/29 August he supervised, at short notice and without alerting the enemy, the construction of two bridges needed by the infantry next morning. For this work he won the Military Cross.

After gaining engineering experience (March-October 1919) in England with the municipality of Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, and the Ministry of Transport, London, Veale arrived in Melbourne where his A.I.F. appointment terminated on 2 March 1920. He joined the Kowree Shire Council, Edenhope, as engineer. On 12 February 1923 at All Saints' Church of England, Bright, he married Eileen Guest. In October that year he was appointed assistant city engineer and surveyor with the Adelaide City Council; he became deputy city engineer three years later. Although offered the new post of director of public works in Tasmania in 1929, he was persuaded to remain in Adelaide when the council promoted him city engineer and building surveyor. He supervised construction of the new Adelaide Bridge, completed in 1931, and landscaping along the River Torrens. The council's programme of civil engineering works was curtailed first by the Depression, and then by World War II.

Active in the Militia, Veale rose to lieutenant colonel in 1936. On 2 July 1940 he was appointed to command the 2nd/3rd Pioneer Battalion, A.I.F. Twelve months later he became chief engineer, 7th Military District, Darwin. Promoted temporary brigadier, he flew to Timor in February to take command of Sparrow Force. Later that month the main body of his troops was overwhelmed by superior numbers of Japanese and forced to surrender. An officer of his rank was not needed to lead the remainder who fought on as commandos and he was evacuated in May. In 1942-44 he commanded the R.A.E. Training Centre, Kapooka, New South Wales. He spent lengthy periods in Papua and New Guinea as chief engineer of the Second Army (1944-45) and the First Army (1945-46), and was mentioned in dispatches. On 25 April 1946 in Adelaide he transferred to the Reserve of Officers, and resumed duty with the council.

In January 1947 Veale was appointed town clerk. He was to hold the post for nearly nineteen years, overseeing much of Adelaide's postwar development. Underground drainage was upgraded to overcome problems of flooding, streets were widened to improve traffic flow, and car parking difficulties were eased by the introduction of on-street parking meters and the provision of more off-street parking spaces. In 1957 Veale was sent overseas by the council for five months to gather new ideas. Having visited some forty cities in Europe and North America, he made numerous recommendations for improving Adelaide, most of which were implemented. He initiated an extensive programme of landscaping and beautification, and created new parks and gardens, boating lakes and picnic grounds. After years of shabby neglect, the city's parklands were transformed.

Veale represented the council on a number of town-planning organizations, including the Local Government Act Advisory Committee (1934-48) and the Building Act Inquiry Committee (1937-40). He was deputy-chairman (1956-67) of the State planning committee which produced the metropolitan Adelaide development plan. President (1948-54) of the Planning Institute of South Australia, he was federal president (1954-55) of the (Royal) Australian Planning Institute, and was elected a fellow of the Institute of Municipal Administration. A member of the Institution of Engineers, Australia, from 1926, he had been chairman of the Adelaide division in 1932. He was a member (from 1958) of the committee that planned the Adelaide Festival of Arts.

Short and solid, Veale was a shy man who shunned the limelight. He was a prodigious worker, arriving at the Town Hall at dawn each day and working long into the night. A meticulous administrator, he frequently drove around the city to see for himself exactly what was going on. His authoritarian style of management made him difficult to work with; he was blunt and abrupt with a violent temper, and was hard on his staff. Relations with lord mayors and councillors were not always harmonious. He was appointed C.B.E. in 1954.

On Veale's retirement in November 1965, the Advertiser summed up his forty-two years of service: 'no one man since Col. Light has left his imprint so ineffacably [sic] on the City of Adelaide, or so transformed its character'. Gardens, laid out in Adelaide's south parklands, were named after Veale in 1964. He spent his later years gardening at his North Adelaide home and strolling through the parks he had created. A member of the Naval Military & Air Force Club, he had presided (1930) over the Legacy Club of Adelaide. He died on 17 August 1971 in North Adelaide and was cremated; his wife and their two daughters survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • R. McNicoll, The Royal Australian Engineers 1902 to 1919 (Melb, 1979)
  • R. McNicoll, The Royal Australian Engineers 1919 to 1945 (Canb 1982)
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 23 Nov 1965, 18 Aug 1971
  • News (Adelaide), 23 Nov 1965, 18 Aug 1971
  • Australian Municipal Journal, Nov 1971, p 133
  • Town Clerk's and City Engineer's Depts, records (Adelaide City Council Archives)
  • private information.

Citation details

Robert Thornton, 'Veale, William Charles (1895–1971)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 19 July 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

William Charles Douglas Veale (1895-1971), by unknown photographer, 1945

William Charles Douglas Veale (1895-1971), by unknown photographer, 1945

Australian War Memorial, 097385

Life Summary [details]


16 May, 1895
Bendigo, Victoria, Australia


17 August, 1971 (aged 76)
North Adelaide, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

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