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George Radford Warfe (1912–1975)

by Alan Ryan

This article was published:

George Radford Warfe (1912-1975), by Geoffrey Mainwaring, 1957

George Radford Warfe (1912-1975), by Geoffrey Mainwaring, 1957

Australian War Memorial, ART27517

George Radford Warfe (1912-1975), army officer, was born on 27 July 1912 at Leongatha, Victoria, third child of Melbourne-born parents George Henry Warfe, carrier, and his wife Ethel Charlotte, née Armstrong. Educated locally and at the Working Men's College, Melbourne, young George was employed as a builder and cabinet-maker. At St Peter's Church, Leongatha, on 11 June 1938 he married with Anglican rites Ola Grace Dysart, a shop assistant; they had no children. Having enlisted in the 29th/22nd Battalion, Militia, in March 1937, he was appointed probationary lieutenant in February 1939. He was seconded to the Australian Imperial Force on 13 October 1939 and posted to the 2nd/6th Battalion.

Arriving in the Middle East in May 1940, Warfe commanded the battalion's Bren-gun carrier platoon in the battle of Bardia, Libya, on 3-5 January 1941. The carrier platoon seized Post 13 and helped to capture Post 11 of the Italian defences, and Warfe established a reputation for aggressiveness, pugnacity and professionalism. Five ft 9½ ins (177 cm) tall and broad-shouldered, with strong features, black hair and a steady gaze, he was known for his trenchant use of the Australian vernacular. He was appointed second-in-command of 'D' Company before the capture of Tobruk (21-22 January) and the subsequent advance on Benghazi. Promoted temporary captain in March (substantive in August), he further revealed his toughness in the ill-fated Greek campaign in April. After retraining in Palestine and Syria, he returned to Australia in August 1942. He had been mentioned in dispatches.

Later that month Warfe attended the Guerrilla Warfare School, Wilsons Promontory, Victoria. He was promoted temporary major and given command of the 2nd/3rd Independent Company in September. The unit trained in Queensland before deploying to New Guinea in January 1943. There the 'Mad Major', as Peter Pinney described him, conducted operations in the offensive leading to the capture of Salamaua. For his 'determined leadership and inspiring personal example', in the fighting at Goodview Junction and Ambush Knoll in July, he was awarded the Military Cross. He was again mentioned in dispatches.

Warfe assumed administrative command of the 58th/59th Battalion in August. Promoted temporary lieutenant colonel next month, he led the battalion until the end of the Salamaua campaign. Back in Australia in October, he was attached to the 2nd/7th Cavalry (Commando) Regiment, but was in hospital with malaria from December to March 1944. He returned to the 58th/59th Battalion in April, commanding the unit in New Guinea until July, in Queensland while it re-formed, and on Bougainville from December 1944. He was the ideal commander for this relatively inexperienced Militia battalion—its history recorded that 'Warfe's dynamic personality and ruthless drive had quickly welded the unit into an aggressive and confident band of jungle fighters'.

In January 1945 Warfe took over the 2nd/24th Battalion, which he commanded in the bitter fighting on Tarakan Island, Borneo, from May. He won the Distinguished Service Order for his role in the capture of the airfield. On 28 February 1946 his A.I.F. appointment terminated in Melbourne. Divorced in March, he married Elvie Clark Ross (d.1971), a secretary, on 13 April that year at the Methodist Church, St Kilda.

Warfe returned to building but was soon soldiering again part-time, commanding (1948-50) the 5th Battalion (Victorian Scottish Regiment), Citizen Military Forces. In July-August 1950 he was a member of (Sir) William Bridgeford's mission which went to Malaya to advise on the Emergency. He resumed full-time duty in December and commanded (1951-53) the 15th National Service Training Battalion, being confirmed as substantive lieutenant colonel, Australian Regular Army, in October 1951.

In 1953 Warfe attended staff college. Next year he commanded the 20th National Service Training Battalion before serving with the Australian Observer Unit in Malaya in August-December. He returned to Australia to become chief instructor at the Jungle Training Centre, Canungra, Queensland. With Colonel F. P. Serong, he instituted a tough and realistic training régime that would influence generations of soldiers and help to develop the army's remarkable proficiency in jungle warfare. From February 1957 he served as a senior staff officer in Melbourne, first in the directorate of military training, Army Headquarters, and then (from February 1959) at 3rd Division headquarters. He retired from the A.R.A. on 27 July 1962.

Promoted colonel, C.M.F., two days later, Warfe commanded (1962-65) the 1st Battalion, Royal Victoria Regiment. During this period he was employed as training officer at B.X. Plastics (Aust.) Pty Ltd. As a senior adviser to the United States Mission, he supervised instruction at the Vietnamese National Police Field Force Training Centre at Trai Mat, Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam), in 1966-67.

Back in Melbourne, Warfe worked as personnel manager with Clark Rubber Stores Ltd. He served as co-ordinator of civil defence, Victoria, in 1969-75. For recreation he enjoyed hunting, shooting and fishing. He died of cancer on 5 November 1975 at Brighton and was cremated. The three sons of his second marriage, all of whom also became colonels, survived him. Portraits of him by (Sir) Ivor Hele (1943) and Geoffrey Mainwaring (1957) are held by the Australian War Memorial, Canberra.

Select Bibliography

  • R. Mathews, Militia Battalion at War (Syd, 1961)
  • R. P. Serle (ed), The Second Twenty-Fourth (Brisb, 1963)
  • H. Gullett, Not as a Duty Only (Melb, 1976)
  • D. Hay, Nothing Over Us (Canb, 1984)
  • I. McNeill, The Team (Canb, 1984)
  • P. Pinney, The Barbarians (Brisb, 1988)
  • R. Garland, Nothing is Forever (Syd, 1997)
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Alan Ryan, 'Warfe, George Radford (1912–1975)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 28 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

George Radford Warfe (1912-1975), by Geoffrey Mainwaring, 1957

George Radford Warfe (1912-1975), by Geoffrey Mainwaring, 1957

Australian War Memorial, ART27517