Australian Dictionary of Biography

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George Davies Williams (1879–1947)

by Bob Nicholls

This article was published:

George Davies Williams (1879-1947), naval officer and public servant, was born on 17 September 1879 at St Dogmaels, Pembrokeshire, Wales, son of John Williams, master mariner, and his wife Margretta, née Davies. Educated at St Dogmaels and Cardigan, in 1896 George followed his father into the British mercantile marine and by 1908 had become chief officer of the White Star Line training ship Mersey. He joined the Royal Naval Reserve in 1909 and came to Australia in 1911 to take up a post as captain superintendent of the Victorian training ship, John Murray. In that year he was awarded a testimonial on vellum by the Royal Humane Society, London, for having saved a youth from drowning.

Promoted lieutenant on 16 January 1913, Williams had been mobilized and was serving on loan with the Royal Australian Navy within three weeks of the outbreak of World War I. His initial appointment was to the flagship H.M.A.S. Australia, engaged in operations against the German territories in New Guinea. From January to October 1916 he served in H.M.A.S. Sydney before reverting to the Royal Navy. Made acting lieutenant-commander in 1917 for meritorious service in the fleet, in 1918 he was given command of H.M.S. Marguerite. During 1919 he commanded the Paddle Mine Sweeping Flotilla which operated in the Aegean and Black seas. For his mine-clearance work, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order in March 1920.

Williams returned to Australia in 1920 to be chairman of the Subordinate War Gratuity Board (Naval); later that year he assumed the position of deputy director of navigation, Navigation Branch, Sydney. His responsibilities included the conduct of courts of inquiry, the provision of pilots and the maintenance of lighthouses. On 5 May 1921 he married Helen Isabel Sheppard at St Stephen's Presbyterian Church, Sydney; they were to remain childless. From 1932 Federal and State navigational services were progressively rationalized. When the Maritime Services Board of New South Wales was formed in 1936, Williams was initially vice-president, then president from November 1937. The M.S.B. played a central role in the sesquicentenary celebrations of 1938 and Williams was appointed C.M.G. next year.

The commencement of hostilities in 1939 saw Williams seconded to Melbourne as controller of shipping and deputy chairman of the Shipping Control Board, but the organization remained dormant until 1941, by which time he had returned to his M.S.B. duties. Increased attacks on shipping in Australian waters after Japan entered the war led to the expansion of the system of convoys and escorts. A commander (R.N.R. retired list) from 1923, Williams was again posted to loan service with the R.A.N.; on 13 March 1942 he took charge of the Naval Control Service in Sydney which was responsible for the assembly of ships into convoys and for their briefings before sailing. Tall, with drawn features, cheerful, forthright and kindly, he served in this appointment until March 1946.

Survived by his wife, Williams died of osteomyelitis of the cervical vertebrae on 29 August 1947 in St Luke's Hospital, Sydney, and was buried in South Head cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • S. J. Butlin, War Economy, 1939-42 (Canb, 1955)
  • S. J. Butlin and C. B. Schedvin, War Economy, 1942-45, vol 2 (Canb, 1977)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 23 Dec 1920, 5 Oct 1932, 1 Feb 1936, 13 Nov 1937, 8 June, 12 Sept 1939, 2 Apr 1942, 30 Aug 1947
  • Smith's Weekly (Sydney), 18 Nov 1939
  • private information.

Citation details

Bob Nicholls, 'Williams, George Davies (1879–1947)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 21 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (Melbourne University Press), 1990

View the front pages for Volume 12

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


17 September, 1879
St Dogmaels, Pembrokeshire, Wales


29 August, 1947 (aged 67)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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