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Robert Emmett Winning (1906–1971)

by John Connor

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Robert Emmett Winning (1906-1971), pharmacist and army officer, was born on 9 April 1906 at Hurstville, Sydney, second of five children of Robert Wilfred Winning, an Irish ironmonger born in the United States of America, and his English-born second wife Elizabeth, née Lund. Young Bob attended Sydney Boys' High School. Having passed botany (1925), chemistry (1926) and materia medica (1930) at the University of Sydney, and the required examinations under the Pharmacy Act (1897), he was registered as a pharmacist on 12 January 1932.

Commissioned lieutenant in the Militia in December 1927, Winning was promoted captain in February 1936. He was seconded to the Australian Imperial Force on 13 October 1939 and posted to the 2nd/4th Battalion as a major. At this time he was 5 ft 9 ins (175 cm) tall and slim in build, with brown eyes and dark brown hair. In February 1940 the battalion arrived in the Middle East. Winning's competence as a company commander impressed the commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel (Sir) Ivan Dougherty, who made him his second-in-command. As part of the attack on Derna, Libya, in January 1941, Winning organized a deception plan which led the Italians to believe that the 2nd/4th's position was stronger than it was, and to shell unoccupied ground.

At the beginning of the disastrous Greek campaign in April 1941, Dougherty entrusted the battalion to Winning, who stayed and planned its defensive lines while Dougherty went forward to make sense of the rapidly deteriorating situation. In Crete in May the battalion caused heavy casualties among German airborne troops before withdrawing to Palestine. Mentioned in dispatches, Winning was promoted lieutenant colonel in July and appointed to command the 2nd/8th Battalion. He rebuilt the unit after its losses in Greece and Crete, and introduced a training regimen which stressed realistic exercises and the importance of clear orders. In October the battalion was sent to Syria on garrison duty.

Back in Australia in March 1942, the 2nd/8th formed part of Northern Territory Force. Winning was appointed O.B.E. in 1943. He was promoted temporary brigadier in February that year and given command of the 3rd Brigade, then (in April 1944) the 12th Brigade. In May 1945 he took over the 13th Brigade in New Britain. On 14 July he responded to unrest in a company of the 1st New Guinea Battalion by ordering it to be disarmed and marched to the rear. His superiors later accepted the validity of complaints made by native soldiers, increasing their wages and providing them with army-issue shirts and shorts. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (1947) for his skilful handling of the brigade in operations against the Japanese.

Winning embarked for Australia in March 1946. On 24 April he transferred to the Reserve of Officers. He worked at his brother-in-law's factory at Rushcutters Bay, Sydney, before becoming head pharmacist at St Luke's Hospital, Darlinghurst, in 1948. At the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary, Kensington, on 1 October 1955 he married with Catholic rites Valerie Joan-Ann Green, a 31-year-old chemist's assistant; they were childless. Strong-minded and sometimes sarcastic, Winning led a very private life. On or about 21 November 1971 he died from injuries sustained when he fell from the cliff-top at The Gap, Watsons Bay. The coroner was unable to say whether the fall was accidental or otherwise. Survived by his wife, he was cremated with Anglican rites.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Long, Greece, Crete and Syria (Canb, 1953)
  • G. Long, The Final Campaigns (Canb, 1963)
  • 2/4th Battalion Assn, White Over Green (Syd, 1963)
  • 2/8th Battalion Association, The Second Eighth (Melb, 1984)
  • war diaries, 2/4th Battalion, AWM 52, item 8/3/4, and 2/8th Battalion, AWM 52, item 8/3/8 (Australian War Memorial)
  • private information.

Citation details

John Connor, 'Winning, Robert Emmett (1906–1971)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 22 April 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]


9 April, 1906
Hurstville, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


21 November, 1971 (aged 65)
Watsons Bay, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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