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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Field, Frank (1885–1961)

by J. P. Haldane-Stevenson

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

Frank Field (1885-1961), army officer and engineer, was born on 8 September 1885 at Crayford, Kent, England, son of John Christopher Field, dairyman, and his wife Frances Elizabeth, née Simpson. Frank attended Marshall's School, Erith, and the London County Council School of Science, Woolwich, before completing an apprenticeship in mechanical engineering at the Royal Arsenal, Woolwich. At the local register office on 17 November 1906 he married Harriet Elizabeth Bell, a schoolteacher. He was employed in War Office workshops in the British Isles (1907-12) and Jamaica (1912-18), and was a demonstrator in mechanical engineering at University College, Southampton, in 1921 when he was admitted as an associate-member of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, London.

Emigrating to Australia, Field was commissioned captain, Permanent Military Forces, on 20 August 1923; two months later he was sent to England for two years training as an inspector of ordnance machinery. In December 1925 he was appointed ordnance mechanical engineer, North-Eastern Area, and was based in Sydney. He was posted to Army Headquarters, Melbourne, in 1937 and promoted lieutenant colonel next year. Following the outbreak of World War II, in 1940 he was appointed temporary colonel and director of mechanization, Australian Army Ordnance Corps (director of mechanical maintenance from May 1942).

The repair and upkeep of equipment had become pivotal to military operations. In 1942 the British formed a new corps, the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, to take over engineering duties and harness all available technical skill. Planning began for a similar reorganization of the Australian Military Forces. Field brought to the task broad administrative ability, and a knowledge of staff duties and headquarters methods. The Corps of Australian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, formed on 1 December 1942, was largely his creation. Appointed head of corps and its first director of mechanical engineering, he was promoted temporary brigadier in February 1943. A friend wrote that he set by example a high standard for his officers to follow. He was cautious in delegating responsibility, but then he 'gave total loyalty and support'. Frankie was not at all the typical regimental officer, and he had a rather English reserve that was, for some, not easy to understand. He did not fraternize with his subordinates nor, very readily, with his peers; but he was 'the right officer in the right appointment at the right time'.

Field relinquished his appointment in December 1944 and was transferred to the Retired List on 9 September 1945. Having been seconded to the Department of Labour and National Service in 1944, he was manpower controller of Commonwealth scientific personnel. Next year he joined the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration with which he served as associate field director for Manchuria and subsequently deputy-director and chief of supply for China as a whole. From 1947 to 1955 he was South-West Pacific representative of the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund. He had been chairman (1943) of the Victoria division of the Institution of Engineers, Australia, and president (1943-44) of the Institution of Automotive and Aeronautical Engineers. Survived by his daughter, he died on 19 November 1961 at Camperdown, Sydney, and was cremated with Anglican rites.

Select Bibliography

  • T. Barker, Craftsmen of the Australian Army (Bathurst, NSW, 1992)
  • Bulletin, 28 July 1948
  • Australian War Memorial records
  • private information.

Citation details

J. P. Haldane-Stevenson, 'Field, Frank (1885–1961)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 24 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

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