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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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King, Roy (1897–1959)

by Jeffrey Grey

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

Roy King (1897-1959), army officer, was born on 27 August 1897 at Tighes Hill, Newcastle, New South Wales, fourth child of native-born parents James King, miner, and his wife Bessie, née Sharpe. Roy attended Cooks Hill Public School and entered the Royal Military College, Duntroon, Federal Capital Territory, in February 1916. He graduated in December 1919, too late to serve in World War I, and was commissioned lieutenant in the Permanent Military Forces.

In 1920-21 King trained in England. Receiving a round of staff and regimental postings which was the lot of regular officers, he served in Queensland as adjutant and quartermaster to the 42nd Battalion (1921-25), the 26th Battalion (1925-27) and the 11th Light Horse Regiment (1931-34). During a term as a staff officer at the 1st District Base he was honorary aide-de-camp (1928-29) to the governor. On 12 March 1929 at the Albert Street Methodist Church, Brisbane, King married a divorcee Florence Lorna Grainger, née Reynolds, who had two sons from her first marriage. In 1934 he was posted to the 8th L.H.R. at Benalla, Victoria, and in 1936 to Army Headquarters, Melbourne. Next year he was promoted major.

Seconded to the Australian Imperial Force, King sailed for the Middle East in May 1940 as brigade major to the 19th Brigade. In December he was promoted lieutenant colonel and in January 1941 given command of the 2nd/5th Battalion. He led the unit in the advance across Libya (January-March 1942) and in the attempt to defend Greece (April). For his conduct of the rearguard and a flank-guard which covered the withdrawals from Kalabáka on 18 April and Brállos on the 23rd, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order. His commander Brigadier (Sir) Stanley Savige described King's handling of his battalion as 'masterly'. Evacuated on 26 April, King and his men were sent to Syria in June. They took part in the battle of Damour and the defeat of Vichy-French forces in July. King was promoted colonel in November and was seconded to the staff of the 7th Division. He was twice mentioned in dispatches. In March 1942 he returned to Australia.

Two months later King was given command of the 3rd Brigade, located near Darwin. On 18 February 1943 he took charge of the 16th Brigade which had returned from the Papuan campaign. The 16th trained extensively in North Queensland and moved to Aitape, New Guinea, in December 1944. Operating over difficult terrain and in monsoonal rains, the brigade advanced 30 miles (48 km) in January-February 1945, inflicting heavy losses on strong Japanese forces. At the end of the arduous Wewak campaign in August, King was admitted to hospital and brought home to Australia. In 1946 he was appointed C.B.E.

King was director (1945-47) of military training at A.H.Q. and commandant (1947-49) of the Australian Staff College, Queenscliff, before joining the British Commonwealth Occupation Force in Japan as brigadier in charge of administration and commander of the Australian military component. With the outbreak of the Korean War in June 1950, his workload increased considerably: the existing organization in Japan was used to support all Commonwealth forces operating in Korea. Promoted temporary major general in August 1951 (substantive March 1952), King was appointed principal administrative officer, B.C.O.F., in Japan and Korea. He returned to Australia in November 1951 and commanded military districts in Queensland (1951-52) and South Australia (1952-54). Following his retirement on 28 August 1954, he lived in Sydney.

Although King's later appointments were significant, his most important contribution to the army was made during World War II when he demonstrated—against the prejudices of some senior Militia officers—that regular officers could make excellent unit and formation commanders. Major General (Sir) Jack Stevens, King's divisional commander in New Guinea, had judged him 'a good trainer of men', but 'an introvert and an isolationist'. From a more detached perspective, the war historian Gavin Long described him as a 'shy man really, sceptical, keen on his job, without affectation, resolute'. Survived by his wife and stepsons, King died of a coronary occlusion on 24 September 1959 in his home at Collaroy Plateau and was cremated with Anglican rites.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Long, To Benghazi (Canb, 1952)
  • G. Long, Greece, Crete and Syria (Canb, 1953)
  • G. Long, The Final Campaigns (Canb, 1963)
  • AWM 67 and 3DRL 3561 (Australian War Memorial).

Citation details

Jeffrey Grey, 'King, Roy (1897–1959)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 2 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

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