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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Lawson, James (1884–1965)

by J. P. Haldane-Stevenson

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

James Lawson (1884-1965), stock and station agent and soldier, was born on 16 February 1884 at Halifax, Yorkshire, England, son of James Lawson, police officer, and his wife Elizabeth, née Dickinson. Educated at Heath Grammar School, Halifax, he became a clerk at the Todmorden branch of the Manchester and Liverpool Bank. He came to Australia in 1905. Fair-haired, of powerful build and commanding presence, he had the traditional Yorkshireman's directness of manner and character and a dry sense of humour—qualities liked by his neighbours in the Wimmera district of Victoria. By 1912 he was a hotelkeeper at Rupanyup, and that year on 6 March he married Effie Maude Franklin at St Peter's Church, Melbourne.

In England Lawson had served in the Duke of Lancaster's Own Imperial Yeomanry and in 1912 he was commissioned second lieutenant in the 19th Australian Light Horse Regiment, Victorian Mounted Rifles. On 20 August 1914 he joined the Australian Imperial Force in the same rank and embarked for Egypt with the 4th Light Horse Regiment. They served dismounted at Anzac from 20 May 1915 until the evacuation; Lawson had been promoted lieutenant in February and in January 1916 in Egypt he became commander of 'C' Squadron. In 1916-18 his regiment served with the Egyptian Expeditionary Force under General Sir Edmund Allenby in Sinai and Palestine. Lawson was promoted major in May 1917 and from then commanded 'A' Squadron.

On 31 October 1917 Allenby, planning his main advance through the heavily fortified Gaza area, made a diversionary thrust at Beersheba. British infantry on the south-west formed the guard, while Australian cavalry charged the Turks from the south-east. Lawson's squadron and a squadron of the 12th Australian L.H.R. led the attack, storming the enemy trenches with wild and spectacular success; the official historian, (Sir) Henry Gullett, noted that the 'enemy had been beaten rather by the sheer recklessness of the charge than by the very limited fighting powers of this handful of Australians'. Lawson's leadership and personal valour in this key operation won him the Distinguished Service Order. After the fall of Gaza his regiment joined Allenby's advance into Syria, linked up with a force under Lawrence of Arabia and took part in the capture of Damascus in September 1918. Lawson was mentioned in dispatches twice in 1917-18.

He returned home in January 1919 and his A.I.F. appointment ended in April. He became a stock and station agent at Rupanyup, reverting to part-time soldiering with the Australian Military Forces as a major in the 19th L.H.R.; he was promoted lieutenant-colonel and commander of the regiment in 1927. In 1931-33 he commanded the 5th Cavalry Brigade as a temporary colonel and in 1929 received the Volunteer Officers' Decoration. During World War II, with the acting rank of brigadier, he held administrative command of a training brigade based at Geelong. He was placed on the retired list, A.M.F., as an honorary colonel in November 1943.

Never a man to pull his rank, Lawson was active in civic affairs, was master of his Masonic Lodge in 1922-23, sat for many years on the Wimmera League Football Tribunal and supported the local Anglican Church and volunteer fire brigade. In 1952 he retired to Melbourne where he was a member of the Naval and Military Club. Survived by his wife, son and daughter, Lawson died on 29 September 1965 at his daughter's home at Brighton and was cremated. He is depicted in George Lambert's painting of the battle of Beersheba at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra.

Select Bibliography

  • H. S. Gullett and C. Barrett, Australia in Palestine (Syd, 1919)
  • H. S. Gullett, The A.I.F. in Sinai and Palestine (Syd, 1923)
  • T. E. Lawrence, Revolt in the Desert (Lond, 1927)
  • London Gazette, 6 July 1917, 15 Jan, 14 June 1918
  • Herald (Melbourne), 29 Sept 1965
  • records (Australian War Memorial)
  • private information
  • .

Citation details

J. P. Haldane-Stevenson, 'Lawson, James (1884–1965)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 30 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

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