Major Harold Hillis Page DSO MC
25th Battalion AIF
Photo – left to right: Captain James Lionel Fletcher DSO MC and Bar, Lieutenant Richmond Cornwallis Eather MC and Bar MM, Captain George Carroll MC, Major Harold Hillis Page DSO MC.
Mentioned in Army Corps Routine Orders – 2 November 1915
On the night of the 29th October, 1915, Lieut. H.H. Page, together with a NCO carried out a particularly daring piece of reconnaissance work to within a few yards of the enemy’s trenches. There they came into contact with two Turks, one being disabled by the officer’s revolver and the other, while in the act of lighting a bomb, being shot by Sergt… Lieut. Page and Sergt…. having obtained a supply of bombs from the remainder of the patrol, both proceeded to throw bombs at the Turks and into the trenches out of which they had issued. Very useful information was also obtained to the enemy’s disposition.
Awarded Military Cross – 25th August 1916
The personal ascendancy of Major Page over his Battalion had been manifest on numerous occasions, but never in such a marked degree as in the latter attack. He himself was severely wounded by a machine gun bullet from an enemy machine gun which he was “stalking”. Nevertheless, the Battalion, imbued by his spirit, carried on and won all its objectives, and brought to a successful conclusion the finest achievement in its history.
Awarded Mention in Despatches – 27th December 1918
Awarded Distinguished Service Order – 31st December 1918
For conspicuous gallantry and distinguished service in operations during the last six months. On June 10th 1918 at Morlancourt, south of Albert, Major Page commanded the 25th Battalion in a highly successful operation, the success of which was assured by his thorough personal reconnaissance and careful preliminary preparations.
On July 4th, east of Villers Bretonneux he again commanded the 25th Battalion in an entirely successful operation. In this attack his unit was the right pivot for the operation which resulted in the capture of Hamel. His skilful handling of his Battalion helped considerably in making the operation the success it was.
On August 28th, Major Page again commanded the 25th Battalion during the operation by which our line was advanced to the river Somme, near Peronne. He accompanied the Battalion in this advance, and and by careful dispositions ensured that its losses were practically negligible. On September 2nd 1918, at Mont St Quentin he once again commanded the Battalion in a brilliant
operation. He accompanied his Battalion into action. This attack, which was ordered at a few hours notice owing to the soundness of his tactics, was entirely successful.
Biography by A. J. Sweeting
Harold Hillis Page (1888-1942), public servant and soldier, was born on 8 August 1888 at Grafton, New South Wales, eighth of eleven children of Charles Page, blacksmith and coachbuilder and his wife Mary Johanna Hadden, née Cox. (Sir) Earle Christmas Grafton and Rodger Clarence George were brothers.
Harold was educated at Grafton Public School and at Teachers’ College, Sydney, in 1908-09. He taught in the Department of Public Instruction in 1904-13 and in 1911-13 was a part-time arts student at the University of Sydney. In 1913 he joined the Commonwealth Public Service, working as a clerk in the Taxation Department at Lismore, then in the electoral branch, Department of Home Affairs. He enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 15 February 1915, was commissioned second lieutenant on 12 April and posted to the 25th Battalion. Promoted lieutenant on 1 June, he embarked on 29 June and reached Egypt on 4 August.
Page arrived at Anzac on 11 September where the 25th Battalion was disposed on the left of the line on lower Cheshire Ridge. There was now little heavy fighting but the Australians made frequent excursions into no man’s land. Page, fair-haired and strongly built, distinguished himself on the night of 29 October when he and Sergeant A. V. Bracher made a bold reconnaissance. They disabled two Turks, threw bombs into the Turkish trenches and gained valuable information concerning the enemy’s dispositions.
In a letter to his brother Earle in early December, a few days before his promotion to temporary captain, Page expressed his dissatisfaction with the conduct of the campaign. ‘We are still where we were on August 6, 1915, and still have the methods that prevailed in times of the old Greeks and other ancients in almost all departments. A washout nearly describes the situation here’. Page was wounded by shell-fire on 18 December and evacuated next day; he rejoined his unit in Egypt on 19 January 1916 and on 15 March embarked for France. He was in the trenches east of Armentières in April and on 27 May was confirmed as captain. Active in patrolling, on 28 June he commanded a successful raiding party of seventy men at Ontario Farm near Messines. Though wounded in the spine during the approach, Page continued with great dash and was awarded the Military Cross. He was evacuated to England and after rejoining his unit on 25 November took part in trench defence at Le Transloy and Gueudecourt, thus experiencing the terrible Somme winter of 1916-17.
Page was twice detached to Administrative Headquarters, A.I.F., London, in 1917-18 for a total period of about six months and had charge of the general election for the whole overseas A.I.F. Promoted major on 26 July 1917, he took part in the attacks at Westhoek and Nonne Bosschen on 20 September and was second-in-command of the 25th Battalion in the attack through Zonnebeke and Broodseinde Ridge. Afterwards he took the battalion forward to form a defensive flank beyond Broodseinde. On 4 October he was captured briefly by a party of Germans. Mistaking them for Australians, he walked up to them and was seized. A British shell bursting close by caused the Germans to scatter and Page escaped.
He temporarily commanded the battalion during February-March 1918 and after it returned to the Somme in late March remained as second-in-command until the completion of operations. On 10 June he helped to organize the attack along the Bray-Corbie road and briefly commanded advanced battalion headquarters. On 4 July he led the battalion in the attack on Hamel in which his unit was the right pivot for the operation, his skilful handling ensuring its success. On 23 August he was in command in the advance on Péronne, an operation in which his careful planning ensured negligible losses. While leading the battalion at Mont St Quentin on 2 September, he was wounded in the abdomen; he was evacuated to England and did not rejoin his unit until just before the Armistice. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order and mentioned in dispatches for service during June-September.
Page returned to Australia in May 1919 and on 17 July his A.I.F. appointment ended. On 5 June at St Paul’s Presbyterian Church, Lismore, he had married Anne Miller Brewster. He rejoined the Commonwealth Public Service and after completing his degree (B.A., 1920) joined the newly created New Guinea administration at Rabaul. He was briefly chief of police and director of schools, then in 1923-42 was government secretary. For nine years he was senior official member of the Executive and Legislative councils, and was deputy administrator in December 1941–January 1942 when the transfer of headquarters from Rabaul to Lae began, while Rabaul was under threat of Japanese invasion. In mid-December Page set in motion the compulsory evacuation of women and children. On 4 January Japanese aircraft began to attack Rabaul; these raids increased in intensity until the invasion on 23 January. Page was captured and in June, with 207 civilians and 845 military prisoners, was shipped from Rabaul in the Montevideo Maru. The ship was torpedoed by an American submarine in the South China Sea on 1 July 1942 and, except for a few Japanese, all on board perished. Page was survived by his wife, a son and three daughters. The son Robert, a captain in an Australian commando unit, was captured and executed by the Japanese in Singapore in July 1945 after attempting to repeat a daring raid on shipping in Singapore harbour in September 1943, for which he had been awarded the Distinguished Service Order.