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WEDDELL, Robert Hunter (1882-1951)

WEDDELL, Robert Hunter ‘Bobby’ (1882-1951)

Teacher, soldier and Commonwealth administrator of the Northern Territory, Robert Weddell was born on 26 December 1882, the son of James Weddell and Isabella nee Hunter.

He was educated at Geelong College from 1896 to 1898. A talented languages student, he was listed as the second prize winner in Greek in 1896, a minor prize winner in Latin and Greek in 1897 and winner of the 1st Prize in Greek in 1898. His father, James Weddell (1860-1929), had also been a student at the College in 1877.

He was teaching part-time at Scotch College when, not long after the outbreak of World War I, he enlisted in the AIF on 28 August 1914. He was listed as a university student, having taught at Scotch College, Melbourne 1908-12. He embarked for Egypt on HMAT A20 Hororata on 19 October, and ultimately for Gallipoli with 7 Battalion (F Company). He had been appointed Captain by the time he was orderewd to attack Krithia on 8 May 1915.

He is mentioned several times by Bean in his Official History, at the struggle for Krithia on 8 May 1915:
'Meanwhile the 7th was hurrying to reach its position on the right of the 6th. As soon as its first company had been formed up, Colonel Gartside had ordered Captain Weddell to lead off the two front companies of the 7th and advance on the right of the 6th, occupying a front of 500 yards. 'You are about to attack the enemy', he said. This was the first intimation the company officers had received concerning any operation projected that day. In what direction it was to be made neither they, nor Gartside knew. The fire came apparently from one four-gun Turkish field battery, which evidently served as quickly as the gunners could load, kept its shells bursting well back just in front of the trees. Salvo after salvo fell over small columns of the 7th, whipping up the dust into pink clouds and completely hiding those in the rear. Nevertheless, as the haze cleared, the groups were seen issuing from it still in formation, trudging steadily forward. One signaller beside Weddell received a shrapnel burst full in the face; but for the most part the companys escaped almost without loss. After two further rushes Henderson, rising to his knees to look through his glasses, was himself shot through the head. Lt Heron, who had been slightly wounded beside him, and Captain Weddell, then the only officers remaining on the right front, continued to help forward each others' troops by covering fire. The line was now very thin. Men were dropping at every rush, and only scattered twos and threes from the rear were reinforcing them. But the notion of those at the front was that they would continue so to advance until they either came to holts (sic) with the Turks or reached the distant Achi Baba.'

Weddell was wounded at Gallipoli on 3 July 1915 and invalided to Australia, embarking on 2 February 1916. He is mentioned several times by Ross McMullin in his work Pompey Elliott:
'News of the 2nd Brigade's exceptional charge soon reached Elliott. He was delighted to learn that onlookers from other countries 'were astonished at the reckless daring of our men', but appalled by the magnitude of the casual ties: 'They tell me there is hardly any left of the poor old 7th Battalion'. By 30th April, in fact, the 7th had suffered more casualties than any other AIF battalion. The Krithia losses completed a devastating initiation for Elliott's unit. There were hardly any of the original officers left. Two had been retained off-shore on other duties - Tubb as battalion transport officer in charge of the horses, and McCrae, on a temporary secondment to an engineers' unit. Of the remaining twenty nine, only two combatant officers were still going strong, Grills and Weddell. Both knew they had been very lucky.'

The History of Scotch College, Melbourne noted Weddell's service: 'Early in July (1915) Major R H Weddell was so severely wounded as to be invalided home. He earned a special reputation during the early days on the Peninsula, and more especially at Helles.' In 1916 he married Miss Flora May McDonald. His service with the AIF was completed on 12 March 1917.

After the war he was appointed Government Resident of the Northern Territory in 1927 and Administrator in 1930, holding that position until 1937. 'At the outbreak of the Second World War he rejoined the armed services with the rank of Colonel, and spent a large part of the war in Army Intelligence at the St Kilda Road Barracks' . He died on 23 November 1951 at Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital.

Sources: Obituary-Pegasus December 1951 p 47; Pegasus December 1934 p 5; Paul Mishura; Extracts from Affleck, James. Geelong Collegians' at the Great War. pp 335-337 citing: (C E W Bean, The Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918: Vol. II The Story of ANZAC; Robin Corfield, Hold Hard, Cobbers: The Story of the 57th and 60th and 57th/60th Australian Infantry Battalions; History Committee, The History of Scotch College, Melbourne 1851-1925; Jim Main & David Allen, Fallen: The Ultimate Heroes - Footballers who never returned from the war (2002); The Pegasus; National Archives; Photo G J French.)
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