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Dollard, Allen Nelson (Et) (1917–2009)

by Michael Fogarty

Allen Dollard, by Rex Bramleigh, 1968

Allen Dollard, by Rex Bramleigh, 1968

Australian War Memorial, ART27581

As a young Australian navy officer, ''Et'' Dollard, often also known as "Bollard", was renowned throughout the fleet for his consistent reputation. He was charged by naval tribunals in three successive years, from 1939 to 1941. The first at a disciplinary court; he was then twice court-martialled.

His offences included breaking leave, striking a British Army provost marshal at a cabaret in Alexandria and missing his ship on sailing from Melbourne. He had guts, too. When a sailor fell off a shipside painting stage, Dollard dived into the water to rescue him.

Despite his run-ins with navy law, Dollard's career resumed and he retired as a much decorated one-star officer. He was a witness and participant in much of the history of the Royal Australian Navy from 1932 to 1973.

Allen Nelson Dollard (nicknamed ''Et'' in later years because his initials spelt ''AND'', which is ''et'' in French) was born on July 23, 1917, at Prospect, South Australia. He was the youngest of eight children of Daniel Dollard, a local farmer, and his wife, Mary Anne Nelson (despite the fact that people wanted Dollard to be named after Admiral Nelson, he was named for his mother).

After attending Mannum High School and encouraged by his mother, because there was not much money or work at the end of the Depression, Dollard joined the Royal Australian Naval College in 1932, one of only two boys accepted from South Australia that year.

On graduation, he served in HMS Repulse during the pre-war Palestine campaign and, among other adventures, this Catholic viewed the stable where Christ was born. He then served in HMAS Sydney, in the Mediterranean, when his ship out-gunned the Italian cruiser Bartolomeo Colleoni. He was dismissed from Sydney before her own sinking in late 1941. It was a personal tragedy, for he knew most of those on board and lost many good mates.

Dollard served in HMAS Australia from 1941 to 1944. He was high up the mast, directing fire, during the Battle of the Coral Sea. He then served in HMAS Warramunga from 1944 to 1947, fighting for the liberation of the Philippines and in the occupation of Japan. Commodore John Collins wryly observed: "Six years of war have effected a great improvement in this officer.'' He needed responsibility, not punishment. In 1947, he married a wartime WRAN code-breaker, Lesley Joan (Cissy) Davis. They had two children.

Lieutenant-Commander Dollard then served at HMAS Cerberus before being appointed as the commanding officer of HMAS Murchison in 1950. During the Korean War, he took part in the battle for the Han River, from 1951 to 1952. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and the US Legion of Merit (officer). For his coolness during many "warm moments", a British admiral unofficially dubbed him "Baron of the Han". His naval percussion on the river was audible at the ceasefire conference tables.

On return to Australia, now a commander, Dollard held several staff positions before joining HMAS Sydney as its executive officer from 1955 to 1956. It was his last seagoing appointment.

His selection as the Australian Services Attache in Saigon, from 1956 to 1958, was an inspired choice. His talent as a naval diplomat was much respected and his intelligence reports on Indochina were instructive: "The taxis are small and uncomfortable, but the price is fixed. The taxi-girls are also small, but comfortable, and the prices depend on how far you want to go."

After Vietnam, Dollard held more senior staff roles in Australia before returning to the foreign service. In late 1961, now a captain, he was attached to the Australian embassy in Tokyo. During the next two years, he facilitated many ships' visits. He was dismayed by Captain Duncan Stevens, whose drinking brought disrepute to his ship and service. In 1964, HMAS Voyager was sunk; Stevens as its captain with it, and his personal conduct was later ruled as a contributing factor. Dollard gave evidence at the second royal commission.

Dollard ran HMAS Penguin throughout 1964. Then External Affairs needed him back in Asia, to discharge a politically sensitive assignment, to head the Royal Malaysian Navy, as its chief of naval staff, from 1965 to 1967. Promoted to acting commodore, he was the last RAN officer in that role.

His service in the region was not without controversy. He assumed charge at the height of an intermittent, undeclared war. Indonesia had objected to the creation of the Federation of Malaysia, in September 1963, because president Soekarno believed it was an attempt by Britain to maintain colonial rule in the region.

Indonesia was in free-fall. A proud people had surrendered their nationhood to its errant leader. Their newspapers criticised Dollard's appointment as evidence of Australia's complicity in a so-called neo-imperialist plot. Australia was also dismissed as a lackey. There was still much work to be done to keep an uneasy relationship on an even keel.

Soekarno had launched an ill-conceived plan of "confrontation" with Malaysia. He vowed the destruction of Malaysia "by the time the cock crows on January 1, 1965". By then, Dollard had mastered the diplomatic nuance, for he was not an easy man to deceive. He conceded that this demagogue was talking nonsense. At confrontation's end, Dollard was still in the building. It was Soekarno who had left the stage.

Relations with our neighbour improved. Indonesia had reclaimed its own history. Dollard returned to Australia in late 1967, twice decorated by the Malaysians for his role.

Reverting to captain, Dollard commanded HMAS Albatross for the next three years, until he resumed his one-star rank as commodore on his posting to the Sydney naval command in early 1971. He retired in early 1973 after 41 years' service.

His "salted" diet, and concern for his wife's health, ensured their annual visits to Magnetic Island, Queensland - where he continued to sail.

They also lived at Neutral Bay before moving to Narrabeen, where he would carry Lesley when necessary as she grew weaker before her death in June 2007.

In 2008, he gave evidence at the commission of inquiry into the sinking of HMAS Sydney in 1941, speaking about his time on the ship as an ''officer of quarters'' and a watch-keeper, explaining how Sydney identified other ships and how the ship was bought to ''action stations'' as needed. ''I knew just about everyone on board and was devastated by the loss of such a great ship - such an unnecessary loss which can never be forgiven.''

Allen Dollard is survived by his children, Simon and Sandal and their families, and his sisters Molly and Daphne of Canberra. Simon also joined the navy and served as a midshipman in HMAS Sydney in Vietnam.

Original publication

  • Sydney Morning Herald, 'News Review', 13 February 2010, p 12

Citation details

Michael Fogarty, 'Dollard, Allen Nelson (Et) (1917–2009)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/dollard-allen-nelson-et-314/text315, accessed 21 September 2020.

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