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Perry, Edward Warren (1909–2010)

by James Wood

Edward Warren Owen Perry (1909-2010), historian, soldier, public servant, was born on 28 January 1909 at Brighton-le-Sands, Sydney, the eldest of six children of Edward Warren Perry and Christina Blanche Owen.

Perry was of an era wherein he shared his Long March of Everyman with the outstanding figures of Australia’s military heritage. He was educated at Hurstville Junior Technical School, the Sydney Technical College day class at Ultimo, and Parkes High School where he completed his Intermediate Certificate in 1924. He was a boy during the Great War; a teenager during the Great Depression during which he completed his matriculation as a private study student; Union Bank clerk (1925-1947), member of the Militia commissioned lieutenant and posted to 1st Medium Regiment in September 1930, and an evening student at the University of Sydney during the 1930s. There were in his time Sir John Monash at the height of his military and civilian career; Charles Bean and A. G. Butler, Australia’s eminent military historians of the Great War; and J. L.  Treloar, the foundation director of the Australian War Memorial. He immersed himself in the works of the great British military thinkers of the late 19th/early 20th Century, men such as Professor Henry Spenser Wilkinson, Major General J. F. C. Fuller and Major General Sir Ernest Swinton and his Bible was General Sir Edward B Hamley’s The Operations of War Explained and Illustrated.

Having graduated BEc in 1941, Perry served during World War 11, initially as adjutant, 102nd Tank Attack Regiment, then 20th Field Regiment, prior to his secondment to the AIF in August 1942. There followed successive staff captain appointments (military secretary) on HQ Second Australian Army and HQ New Guinea Force and, as a major, as Deputy Assistant Adjutant General, 4th Australian Base Sub-Area and later on HQ Second Australian Army.

Perry was demobilised in 1946 with the rank of major. He briefly resumed his employment with the Union Bank before joining the Commonwealth Public Service (Permanent Officer, Third Division) in 1947. There followed appointments as Archivist, Australian War Memorial (1947-1949), with the Joint Intelligence Bureau, Department of Defence, Melbourne (1949-1951); the Headquarters Branch, Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (1951-1964), and Department of Labour and National Service (1964-1969). Perry retired in 1969 when aged 60 which enabled him to concentrate full-time on his interests in military history.

On 16 November 1957 Perry married Nancye Enid Kent, B Sc, PGCA Agric Entom (Syd.), entomologist, artist and author.

Perry moved to Melbourne in 1949 where he resumed his formal tertiary studies at the University of Melbourne as an evening student. He completed a BA in the School of Germanic Languages and a MA with first class honours (1963). His MA thesis considered the German General Staff. Upon graduation as an MA Perry attended the Goethe Institut at Passau, Germany to further improve his expertise in the German language.

Perry’s pre-eminence as an historian was based on his meticulous research, his extraordinary memory and painstaking efforts to ensure accuracy and depth in his writings. The first strokes of his personal contribution to the canvas of Australian military literature were those represented in his article ‘The nature and significance of discipline’, published in December 1941 in the Australian Quarterly. There followed four books, The Science Museum of Victoria A History of its First Hundred Years (1972); The Naval and Military Club, Melbourne 1881-1981 (1981); A History of the School of Mines and Industries, Ballarat [1984]; and A Biography of Professor Richard Herbert Samuel, 1900-1983 (1997). Perry’s special interests — Sir John Monash, and Sir Frederick Geoffrey Shedden — and those Australian officers who attained field rank, were expressed in some 85 articles published in a range of military journals, with a further 12 contributions on senior officers of the Australian Army to the Australian Dictionary of Biography. Perry was a regular reviewer of books on military subjects for the Age and a consultant/correspondent on the development and content of many others.

Not only did Perry contribute directly as an exemplar to the fashioning of the rich tapestry of Australia’ military heritage he went to extraordinary personal lengths to mentor, encourage and assist the many others who sought him out or came to his notice. As a colleague recorded, ‘his voluminous handwritten notes, multiple cards and folders were all supplemented by his prodigious memory. He could reach back into Australia’s military history at a personal level. He would correct the common pronunciation of Monash’s surname, tell you that Chief of the General Staff Sir Julius Bruche collected books about Samuel Pepys, and tell second-hand yarns about General ‘Curly’ Hutton. In this he was without equal.’

Perry’s personal achievements were also realised in a succession of voluntary roles and appointments as the Federal President of the Military Historical Society of Australia; Council member, Honorary Editor [20 years], Inaugural Fellow (1967) with Professor G. N. Blainey, Royal Historical Society of Victoria; and Life Member [1929] Royal United Services Institute, Sydney and member RUSI Victoria.

Perry was awarded the Efficiency Decoration (ED) for his services as a Militia Officer; the MBE in 1978 ‘for services to military administration and Victorian history’, and was a recipient of the Centenary Medal (2001). At 93 years of age Perry was the 47th person to have conferred upon him the highest degree of the Faculty of Arts at the University of Melbourne, the Doctor of Letters (LittD). The degree ‘is awarded after examination of either a substantial body of work over a lengthy period of time or for a seminal work which makes a significant contribution to the body of knowledge in its particular field.’

Until well into his 90s Perry was a physically strong man who worked long hours, had never held a driver’s license, never took a holiday, walked to and from the local railway station and, whatever the weather, regularly travelled each week into the city there to visit the State Library, the RACV Club and, until its demise, the Naval and Military Club. Deteriorating eye sight finally destroyed his ability to read and following a series of falls and just short of his 100th birthday he was admitted to Vasey House, the RSL Nursing Home at Bundoora. His extensive collections of research papers, files and his library were donated to the National Library, the State Library of Victoria and a range of universities, organisations and individuals.

Dr Perry, known as Warren, died at Vasey House on 7 November 2010 some 10 weeks short of his 102nd birthday. He was survived by his wife Nancye.

Additional Resources

Citation details

James Wood, 'Perry, Edward Warren (1909–2010)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/perry-edward-warren-1543/text1560, accessed 23 September 2019.

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