(Photograph courtesy of Beryl O’Dowd, daughter of Henry Anson)
Henry Anson was born at Latrobe, Melbourne, and was educated at the Convent School, Launceston, Tasmania. As a young man he moved to Coffs Harbour and was employed in the carrying business using some of the first motor trucks in the district.
During the First World War, at the age of 22 years, he enlisted in the AIF and served in the 3rd Battalion. He landed at Gallipoli with the first Anzacs. As an experienced soldier he was transferred to the newly created 55th battalion on being sent to France where he served on the Somme and in Belgium. On at least one occasion his exploits were recorded in Bean’s (the official Australian war historian) History of the First World War. He was known as the ‘Mad Bomber’ and also ‘Patrol King’. He was always conscious of the lives of his men particularly on patrols into ‘No-Man’s Land’ (the land between the very front line trenches of the Australian and the German Armies) so those who accompanied him on these raiding parties knew they had a better chance of coming back than with anyone else, so he was never short of volunteers.
He was mentioned four times in despatches, and was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for ‘continued devotion to duty and gallantry during the period 25 February to 16/17 September 1918. An excellent leader of men, courageous, and keen-eyed, he is one of the men who have earned for the Australian soldier a brilliant reputation as a scout.’ The award stated that the intelligence he gathered from forays into the German lines contributed to the success of the ANZAC attack at Villers-Brettoneux. He also received the Belgian Croix de Guerre, a King George V Medal and Gallipoli Medal. He was also recommended for a second DCM but it was never gazetted. He drilled the company that won the AIF Shield in France in 1918. This shield was on display in 1963 in the Melbourne City Hall. Mr Anson was a President of the Gladstone branch of the Returned Soldiers League.
He resumed work in the carrying business in 1919 on his return from service and drove and owned one of the first motor vehicles in New South Wales which he used to run his carrying business. He was in direct competition with the established teamsters who hauled bales of wool and other merchandise over the Dorrigo ranges. It is recorded that when the roads were narrow and rough and when the teamsters commandeered the middle of the roads thus preventing Mr Anson from passing in his motor vehicle there were occasions when this young enthusiastic man was known to challenge the teamster to ‘move over’ and when failing to convince them by negotiation, indulge in some fisty-cuffs to persuade him that it was in his best interest to let Mr Anson’s motor vehicle pass.
His marriage to Phyllis Mary Heber took place in 1921 at Coffs Harbour, and they lived there for a short time. Later they sold their business and moved to Mackay. He started the first privately owned bus run there and operated a bus service from Mackay to Nebo using 16 seater Cadillacs. After a while he moved to Mt Larcom, not far north of Gladstone, where he set up as a vehicle mechanic. He soon realised that the town of Gladstone offered better opportunities for his business, so he made this move in 1924. Mr Anson opened a motor garage in Tank Street where Port Curtis Motors was later established, but he subsequently moved to Dawson Road.
Not long afterwards Mr Anson studied for and became one of the first motor mechanics in Queensland to pass the examination to become an ‘A’ Grade motor mechanic. Mr Anson became recognised as one of the top motor mechanics in the area and before the commencement of the Second World War was employing five qualified motor mechanics and three apprentices. At this time Anson Motors was the RACQ (Royal Automobile Club of Queensland) listed garage for Gladstone and district.
After the entrance of Japan into the Second World War, Mr Anson was asked by the Army to set up a motor vehicle workshop with his previous rank of Warrant Officer at Milne Bay, New Guinea and was there at the time of the rebuffed attempts by the Japanese to land troops there. He developed an allergic reaction to his environment and was returned to Australia. After being released from the Army he began farming on an island in Gladstone Harbour where he grew bananas, tomatoes and other vegetables, bringing them into Gladstone on his own boat before sending them to southern markets by seaplane. Eventually his health improved and he went back into the role of Garage Proprietor at his previous garage. After a short while he again became the Service Representative to which then was added becoming the local representative of the RACQ. He was the Ford Dealer for 19 years and won many salesmen trophies in that time.
He was still in this role of Garage Proprietor when he was elected Mayor of Gladstone in 1961. He brought to the office the qualities of integrity, honour and commitment, the very same qualities that he displayed all through his life.
It was Mayor Anson who met the forward party of consultants and engineers who were the nucleus of the American company, Kaiser Engineers and Constructors Inc., who would in the next years build the Queensland Alumina Limited’s Alumina Refinery at Parson’s Point, Gladstone. He established good working relations with the American personnel of this company. These good relations were to last for all the years that Kaiser Engineers spent in Gladstone.
Sadly before his term of office was over, Mr Anson contracted a terminal illness. With the support of the Deputy Mayor and his family he was able to carry on the business of his office until the very last weeks of his illness. It would be correct to say that Mr Henry Anson died doing what he loved most to do – working for the benefit of the town and the people of Gladstone Queensland, the town he came to as a young man, and stayed for the rest of his life. The history of the town of Gladstone and the life of Henry Anson were inescapably intertwined during his time there.
Henry Anson died in August 1963. He and his wife, Phyllis had two sons, Henry and George, four daughters, Neta (Roffey), Marjory (Swanson), Beryl (O’Dowd) and Joyce (Byrne), and 24 grandchildren at the time of his death.
(Thanks to Beryl O’Dowd who kindly supplied most of the information and personal anecdotes about her father, Henry Anson, and also to Brian Byrne for his kind assistance.)