Guide to the Collection of Alec Jeffrey Hill [MSS 382]

Finding Aid Index Request Information


Overview | Administrative Information | Container List

Each Finding Aid can be keyword searched using the Ctrl F function on your keyboard.

Manuscript Name Collection of Alec Jeffrey Hill
Manuscript Number MSS 382
Last Updated July 2021
Extent 1 box
Location Special Collections, UNSW Canberra
Abstract A framed portrait of Alec Jeffrey Hill

Collection Subject Type


Scope and Content

A portrait of Alec Hill by Canberra artist, Mary-Ann Capel

Date Range of Content


Biographical Note

Wikipedia article:

Alec Jeffery Hill was born in Sydney in 1916 and educated at Sydney Grammar, the University of Sydney, and Balliol College, Oxford. Hill became a teacher, then was commissioned in the New South Wales Scottish Regiment of the Militia in 1936. On the outbreak of the Second World War, Hill joined the Second Australian Imperial Force; he was an officer in the 9th Australian Division and in 1941 served in Tobruk. After demobilisation, Hill returned to teaching, and later joined the academic staff of the Royal Military College, Duntroon. A distinguished military biographer, he is best known for his book, Chauvel of the Light Horse


Administrative Information


Access and Copying Conditions

Access: Open Access

Copyright is held by the creator of the item. Specific conditions for this collection are listed below. If no conditions are stipulated then the standard terms of the Copyright Act apply for published and unpublished items. Digitised material from manuscript collections is provided to clients by UNSW Canberra in good faith for private study and research only, and may not be published or re-purposed without the express and written permission of the individual legal holder of that copyright. Refer also to the UNSW copyright, disclaimer and takedown policy. 

Copying: No copying is approved. 

Preferred Citation

Collection of Alec Jeffrey Hill, Special Collections, UNSW Canberra, Australian Defence Force Academy, Canberra, MSS 382, Box [Number], Folder [Number]. 


The collection was donated by the Estate of the late Patricia M. Hill (widow of Alec Hill) in 2019

Related material

A recording and transcript of an interview with Alec Hill from 19 November 2003 is held in the Australians at War Film Archive, UNSW Canberra, Archive 941

Alec Hill obituaries and a reminiscence given by Alec Hill at the 2001 Army History Conference, Australian War Memorial are found at the foot of this finding aid


Subject Keywords 



Alec Hill, 1916-2008 — Portraits

Personal Names 

Alec Hill, 1916-2008



Military historians


Container List 


Oversize material

OS 1

Framed portrait of Alec Jeffrey Hill

Subject:           Alec Jeffrey Hill sitting in pensive pose in front of bookshelf in light blue shirt

Date:               2003-2006?

Artist:              Mary-Ann Capel

Medium:          Oil, acrylic?

Size:                710 mm x 845 mm to outer edge of frame

On verso: Framed by Buvelot Picture Framers, Phillip, ACT



Obituary in the Australian Army Journal, Volume v, Number 3, Summer 2008, by Professor Jeffrey Grey, UNSW Canberra

Alec Jeffrey Hill AM, MBE, ED (1916–2008)

Alec Jeffrey Hill was born on 2 July 1916 and educated at Sydney Grammar School, the University of Sydney and Balliol College, Oxford. He was proud of the latter, and remained a 'Balliol man' all his life. His father served in the Great War and died while Alec was still a boy. In 1936 Alec received a commission in the Militia, joining the NSW Scottish Regiment. He joined the 2nd Australian Imperial Force when the war came, and served for the duration. He was a 'Rat of Tobruk', serving as a company commander with the 9th Division there and at El Alamein, and subsequently in the war against Japan in New Guinea and Borneo as brigade major of the 20th Brigade. Alec returned to Sydney after demobilisation, and taught geography and history at his old school, Sydney Grammar, becoming senior history master, and was heavily involved with school cadets and with the post-war Citizen Military Forces. He also served a term as Honorary ADC to the Governor of New South Wales. In 1966 he accepted an appointment at the Royal Military College, Duntroon, as a lecturer in history. The 1960s saw the transition from the old pattern military education that was more or less unchanged since the college's foundation, to the establishment of a university faculty—the Faculty of Military Studies—under the auspices of the University of New South Wales. While it represented a major change for RMC, and was not without its difficulties, the faculty nonetheless still reflected the certainties and stabilities of the existing patterns of university life, and with his military and educational backgrounds Alec Hill was an outstanding fit whose contributions were appreciated by both the uniformed and civilian sides of the house. Until his retirement in 1979, Alec taught military history to an entire generation of staff cadets, along the way shaping individuals who would become the leading Australian military historians of their day; notably amongst them David Horner, Chris Clark and Peter Pedersen. While doing so, he worked on a major biography of the commander of the Desert Mounted Corps in the Great War, General Sir Harry Chauvel. Published in 1978, Chauvel of the Light Horse is claimed to be the first modern scholarly biography of a senior Australian military figure, and a book that advanced military historiography in this country through the then unfashionable notion that generals were at least as important as privates in winning battles. Alec was awarded an MBE during the war. In January 2006 he was made a Member of the Order of Australia 'for service to education in the field of military history, to the Australian War Memorial as a writer and mentor to historians, and as a contributor to the Australian Dictionary of Biography, for which he wrote some thirty-eight articles. Alec Hill died on 27 August 2008, and is survived by his wife, Patsy, and by many friends, admirers and former students who will long remember his gentle manner, incisive mind and great personal charm.


Obituary in Grammar Foundations, Issue 39, November 2008, Published by Sydney Grammar School Foundation

Alec Jeffrey Hill, AM MBE ED died on 27 August 2008 aged 92.

Affectionately known as 'The Baron’ by his pupils, Mr Hill was a master at the School from 1938 until 1940 and from 1949 until 1966. He was himself a pupil at Grammar from 1930 until 1933 and was a prefect in his last two years.

In 1940 active service took Mr Hill to the Middle East where he participated in the Siege of Tobruk and the Battle of El Alamein. He completed his war service as Sir Victor Windeyer's Brigade Major in New Guinea and Borneo and was, thereafter, sometime Honorary ADC to the Governor of New South Wales.

As a master, Mr Hill was held in very high regard by his headmaster, CO Healey, his fellow masters and his pupils. The successes of his Modern History pupils in the Laving Certificate bore justified testimony to his excellence as a teacher; however he was also demonstrably successful in his command of the Grammar Cadet Corps between 1949 and 1961, in his concerned care for the boys in his Tutor Group ('Barton Group') and in his coaching of rifle shooting. During the time he commanded the Cadet Corps, Mr Hill elevated it to a status such that it was described by Mr Healey as 'a vital and significant part of the School'. As a rifle shooting coach he was without peer. In the thirteen years of his coaching, his teams gained six premierships and many took to later successful university competition the rifle shooting skills they had learned from Mr Hill.

He left Grammar in 1965 to teach military history at Duntroon. His skill as an historian is epitomised in his acclaimed biography of Lt-Gen Sir Harry Chauvel, himself a famous Old Sydneian.

Mr Hill is survived by Mrs Patsy Hill, his wife of 45 years. He leaves many men and women in Australia the richer for having known him.


Australians at War 1941 recounted by Alec Hill at 2001 Army History Conference, Australian War Memorial  

Alec Hill was an officer in the 9th Australian Division and in 1941 served in Tobruk. He became a school master and later joined the academic staff of the Royal Military College, Duntroon. A distinguished military biographer, he is best known for his book, Chauvel of the Light Horse. Alec Hill made an ideal speaker to open the conference 'Remembering 1941', with his observations on the broad strategic context in which Australians fought in the campaigns of 1941 in the Mediterranean theatre of war.


As a relic of 1941 I wish to make some observations about a remarkable year which was sometimes exciting and often depressing. After all it began with a victory in North Africa in which we played a part - the destruction of the Italian Tenth Army; in the mid year the Germans foolishly (and wickedly) invaded Russia and the year closed with Japan's assault upon Pearl Harbour and south-east Asia. Depressing as it was, that Japanese initiative brought the whole potential power of the United States of America into the war - the British Empire and Commonwealth was no longer alone.

My observations will relate to the war in the Mediterranean. It should be said that I am not unaware of the growing number of Australians serving with the Royal Air Force over Europe, products of the Empire Air Training Scheme, plus 10 Squadron and its Sunderlands. Nor will I deal with our small force serving in Malaya - two-thirds of the Australian Imperial Force's 8th Division, four squadrons of the Royal Australian Air Force and the destroyer Vampire. However, in 1941 the main Australian effort was the Australian Corps in the Middle East: three infantry divisions with corps troops and various supporting establishments with the prospect of an AIF armoured division. Also the Royal Australian Navy was making a useful contribution to the Mediterranean Fleet with two light cruisers and a half flotilla of ancient destroyers dubbed ‘the scrap-iron flotilla’ by German radio. Only one squadron of the Royal Australian Air Force, the 3rd, was available to support the AIF and it was to remain in the Mediterranean until the defeat of Germany. These forces were a significant addition to British power in the Mediterranean during a very dangerous period.

Of all the interesting features of 1941 in the Mediterranean I propose to examine briefly three because they were fundamental to the development of operations. They were: the weakness of the Italian Army and of the higher direction of the Italian armed forces; the shortages in almost all the means for fighting of the British Commonwealth armed forces; the influence of Operation Barbarossa - Hitler's invasion of Russia.

Nearly twenty years of Fascist rule had failed to provide Italy with either the industrial base or the economic strength for an adequate arms industry. Much of the equipment of the army and the air force was obsolete while the navy had neither carriers nor an air arm. Material losses in the Spanish Civil War and Ethiopia had not been made up. Opposition to the alliance with Germany was rife among senior officers who were well aware of the inadequacies of the Italian forces. To complete this situation ripe for disaster Benito Mussolini, dictator of Italy and head of the services, lacked all the qualities of a head of state and commander-in-chief. Nevertheless, having ordered an invasion of Egypt aiming at the Suez Canal, he also invaded Greece a month later. After all the defeats which followed in both Greece and North Africa, he insisted on sending a major Italian force to join the Germans struggling in Russia.

It was fortunate for the British based in Egypt and with vital outposts in Malta and Gibraltar, that the Italians were in such dire straits. All three of our services were short of modern equipment, especially the RAF whose best aircraft were concentrated at home where they had defeated the Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain. The re-equipment of the army in Britain, now expecting a German invasion, meant that little was available for the army in the Middle East where Australians and New Zealanders were arriving with rifles and bayonets but very little else. As for the Mediterranean Fleet, it was outnumbered seriously by the Italians, and the aircraft of its one carrier were no match for the enemy air especially when the Italians were reinforced by the Germans. What was not in short supply was leadership and the outstanding military qualities of commanders such as Wavell, Andrew Cunningham, Longmore, O'Connor, Tedder, Lavarack, Morshead and Freyberg. 1 The logistical problems imposed by remoteness from the United Kingdom, the real industrial base of all the Middle East forces, were immense. Reinforcement and supply convoys either faced the U-boats in the Atlantic during their 70-day voyage around the Cape of Good Hope or came in small, heavily protected convoys fought through the Mediterranean, each a major operation. To hasten RAF reinforcements a complete air route across Africa was established from Takoradi in the Gold Coast (Ghana) involving thousands of ground staff and the construction of numerous airfields. Logistical problems within the Middle East were multiplied by the sheer size of the theatre, an area much larger than the whole of Australia.

The war which began in September 1939 with the German invasion of Poland can properly be called Hitler's War. Preparing for it he had already re-entered the Rhineland, absorbed Austria and seized Czechoslovakia. The destruction of Poland would complete his preparations for the war he had for long intended, the destruction of Russia but, as the Western powers had interfered, it was necessary to crush them too in a swift campaign. This had not quite come off. While France was crushed and some minor states were overwhelmed, the British had saved their army and would not see reason. Worse, his attempt to soften-up the United Kingdom from the air was defeated in the Battle of Britain by mid-September 1940. So that invasion was put off and Hitler opted for war on two fronts. As early as 31 July 1940, while the air battle raged over Britain, he decided on ‘the destruction of Russia's vital strength in the spring of 1941’.2 On 18 December in his Directive number 21 he gave the outline orders for invasion, Operation Barbarossa.

Even before that the troubles of Mussolini's absurd invasion of Greece in October had caused Hitler to give orders (Directive number 20) for Operation Marita which contemplated the occupation of the entire mainland of Greece and the seizure of ‘English bases in the Greek Islands with airborne troops’. The establishment of a few squadrons of the RAF supporting the Greek army in November had alerted Hitler to the possible threat to the southern flank of Barbarossa and to the oilfields of Rumania. His other local problem was the Italian debacle in North Africa - he must keep Italy in the war and Mussolini was now asking for help. Hitler was prepared to deploy up to twenty-four divisions for Marita but for Libya only two with a defensive role, a policy which was to be re-interpreted by his commander, Erwin Rommel. In spite of Admiral Raeder's frequent attempts to persuade Hitler to adopt an Atlantic/Mediterranean strategy, Hitler's obsession with the destruction of Soviet Russia dominated his thinking throughout the period of British weakness in the Mediterranean. Had he taken Raeder's advice, the war may well have followed very different paths.


[1] That is: General Sir Archibald Wavell, Commander-in-Chief, Middle East, 1939-41; Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham, Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean Fleet, 1939-42; Air Marshal Sir Arthur Longmore, Commander-in-Chief, Middle East Air Forces, 1940-41; Lieutenant General Richard O'Connor, Commander, Western Desert Force, 1940-41; Air Marshal Sir Arthur Tedder, Commander-in-Chief, Middle East Air Forces, 1941-43; Lieutenant General John Lavarack, GOC 1st Australian Corps and 7th Australian Division, 1941; Major General Leslie Morshead, GOC 9th Australian Division, 1941-43; Major General Bernard Freyberg, VC, GOC 2nd New Zealand Division, 1941-44.

[2] Militärgeschictliches Forschungsamt (Research Institute for Military History), Germany and the Second World War, New York : Oxford University Press, 1995, Vol. III, p. 204