b. 24/05/1916 Sydney, NSW. d. 21/02/2002 Sydney, NSW.
Sir Arthur Roden Cutler (1916-2002) was born on 24th May 1916. His cousin, Sir Charles Cutler, was Deputy Premier of New South Wales from 1965 to 1975. Arthur grew up in the Sydney Harbour suburb of Manly where he attended the Manly Village Public School. At the age of 15 he enrolled at Sydney Boys High School. After school, he worked for the Texas Company Australasia, later to become Texaco. He studied economics during the night at the University of Sydney, joining the Sydney University Regiment in 1936.
On 10 November 1939, he was commissioned as a lieutenant in the militia. He enjoyed all sports, especially riding, rifle shooting and water polo, and was awarded a University Blue in swimming. As an 18 year-old lifesaver, he swam to the aid of a surfer who was being circled by a large shark. The shark brushed him twice as he helped the surfer to the beach.
In May 1940, he transferred from the citizen’s militia to the Second Australian Imperial Force, receiving a commission in the 2/5th Field Regiment, Royal Australian Artillery, Australian 7th Division.
When the Australian infantry attacked French positions at Merdjayoun on June 19th 1941, Lieutenant Cutler was part of an artillery forward observation team, attached to the 2/25th Battalion, which pushed ahead under enemy machine-gun fire to establish an outpost in an isolated hut.
Cutler went out to mend a telephone line which had been cut; when he returned to the hut, he and his men came under attack from infantry and two enemy tanks; his Bren gunner was killed and a fellow officer mortally wounded. With one of his gunners, Cutler returned fire with anti-tank rifles, which had little effect; they then took up a rifle and a Bren .303 machine-gun and succeeded, temporarily, in driving back the attack.
When the enemy tanks returned, their main guns firing, Cutler hit the turret of one with an anti-tank rifle. This, too, was ineffective, so he diverted his fire to its tracks, and forced both tanks and infantry to withdraw. As the surviving Australians themselves fell back, Cutler personally supervised the evacuation of the wounded. But realising that the enemy was confused, he pressed on into the town accompanied by a small party of volunteers. With one man, Cutler established an observation post among rocks at the town’s north-west corner, overlooking the only road by which enemy transport could approach.
He directed his battery’s fire on to the enemy’s positions, although aware that they were massing to the left for a counter-attack. After being cut off, he hid until dark then made his way back through enemy lines.Cutler’s success in registering the exact position of the road turned the battle in the Australians’ favour. On the night of June 23rd he took charge of a 25 lb field gun which, the next day, he positioned in front of the Australian infantry, enabling it to fire point-blank on the French.
Two weeks later, Cutler was attached to the 2/16th Battalion as a forward observation officer when the enemy was sighted at Damour, where the Australian infantry had been pinned down by heavy machine-gun fire; he captured several Vichy from three machine-gun posts. Then, when his infantry’s wireless would not work in the hilly country, he volunteered to carry the telephone line to forward positions. But on the way he was severely wounded in the leg and lay, isolated and exposed, for 26 hours. By the time he was rescued the leg had become septic and had to be amputated.
Cutler’s VC was awarded for conspicuous and sustained gallantry over these 18 days. He was the only Australian artilleryman to be awarded the VC, and his courage and determination became a byword among forward troops. After being invalided home in 1941, Cutler received his Victoria Cross from the Governor-General Lord Gowrie, also VC. He first became State Secretary of the Returned Sailors’, Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia, though some members complained that the post should have gone to a First World War veteran.
Next, he was chosen to be a member of the aliens’ classification and advisory committee, and then an assistant deputy director of the Australian Security Service. After the war Cutler was appointed Australian High Commissioner in New Zealand. He was then posted to Ceylon, where he found the High Commissioner’s residence crawling with bugs attracted by food that had been dumped there after a food exhibition. As High Commissioner, he defended his country’s “white Australia” policy, and restored morale by insisting that his staff were properly organised and wore white suits; but he also incurred the unions’ wrath at home by granting visas to Ceylonese.
Cutler’s experience as a man of action proved useful when he was appointed minister to Egypt just as the Suez Crisis began. One of his first decisions was to remove the large number of weapons from the basement of his residence, on the ground that it could not, in any case, be easily defended. He quickly discovered that the Western powers were not only divided, but totally ill-prepared to cope with Nasser. The British Prime Minister, Anthony Eden, and the American Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, were hostile to each other, and both were in poor health; the Canadians were rudderless after their minister in Cairo had committed suicide; and the Australian prime minister, Robert Menzies, was displaying unjustifiable optimism about what the allies could do.
With an invasion about to take place, Cutler sent home all but four of his staff. The British were slower, and Cutler watched from the roof of the British embassy with the ambassador, Sir Humphrey Trevelyan, as the airport, by which they had hoped to escape, was being bombed. Since the British embassy was now cut off and short of food, Cutler and his commercial secretary drove at high speed to a bazaar where they bought rice and a whole sheep. On returning to the embassy, where an Egyptian soldier stood guard before a hostile crowd, Cutler distracted the soldier while his colleague passed over the purchases.
After the Anglo-French invasion was called off, Cutler joined other diplomats on a stinking train which wove its way slowly through the battlefields of Mersa Matruh, El Alamein and Sidi Barrani to reach Libya. Cutler became Secretary-General to the South-East Asia Treaty Organisation (SEATO) Conference of Ministers and chief of protocol at the Department of External Affairs in Canberra; he was then appointed High Commissioner to Pakistan, and Consul General in New York from 1961-65.
After a brief spell as ambassador to the Netherlands, he returned home in 1966 to become Governor of New South Wales for 15 years. He greeted the press with Belloc’s lines, “But as it is, my language fails,/ Go out and govern New South Wales!”. Cutler popularised the institution of the governorship, without compromising its essential character, by declaring that he would not have a uniform, since it would cost £600 and the public did not expect it. He had to change his mind some years later when Sir Michael Adeane, the Queen’s Private Secretary, told him it would be required when the Queen arrived for the Cook bicentenary celebrations.
Cutler believed that “proper protocol is what I call natural courtesy”. There were nods of approval when the practice of ladies withdrawing at the end of formal Government House dinners was reintroduced, but some expressions of surprise when he broadened invitation lists to include both nuns and communist trade union leaders. One of his earliest engagements was a visit to Sydney Trades Hall, which was thought to be the first by a governor since the 3rd Lord Carrington in 1888. He approved of worker participation in company decisions, and believed in strict guidelines for foreign investment and stricter supervision of the nuclear industry.
Having grown up in the Depression, Cutler put creating jobs for young people before controlling the inflation rate, and upset the Liberal Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser by criticising federal economic policy in a speech opening the State Parliament. The speech had been written by the state’s Labour premier; Cutler correctly maintained that he was bound to deliver it. Cutler was once confronted by some anti-Vietnam War protesters, one of whom fell down in front of him, then complained that he had been kicked. “A man with one leg cannot kick anyone,” explained Cutler, “even his dog.”
Roden Cutler served as overseas vice-chairman of the VC and GC Association from 1986 to 1991, and deputy president from 1991. He was chairman of the State Bank of New South Wales from 1981 to 1986, Honorary Colonel of the Royal New South Wales Regiment, and Honorary Air Commodore of the Royal Australian Air Force. He was appointed CBE in 1957; KCMG in 1965; KCVO in 1970; and AK in 1981. He married first, in 1946, Helen Morris, who died in 1990; they had four sons. He married secondly, in 1993, Joan Goodwin, who survived him, when he passed away on 21st February 2002 in Sydney. He was buried in South Head Cemetery, Vaucluse, Sydney with his first wife. Cutler’s impressive medal was donated to the Australian War Memorial by his second wife, Joan.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: AUSTRALIAN WAR MEMORIAL, CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA.
BURIAL PLACE: SOUTH HEAD CEMETERY, VAUCLUSE, SYDNEY, NSW, AUSTRALIA.
Richard Yielding – Garden of Remembrance, Canberra Plaque.
Steve Lee www.memorialstovalour.co.uk – Medal Group at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra.