Lieutenant Colonel
Alexander Thomas Paterson dso mc vd

39th Battalion, Australian Imperial Force

Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Thomas Paterson DSO MC VD

Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Thomas Paterson DSO MC VD.

Alexander Thomas Paterson was an Australian soldier and businessman who was born on 26th September 1886 at Footscray, Victoria. He was the son of William and Jane Paterson, a Tasmanian born contractor and immigrant from Ireland. Alexander was educated to matriculation standard and held book-keeping and typewriting certificates. He became a partner in the firm Hallett, Paterson & Co., insurance brokers and manufacturers' agents.

In 1903 Alexander Paterson enlisted in the Victorian Scottish Regiment and in 1910 was commissioned Second Lieutenant. He was promoted Lieutenant in 1912 and Captain in 1915. On 1st May 1916 he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force as a Captain. Later that month, on 27th May 1916, Captain Paterson embarked aboard the HMAT Ascanius bound for England disembarking at Devonport, Plymouth on 18th July 1916.

HMAT (A11) Ascanius

HMAT (A11) Ascanius the ship on which Captain Alexander Paterson sailed to England. (AWM - P10082.001)

After a period of training in England; the 39th Battalion deployed to the Western Front embarking at Southampton on 23rd November 1916. In February 1917 Captain Alexander Paterson was appointed the commander of B Company, 39th Battalion.

On the night of 6th / 7th June 1917 as they moved forward to the start line for their assault at the beginning of the Battle of Messines, the 39th Battalion was gassed in Ploegsteert Wood and sustained heavy casualties. As the senior officer still fit for duty Captain Alexander Paterson took command of the Battalion's remaining 120 men and led them onwards.

The 39th Battalion was the right hand Battalion of the 10th Brigade, 3rd Australian Division's leading wave. They assaulted across the ground to the south of Messines to the right of Douve Farm towards Grey Farm. To their left were the 38th Battalion and then the New Zealand Division attacking Messines and to their right were the Battalions of the 9th Brigade attacked. During the assault the 39th Battalion got into difficulties and Captain Paterson was instrumental in keeping them going forward. He inspired his men to continue and for this action on 7th June 1917 Captain Alexander Thomas Paterson was awarded the Military Cross. His citation reads:

"For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He reorganised and led his battalion with great dash and skill to its objective after it had been somewhat disorganised owing to the effect of enemy gas shells. He personally silenced an enemy machine gun, and was responsible for the capture of two others, and his courage and splendid example had an excellent effect upon his men. He was wounded whilst supervising the consolidation of the line."

Following the assault Captain Paterson was wounded while the Battalion was consolidating the line and evacuated to hospital. He returned to the 39th Battalion on 10th August 1917 and on 9th October 1917 he was promoted temporary Major. During the First Battle of Passchendaele on 12th October 1917 he was once again the senior officer unwounded and took command of the Battalion. On this occasion, however, the situation was so desperate that he decided he had no option other than to withdraw his men. Following this assault the ANZAC Corps was replaced by the Canadian Corps who eventually capture Passchendaele on 10th November. Alexander Paterson was promoted to Major on 19th October 1917.

On 29th March 1918 the commanding officer was wounded and Major Paterson once again assumed command, being promoted temporary Lieutenant Colonel. He remained in command until 13th June 1918 when Lieutenant Colonel R O Henderson DSO returned to duty and reverted to the rank of Major. He then left the Battalion on 28th June 1918 to attended the Senior Officers' Course in England. His first confidential report from that course reads:

"Strong determination. A cheerful disposition. Thoroughly reliable and conscientious. Has balance and drive. Would assimilate new ideas more readily if he were not so self opinionated. Good at imparting knowledge. Has application, imagination and pronounced initiative. Good sound military knowledge and handles troops well.

A very keen officer, with a good eye for the country. Fit for immediate second in command, and in a very short space of time should be fit to command a Battalion in the field."

His second report reads:

"A capable officer full of determination and go. Is quick at grasping a situation, a good eye for the country, and handles men well. Issue clear and concise explanations. Has a good appearance and temperament. Has greatly increased his military knowledge during the course and works hard. Is capable of commanding a Battalion."

This report ends with a comment by Brigadier-General H W M Watson, Commandant of the School which reads:

"I agree. An officer well above the average and a fine type even for the A.I.F. Fit to command a Battalion now."

Major Alexander Paterson returned to France on 29th September 1918 and rejoined the 39th Battalion. He took over command of the Battalion, once again as temporary Lieutenant Colonel, from Lieutenant Colonel Henderson on 1st October 1918. On 3rd November 1918 his promotion to Lieutenant Colonel was confirmed. In May 1919 he was Mentioned in Dispatches and awarded the Distinguished Service Order. His citation for the DSO reads:

"His leadership and ceaseless labour in the preservation and care of his men contributed very largely to the successful carrying out of the many operations of the unit while under his command."

On 23rd July 1919 Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Paterson embarked aboard SS Main bound for Australia where he disembarked upon arrival at Melbourne on 11th October 1919. He was discharged from the AIF at Melbourne on 11th January 1920.

SS Main

SS Main, the ship on which Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Paterson return to Australia.

On 4th February 1920 he married Elizabeth Harrison and they lived at Malvern. In 1920-21 he successively commanded the 2/5 Infantry Regiment (Carlton Rifles) and the 5th Battalion, Victorian Scottish Regiment. After demobilization he had rejoined Hallett, Paterson & Co. and remained with them until about 1926. Later he joined the firm of Office Appliances & Supplies as a paper merchant, working there until his unexpected death by a sudden coronary occlusion on 4th October 1950. Alexander Thomas Paterson was survived by his wife and one daughter.

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Last updated: 16th December 2018