Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Hyacinth 'Jump' Honner, DSO, MC
Date of birth: 17 August 1904
Place of birth: Fremantle, WA
Date of death: 15 May 1994
Place of death: Sydney, NSW
Ralph Honner, born at Fremantle, Western Australia, on 17 August 1904, became one of Australia's best-known officers of the Second World War. Honner, who preferred to be known as "Ralph", became a teacher but after two years in the profession began to study law.
Honner married Marjory Bennett in June 1934. He joined the militia in 1936 and enlisted in the AIF in October 1939. He was given command of C Company, 2/11th Battalion and sailed for the Middle East in April 1940. After a period in Palestine, Honner's company fought at Bardia, Tobruk, and Derna before being sent to Greece.
In Greece, Honner commanded his men through a series of fighting withdrawals before superior German forces. They were evacuated to Crete where the fighting at Retimo took a heavy toll on the battalion. Honner escaped to Alexandria, was promoted to major, awarded the Military Cross for his work in Greece, and began to rebuild C Company around a nucleus of veterans.
He returned to Australia, was briefly reunited with his wife, and promoted to lieutenant colonel before being sent to Papua to command the 39th Battalion, then fighting the Japanese on the Kokoda Trail. Honner was ordered to hold the Japanese at Isurava. Taking up his new command on 16 August 1942, he was confronted by a group of soldiers already exhausted from difficult fighting in the most inhospitable of conditions, many suffering tropical diseases, and facing a large enemy force while waiting for reinforcement.
Honner's experience in the Mediterranean prepared him well for the Kokoda Trail and he conducted a skilled defence and fighting withdrawal back along the trail; his troops rested only when the tide had turned against the Japanese. His next battle, at Gona, on the Papuan coast, gave Honner another opportunity to demonstrate his skills as a combat commander. He turned his battalion from a demoralised force at Isurava to an effective unit that contributed to an important victory at Gona. For his role there Honner was awarded the Distinguished Service Order before seeing his battalion disbanded in July 1943.
Honner then took command of the 2/14th Battalion, leading them early in the campaign in the Ramu-Markham Valley before being seriously wounded in the hip. His combat career over, Honner was posted as General Staff Officer Grade 1 Directorate of Military Training at Land Headquarters in Melbourne. He left the Army towards the end of 1944 to chair the War Pensions Assessment Appeal Tribunal, a position he held until 1968. Having moved to Sydney in 1949, Honner served as President of the New South Wales United Nations Association between 1955-57. He also served as President of the New South Wales Branch of the Liberal Party from 1961-63.
Having retired in 1968, Honner became ambassador to Ireland. In his later years he travelled to Europe and returned to Crete. He died in Sydney on 15 May 1994.