Brigadier Arnold William Potts, DSO, OBE, MC

Date of birth: 16 September 1896
Place of birth: Peel, Isle of Man, UK
Date of death: 01 January 1968
Place of death: Kojonup, WA

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Arnold William Potts
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Arnold Potts rose to prominence as the commander of Australian forces on the Kokoda Trail in 1942. He had served on the Western Front in the First World War and was a farmer in peacetime. Potts was born on 16 September 1896 on the Isle of Man. His family moved to Perth in 1904 when he was eight years old.

Potts enlisted in the AIF on 18 January 1915. Posted to the 16th Battalion, he arrived at Gallipoli in July. In October he was promoted to sergeant; the following January, Potts was commissioned. He served on the Western Front as a captain in command of the 4th Light Trench Mortar Battery and was awarded the Military Cross for his performance at Mouquet Farm and on the Somme.

By February 1918 Potts was back with the 16th Battalion. In July he was shot in the chest by a sniper, the bullet narrowly missing his spine. After a month in a French hospital, he was evacuated to England. Despite being classified as 20 per cent disabled and in receipt of a pension, Potts worked as a jackeroo on his return to Western Australia before buying his own farm in 1920. He married Helena Wigglesworth in 1926.

Potts also continued soldiering in the militia forces. He transferred to the AIF on 1 May 1940, was posted to the 2/16th Battalion as a company commander, and sailed for the Middle East in October. A respected officer, Potts encouraged initiative in his troops and subjected them to tough training. His unit served in Syria against the Vichy French, where he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order and Mentioned in Despatches. Potts was promoted to lieutenant colonel in August 1941 and given command of his battalion.

Upon returning to Australia, Potts was promoted to temporary brigadier, taking command of the 21st Brigade in April 1942. In Papua the following August, he was ordered to take the village of Kokoda. With few supplies and only two exhausted militia battalions and some Papuan troops, Potts went on the defensive. Joined by some AIF battalions, the fighting on the Kokoda Trail became a series of fighting withdrawals: always buying time and lengthening the Japanese supply lines. Reinforcements trickled in but Potts was forced back towards Port Moresby. Conducting a battle in conditions so hostile they were beyond the ability of headquarters staff to imagine, Potts came under criticism for his conduct of the battle. He was recalled to Port Moresby in September 1942. Although he rejoined his brigade, Potts was relieved of his command on 22 October.

He was given command of the 23rd Brigade in Darwin and held that post until after the end of the war. The brigade fought on Bougainville from September 1944.

Potts returned to Australia at the end of 1945. He resumed farming and once, unsuccessfully, tried to win a seat in the House of Representatives with the Country Party. He died on 1 January 1968 at Kojonup, Western Australia.

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