Biography

Birth date: 16 September 1896
Birth place: Isle of Man: Peel
Death date: 01 January 1968
Death place: Australia: Western Australia, Kojonup
Final rank: Major
Service number: 1853 - First World War, 1914-1918
WX1574 - Second World War, 1939-1945
Units:
  • 16 Battalion
  • Gen list
  • 4th Australian Light Trench Mortar Battery
  • 16th Australian Infantry Battalion
  • 23rd Australian Infantry Brigade
  • 2/16th Australian Infantry Battalion

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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Rolls and Awards

  • Rank: Acting Sergeant
  • Date of embarkation: 19 April 1915
  • Place of embarkation: Fremantle
  • Recommended for: Mention in despatches
  • Conflict: Second World War, 1939-1945
  • Recommended for: Distinguished Service Order
  • Conflict: Second World War, 1939-1945
  • Recommended for: Mention in despatches
  • Conflict: Second World War, 1939-1945
  • Recommended for: Mention in despatches
  • Conflict: Second World War, 1939-1945
  • Recommended for: Military Cross
  • Unit: 16th Australian Infantry Battalion
  • Conflict: First World War, 1914-1918
  • Recommended for: Mention in despatches
  • Unit: 4th Australian Light Trench Mortar Battery
  • Conflict: First World War, 1914-1918
  • Recommended for: Mention in despatches
  • Unit: 4th Australian Light Trench Mortar Battery
  • Conflict: First World War, 1914-1918
  • Awarded: Military Cross
  • Unit: 16th Australian Infantry Battalion
  • Conflict: First World War, 1914-1918
  • Awarded: Distinguished Service Order
  • Unit: 2/16th Australian Infantry Battalion
  • Conflict: Second World War, 1939-1945
  • Awarded: Mention in despatches
  • Unit: 2/16th Australian Infantry Battalion
  • Conflict: Second World War, 1939-1945
  • Awarded: Mention in despatches
  • Unit: Gen list
  • Conflict: Second World War, 1939-1945
  • Awarded: Mention in despatches
  • Unit: 23rd Australian Infantry Brigade
  • Conflict: Second World War, 1939-1945
  • Awarded: Mention in despatches
  • Unit: 16th Australian Infantry Battalion
  • Conflict: First World War, 1914-1918

Collection Items

Photograph

Timeline

Date of birth 1896-09-16 Peel, Isle of Man, UK.
Date and unit at enlinstment (ORs) 1915-01-18 Enlisted as a private in the 16th Battalion, and underwent training but did not join the battlion for another six months.
Date promoted 1915-01-28 Appointed temporary lance corporal.
Date promoted 1915-02-16 Appointed corporal.
Date promoted 1915-03-16 Appointed sergeant.
Date of embarkation 1915-04-19
Date promoted 1915-07-28 Appointed lance corporal.
Other 1915-07-28 Arrived in Gallipoli.
Other 1915-07-28 When Potts joined the 16th Battalion he was returned to the rank of private.
Date promoted 1915-10-15 Appointed sergeant.
Date promoted 1916-01-20 Appointed second lieutenant.
Other 1916-08-30 Seconded temporary captain and officer commanding 4th Australian Trench Mortar Battalion.
Date of recommendation honour or award 1916-09-02
Date of honour or award 1916-10-25 Military Cross. 'For conspicuous gallantry in action. He handled his T.M.B. with great courage and determination. His coolness and ability were responsible for the repulse of the enemy.'
Date wounded 1916-11-15 Wounded in action, Potts remained on duty.
Date of recommendation honour or award 1917-03-01
Date promoted 1917-05-10 Promoted to captain.
Other units 1918-02 Returned to 16th Battalion.
Other 1918-02-20 Relinquished posistion as officer commanding 4th Australian Trench Mortar Battalion.
Date wounded 1918-07-06 Wounded in action, gun shot wound to the abdomen.
Date returned to Australia 1919-01-15
Date of discharge 1919-03-09 Demobilised.
Other 1922-06-01 Transferred to the Reserve of Officers.
Other units 1939-04-28 25th Light Horse Machine Gun Regiment. He was a founding member and an advocate of the regiment's formation.
Date and unit at enlistment (ORs) 1940-05-01 Enlisted in the 2nd AIF and seconded as a major to the 2/16th Battalion.
Date of embarkation 1940-10 Sailed for the Middle East.
Other 1940-11-26 Arrived in the Middle East.
Other units 1941-08-12 - 1942-04-06 Appointed lieutenant colonel and commanding officer of the 2/16th Battalion.
Date of honour or award 1941-12-30 Companion of the Distinguished Service Order. 'During the action of Litani River on 9/10 Jun 41 Maj. Potts was particularly outstanding not only in personal bravery in going forward under fire from all arms of the defence with instructions for Coy Comds but in his own personal leadership and example. Similarly in the action at Saida on 15 Jun 41 his personal example and fearless carrying out of the general plans were such that his action added greatly to the success of both operations. At one period he was faced by a tank and came under its fire whilst going forward to contact forward troops but succeeded in his task. His former experience with the A.I.F. has been used to the greatest extent and he has carried out the many tasks allotted to him with gallantry and persistence whilst under intense fire from the enemy.'
Date of honour or award 1941-12-31 Mention in Despatches.
Date returned to Australia 1942-03-25
Other units 1942-04-06 Appointed temporary brigadier and commander of the 21st Brigade.
Other units 1942-10-18 Appointed to command the 23rd Brigade.
Date returned to Australia 1942-12-04
Other units 1944-02-26 - 1944-06-23 Attached to Headquarters, 11th Division.
Other 1944-04-26 Arrived in New Guinea.
Other 1944-09-28 Arrived in Bougainville.
Date promoted 1944-10-12 Gazetted colonel, the rank was back dated to 1st September 1942, he retained the rank of temporary brigadier.
Date returned to Australia 1944-12-12 Returned to Brisbane.
Other 1945-01-29 Arrived in Bougainville.
Other 1945-11-29 Relinquished command of 23rd Brigade.
Date returned to Australia 1945-12-06
Other 1945-12-13 Appointed honourary brigadier, Reserve of Officers.
Date of honour or award 1946-02-21 Mention in Despatches.
Date of honour or award 1947-05-06 Mention in Despatches.
Other 1951-01-15 Enlisted in the Interim Army.
Date of discharge 1951-06-30
Date of honour or award 1960-01-01 Officer of the Order of the British Empire.
Date of death 1968-01-01 Kojonup, WA.