Biography

Birth date: 17 August 1904
Birth place: Australia: Western Australia, Perth, Fremantle
Death date: 15 May 1994
Death place: Australia: New South Wales, Sydney
Final rank: Lieutenant Colonel
Service number: WX15 - Second World War, 1939-1945
Units:
  • 2/11th Australian Infantry Battalion
  • 39th Australian Infantry Battalion

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.

Rolls and Awards

Honours and Awards (Recommendation) : Military Cross

  • Conflict: Second World War, 1939-1945

Honours and Awards : Distinguished Service Order

  • Unit: 39th Australian Infantry Battalion
  • Conflict: Second World War, 1939-1945

Honours and Awards : Military Cross

  • Unit: 2/11th Australian Infantry Battalion
  • Conflict: Second World War, 1939-1945

Collection Items

Photograph

005638

DERNA, LIBYA. 1941-01-31. INFORMAL PORTRAIT OF CAPTAIN HONNER, COMMANDER OF C COMPANY, 2/11TH BATTALION (ALL WESTERN AUSTRALIANS), WHICH ADVANCED UPON THE AERODROME AT DERNA AND CAPTURED IT IN SPITE OF A HEAVY DEFENCE AND THE ABSENCE OF COVER. (PHOTOGRAPHER DAMIEN PARER)

005638

Film

Kokoda front line [unedited]

This footage shot by Damien Parer in Papua New Guinea was subsequently edited to make the Academy Award winning documentary film 'Kokoda Front Line!'. Footage includes scenes of : supplies being dropped by air to forward troops in Myola area, Kokoda Trail. Conditions in jungle; natives carrying...

F01212

Interview with Lieut-Colonel Ralph Honner CO 39 Battalion (The Gona/Buna interviews)

Interview with Lieut-Colonel Ralph Honner CO 39 Battalion (The Gona/Buna interviews)

F04817

Kokoda the bloody track

Documentary made for the 50th annivesary of the Kokoda campaign. Features on camera interviews with Australian and Japanese veterans of the campaign intercut with archival footage.

F03744

Kokoda (Anzac TV series)

Kokoda (Anzac TV series)

F10034-02

[Interview with Ralph Honner (Images of Australia 'Decline and fall')]

Interview with Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Honner for the ABC Television programme Images of Australia conducted by Russell Braddon. Ralph Honner was commander of the 39 Battalion during the Kokoda campaign.

F00274

Timeline

Date of birth 1904-08-17 Fremantle, WA.
Date and unit at enlistment (ORs) 1924-07-01 Enlisted as a private in the 11/16th Battalion.
Date promoted 1925-08-03 Appointed corporal.
Date promoted 1925-08-04 - 1927-06-30 Appointed Sergeant.
Other 1936 Joined the Militia.
Other units 1936-06-25 Appointed lieutenant 11/16th Battalion.
Date and unit at enlistment (ORs) 1939-10-13 Enlisted in the 2nd AIF.
Other 1939-10-13 Given command of C Company, 2/11th Battalion.
Date and unit at enlistment (ORs) 1939-10-24
Date promoted 1939-12-13 Appointed captain.
Date of embarkation 1940-04 Sailed for the Middle East.
Other 1940-05-19 Arrived in the Middle East.
Other 1940-07-22 - 1940-08-25 Attended a course for company commanders at the Middle East Tactical School.
Other 1941-01-05 2/11th Battalion went into action at Bardia.
Other 1941-01-21 2/11th Battalion went into action at Tobruk.
Other 1941-01-25 2/11th Battalion went into action at Derna.
Other 1941-04-11 2/11th battalion deployed in Greece.
Other 1941-04-25 2/11th Battalion evacuated from Greece by sea.
Other 1941-04-26 2/11th Battalion landed on Crete.
Other 1941-05-30 Honner, offered the choice between escaping Crete and surrendering by Major Sandover, managed to escape to Alexandria.
Other 1941-08-10 Arrived in the Middle East.
Other 1941-09-01 Appointed temporary major.
Date promoted 1941-10-13 Appointed major.
Other units 1941-10-29 Seconded as commanding officer 19th Australian Infantry Training Battalion.
Other 1942 Receieved Commander in Chief of the Middle East Commendation for service in Cyrenaica.
Date of honour or award 1942-03-31 Military Cross. 'This officer is the best Company Commander I have known in this or the last war. Throughout the campaign he has led his men on all occasions with courage, cheerfulness, calmness and skill. He commanded the rear-guard from KALABAKA through LARISSA to DOMOKOS and later distinguished himself at THERMOPYLAE.' Recommended for the award by T S Louch, commanding officer of the 2/11th.
Date returned to Australia 1942-05-14
Other units 1942-08-01 - 1943-07-05 Appointed temporary lieutenant colonel and commanding officer of 39th Battalion.
Other 1942-08-05 Arrived in Moresby.
Other 1942-08-16 Joined his battalion at Isurava.
Other 1942-12 The 39th Battalion contributed to the victory at Gona.
Date returned to Australia 1943-03-14 Returned to Cairns.
Other 1943-05-19 - 1943-06-02 Sick with Malaria.
Other 1943-07 39th Militia Battalion disbanded.
Other 1943-07-05 - 1943-12-23 Appointed commanding officer of the 2/14th Battalion, leading them in the campaign in the Ramu - Markham Valley.
Other 1943-08-02 Arrived in Moresby.
Date wounded 1943-10-04 Wounded in action, gun shot wound to left thigh and buttock.
Other 1943-10-14 Sick with Malaria.
Date of honour or award 1943-12-21 Companion of the Distinguished Service Order. 'Lt-Col HONNER commanded 39 Aust Inf Bn which was under command 21 Aust Inf Bde in the GONA area from 2 Dec 42 till 21 Dec 42. From 6 Dec to 9 Dec (Both Inclusive) 39 Bn participated in the attacks on the Eastern enemy position at GONA Mission. These attacks culminated in the capture of GONA Mission area on 9 Dec 42. On 10 Dec Lt-Col HONNER was ordered to move through the jungle with his Battalion, and destroy a detachment of enemy about two miles west of GONA Mission. He made contact with the enemy in marshy country surrounding a village on the 11 Dec 42. From that day until the 18 Dec 39 Bn slowly but surely destroyed the enemy detachment, the destruction of which was its object, killing approximately 150 enemy and wounding a considerable number. During all these operations Lt-Col HONNER exercised close personal control making frequent visits to forward Companies in order to co-ordinate attacks. At no time did he spare himself. He frequently exposed himself to great personal danger in order to get the best from his troops, and was at all times an inspiration to Officers and men. It is recommended that he be awarded the DISTINGUISHED SERVICE ORDER as a periodic award in the dispatch on the New Guinea Campaign.' Recommended for the award by I N Dougherty, commander of the 21st Brigade.
Other 1943-12-23 Relinquished command of the 2/14th, unfit for duty due to gunshot wound to his right thigh.
Date promoted 1943-12-30 Appointed lieutenant colonel, the rank was back dated to 1 September 1942.
Other 1944 - 1968 Chair of the War Pensions Assessment Appeal Tribunal.
Date returned to Australia 1944-01-12 Returned to Sydney.
Other 1944-07-12 Medically downgraded to Class B2 due to his injury and deemed 'fit only for clerical work involving no walking or much standing should be retained in base area.'
Other 1944-08-31 Appointed general service officer grade 1, Director of Military Training, G Branch, Land Headquarters.
Other 1944-12-15 Relinquished his position as general service officer grade 1.
Other 1944-12-22 Again medically downgrade to Class D due to his gun shot wound.
Date of discharge 1945-01-03
Other 1945-01-03 Transferred to the Reserve of Officers.
Other 1955 - 1957 President of the New South Wales United Nations Association.
Other 1961 - 1963 President of the New South Wales Branch of the Liberal Party.
Date of death 1994-05-15 Sydney, NSW.
Other 20 May 1941 The invasion of Crete began.