Repatriated to Australia. Injured and invalided out of the Army.
Sir Arthur Roden Cutler is remembered for his lifelong military, diplomatic and community service. Cutler was a World War II Victoria Cross recipient and amputee, who lost his right leg in fighting in Syria. He was also the longest-serving governor of New South Wales, holding the position for 15 years.
Arthur Roden Cutler was born on 24 May 1916 to parents Arthur and Ruby Cutler of Manly in Sydney. He was the eldest of 4 children, named 'Roden' for his grandmother. Cutler went by his second name for most of his life. Friends and family members referred to him as 'Ro.'
Cutler's father, Arthur, was a travelling salesman with the American Remington Arms Company. Arthur senior spent a lot of time on the road, particularly during the Great Depression.
Ruby Cutler took on the responsibility of raising the family. Cutler had a close relationship with his mother, who struggled with ill-health. When Cutler was injured during the war, his letter home to Ruby reflected a close and loving relationship. In it, Cutler took pains to avoid worrying his mother and used endearments freely.
You'd be surprised how wonderfully well I feel in myself, and boy oh boy!! I am looking forward to this Xmas at home.
[Arthur Roden Cutler, letter home to his mother Ruby, 1941. AWM AWM2019.22.1]
Cutler went to Manly Public School. He was a capable, if not always enthusiastic, student. He won a position at the academically-selective Sydney Boys High School at the age of 15.
In 1935, Cutler's father was killed in a car accident. Cutler began working after school at Texas Company Australasia (later Texaco, the multi-national oil company) to supplement the family's limited income and support his mother and siblings.
Cutler remained keen on sports throughout his schooling, competing in:
- rifle shooting
- water polo.
Later on, Cutler took night classes at Sydney University, studying economics.
Cutler was an excellent marksman and swimmer. He received a University Blues award for outstanding achievement in swimming and represented the state in rifle shooting.
Cutler demonstrated bravery and community service from a young age. As an 18-year-old lifesaver, he rescued a surfer who was being circled by a shark. Cutler helped the surfer to shore safely, despite the shark brushing past him twice.
Cutler's military service began in 1936. Needing extra money, he joined the Sydney University Regiment. He was commissioned as a lieutenant in the militia on 10 November 1939.
Cutler enlisted in the second Australian Imperial Force (IAF) at Paddington 6 months later. He was assigned to the 7th Divisional Artillery, 2/5th Field Regiment, leaving for the Middle East in October 1940.
After training in Egypt and Palestine, Cutler joined the 7th Division in Syria.
Wartime in Syria
In June 1941, the 7th Division joined other Allied forces in Syria and Lebanon as part of the Syria-Lebanon Campaign.
The campaign was fought between Allies and pro-German, Vichy French forces. It aimed to occupy Syria and Lebanon so German forces could not use the region to threaten British interests in Palestine and the eastern Mediterranean.
Cutler was a forward observer, and this was his first combat experience. His role was both vital and dangerous. Over the next month, Cutler placed himself in danger several times to direct Allied artillery fire against the enemy.
During 18 days of fighting near Merdjayoun, Cutler:
- fought back enemy troops
- restored communications and
- supervised the evacuation of injured Australian soldiers.
Once, he was cut off by fighting and had to wait until darkness to escape.
In the early hours of 6 July 1941, the Battle of Damour began. This operation, fought 30 km south of Beirut, was the last major operation of the Syria-Lebanon Campaign that Australians were involved in.
From the start, Vichy French forces responded with constant shelling and mortar attacks. Australian losses began to mount.
As an artillery observation officer, Cutler was involved in heavy fighting. He captured 8 Vichy French soldiers from 3 separate machine-gun posts.
The enemy in the first nest were persuaded by the sight of this six feet four inches of elongated Aussie jumping right into their midst. Those in the second nest were talked into it by Cutler's limited French. A grenade dropped into the third plus the assistance of a Bren-gunner from the battalion caused its occupants to make an instant decision on the subject.
[John William O'Brien, Guns and Gunners: the story of the 2/5th Australian Field Regiment in World War II, 1950, p 122]
As fighting continued in the hilly surrounds, communication became difficult. The Australians' wireless would not work. Cutler offered to attempt to restore communication. He planned to go to a pre-arranged spot and try and lay a telephone line, despite the danger from ongoing heavy machine-gun fire.
Before he could complete the task, Cutler was wounded in the leg. He managed to stem the blood loss with a tourniquet. But he lay in the open, in excruciating pain, for 26 hours. Pinned down by enemy fire, his company was unable to rescue him.
Cutler was eventually rescued by French prisoners, who took him to the road. From there, he was taken for medical care at a dressing station. By this time, his leg had become septic. Amputation was the only option.
Cutler's 'conspicuous and sustained gallantry' bravery was recognised with the awarding of a Victoria Cross (VC). When he was well enough to travel, he was invalided out of the army and returned to Australia.
Cutler returned home to a hero's welcome. A band, soldiers and well-wishers lined Manly Pier. Afterwards, a civic reception attended by 4,000 people was held in his honour.
Regional and city papers made the most of news of Cutler's heroism with a series of articles. Some, like Melbourne's The Argus newspaper ran full-page, graphic spreads. Others ran in-depth interviews. News of Cutler's bravery and most importantly, survival, were a welcome respite for an Australian public made anxious by news of Japan's entry into the war.
Cutler was awarded his VC at a ceremony at Admiralty House, Kirribilli, in June 1942. Throughout 1943, he was called on to help promote army recruitment, including for the Australian Women's Army Service.
Later that year, Cutler returned to the Public Service. He was appointed Assistant Commissioner in the Department of Repatriation in Canberra.
Cutler married Helen Morris in 1946 at St Mark's, Darling Point. Also from Sydney, she was a former officer in the Australian Women's Army Service. After their wedding, Cutler took on the role as Australian High Commissioner to New Zealand. He had 4 sons with Helen. She passed away in 1990, 12 years before her husband.
Cutler married again in 1993, to Joan Goodwin.
In 1945, Roden Cutler began his diplomatic career. His appointments included:
- Australian High Commissioner New Zealand 1946 to 1952
- Australian High Commissioner Ceylon (Sri Lanka) 1952 to 1955
- Australian Minister to Egypt during the Suez Crisis 1955 to 1956
- Secretary-General of the South-East Asia Council of Ministers 1957
- Australian High Commissioner to Pakistan 1958 to 1961
- Australian Consul-General to New York 1961 to 1965
- Australian delegate to the United Nations 1962 to 1964,
- Australian Ambassador to The Netherlands 1965 to 1966
In 1965, Cutler was appointed Knight Commander of St Michael and St George.
Cutler was appointed Governor of New South Wales in 1965. He held the position through some of Australia's most significant events, including:
- The Cold War
- Vietnam War
- Prime Minister Harold Holt's disappearance and drowning
- the dismissal of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam.
Cutler was widely respected throughout this period of social and political change. He gained a reputation for his willingness to speak out on issues of public interest. Cutler was also a popular figure on his many visits to regional NSW. He retired from the role in 1981.
Cutler continued to support community organisations for the rest of his life.
Sir Roden Cutler died in hospital on 21 February 2002 after a long illness. He was 85.
A state funeral was organised in his honour. Thousands of mourners lined Sydney's George Street. Fellow-veterans and heads of government, past and present, attended the funeral at St Andrew's Cathedral. Following the ceremony, Cutler's passing was marked with a gun carriage procession through Sydney streets.
Commemorating Roden Cutler and his legacy
In 1975, a new commercial building was opened in the heart of Sydney. The 19-storey building was named Roden Cutler House in recognition of Cutler's many contributions to the community.
In 1999, the Sir Roden & Lady Cutler Foundation was formed. This charity provided transport for appointments for people who were aged, sick, disabled or unable to get about independently.
In 2006, a bronze statue depicting Sir Roden was unveiled. The statue was created by Alan Somerville and placed outside Cutler's old school at Manly. Also that year, Cutler's former high school began fundraising for a memorial at the school. Sydney Boys High began work on the Cutler Drive Memorial Gates in 2006.
Cutler's military service is also remembered on the Hume Highway's Remembrance Driveway between Canberra and Sydney. The Roden Cutler Interchange, near Casula, Sydney, opened to traffic in 2005.
- 1941 '"Bewildered, Rather Frightened"', The Sun (Sydney, NSW: 1910 - 1954), 12 December, p 2 (LATE FINAL EXTRA), viewed 9 Mar 2020, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article230959298
- 1941 'V.C. WELCOMED HOME', The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954), 13 December, p 15, viewed 9 Mar 2020, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article17778529
- 1942 'SIX FEET FIVE OF SHEER COURAGE', The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957), 17 October, p 5 (The Argus Week-end Magazine), viewed 9 Mar 2020, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article12000530
- 1946 'The Sydney Scene', The Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 - 1954), 29 May, p 8, viewed 9 Mar 2020, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article206097666
- 2002 'Vale Arthur Roden Cutler: an Australian like no other', The Age, 23 February (11:00 am), viewed 9 Mar 2020, https://www.theage.com.au/national/vale-arthur-roden-cutler-an-australian-like-no-other-20020223-gdtzt0.html
- 2002 Diana Condell 'Sir Roden Cutler', The Guardian, 7 Mar (12:48 pm), viewed 9 Mar 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/news/2002/mar/07/guardianobituaries
- 2016 'VC hero Roden Cutler was “six feet five of sheer courage”', Marea Donnelly, The Daily Telegraph, 23 May 8:17 am, https://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/vc-hero-roden-cutler-was-six-feet-five-of-sheer-courage/news-story/4e301e8977d2375f4e7ec649e4d7ffd4, viewed 9 Mar 2020.
- Australian War Memorial, 2020. 'Fifty Australians - Sir Roden Cutler', https://www.awm.gov.au/visit/exhibitions/fiftyaustralians/13, viewed 9 Mar 2020.
- Australian War Memorial, undated. 'Syrian Campaign', https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/E84669, viewed 9 Mar 2020.
- Clune, David, and Turner, Ken. 2009. The Governors of New South Wales 1788-2010. Annandale, NSW: Federation Press, p 548. Print.
- Parliament of New South Wales, Legislative Council Hansard – 12 March 2002, 'DEATH OF SIR ARTHUR RODEN CUTLER, VC, AK, KCMG, KCVO, CBE, KSTJ, A FORMER GOVERNOR OF NEW SOUTH WALES', viewed 9 Mar 2020, https://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/Hansard/Pages/HansardResult.aspx#/docid/HANSARD-1820781676-25996
- Sir Roden and Lady Cutler Foundation Inc., 'Sir Roden Cutler 1916-2002', https://sirroden.org.au/about-us/sir-roden-cutler-vc/, viewed 9 Mar 2020.
- Long, Gavin Merrick, 1953. Second World War Official Histories, Volume II – Greece, Crete and Syria (1st edition), Chapter 25 – The Battle of Damour, https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C1417152