Robert Risson

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Major General Sir
Robert Joseph Henry Risson
CB, CBE, DSO, OStJ, ED
Brigadier R.J.H. Risson DSO, OBE, Chief Engineer, 2nd Australian Corp, watching a military demonstration of tank and infantry attack methods at Atherton Tablelands, QLD, 1943
Risson viewing a military demonstration in Queensland, 1943
Born (1901-04-20)20 April 1901
Ma Ma Creek, Queensland
Died 19 July 1992(1992-07-19) (aged 91)
Murrumbeena, Victoria
Nationality Australian
Occupation
  • Engineer
  • Soldier
  • Tramways administrator
Known for MMTB chairman (1949–1970)
Military career
Allegiance  Australia
Service/branch
Years of service 1933–1958
Rank Major General
Service number QX6062
Commands held 2/3 Field Company
7th Division Engineers
9th Division Engineers
II Corps Engineers
I Corps Engineers
4th Infantry Brigade
3rd Division (1953–1956)
Battles/wars

Second World War

Awards Knight Bachelor
Companion of the Order of the Bath
Commander of the Order of the British Empire
Distinguished Service Order
Officer of the Order of St John
Mentioned in Despatches (2)

Major General Sir Robert Joseph Henry Risson CB, CBE, DSO, OStJ, ED (20 April 1901 – 19 July 1992) was an Australian engineer, soldier, and tramway administrator. After university he worked for the Brisbane Tramways Trust, later under the auspice of Brisbane City Council, as an engineer and administrator. During World War II Risson served in the Middle East and New Guinea. Following the war he returned to the Brisbane tramways, and became chairman of the Melbourne and Metropolitan Tramways Board from 1949 to 1970. In this position he defended trams, and is considered a major factor in the survival of Melbourne's tram system. Risson had ties with a myriad of professional and community organisations, including the Freemasons, where he served as Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of Victoria in the mid 1970s. Risson was decorated for his service, holding the rank of major general and being knighted.

Early life[edit]

University of Queensland Rugby Club in 1930. Risson is in the front row, second from the left.

Robert Joseph Henry Risson was born on 20 April 1901 in Ma Ma Creek, Queensland.[1][2] He attended Gatton State High School, passing the Senior Public Examination in November 1918, and matriculated to The University of Queensland where he studied Civil Engineering.[3] He graduated in 1922/3 and obtained a Bachelor of Engineering (civil).[4][5] At university Risson studied at King's College[6] and participated in social events,[7][8] debates,[9][10] and became involved with the University of Queensland Rugby Club, becoming president by 1933.[11]

Risson's engagement to Gwendolyn (Gwen) Spurgin was announced in November 1930.[12] The wedding was held on 12 May 1934 in St John's Cathedral, Brisbane, and the couple honeymooned in Melbourne.[2][13] During the 1920s Gwen also attended The University of Queensland, where she played hockey representing both the University and Australia.[4][14][15] Gwen later coached the University of Queensland Women's Hockey Club.[15]

Brisbane Tramways Trust[edit]

In June 1923 Risson was employed by the Brisbane Tramways Trust as a junior civil engineer, at an annual wage of £250.[16] Risson's duties with the Brisbane tramways were altered in 1927, following the adoption of a report by Brisbane City Council, which was at that stage in control of Brisbane's tram network.[17] In 1933 Risson assisted the Brisbane Tramways constructional engineer in overseeing track renewal in central Brisbane,[18] and was Permanent Way Engineer by 1939.[2]

Risson fought in active service during World War II, but returned to work with the Brisbane tramways following the war. He worked within Brisbane City Council's Transport Department and rose to Assistant General Manager.[2] During late 1948 Risson was Acting General Manager.[2][19] Brisbane's tramways undertook an expansion and modernisation program following World War II, introducing modern vehicles and utilising mass-concrete tram track construction methods.[2]

Following Risson's departure to Melbourne to head the Melbourne and Metropolitan Tramways Board, it took Brisbane City Council three years to find a replacement. G.A. Preston, an engineer, was announced as Risson's successor in February 1953, and was subsequently elevated to general manager from 1 January 1954; a position to which "Risson was considered the logical successor".[20][21]

Military career[edit]

Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester shakes hands with Lieutenant-Colonel Risson, before inspecting the 9th Division, engineers, Tripoli, Syria, 1942.

Risson's military career started on 15 May 1933, when he was commissioned as a lieutenant in the Australian Engineers, which became the Royal Australian Engineers in 1936. He was promoted to captain on 7 September 1936. On 13 October 1939,[22] following the outbreak of World War II, Risson enlisted in the Second Australian Imperial Force (AIF),[2] with the rank of major,[22] receiving the AIF service number QX6062.[23]

Risson was sent to the Middle East, where he commanded the 2/3 Field Company, and then the 7th Division Engineers from 29 May 1941 to 23 January 1942, engaging in the 1941 Siege of Tobruk, where he played a vital role in improving defences, and then in the Syria–Lebanon campaign. On 24 January 1942 he assumed command of the 9th Division Engineers, which he led in the First Battle of El Alamein and the Second Battle of El Alamein.[22][24][25][26] After the 9th Division returned home in 1943, he was promoted to brigadier on 23 March 1943, and became Chief Engineer of II Corps, participating in the New Guinea campaign. He became Chief Engineer of I Corps on 12 April 1944, when the corps number changed. He was temporarily attached to Allied Land Forces Headquarters (LHQ) from 21 May 1944 to 1 July 1944, but returned to command the engineers in the 1945 Borneo campaign.[2][22][26][27]:20

While Risson was overseas, Gwen also participated in the war effort, commanding Brisbane's Women's Air Training Corps in 1940. She stated the goal was for women to do the jobs of men on the ground, "releas[ing] them for actual flying."[28] She was sent to Melbourne for administrative training in 1941.[29]

Risson continued his military career after World War II, with the Citizen Military Forces (CMF),[2][26] commanding the 4th Infantry Brigade. In July 1953 he was promoted to the rank of major general, and appointed General Officer Commanding the 3rd Division.[2][30] He held that post until 1956, and served as the CMF Member of the Military Board from 1957 to 1958.[2]

Awards[edit]

Lieutenant-General Sir Leslie Morshead pinning the OBE ribbon on Lieutenant Colonel Risson, El Alamein, 1942.

Risson was decorated five times for his service during World War II. He received a Distinguished Service Order (DSO) in 1943, alongside 28 other members of the Ninth Division also honoured, for their role at El Alamein;[25][31] was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1942 for his role in the Siege of Tobruk,[24][32] and a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1945 for his work in New Guinea;[33][34] and was Mentioned in Despatches in 1941[35] and 1943[36] for actions in Syria and El Alamein respectively.[27]:20 Risson was also awarded the Efficiency Decoration (ED).[2]

Melbourne and Metropolitan Tramways Board[edit]

Following Hector Hercules Bell's decision in 1949 to retire as Melbourne and Metropolitan Tramways Board chairman,[37] the State Government of Victoria, in April 1949, empowered a committee to start vetting applications for his replacement.[38] Risson was announced as the incoming MMTB chairman in June 1949,[39] assuming the role on 1 October,[40] and becoming the MMTB's third chairman.[2] He was initially paid £2,500 per year.[39]

Risson made operational changes to the MMTB Throughout the 1950s. He introduced operating efficiencies, with his military training influencing his managerial style. Bell's promised PCC tram began operation in 1950, but remained a one-off, with more W-class trams being built instead, the last entering service in 1956. Risson's reopening of Bourke St trams, with the justification of economic advantage, and is lauded as his greatest achievement.[2] Risson also made use of migration agreements to bolster low employee numbers, even purchasing dwellings to house new arrivals.[2][41]

Risson's era saw ongoing industrial disputes, regarding pay, bus operation (the union insisted on two-person operation of 41+ seat buses), and even the implementation of a summer uniform. There were also cuts to all-night and Sunday tram services, and the abandonment of the Point Ormond line, and Footscray system. These cuts were part of Risson's economy drive, justified by low patronage and a need to decrease costs.[2]

Legacy[edit]

Risson was a defender of trams, in a time when they were falling out of fashion across Australia, he is often regarded as a major factor in the retention of Melbourne's tram network,[2][42] which is now 250 km (155.3 mi), making it the largest tram network in the world.[43] Academic Graeme Turnbull argues that "the view has been frequently expressed that the retention of the Melbourne tramway system during this period, is due almost solely to Sir Robert's strong management."[2] While academic John Legge wrote in 2006 that "Melbourne's tram network in the years after the war found that Risson still knew how to fight. Premiers as tough as Henry Bolte backed away from such a contest."[44] Further, Victorian Transport Minister Alan Brown called Risson "the man who deserves full credit for saving out city's trams" in 1994,[45] and columnist Bruce Guthrie described Risson as "the man who saved our trams."[46]

To honour Risson's legacy the tram terminus in Elizabeth Street was named after him by Brown in 1994.[45] Additionally, in 2002 the first D1-class tram (number 3501) received plaques near the front doors stating that it had been "named in honour of Sir Robert J.H. Risson...";[47] it was officially launched on 2 August 2002,[47] but the plaque was removed when it was placed into PTV livery in June 2014.[47][48]

Personal life[edit]

Risson participated in a variety of organisations through his life. Risson became a Freemason in 1961, holding a number of positions including as Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of Victoria between 1974 and 1976.[2][49][50] He was a fellow of the Institution of Civil Engineers; Institution of Engineers of Australia; Australian Institute of Management; and a member of the Institute of Transport. Further, he was Chief Commissioner of the The Australian Boy Scouts Association from 1958 to 1963; President of the Good Neighbour Council from 1963 to 1968; Chairman of the National Fitness Council from 1961 to 1971; and inaugural chair of the Duke of Edinburgh's Award in 1963.[2] Risson died on 19 July 1992 in Murrumbeena, Victoria.[1]

Honours[edit]

In addition to his honours during active service in World War II, Risson was made an Officer of the Order of St John (OStJ),[2] a Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB) in 1958,[51] and was conferred the honour of Knight Bachelor during the Queen's Birthday ceremonies in 1970.[52]

See also[edit]

  • Alexander Cameron – inaugural chairman of the MMTB, who presided from 1919 to 1935

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Risson, Sir Robert Joseph Henry (1901–1992)". People Australia. National Centre of Biography, Australian National University. Retrieved 9 November 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u Turnbull, Graeme. "The Sir Robert Risson era: an enduring legacy". Friends of Hawthorn Tram Depot. Retrieved 10 November 2014. 
  3. ^ "University of Queensland: Senior public examination". The Brisbane Courier (National Library of Australia). 26 December 1918. Retrieved 9 November 2014. 
  4. ^ a b "Catalogue: Spurgin, Gwendolyn E. M.: Album, ca. 1927-ca. 1930 [manuscript]". The University of Queensland. Retrieved 9 November 2014. 
  5. ^ "Former tramway engineer gets O.B.E.". The Courier-Mail (National Library of Australia). 10 September 1942. Retrieved 9 November 2014. 
  6. ^ "Photograph edition: Students of King's College, University of Queensland". The University of Queensland. National Library of Australia. 1 January 1925. Retrieved 9 November 2014. 
  7. ^ "Motor boat picnic". The Courier-Mail (National Library of Australia). 28 September 1925. Retrieved 9 November 2014. 
  8. ^ "Athletic club dance". The Courier-Mail (National Library of Australia). 19 March 1928. Retrieved 9 November 2014. 
  9. ^ "Inter-university debating championship". Sydney Morning Herald (National Library of Australia). 21 August 1925. Retrieved 9 November 2014. 
  10. ^ "University debates". The Courier-Mail (National Library of Australia). 21 August 1928. Retrieved 9 November 2014. 
  11. ^ "Dance at university". The Courier-Mail (National Library of Australia). 3 April 1933. Retrieved 9 November 2014. 
  12. ^ "Family Notices". The Courier-Mail (National Library of Australia). 15 November 1930. Retrieved 9 November 2014. 
  13. ^ "In the social sphere". The Courier-Mail (National Library of Australia). 17 May 1934. Retrieved 9 November 2014. 
  14. ^ "From heavy skirts to shin pads: Queensland women's hockey turns 100". The University of Queensland. 19 July 2012. Retrieved 9 November 2014. 
  15. ^ a b "Club History". University of Queensland Woman's Hockey Club. 2009. Retrieved 9 November 2014. 
  16. ^ "Tramway trust". The Brisbane Courier (National Library of Australia). 22 June 1923. Retrieved 9 November 2014. 
  17. ^ "Tramway staff: Alteration of duties". The Brisbane Courier (National Library of Australia). 19 January 1927. Retrieved 9 November 2014. 
  18. ^ "Through the night". The Courier-Mail (National Library of Australia). 11 September 1933. Retrieved 9 November 2014. 
  19. ^ "5 women hurt in tram smash". The Courier-Mail (National Library of Australia). 24 November 1948. Retrieved 9 November 2014. 
  20. ^ "At 37, big city job". The Courier-Mail (National Library of Australia). 7 February 1953. Retrieved 10 November 2014. 
  21. ^ "G.A. Preston to act as manager: Run city trams". The Courier-Mail (National Library of Australia). 12 December 1953. Retrieved 10 November 2014. 
  22. ^ a b c d The Army List of Officers of the Australian Military Forces (Melbourne: Australian Military Forces): 24. 18 January 1945.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  23. ^ "World War Two Nominal Roll". Department of Veterans' Affairs. Retrieved 12 November 2014. 
  24. ^ a b "High awards for AIF officers". The Argus (National Library of Australia). 12 November 1942. Retrieved 8 November 2014. 
  25. ^ a b "Awards to 27 A.I.F. officers". The Argus (20 January 1943) (National Library of Australia). Retrieved 11 November 2014. 
  26. ^ a b c "C.M.F. unit leaders appointed". The Argus (National Library of Australia). 23 March 1948. Retrieved 8 November 2014. 
  27. ^ a b Turnbull, Graeme (August 2002). "The development and retention of Melbourne's trams and the influence of Sir Robert Risson" (PDF). RMIT University. Retrieved 10 November 2014. 
  28. ^ "Woman also serve". Australian Woman's Weekly (National Library of Australia). 27 January 1940. Retrieved 8 November 2014. 
  29. ^ "Two Brisbane Women For Air Force Work". The Courier-Mail (National Library of Australia). 27 March 1941. Retrieved 8 November 2014. 
  30. ^ "Appointment of General". The Sydney Morning Herald (National Library of Australia). 12 June 1953. Retrieved 11 November 2014. 
  31. ^ "Honours and Awards: Robert Joseph Henry Risson". Australian War Memorial. Retrieved 9 November 2014. 
  32. ^ "Honours and Awards: Robert Joseph Henry Risson". Australian War Memorial. Retrieved 9 November 2014. 
  33. ^ "Grantham Officer Awarded C.B.E.". The Queensland Times (National Library of Australia). 20 July 1945. Retrieved 10 November 2014. 
  34. ^ "Honours and Awards: Robert Joseph Henry Risson". Australian War Memorial. Retrieved 9 November 2014. 
  35. ^ "Honours and Awards: Robert Joseph Henry Risson". Australian War Memorial. Retrieved 9 November 2014. 
  36. ^ "Honours and Awards: Robert Joseph Henry Risson". Australian War Memorial. Retrieved 9 November 2014. 
  37. ^ "Retiring tram chief will not re-apply". The Argus (8 March 1949) (National Library of Australia). Retrieved 8 November 2014. 
  38. ^ "Selecting tram chairman". The Argus (28 April 1949) (National Library of Australia). Retrieved 8 November 2014. 
  39. ^ a b "Brisbane engineer new tram chief". The Argus (National Library of Australia). 21 June 1949. Retrieved 8 November 2014. 
  40. ^ "Personal". The Argus (National Library of Australia). 29 September 1949. Retrieved 8 November 2014. 
  41. ^ "The general's men were really not gentlemen!". The Argus (National Library of Australia). 26 May 1955. Retrieved 11 November 2014. 
  42. ^ Lee, Robert (2003). "Linking a Nation: Australia's Transport and Communications 1788–1970: Chapter 6: Transport and the Making of Cities, 1850-1970: Trams in Australian Cities". Department of the Environment (Australia). Australian Heritage Commission. Retrieved 9 November 2014. 
  43. ^ "Facts & figures". Yarra Trams. Retrieved 9 November 2014. 
  44. ^ Legge, John (26 December 2006). "Our trams are far from the end of the line". The Age. Retrieved 9 November 2014. 
  45. ^ a b Brown, Alan (5 December 1994). "Getting Victoria's Public Transport Heritage on the Move" (PDF). Council of Tramway Museums of Australasia. Retrieved 9 November 2014. 
  46. ^ Guthrie, Bruce (13 October 2013). "Melburnians, here are 25 people you might like to thank for your city". The Age. Retrieved 9 November 2014. 
  47. ^ a b c "D1.3501". Vicsig. Retrieved 9 November 2014. 
  48. ^ "D1 Class". Vicsig. Retrieved 9 November 2014. 
  49. ^ "Large List of Notable and Famous Australian Freemasons". Lodge Devotion 723. 5 April 2012. Retrieved 10 November 2014. 
  50. ^ "Past Grand Masters". Freemasons Victoria. Retrieved 10 November 2014. 
  51. ^ "Honours and Awards: Robert Joseph Henry Risson". Australian War Memorial. Retrieved 9 November 2014. 
  52. ^ "Victoria Government Gazette, No 60" (PDF). State Library of Victoria. Government of Victoria. 17 June 1970. Retrieved 9 November 2014. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]