SX13816 Trooper Harris Vivian (Viv) LEWIS
Harris Vivian LEWIS was born at Brighton on 9 May 1904, the eldest of three children to Harris Morgan LEWIS and Evelyn Annie LEWIS (nee RIDDLE). He was educated at Brighton Primary and undertook his secondary schooling at what was Methodist (Ladies) College, which was originally co-ed. After leaving school, he worked as a farm labourer; on 5 September 1927, he married Alice Muriel BRAYBROOK.
The family were living at Inman Valley when Viv, as he was known, enlisted in the 2nd AIF on 24 July 1941, age 37. Viv was posted the 2/9th Cavalry Regiment as a reinforcement, and in the absence of sighting his service file, we are unable to determine what date he joined the Regiment in the Middle East. The Regiment had recently fought in the Syrian campaign.
After that campaign the Regiment was re-equipped, receiving Crusader and Stuart tanks to replace the Vickers and captured French tanks that they had previously been using. This had been done as a response to the increased threat posed by German armour in the theatre. In July 1942, the 9th Division was sent to help rectify the situation at El Alamein, where German and Italian troops were attacking. The 9th Division Cavalry Regiment was involved in the defence of the Alamein line during this phase, defending the divisional headquarters and supporting the defending infantry units in small-scale raids. In October 1942, when the Allies launched an offensive, the Regiment initially played only a minor part but later, after breakout had been achieved, it came into its own and led the Allied advance along the coastal plain, pursuing the withdrawing German and Italian forces and advancing over 20 miles (32 km) on 3 November alone. During the battle, Lieutenant Colonel William MUNTZ, who had previously served in the 7th Divisional Cavalry Regiment, took command of the regiment after BASTIN fell sick, assuming command on 20 October 1942. Casualties during the Regiment’s involvement in the Middle East amounted to six killed in action, six died of wounds and one died of other causes. In early 1943, the Regiment returned to Australia to assist in the defence of the homeland.
At this time the Australian Army was undergoing a period of restructuring as its strategic focus shifted towards concentrating upon fighting the war against the Japanese in the Pacific. As a part of this there was no need for divisional cavalry regiments; however, it was decided that the independent companies should be grouped together under a regimental structure, and in response the divisional cavalry regiments were broken up and their headquarters elements were used to administer the commando squadrons. Three such units were formed at this time, with the 9th Division Cavalry Regiment adopting the title of the “2/9th Cavalry (Commando) Regiment” in January 1944. The subordinate squadrons that were attached to it were the 2/4th, 2/11th and 2/12th Commando Squadrons. Following this the regiment continued to undertake training on the Atherton Tablelands in preparation for operations in the Southwest Pacific. In the end, however, it was over a year before the regiment saw action again, taking part in the landings at Tarakan, and in northern Borneo in mid-1945 in one of the final campaigns of the war.
During this campaign, the regiment’s three squadrons were detached separately. The 2/4th was attached to the 26th Brigade, and saw heavy fighting on Tarakan, suffering a considerable number of casualties.
The 2/11th was attached to the 24th Brigade and landed on Labuan Island off the northwest coast of Borneo. After clearing the island, they were transferred to the mainland and helped clear the Klias Peninsula. The 2/12th, however, was initially held back in divisional reserve, and as such did not take part in the main fighting on Labuan Island. As the Japanese resistance on the island was coming to an end and the focus of Australian operations moved towards the mainland of Borneo, the squadron was finally committed to operations when it was given the task of carrying out mopping up operations on the island.
At war’s end, the Regiment remained on Borneo until late December 1945. Viv was repatriated to Australia and demobilised on 9 January 1946. He farmed after the war and was president of the Victor Harbor RSL in 1957-1958.
Viv LEWIS died on 17 May 1990, age 86.
Australian War Memorial databases.
Compiled by the Victor Harbor RSL History Research Team, January 204.