Sir Roden Cutler, VC, AK, KCMG, KCVO, CBE was an Australian diplomat, the longest serving Governor of New South Wales and a recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest award for gallantry "in the face of the enemy" that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth armed forces.
Arthur Roden Cutler was born on 24 May 1916. Arthur grew up in the Sydney Harbour suburb of Manly where he attended the Manly Village Public School.
At the age of 15 he was enrolled at Sydney Boys High School.
Throughout his life, he remained a keen supporter of the school, in particular the Cadet Unit of which he was honorary Colonel. He studied economics during the night at the University of Sydney, joining the Sydney University Regiment in 1936.
He enjoyed all sports, especially riding, rifle shooting and water polo, and was awarded a University Blue in swimming. As an 18 year-old lifesaver, he swam to the aid of a surfer who was being circled by a large shark. The shark brushed him twice as he helped the surfer to the beach.
On 10 November 1939, he was commissioned as a lieutenant in the militia. In May 1940, he transferred from the citizen's militia to the Second Australian Imperial Force, receiving a commission in the 2/5th Field Regiment, Royal Australian Artillery, Australian 7th Division.
In 1941, he served with the 2/5th in the Syria-Lebanon Campaign. Between 19 June and 6 July, in the Merd – jay - oun-Damour area of Syria, and as part of the Battle of Merd – jay - oun, Lieutenant Cutler's exploits included:- repairing a telephone line under heavy fire, repulsing enemy tank attacks, setting up an outpost to bring fire to a road used by the enemy and, with a 25-pound field gun, demolishing a post threatening the Australian advance.
Later, during the Battle of Damour, he was seriously wounded and when rescued 26 hours later his leg had to be amputated. Cutler received the Victoria Cross for his actions in the Merdjayoun-Damour area and was medically discharged in 1942.
In the aftermath of a battle in Syria in the early stages of the Second World War, a young Australian lieutenant lay seriously wounded for 26 hours before it was possible to rescue him.
He was invalided home and was invested with the Victoria Cross, while standing on crutches, by the Governor General of Australia, Lord Gowrie, on 11 June 1942.
His Majesty King George the 6th was graciously pleased to approve the award of the VICTORIA CROSS to the under-mentioned, Lieutenant Arthur Roden Cutler, Australian Military Forces. The citation, which is summarised, reads:
‘For conspicuous and sustained gallantry and for outstanding bravery during the bitter fighting at Merd – jay - oun supporting the infantry attack.
He established his OP ahead of the infantry and in the fighting that followed his Bren gunner was killed and Cutler and another man manned the Bren gun and an anti-tank rifle and fought back, driving the enemy infantry away. He had been ordered to establish his OP to register the only road by which enemy transport could enter the town.
An enemy attack was imminent and he was in danger of being cut off. Nevertheless, he registered his battery on the road and enemy posts. He was forced to go to ground but at night made his way back through enemy lines. On 23 June he was in charge of a 25 pounder sent forward to silence an anti-tank gun and post.
This he did and next morning Merdjayoun was captured. Later at Damour on 6 July when our infantry were pinned down by heavy fire, Lieutenant Cutler regardless of all danger went to bring a telephone line to his OP when he was seriously wounded. 26 hours elapsed before rescue necessitating amputation of his leg.
Throughout the campaign this officer’s courage was unparalleled and his work was a big factor in the capture of Merdjayoun’
Those painful and no doubt terrifying hours cost him his right leg, but he survived to collect the Victoria Cross for his conspicuous courage under fire and his inspiring leadership. Yet this was only the beginning of a long and illustrious career of service to others.
Australia, and indeed the world, was to know him as Sir Arthur Roden Cutler, VC, AK, KCMG, KCVO, CBE, prominent diplomat, patron and benefactor of numerous charities and community groups, and longest-serving Governor of New South Wales.
In 1946 Cutler was appointed Australian High Commissioner in New Zealand, and several other diplomatic postings followed, including appointment as Consul-General in New York.
In 1965 he took up the post of Ambassador to the Netherlands, but shortly afterwards was appointed Governor of New South Wales. A tall, handsome, dignified man, Cutler was a royalist, comfortable in a role not yet modernised; he remained a respected and popular governor until his retirement in 1981.
At a special meeting of the Senate held in the Great Hall of Sydney University, on 5 April 1967, the degree of Doctor of Laws (honoris causa) was conferred by the Chancellor, Sir Charles McDonald, upon this University Visitor, His Excellency Sir Arthur Roden Cutler, Governor of New South Wales.
That a man so distinguished and dedicated was accorded the honour of a State funeral, following his death in February 2002, will come as no surprise. Perhaps the only person who might have been taken aback was the man himself.
Many commentators have acknowledged the persistent humility of Sir Roden, a devoted husband and father who brought his special brand of courage to every role in his life.
The State Funeral and Service of Thanksgiving took place on 28 February 2002 at St Andrew’s Cathedral, Sydney.
Crowds of people lined George Street behind hundreds of Australian soldiers standing shoulder-to-shoulder, as the gun carriage bearing Sir Roden’s flag-draped coffin passed slowly by.
A muffled peal of the cathedral bells was rung before the service, conducted by The Most Reverend, Archbishop Harry Goodhew.
Tributes were delivered by New South Wales Premier Bob Carr and by Mr G E Priest, then President of the New South Wales branch of the RSL.
Her Excellency Professor Marie Bashir AC, then Governor of New South Wales, and the then Most Reverend Peter Jensen, read the lessons.
After the service, a salute volley was fired when the coffin and its military pallbearers reached George Street.
Sir Roden Cutler fulfilled the role of Governor of New South Wales from 1966 to 1981. An unpretentious boy from Manly became one of his generation’s greatest heroes and never stopped serving his community.
His motto on his coat of arms was ‘Undique Servire’ which translates as ‘Service in All Places’ and indeed he is remembered not only for his great bravery but his outstanding service and compassion to the community.
I have interviewed many famous people but it was indeed a great honour to have been able to interview Sir Roden in his home, shortly before he died.
The interview was aired on Radio 2SM and 2CH in Sydney on an ANZAC DAY.
Part of this interview is shared with you here.