Hugh Powell Gough Clews (1890-1980)


Image A2: Major Clews at Scammels Lookout in the Snowy Mountains circa 1950s

(Extracted from Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Authority image.)


From 1 August 1912 to 27 July 1949, Major Clews served with the Royal Australian Engineers and later with the Australian Survey Corps (from 1948 the Royal Australian Survey Corps).  He enlisted in First Australian Imperial Force in World War I but his application to serve in the Second Australian Imperial Force in World War II was rejected.  After his discharge from the Survey Corps in 1949 with the honoury rank of Lieutenant-Colonel, the Major went to work with the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electricity Authority where he served as a senior surveyor from January 1950 to 1958.


The Major as he was affectionately known was small of stature (some 5 feet 6 inches in height) and quietly spoken with a soft Yorkshire accent.  He was a man of simple habits and great stamina.  Both in military service and with the SMA, he was greatly respected and even loved as a father figure by his men whom he had a natural ability to unobtrusively motivate and lead to carry out whatever task was required.  He was said to have always given great loyalty to and placed much trust in his subordinates.


Hugh Powell Gough Clews was born at Rotherham about 10 kilometres north east of Sheffield in Yorkshire on Christmas Day in 1890.  He was one of the three children born to William Henry Clews, (variously a farmer, publican and restaurateur) and his wife Helen Powell Clews née Gough.  The family moved about the country to various situations during the young Hugh’s early days.


Clews recalled having only a basic education; from age 12 to 16 years at Worksop College (formerly known as St Cuthbert's College).  The College was located south of Worksop and to the north of Sherwood Forest in Nottinghamshire about 210 kilometres north west of London.  Afterwards Clews completed a two-year apprenticeship as a survey assistant articled to surveyor John Bourne of Rawmarsh (to the north of Rotherham).


At age 18 years and after serving about 18 months with the Territorials (volunteer reserve force), Clews enlisted in the Sherwood Foresters (Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Regiment).  He served from 7 July 1909 to 27 October 1911; initially with the Foresters 2nd Battalion but later with other units.  After purchasing his discharge from the British Army, Clews emigrated to Western Australia in 1912.


On 1 August 1912 at Adelaide, Clews enlisted in the Australian Army for a period of five years.  On that date he enlisted in the Survey Section of the Royal Australian Engineers and was appointed with the rank of Sergeant.  Clews transferred to Victoria in April 1914 and on 1 July 1915 transferred to the newly formed Australian Survey Corps.  On 13 July 1915, Clews transferred to Western Australia and on 1 December 1916 he was promoted temporary Warrant Officer Class II and Company Sergeant Major.  In September 1917, Clews’ commanding officer was Lieutenant Tom Vance.


(Later, the then Major Vance was the officer commanding the Australian Survey Corps from March 1936 to December 1940.  This command predated the position of Director of Military Survey.  From January 1941 until June 1942, Lieutenant‑Colonel Vance was the inaugural Director of Military Survey.)


Clews enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force at Blackboy Hill, Western Australia on 28 December 1917 and reverted to the rank of Sergeant (Service Number 9).


On 10 January 1918, Clews married Alice May Reeves with Anglican rites at the Holy Trinity Church in Chapel Street Balaclava (Melbourne).  There were three children from the marriage: daughters Jessie (1918) and Joyce (1920) and son Harold (1924).


On 2 February 1918, Clews embarked at Sydney on board His Majesty’s Australian Transport A18 Wiltshire for service overseas.  Also embarked on A18 at that time were Lieutenant Thomas Alexander Vance and Sergeant Harry Rossiter.  All were Survey Corps reinforcements (Air Line Section, Pigeon Corps).  Clews served in France from 16 June 1918 to 8 April 1919. 


In France Clews (with Vance and Rossiter) reported to the Depot Field Survey Company of the Royal Engineers Topographical Section at Feuquières‑en‑Vimeu, where the group carried out minor triangulation work.  Clews and his group later moved some 23 kilometres south to Foucarmont and were there when the War on the Western Front ended on 11 November 1918; they learned of the Armistice from a newspaper in a shop window.  Clews recalled they were then recalled to the British Survey and allotted to a Survey School for young British engineer officers.  They were given leave from 16 to 30 March 1919 and afterwards returned to France until going back to England on 8 April 1919.


In England on 8 May 1919, Clews embarked on His Majesty’s Transport Devanha for return to Australia and disembarked in Sydney on 23 June 1919.  On 16 July 1919, Clews was discharged from the AIF and returned to the Permanent Military Forces in Western Australia.  On 5 December 1920 Clews transferred to New South Wales.  He was promoted Warrant Officer Class I on 1 July 1922 and after 11 years further service was commissioned as a Lieutenant on 9 November 1933.  On that date he was appointed Officer Commanding No 3 Survey Section, Australian Survey Corps.


Around this time, the Section consisted of six Survey Corps personnel and two civilian axemen-drivers.  All topographic mapping work was undertaken by the plane table method until 1937 when aerial photography methods were introduced.  Members of the Section were then: Lieutenant Clews; Warrant Officer Charlie Carter; Warrant Officer Alan Roberts; Warrant Officer Bert Eggeling; Warrant Officer Ted Roberts and Warrant Officer Wally Relf.


On 9 November 1937, Clews was promoted Captain.  On 12 February 1940, Clews was appointed Deputy Assistant Director Survey, Eastern Command at Victoria Barracks in Sydney.  On 2 October 1940 he was appointed Officer Commanding 3 Survey Company.  He was promoted Major on 9 November 1940.  On 1 April 1943 Clews was appointed Officer Commanding 2 Field Survey Company Royal Australian Engineers.  Between 13 August and 28 September 1943, Clews was detached for special duty with the Gulf Survey Section.


In mid-1944, Clews relinquished field survey activities and the Command of 2 Field Survey Company for a staff appointment.  He was appointed Senior Officer, Survey, Head Quarters New South Wales Lines of Communication Area on 8 June 1944.  On 8 October 1947, Clews (then in the Interim Army) was attached to Head Quarters Eastern Command.


Prior to staff appointments from mid-1944, field survey duties including triangulation and plane tabling had taken the Major to many places in Australia including: the Adelaide hills and coastal areas, Steiglitz, Winchelsea, Werribee, Waneroo, Fremantle, Northam, Albany, Toodyay, north and north west of Melbourne, the Perth - York road area, Tea Gardens, Limeburners Creek, Singleton, Cessnock, Windsor, Strathfield, Katoomba, Newnes Junction, Wollemi, Newcastle, Kyogle, Childers, Ingham, Fraser Island, Gulf of Carpentaria country, Chatswood and Tom Groggin in the Snowy Mountains.


On 29 July 1949, Major Clews was placed on the Retired List with the rank of Honoury Lieutenant-Colonel.  He was then less than five months short of his 59th birthday.


In Gough’s 2004 biography of Clews, the Major stated that in December 1949, he was living in a hut he had built near Bell east of Lithgow in the Blue Mountains.  He added that he was then approached about working on the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric scheme by Bert Eggeling the then Chief Surveyor of the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Authority.  Clews also stated he commenced working for the Authority in January 1950.


There are some instances in Gough’s 2004 work where the Major’s recall of dates, such as when he joined the Australia Army, are at variance from dates in his Army service record.  In this sketch of the Major, when applicable, his service record dates rather than recalled dates are used.


(Herbert Frederick Bert Eggeling (1909 - 1989) joined the Army as a licensed surveyor in 1935 and was appointed with the rank of Warrant Officer.  He retired with the rank of Major in February 1950.  Eggeling’s last Army posting was as Chief Instructor at the newly established School of Military Survey at Balcombe, Victoria in 1948.  Immediately prior to this posting Eggeling had been engaged in investigative surveys for the Snowy River Diversion Scheme.  Apparently Eggeling joined the Snowy Mountains Authority as Chief Surveyor in 1949 while still a serving Royal Australian Survey Corps officer.  Eggeling left SMA in 1954 to take up private practice at Parkes, New South Wales.  For discussion around Eggeling’s Snowy Mountains Authority commencement, see Cavill in Gough, 2004, page 5.)


As a senior surveyor at the SMA, the Major (Clews) undertook a demanding job in control of the Authority’s field operations in some of the most inhospitable country in Australia and in extremes of temperature and weather conditions.  He established tented camps for up to 10 survey parties comprising mostly overseas personnel with both limited bushmanship and English language skills.  As well as planning and directing the technical work, he constructed scores of miles of packhorse tracks which were the only access for surveyors, drillers, hydrographers, geologists and investigation engineers most of whom would look to the Major for his advice and guidance on how to exist in this most forbidding country while carrying out their own duties (Gough, 2004).


Image A3: Major Clews memorial cairn and his cottage at Indi in recent years.

(New South Wales National Parks image.)


The Major operated several camps during his 8 years with the SMA, including at: Tumut Ponds, Lob’s Hole, Clear Creek, Saddle Camp near Cabramurra, Eight Mile (Dry) Camp, and from 1953 the Indi Camp.  At some of these camps the Major would oversee the care and feeding of the horses but he was never seen on horseback; instead he walked between his camps and related work areas.


Clews retired from the Snowy Mountains Authority in February 1958 and took up a forty acre lease at Indi in the Snowy Mountains south of Khancoban where he built a small pisé walled (rammed earth) cottage with a concrete floor.  Some 20 years later arthritis in the knees forced the Major to move to Khancoban and live in a caravan where some friends kept an eye on him.  Eventually, his son Harold Powell Reeves Clews (1924 - 2013) took the Major to live at Frankston.


Hugh Powell Gough Clews died at Frankston on 22 August 1980 and his remains were cremated.  He was survived by his two daughters and his son.  Clews’ wife Alice May Clews had died in Melbourne on 8 February 1973; at 82 years of age.  On 15 September 1980, the Major’s ashes were scattered at Indi.  A memorial cairn constructed by the Snowy Mountains Authority was unveiled near the Major’s cottage at Indi on 5 April 1981.  The beehive shaped cairn (Image A3 above) was made of Snowy Mountains granite and was designed by Brigadier Lawrence Fitzgerald OBE (1903-1989) who was Director of Military Survey from 1942 to 1960.