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From Bank to Battlefield

Lieutenant Colonel Robert Sabeston

Photo of Lieutenant Colonel Robert Sabeston
 

Born in 1883, Robert Sabeston was the eldest son of Anna and Robert Sabeston, a popular and well-respected family from Geelong, Victoria. Sabeston was one of the first employees of the Commonwealth Bank, beginning work in the Melbourne office in January 1913. He was recommended for this position by King O'Malley, who forwarded a letter of endorsement from a mutual friend to the Governor, Sir Denison Miller, describing Sabeston as ‘a most reliable and painstaking officer’.

On 1 June 1915 at the age of 32, Sabeston enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF), two months after his younger brother, William, also a bank clerk, had enlisted. Worried that he might be rejected due to his short-sightedness Sabeston chose to apply to join the Australian Army Pay Corps and was accepted, embarking from Sydney on 25 June 1915, only three weeks after enlisting. During his time with the Pay Corps, he served in both Egypt and England and proved himself to be an extremely capable and responsible officer. He soon rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, as well as becoming the Chief Pay Master of the AIF, and in March 1920 his war services were officially recognised when he was appointed an Officer of the Military Division of the Order of the British Empire.

Sabeston also showed himself to be a very conscientious man. For example, after a year of service, he wrote to the Governor requesting that the Bank discontinue his entitlement to half pay because he considered that being attached to a non-combatant unit and working in comparative safety, he should not be entitled to this benefit.

After being decommissioned in October 1920, Sabeston rejoined the Bank and was appointed Superintendent in Sydney. He took a prominent role in the rehabilitation of the returning soldiers as the Chairman of the Rehabilitation Committee. In 1923 he was promoted to Inspector, before later becoming Staff Officer, Assistant Chief Superintendent and finally Chief Superintendent. Sabeston was an important figure throughout his career at the Bank, directing the amalgamations of both the Government Savings Bank of Western Australia and the Government Savings Bank of New South Wales, and regularly contributing to Patriotic and Cot Funds.

He had the chance to show his strength of character once more during his career at the Bank when he chose to delay his retirement, despite continued ill health, in order to share in the heavy responsibility of the Bank during World War II.

Sabeston retired from the Bank in 1946, returning to Victoria where he died in 1962 at the age of 80.

Letter from the manager of the Melbourne branch to the Governor, 22 May 1915:

Mr. Sabeston has been a source of strength from the inception of the Bank up to the present in the Savings Bank Department and his services will be greatly missed.

Mr. Sabeston has explained to me that he feels it is his duty to assist his country at the present time, and would have applied to be accepted as a combatant but he feared that owing to a certain short sightedness (which however does not interfere with his official duties) he might have been rejected, and that this would have prejudiced his chance of being accepted at all.
WWI Service Summary 1 June 1915, enlisted in Australian Army Pay Corps
25 June 1915, embarked HMAT Ceramic A40, Sydney
25 March 1920, appointed as Officer of the Military Division of the Order of the British Empire
3 October 1920, appointment terminated
Rank Lieutenant Colonel
Service Number 62
Age at enlistment 32 years
Role at Bank Clerk

'A Bank Notes Magazine Article regarding Major Robert Sabeston's Promotion'
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MAJOR ROBERT SABESTON (Melbourne) has recently been promoted, and is now second in command of the Pay Corps in London.

Source: Bank Notes magazine – December 1918, page 5

Source: National Archives of Australia

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