Major General Sir William Glasgow

6 June 1876 - 4 July 1955

ART00107 Bell, George, Major General William Glasgow (1919), oil on canvas, 61.4 x 51.6 cm, AWM copyright

Thomas William Glasgow was born at Tiaro, near Maryborough, Queensland, on 6 June 1876, the fourth child and third son of a Northern Irish farmer. Bill was educated at One Mile State School in Gympie, Queensland, and Maryborough Grammar. After leaving school he went to work as a junior clerk in the office of a mining company in Gympie. Later he worked as a clerk in the Queensland national Bank in Gympie.

Glasgow joined the Wide Bay Regiment, Queensland Mounted Infantry while still a teenager. Along with nineteen others, he travelled to London in 1897 to represent Queensland at the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria. Glasgow volunteered for service in South Africa and served as a lieutenant in the 1st Queensland Mounted Infantry Contingent. He participated in the relief of Kimberley, the capture of Cronje's laager on the Modder, and the occupation of Bloemfontein. On 16 April 1901 he was mentioned in dispatches and awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) -- a very unusual award for someone of his rank.

After returning to Australia, Glasgow formed a partnership with his younger brother Alexander, T. W. & A. Glasgow, and they took over his father's grocery store in Gympie. On 21 April 1904, he married Annie Isabel, the daughter of Jacob John Stumm, the Federal member for Lilley. He tired of storekeeping and bought a cattle station in central Queensland.

In 1903, Glasgow organised the 13th Light Horse Regiment at Gympie. He was promoted to captain in 1906 and major on 6 May 1912. When war broke out in 1914, he was appointed to the AIF with the rank of major in the 2nd Light Horse Regiment on 19 August 1914. He embarked for Egypt on 24 September 1914 where his regiment trained until called forward for dismounted service at Anzac.

Glasgow landed at Anzac on 12 May 1915. When Colonel H. G. Chauvel of the 1st Light Horse Brigade reorganised the defences of Monash Valley, Glasgow was appointed second in command at Pope's Hill, under Lieutenant Colonel F. M. Rowell of the 3rd Light Horse Regiment. The idea was the the same staff would remain responsible for the post while the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Light Horse Regiments rotated in weekly reliefs. Rowell subsequently became ill and died on 8 August 1915, leaving Glasgow in charge of the post.

As part of the subsidiary operations on 7 August 1915, an attack was ordered on Dead Man's Ridge from Pope's Hill by two squadrons (about 200 men) of the 1st Light Horse Regiment, leaving the third squadron to hold the post. As the regimental commander was sick, Glasgow took charge of the attack. Fortunately, the ridge was shielded from most of the enemy position, and could not be swept by the volume of fire that could be brought to bear at Quinn's or the Nek. Thus, although losses were severe, the light horsemen managed to capture part of the Turkish trenches. From there, they watched the unsuccessful assault of the 3rd Light Horse Brigade on the Nek, and the advance of the Welch Fusiliers, who all fell almost in a heap at the foot of a cliff .

It became obvious to Glasgow that retaining the position served no further purpose and that he could expect the Turks to turn their attention to him now that the other attacks were over. Nonetheless he held on for a further two hours before giving the order to withdraw. Together with Lieutenant G. H. L. Harris, whose back had been torn by a bomb, and four troopers, Glasgow covered the retirement, finally making it back carrying one of his wounded troopers. Of the 200 men in the attack, 4 officers and 56 other ranks had been killed and 7 officers and 87 other ranks wounded. Every officer except Glasgow had been hit. The next day he was appointed to command the regiment with the rank of lieutenant colonel.

In March 1916 Glasgow was appointed commander of the 13th Infantry Brigade, which he commanded at Mouquet Farm in September 1916, Messines in June 1917, Polygon Wood in September 1917 and Dernancourt in April 1918, where the brigade helped stem the German advance.

Following the German attack which captured Villers-Bretonneux in April 1918, Glasgow was ordered to form the right wing of a counterattack to recapture the town, in conjunction with Brigadier General H. E. Elliott's 15th Infantry Brigade. Unlike Elliott, Glasgow was yet to see the ground over which the attack was to be made. He therefore insisted on conducting a personal reconnaissance. On conferring with the British III Corps staff, Glasgow immediately rejected their suggested line of advance. "Why it's against all the teaching of your own army, Sir, to attack across the enemy's front", Glasgow told them. Glasgow's approach was then agreed on. Like Elliott, Glasgow decided to attack without a preliminary bombardment or creeping barrage, as the German gun positions were not known and the British guns had not yet registered. An artillery barrage under the circumstances would have therefore been poor, and given away all prospect of surprise.

Finally, Glasgow differed with the staff over the intended start time. The staff wanted to attack at 8pm, only a few minutes after subset, while Glasgow, like Elliott, wished to attack by moonlight, nominating a time of 10:30 pm. The staff protested that the corps commander, Lieutenant General R. H. K. Butler had specifically ordered an attack time of 8pm. "If it was God Almighty who gave the order, we couldn't do it in daylight", Glasgow told them. "Here is your artillery largely out of action and the enemy with all his guns in position." A time of 10pm was then agreed on.

At the height of the battle, with the 13th Brigade surrounded on three sides, the Germans had sent Glasgow a message demanding that he surrender. "Tell them to go to Hell" was his response.

The Second Battle of Villers-Bretonneux, fought on 25 April 1918, was a spectacular success. The Australian effort brought results out of all proportion to the severity of the 2,473 diggers who were killed or wounded. Over 600 German prisoners were taken. Villers-Bretonneux effectively ended the German advance towards Amiens and prevented the British front from being split in two and therefore was the culmination of everything that the Tommies and Diggers had been fighting to effect since the German Offensive began.

On 30 June 1918, Glasgow was appointed to command the 1st Division, then fighting alongside with the British in Flanders. On 8 August 1918, the 1st Division joined the other four divisions on the Somme front, participating in the Battles of Amiens (8 August 1918), Lihons (9 August 1918) , Chuignes (23 August 1918) and the Hindenburg Line (18 September 1918). At Chuignes, the diggers captured 21 guns and took over 3,100 prisoners. Lieutenant General J. Monash described Chuignes as "a smashing blow, and far exceeded in its results any previous record in my experience, having regard to the number of troops involved... Much of the success of this brilliant engagement was due to the personality of the Divisional commander, Major General Glasgow."

Monash described Glasgow as "of strong though not heavy build and of energetic demeanour, Glasgow succeeded not so much by exceptional mental gifts or by tactical skill of any high order as by his personal driving force and determination". The Official Historian, Captain C. E. W. Bean described Glasgow as "the most forceful of the three strong brigadiers of the 4th Division. With keen blue eyes looking from under puckered humorous brows as shaggy as a deerhounds; with the bushman's difficulty of verbal expression but a sure sense of character and situations; with a fiery temper, but a cool understanding and a firm control of men; with an entire absence of vanity but translucent honesty and a standard of rectitude which gave confidence both to superiors and subordinates, he could -- by a frown, a shrewd shake of the head, or a twinkle in the eyes screwed up as if in the glare of the plains -- awaken in other more energy than would have been evoked by any amount of exhortation."

In Egypt shortly after its formation, Glasgow's brigade had to absorb large numbers of men unwanted by the old battalions and left behind when they moved to France. As a consequence, he had a severe discipline problem and far more than the average number of deserters. Glasgow was a staunch advocate of the death penalty, urging General W. R. Birdwood to ask for the law to be amended to allow for deserters to be executed. On 21 September 1918, 119 men of the 1st Infantry Battalion refused duty. All were tried and with one exception, found guilty not of mutiny (which still carried the death penalty) but of desertion. Despite entreaties from Lieutenant General J. Monash, Glasgow refused to commute the men's sentences. Eventually Lieutenant General J. J. T. Hobbs did it.

For his services, Glasgow was made a Companion of St Michael and St George (CMG) in June 1916 and a Companion of the Bath (CB) in December 1917 and was created a Knight Commander of the Bath (KCB) in the 1919 New Years List. He was mentioned in dispatches nine times.

After the war, Glasgow commanded the 4th Division from 1921. He led the Anzac Day parade in Brisbane for twenty years.

Glasgow was elected to the Senate as a Nationalist in 1919. He became Minister for Home and Territories on 28 June 1926 and then from April 1927 to October 1929 was Minister for Defence. Out of office in 1929 he became deputy leader of the Opposition in the Senate. Glasgow saw his role as frustrating Labor's inflationary policies. Unfortunately, such policies were exactly what was required, and so Glasgow inflicted much suffering. In 1931 Labor polled well enough in Queensland against the national trend that Glasgow lost his seat. His political career over, Glasgow resumed his pastoral interests and became director of several companies.

On 24 December 1939, Glasgow was appointed first Australian High Commissioner to Canada. Canada thus became only the fifth country in which Australia had diplomatic representatives. Glasgow built good relations with Canada's Prime Minister W. L. Mackenzie King and his ministers, but was not successful in getting Canadian support, political or military, for Australian strategy in the Pacific. He did conclude a "mutual aid" agreement between the two countries, resulting in Canada providing two merchant ships to Australia. In August 1943 and September 1944 Glasgow attended the Quebec Conferences between US President F. D. Roosevelt, British Prime Minister W. S. Churchill and Canadian Prime Minister W. L. Mackenzie King, where he represented Australian interests.

Glasgow returned to Australia in 1945 and once again resumed his pastoral and business interests. He died in Brisbane on 4 July 1955. He was given a state funeral and cremated. In 1966, a bronze statue of Glasgow was erected in Brisbane.

Sources: Australian Dictionary of Biography, 1899-1939, Vol 9, pp.21-23; Bean, C. E. W., The Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918. Volume II: The Story of Anzac p. 201, 624-628; Volume III: The AIF In France 1916, pp. 839-840; Volume V: The AIF In France During the German Offensive 1918, pp. 28, 568-643; Monash, The Australian Victories in France, pp. 158-159

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Last update 8 June 2010