General Officers of the First AIF

Grades of General Officers

There were four grades of general officers in the First AIF, these being from least to most senior: Brigadier General, Major General, Lieutenant General and General.

As with all other officer ranks, they could be temporary or substantive, except for brigadier general, which was always temporary. Temporary rank was generally granted while an officer was serving in a particular capacity. When the job lapsed, the officer returned to his substantive rank. This prevented an accumulation of officers at high grades without posts for them. The rank of Brigadier General was unusual in that it was only held as a temporary appointment in the AIF.

Most officers also held temporary or substantive rank in the AMF (Australian Military Forces -- the Australian Army back at home) as well as in the AIF. Some officers were promoted within the AMF while serving with the AIF. Officers holding higher rank in the AMF than their substantive rank in the AIF were entitled to retain the higher rank as an honorary rank.

Seniority was on the basis of the rank and date upon which one had been promoted within the AIF. Where an officer had not been promoted within the AIF, regular army officers carried their seniority according to their appointment date within the AMF. Reservists who had not been promoted ranked below all regular officers, with seniority according to their dates of appointment in the active forces. Retired officers who joined the AIF and had not been promoted carried their seniority according to the date of their appointment to the AIF, but below other officers of the same rank.

Brevets were a kind of long term higher duties, granting higher rank without pay or allowances, meaning that they could wear the badges of the rank. Sometimes the government just used them as an excuse to avoid paying its officers at the full rate. But nonetheless they were highly sought after by regular officers, who felt that they gave them the inside track for substantive promotion to the rank.

There were some British and New Zealand officers on secondment in Australia before the war who were granted AMF rank and seniority, but not always the same rank and seniority as that of the army from which they came. Some of these officers joined the AIF in Australia. Those five that became general officers are listed here: S. M. Anderson, C. S. Davies, D. J. Glasfurd and E. G. Sinclair MacLagan of the British army and W. L. H. Burgess of the New Zealand Staff Corps. Only one British officer joined the AIF overseas: Lieutenant General W. R. Birdwood. Some other foreign officers served with the AIF at various times and commanded Australian troops but are not included here because they did not join the AIF.

There were 68 AIF generals in total: 1 full general, 4 lieutenant generals, 12 major generals and 51 brigadier generals. Click here for a gradation list of all general officers.

Roles of General Officers

The usual role of a lieutenant general was command of a corps. This was a huge formation; the Australian Corps in France was normally fielding around 200,000 men in 1918. Corps became more important as the war went on. In 1914, corps were just a grouping of divisions, and their only permanent units were a headquarters and a signal company. By 1918, so-called corps troops (those troops allocated to the corps but not one of its divisions) numbered over 50,000. Corps was the the major tactical and operational formation, but had no input into strategic matters. Under British doctrine, corps was responsible for the administration of the area in which it operated and during the war the responsibilities of a corps headquarters grew considerably but its logistical "tail" remained smaller than its fighting "teeth" -- something by no means true of an army, the next formation up. In addition to the commander, the corps headquarters also had posts for five brigadier generals, for a chief of staff (BGGS), engineers, administration, artillery (GOCRA) and heavy artillery (BGHA).

A major general normally commanded a division. A Great War division was a sizeable formation of 20,000 men but they rarely operated alone. Instead they formed part of a corps. As the war went on, the task of a division commander became more complex but also easier to perform, as staffs, techniques and tactics were developed, and corps increasing took over more of the load. Division Headquarters was a complex organisation. Click here for a fuller explanation of and an explanation of the terms used..

When the AIF was formed in 1914, infantry and light horse brigade commanders and the divisional artillery commander were graded as colonels. They were regraded as brigadier generals on 1 July 1915 in order to bring them into line with their British counterparts, with seniority backdated to the date of their assumption of brigade command. This affected (with seniority date) Colonels J. W. McCay (15 August 1914), J. J. T. Hobbs (15 August 1914), E. G. Sinclair-MacLagan (15 August 1914), H. N. MacLaurin (15 August 1914), J. Monash (15 September 1914), G. de L. Ryrie (19 September 1914), F. G. Hughes (17 October 1914) and H. G. Chauvel (10 December 1914). MacLaurin had already been killed on 27 April 1915, and was promoted posthumously.

Badges of Rank

The common badge of rank of all general officers was the crossed sword and baton. This was worn on its own by brigadier generals. Major generals wore it with a single star of the order of Order of the Bath, identical to those worn by lieutenants and captains. Lieutenant generals wore it with a crown identical to that worn by majors, and somewhat different to the style used today. Full generals wore it with both. In additional, all generals wore the red cap bands of staff officers, with oak leaf tabs (see above, left and right). They had their own distinctive cap badge (above, centre). they also wore oak leaves on their cap peak. The rank of brigadier general differs from the present day rank of brigadier in that the former was a true general.


Brigadier Generals (and Colonels) were paid �2 5s 0d per day, of which 8d was deferred until discharge, plus while in the field, a field allowance of 7s 6d per day. Major and Lieutenant Generals were paid a salary of �1,200 per annum with a field allowance of 12s 6d per day. No special or additional payments were made to generals in the Great War. Their pay can be compared with a private's day of 6s per day (of which 1s was deferred).

Decorations and Awards

The system of decorations and awards in the Great War period had evolved to meet the needs of a different society and different time, and included many features that were distasteful to Australians of the day. Many awards came in different grades and were awarded based upon the social status of the recipient, which meant in practice that different ranks received different awards for the same deeds. Women were excluded until the Great War. Awards in the Great War period were generally processed through British channels, which meant a more lavish scale of honours and awards that would have been the case had they been recommended by the Australian government, which had quotas imposed on it by the Imperial government. All awards were doubly gazetted, in the London Gazette and later (usually much later) in the Commonwealth Gazette.

The lowest form of award was the Mention in Dispatches (MID). These were available to all ranks, about equal numbers going to officers and other ranks, although of course there were far fewer officers. An MID meant that the individual had done something notable. Some came with citations. Some were for single acts and some for extended periods of good service. Most generals earned some, and some earned several. It came with no medal, although recipients received bronze oak leaves that could be worn on their campaign ribbons and small official certificates, which could be framed.

The next highest award that could be given to general officers was the Companion of the Distinguished Service Order (DSO), since bravery awards like the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) and the Military Cross (MC) were not available to general officers. This order, an unusual cross between a medal and an order, was established to reward officers who exhibited individual instances of meritorious or distinguished service in war. It was usually awarded for service under fire or under conditions equivalent to service in actual combat with the enemy. On Gallipoli it was frequently awarded to staff officers like White and Gellibrand, under circumstances which could not be regarded as under fire. After January 1, 1917, commanders in the field were instructed to recommend this award only for those serving under fire. Prior to 1943, the order could be given only to someone who had already been Mentioned in Despatches, although this was usually circumvented simply by a mention in dispatches at the same time. When awarded to a general, it usually was for a particularly brilliant campaign or battle although it was not unknown for someone to get it for a quiet period on a quiet sector. As with medals, a second or subsequent award does not result in a second copy of the medal but in a bar worn on top of the medal. Far from being a lesser award, a bar is usually regarded as a greater one, since only the most notable of soldiers won bars to their DSOs. The highest bravery award, and the only award available to all ranks at the time, was the Victoria Cross (VC), awarded for extraordinary valour above and beyond the call of duty. No Australian general won this award in the Great War, although Howse had already received it for bravery in the Boer War.

Next came the orders of knighthood. Only two orders were in practice available to Australian generals of the Great War period: the Order of St Michael and St George and the Order of the Bath. The Order of St Michael and St George  was for civil servants, especially diplomats and those involved with the administration of the colonies; the latter was principally a military order. The latter had more prestige, but limited numbers. In practice, the two were awarded for much the same deeds. As an award could only be conferred once, someone holding one would be given the other. The class of award was based upon the rank of the recipient; colonels and brigadier generals got the CB or CMG; major or lieutenant generals the KCB or KCMG; full generals the GCB or GCMG. Only two Australian generals were ever awarded the GCMG: Monash and Chauvel. Only 13 KCMG have been awarded to Australian military officers, of which eight went to Great War generals. The story with the KCB is similar; only 14 Australians have received this award, all but one military, and of the 13, ten went to Great War generals (although Blamey actually got his for the Second World War).

While even at the turn of the century most Australians agreed that it was inappropriate for Australians to accept feudal honours, opinion was divided over knighthoods. It eventually became Labor Party policy not to grant them, but not until late in the Second World War.

Two other orders deserve a brief mention. The Order of the British Empire was instituted late in the war by King George V, who wished to acknowledge the services to the war effort of those who might not be soldiers or civil servants. Awards in this order were open to women, who therefore often received it while their male peers got an award from the other orders. In the case of Great War generals, some received honours in this order after the armistice, generally for work connected with repatriation. General T. A. Blamey received a GBE during the Second World War, the only soldier to receive one. The award was inappropriate; he should have received the GCB. This order eventually fell into disfavour in Australia because of its name and its inferior status. The other order that some AIF generals received (all after the war) was the Victorian Order. This order, created by Queen Victoria herself, is for personal services to royalty. Most awards to Australians (and all of those to the officers considered here) were for participation in royal tours.

The honours system was eventually reformed in 1973 with the institution of an Australian honours system. For a time this existed concurrently with Imperial honours, but these have now disappeared, except for a handful of awards, including the Victorian Order, which are conferred by the monarch in her own right. In place of the DSO, CMG and CB, the Officer of the Order of Australia (OA) would probably be awarded today; in place of the KCB or KCMG, the Companion of of the Order of Australia (AC). All Australian awards are now open to all regardless of rank or sex, the only criterion being the value of the deeds done. One apparent omission compared with the old system is that there is no apparent way of honouring a second deed or period of service of equal value.

Date of Birth

All the AIF's general officers were born between 1856 and 1887. Those born before 1860 were usually found to be too old for service. Originally, Major General W. T. Bridges selected officers for senior posts in the AIF. After he left Australia, the job was taken over by board, which tended to give undue weight to seniority, with the result that many of the officers selected were too old. The average birth date was 11 August 1872, which coincides with the median. Only the youngest were still young enough to play important parts in the Second World War: Mackay, Cannan, Lloyd, Blamey and Bennett, although Phillips, Stewart, Jess and Drake-Brockman served as major generals during that war. 

Command of an infantry or light horse brigade was best conducted from the front. The less stressful and dangerous nature of command in Palestine permitted older officers to remain in command. As the war went on, the general officers gradually became younger. The youngest, Brigadier General H. G. Bennett, was just 29 when he assumed command of the 3rd Infantry Brigade in 1916. The youngest group were the artillery commanders, because this arm expanded more rapidly than others. 

General Date of Birth
Browne, Reginald Spencer 13 July 1856
Hughes, Frederick Godley 26 January 1858
Bridges, William Throsby 18 February 1861
Holmes, William 12 September 1862
Cox, Charles Frederick 2 May 1863
Legge, James Gordon 15 August 1863
Hobbs, Joseph John Talbot 24 August 1864
Howse, Neville Reginald 26 October 1864
Meredith, John Baldwin 11 November 1864
McCay, James Whiteside 21 December 1864
Chauvel, Henry George 16 April 1865
Monash, John 27 June 1865
Ryrie, Granville de Laune 1 July 1865
Birdwood, William Riddell 13 September 1865
Griffiths, Thomas 29 September 1865
Antill, John MacQuarie 26 January 1866
Sellheim, Victor Conradsdorf Morisset 12 May 1866
Tivey, Edwin 19 September 1866
Forsyth, John Keatly 9 February 1867
Anderson, Robert Murray McCheyne 6 August 1867
Irving, Gofrey George Henry 25 August 1867
Paton, John 18 November 1867
Christian, Sydney Earnest 17 April 1868
Johnston, George Jamieson 24 October 1868
Sinclair-MacLagan, Ewen George 24 December 1868
Rankin, Colin Dunlop Wilson 20 January 1869
McGlinn, John Patrick 11 April 1869
Grimwade, Harold William 18 May 1869
Wisdom, Evan Alexander 29 June 1869
Moore, Newton James 17 April 1870
Coxen, Walter Adams 22 June 1870
Grant, William 30 September 1870
Wilson, Lachlan Chisholm 11 July 1871
Goddard, Henry Arthur 13 December 1871
Gellibrand, John 5 December 1872
Brand, Charles Henry 4 September 1873
Pope, Harold 16 October 1873
Dodds, Thomas Henry 11 November 1873
Glasfurd, Duncan John 23 November 1873
Long, George Merrick 5 November 1874
Heane, James 29 December 1874
Rosenthal, Charles 12 February 1875
Jobson, Alexander 2 April 1875
MacArthur-Onslow, George MacLeary 2 May 1875
Martin, Edward Fowell 22 August 1875
Foott, Cecil Henry 16 January 1876
Glasgow, Thomas William 6 June 1876
White, Cyril Brudenell Bingham 23 September 1876
McNicoll, Walter Ramsey 27 May 1877
Bessell-Brown, Alfred Joseph 3 September 1877
Elliott, Harold Edward 19 June 1878
Leane, Raymond Lionel 12 July 1878
Robertson, James Campbell 24 October 1878
MacLaurin, Henry Normand 31 October 1878
Anderson, Stuart Milligan 23 September 1879
Burgess, William Livingstone Hatchwell 18 February 1880
Davies, Charles Stewart 7 September 1880
Smith, Robert 6 September 1881
Herring, Sydney Charles Edgar 8 October 1881
Mackay, Iven Giffard 7 April 1882
Phillips, Owen Forbes 9 June 1882
Cannan, James Edward 29 August 1882
Lloyd, Herbert William 24 November 1883
Stewart, James Campbell 19 January 1884
Blamey, Thomas Albert 24 January 1884
Jess, Carl Herman 16 February 1884
Drake-Brockman, Edmund Alfred 21 July 1884
Bennett, Henry Gordon 16 April 1887



Eleven (16%) generals went to university, five to the University of Melbourne: Elliott (LLB), Grant (BCE), Long (BA, MA), McCay (BA, MA, LLM) and Monash (MEng, BA, LLB); and three to the University of Sydney: Legge (BA, MA. LLB), MacLaurin (BA) and Mackay (BA). Five of the eight (7%) had masters degrees, and Long had a Lambeth Doctor of Divinity (DD). The University of Sydney had a Diploma of Military Science (DipMilSc) course which Bessell-Browne, Hobbs, Jess and Mackay attended. McNicoll earned a DipEd from the Teachers' Training College. Two generals, Howse and Mededith, were medical doctors, but neither went to university, studying for their credentials at hospitals in the United Kingdom.

Moving to secondary education, since the generals were all born between 1856 and 1887, almost all attended high school, although many left at year 10, that being normal for the time. The elite schools are well represented. Anderson, Antill, Chauvel and Legge went to Sydney Grammar; Cannan, Coxen, Foott, Sellheim and Wilson to Brisbane Grammar; and Glasgow and Long to Maryborough Grammar. Most of Melbourne's best-known schools have alumni who became generals. Grant went to Brighton Grammar, Grimwade and Hughes to Melbourne Grammar, McCay, Monash and Smith to Scotch College, Christian to Geelong Grammar, and Tivey and Lloyd to Wesley College. So some 20 (30%) attended a handful of protestant private schools.

Service in the Ranks

Today the Australian Army draws its officers from the Australian Defence Force Academy and the Military College at Duntroon, both in Canberra, with only a small number of specialists receiving direct commissions. The first Duntroon class had enrolled in 1911 and graduated early in August 1914, and none rose to become general officers during the Great War (although 6 of the 33 became generals in the Second World War). Four generals did attend military colleges however. Birdwood, Gellibrand and Glasfurd went to RMC Sandhurst. Bridges attended RMC Kingston in Canada. Although he failed to graduate, he was the first in his class to reach the rank of major general, and the first to receive a knighthood.

Therefore, most generals had originally obtained their commissions in the Army by direct commissioning, but 27 (40%) were commissioned from, or after service in the ranks: Bessell-Browne, Cox, Dodds, Elliott, Forsyth, Glasgow, Goddard, Griffiths, Hobbs, Holmes, Hughes, Irving, Jess, Jobson, Johnston, MacLaurin, Martin, Monash, Moore, Rosenthal, Ryrie, Sellheim, Sinclair-MacLagan, Smith, Stewart, Wilson and Wisdom.


Prior war service

Twenty-Five generals (37%) had served in the Boer War: Antill, Bessell-Browne, Birdwood, Bridges, Browne, Chauvel, Christian, Cox, Dodds, Elliott, Gellibrand, Glasfurd, Glagow, Holmes, Howse, Legge, McGlinn, Meredith, Rankin, Ryrie, Sellheim, Sinclair-MacLagan, Tivey, Wilson  and White. Several of them were decorated for their service in South Africa. Antill, Bessell-Browne, Browne, Chauvel, Dodds, Elliott, Glasgow, Holmes, Sellheim, Sinclair-MacLagan and Tivey were all mentioned in dispatches. Chauvel was made a Companion of St Michael and St George (CMG); Antill, Browne and Sellheim were made Companions of the Order of the Bath (CB);  Bessel-Browne, Dodds, Glasgow, Holmes, Sinclair-MacLagan and Tivey were awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO); and Elliott won the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM). Most distinguished of all was Howse, who won the Victoria Cross (VC).


Branch of Service

Here, Gellibrand is counted with the regulars. Australia had no regular infantry or light horse in 1914, so all the regular infantry and cavalry officers were British (and none of them was actually serving in a regimental post in 1914). Otherwise the distribution reflects that of the posts filled by general officers. Because of the highly technical nature of their work, artillery officers were more likely to be regulars. 

Branch or Corps Regulars Total Reservists Total Grand Total
Administrative and Instructional Staff Antill, Blamey, Brand, Chauvel, Dodds, Forsyth, Griffiths, Irving, Jess, Legge, Sellheim 11 0 11
Garrison / Field Artillery S. M. Anderson, Bridges, Burgess, Christian, Coxen, Lloyd, Phillips, White 8 Bessell-Browne, Grimwade, Hobbs, Johnston, Monash, Rosenthal 6 14
Infantry Davies, Gellibrand, Glasfurd, Sinclair-MacLagan 4 Anderson, Bennett, Cannan, Drake-Brockman, Elliott, Goddard, Herring, Holmes, Jobson, Leane, Mackay, MacLaurin, McCay, McGlinn, McNicoll, Moore, Paton, Pope, Rankin, Robertson, Smith, Stewart, Wilson 23 27
Cavalry / Light Horse Birdwood 1 Browne, Cox, Glasgow, Grant, Heane, Hughes, Meredith, Onslow, Ryrie, Tivey, Wisdom 11 12
Other Foott (Engineers) 1 Howse (Medical Corps), Martin (Service Corps) 2 3
None Long 1 1
TOTAL 25 43 68


Tabulated below is the occupation prior to appointment to the AIF. Some generals were already on their second career; Gellibrand had been a regular soldier; Legge had been a lawyer. (On their attestation forms, the regulars invariably gave their profession as "soldier".)




Soldiers S. M. Anderson, Antill, Birdwood, Blamey, Brand, Bridges, Burgess, Chauvel, Christian, Coxen, Davies, Dodds, Foott, Forsyth, Glasfurd, Griffiths, Irving, Jess, Legge, Lloyd, Phillips, Sinclair-MacLagan, Sellheim, White, 24
Lawyers Drake-Brockman, Elliott, MacLaurin, McCay, Wilson 5
Doctors Howse, Meredith 2
Architects Hobbs, Rosenthal 2
Engineers Monash 1
Teachers Mackay, McNicoll 2
Other Long (bishop), Moore (diplomat), Tivey (stockbroker) 2
Total Professional 14
Rural Gellibrand, Glasgow, Grant, Heane, Onslow, Rankin, Ryrie, 7
Clerical Bennett, Bessell-Browne, Cox, Goddard, Holmes, Jobson, Martin, Pope, Stewart 9
Industrial Grimwade, Johnston, Smith 3
Commercial Anderson, Cannan, Herring, Hughes, Leane, Paton, Robertson 8
Mining Wisdom 1
Tradesman McGlinn (linesman) 1
Other Browne (journalist), 1

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Page created by Ross Mallett
Last update
: 15 June, 2003.