Major General Sir Granville Ryrie

1 July 1865 - 2 October 1937

ART03556 Wheeler, Charles, Major General the Hon. Sir Granville Ryrie (1921), oil on canvas, 76.2 x 61.4 cm, AWM copyright

William Granville de Laune Ryrie was born on 1 July 1865 at Micalago, NSW. His father was a grazier and politician, a member of the NSW Legislative Assembly from 1880 to 1891 and then the NSW Legislative Council from 1892 to 1909. Granville was educated at Mittagong, NSW and King's School, Parramatta, NSW. In 1884 he began working as a jackaroo at Goonal Station, north west of Moree, NSW. Ryrie was an expert rider and shooter and an amateur heavy weight boxing champion. At Goonal Station he learnt some of the Kamilaroi language from the local aboriginal stockmen. After three years he returned to the 35,000 acre (14,000 ha) family farm to take over its management.

Ryrie enlisted in the NSW militia as a trooper and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the 1st Australian Horse in 1898. When the Boer War broke out, he joined the Imperial Bushmen as a captain, arriving in South Africa in May 1900. He saw action in Rhodesia and South Africa, and was wounded near Wonderfontein in September 1900. In May 1900, he was promoted to major, before returning to Australia in June 1901.

Ryrie resumed serving with the 1st Australian Horse, who became the 3rd Light Horse Regiment in 1903. He became its commander on 29 October 1904 with the rank of lieutenant colonel, and remained commander until he was transferred to the unattached list in 1911.

After the Boer War, Ryrie began a new career as a politician. He was elected to the NSW Legislative Assembly as member for Queanbeyan in April 1906. He ran for the Federal seat of Werriwa in April 1910 but lost. In October, he ran for the state seat of Cootamundra, and again lost, albeit narrowly. Then in 1911 he ran for the Federal seat of North Sydney, and this time won, and was sworn in on 5 September 1911.

On 17 September 1914, Ryrie was appointed commander of the AIF's 2nd Light Horse Brigade, a brigade raised from New South Wales and Queensland. His constituents presented him with a handsome horse, ironically named Plain Bill, a thoroughbred steeplechaser who was destined to carry him through several campaigns.

When they arrived in Egypt, the 2nd Light Horse Brigade became Corps troops, under Lieutenant General Sir William Birdwood's command. When the 1st Light Horse Brigade received orders to proceed to Gallipoli dismounted, Ryrie volunteered his brigade for dismounted service too. The brigade arrived at Gallipoli on 19 May 1915. There it was broken up, and its regiments attached to infantry brigades, Birdwood being uncertain of Ryrie's capability at this juncture.

In June, the brigade was reconstituted, and Birdwood gave Ryrie Captain W. J. Foster, an Australian regular officer, as brigade major. The brigade henceforth held the southernmost part of the line at Anzac, along Holly Ridge.In August Ryrie received an order from Birdwood to prepare an attack on Holly Ridge. The Official Historian, Captain C. E. W. Bean described what happened next:

Ryrie's 2nd Light Horse Brigade had not yet been engaged in any important assault, a circumstance which often laid upon a new commander a strong temptation to grasp any opportunity of showing the mettle of his troops without paying sufficient attention to the difficulties. It might have been suspected that Ryrie, in particular, would have been anxious to impress his superiors by carrying out their plans. If, however, he did not pretend to be a highly skilled or learned soldier, he was a man of sure sense and long accustomed to take responsibilities and make decisions. The divisional staff had already more than once been impressed by his prudent advice. Feeling himself charged with the lives of his men, he carefully weighed the chances of the attack, and then supported Clogstoun's objections, forwarding them under the cover of a wise letter from himself. The result was that on August 5th, the very day on which it was to have taken place, the operation was indefinitely postponed.

On 29 September 1915, Ryrie was wounded by shrapnel while he was standing outside his brigade headquarters, and was evacuated, first to Lemnos and then to Egypt. He returned to the front in October and was again wounded in December when shells struck the parapet above his head.

Arriving back in Egypt in December 1915, the 2nd Light Horse Brigade did not receive orders to move until 21 February 1916. Two days later it moved to Serapeum, Egypt, where in March it became part of Major General H. G. Chauvel's newly-formed Anzac Mounted Division. In April and Turkish raid overwhelmed outposts held by the British Yeomanry and the 2nd Light Horse Brigade was sent forward to cover the British retreat, although its equipment was still incomplete. Neither Ryrie nor his brigade were impressed with their British counterparts, and especially not with the luxuries that they found in the British camps.

Leaving his brigade in the desert, Ryrie left for England via France on leave to attend a Parliamentary Conference. In consequence, he missed the Battle of Romani. He returned to his brigade in September.

On 26 March 1917 the Ryrie's 2nd Light Horse and Brigadier General E. W. C. Chaytor's New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigades attacked and captured Gaza in a tough fight, entering the town as the sun set. Both brigadiers were gobsmacked when they received orders to withdraw from Lieutenant General Sir C. M. Dobell, the British commander in charge of the operation. Ryrie complied, although he refused to leave Gaza until every last one of his men was accounted for, and his brigade did not finally depart the town until long after 10pm.

Ryrie led his brigade in the fighting north of Beersheba that led to the capture of Jerusalem and in the unsuccessful operations east of the Jordan in February and March 1918. From May through July 1918, Ryrie was hospitalised in Egypt with a stomach ailment. In the final campaign, Ryrie's men crossed the Jordan one more time and captured Amman. At Zia, Ryrie accepted the surrender of 4,700 Turks.

In December 1918, Ryrie took command of the Anzac Mounted Division. When the Egyptian Rebellion broke out in March 1919, the embarkation of the AIF for Australia was suspended, horses and equipment were distributed and the light horse sent to act as a security force. When a Ghurkha soldier was killed, Ryrie used two Aboriginal soldiers to track the killer to a nearby village. When the village headman could not produce the killer, Ryrie had the village burnt.

On 16 April 1919, Ryrie succeeded Chauvel as GOC AIF Egypt, and was promoted to temporary major general. On 13 May 1919, he was promoted to substantive major general. Shortly before he returned to Australia in October 1919, Ryrie was created a Knight Commander of St Michael and St George (KCMG) on the recommendation of General Sir Edmund Allenby.

Ryrie resumed his political activities, serving as Assistant Minister of Defence in the Hughes cabinet from February 1920 to December 1921. In the election of 1925 Ryrie moved from the seat of North Sydney to neighbouring Warringah. He was chairman of the Public Accounts Committee from 1926 to 1927. From 1927 to 1932 he was High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, and represented Australia in the League of Nations.

Ryrie returned to the militia as commander of the 1st Cavalry Division in 1921. He obtained leave from his command until July 1924, then resumed until he retired in June 1927 .

He died on 2 October 1937. He was accorded a state funeral with military honours, and was buried at Micalago.

The official historian, Captain Sir Henry Gullett, wrote of Ryrie:

Such a man, provided he was a good soldier, could scarcely fail to be a hero to his men. And Ryrie had many great qualities as a soldier... No leader in Palestine had a shrewder grasp of possibilities, both British and enemy; and because of this he went right through the campaign from the Canal -- where at the beginning he led the light horse vanguard -- to the armistice without once making a serious mistake -- an uncommon record for a leader of a sensitive, daring force in a campaign of two and a half years constant fighting. Steady, competent success marked his leadership all the way.

Sources: Australian Dictionary of Biography, 1899-1939, Vol 11, pp. 502-504; Bean, C. E. W., The Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918. Volume II: The Story of Anzac pp. 293-294, 487-488, 826; Gullett, H. S., Volume VII: The AIF in Sinai and Palestine, pp. Vincent, Phoebe, My Darling Mick: The life of Granville Ryrie.

Page created by Ross Mallett
Last update 8 June 2010