A formal portrait of Field Marshal Sir Thomas Blamey GBE KCB CMG DSO ED.
Thomas Albert Blamey was born in Wagga Wagga, New South Wales, on 24 January 1884, the seventh of ten children of Richard Blamey, a Cornish butcher who had emigrated to Australia at age 16 and worked as a drover and overseer. Tom was educated at the Superior Public School, Wagga Wagga, and Wagga Wagga Grammar School. He passed the New South Wales Education Department's entrance examination and became a pupil-teacher at lake Albert School in 1899. He 1901 he moved to South Wagga Public School and in 1903 he moved to Western Australia where he became a teaching assistant at Fremantle Boy's School.
Blamey served in the school cadet unit in Wagga Wagga and became a cadet officer in November 1904. In 1906 he sat the examination for a commission in the Administrative and Instructional Staff of the cadets. Only five of the twelve candidates passed; the top mark went to Captain T. H. Dodds, while Blamey came in third. The top candidates from Queensland, South Australia and Tasmania were appointed, but not Blamey, there being no vacancies in Western Australia. There was however, an unfilled vacancy in Victoria and Blamey wrote to the Deputy Assistant Adjutant General (DAAG) in Melbourne, Major J. H. Bruche, stating that he was willing to move to Victoria and that the Victorian vacancy should be offered to him. Bruche was impressed by Blamey's letter and in November 1906 Blamey arrived in Melbourne, commissioned as a lieutenant.
In April 1910, Blamey transferred to the Administrative and Instructional Staff of the Citizen Military Forces (CMF), with seniority back dated to 1 July 1906. He was promoted to captain on 1 December 1910 . In 1911 Blamey sat the entrance examination for the British Staff College and became the first Australian to actually pass; previous entrants (including Captains C. B. B. White and C. H. Foott) had the examination requirement waived. Blamey commenced the course at the Staff College's campus at Quetta, India, in 1912, graduating the next year. While in India he also spent short periods on attachment to the British and Indian Armies.
Blamey sailed for Britain in May 1914, visiting Turkey (including the Dardanelles), Germany and Belgium en route. He spent a brief time on attachment to the 4th Dragoon Guards and then took up duties on the staff of the Wessex Division, at that time entering its annual camp. On 1 July 1914, he was promoted to major. When war broke out on 4 August 1914, Blamey was one of four Australian Army officers stationed in the United Kingdom, the other three being Colonel H. G. Chauvel, Major C. H. Foott and Captain J. D. Lavarack. All four were soon employed on duties at the War Office, replacing British officers that had been sent to France.
On 28 November 1914, Chauvel and Blamey sailed for Egypt where Blamey became part of the 1st Division Headquarters, as General Staff Officer, Grade 3 (GSO3), in charge of intelligence. As such, he landed at Anzac Cove along with Major General W. T. Bridges, Lieutenant Colonel C. B. B. White and Lieutenant R. G. Casey at around 7:30am on 25 April 1915. In the early afternoon, Bridges sent Blamey to Colonel J. W. McCay's 2nd Brigade to evaluate the situation. Blamey telephoned headquarters at 3:30pm and informed them that reinforcements were urgently required. An hour later McCay again requested reinforcements, and Blamey added his opinion that they were urgently required. A battalion was sent.
On the night of 13 May 1915, Blamey, in his capacity as intelligence officer, led a patrol consisting of himself, Sergeant J. H. Will and Bombardier A. A. Orchard, behind the Turkish lines in an effort to locate the Olive Grove guns that had been harassing the beach. Near Pine Ridge, an enemy party of eight Turks approached and one of them went to bayonet Orchard, so Blamey shot him with his revolver. In the fire fight that followed, six Turks were killed. Blamey withdrew his patrol back to the Australian lines without locating the guns. Later, examination of the fuse setting on a dud round revealed that the guns were much further to the south than had been realised.
Blamey was always interested in technical innovation. He was instrumental in the adoption of the periscope rifle, an instrument which he saw during an inspection of the front line. He arranged for the inventor, Lance Corporal W. C. B. Beech, to be seconded to division headquarters to develop the idea. Within a few days, the design was perfected and periscope rifles began to be used throughout the Australian trenches.
In July 1915, Major General J. G. Legge began forming a headquarters for the new 2nd Division and he selected Blamey as GSO2. But when Legge's first choice for Assistant Adjutant and Quartermaster General (AA & QMG), Colonel T. H. Dodds, was turned down by the Australian government, he elevated Blamey to the post, as he was determined that it should be occupied by an Australian, for Legge felt that an Australian officer would take better care of the troops that a British officer. Blamey was promoted to lieutenant colonel on 26 July 1915, the day he left Anzac to take up the post in Egypt. The 2nd Division Headquarters embarked for Gallipoli on 29 August 1915 but Blamey was forced to remain in Egypt for as he had just had an operation for haemorrhoids. He finally returned to Anzac on 25 October 1915, remaining for the rest of the campaign.
Blamey accompanied the 2nd Division to France in March 1916 but on 5 July 1916, as a result of a shuffle of senior staff posts, he moved to the 1st Division as GSO1, replacing Lieutenant Colonel A. H. Bridges (a cousin of the general), who became GSO1 of the 2nd Division. He was immediately plunged into the planning for the attack on Pozieres. Blamey visited British divisions on the Somme in order to learn as much as possible from their recent experiences, which he summarised in memoranda circulated widely through the division. Although mistakes were made, the attack was an important tactical success, capturing Pozieres. For his part, Blamey was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) in the 1917 New Year's list.
At this time, Birdwood had Blamey under consideration for appointment as a brigade commander. As a preliminary step, Blamey was appointed to command the 2nd Infantry Battalion on 3 December 1916. Then on 28 December, Blamey, as senior ranking battalion commander, took over as acting command of the 1st Infantry Brigade. On 9 January 1917, he went on leave, handing over acting command to Lieutenant Colonel I. G. Mackay. By the time Blamey got back, the plan had been scuttled. GHQ BEF had noticed that Blamey was a Staff College graduate and directed that such qualified staff officers were not to be used as battalion commanders unless they had failed as staff officers. Blamey had not failed, so back to the GSO1 job he went. Birdwood did, however, promote Blamey to full colonel, backdated to 1 December 1916, thereby making him technically senior to recently promoted Brigadier Generals E. A. Wisdom, H. G. Bennett and J. Heane. His division commander, Major General H. B. Walker, had Blamey mentioned in dispatches for this period of battalion and brigade command, although the battalion had spent most of the period out of the line and there had been no significant engagements.
Blamey was also acting commander of the 2nd Brigade during a rest period from 27 August to 4 September 1917. On 13 September he was admitted to hospital and was eventually evacuated to England and did not return until 8 November 1917. In his absence, Colonel J. G. Dill and Lieutenant Colonel J. D. Lavarack acted as GSO1 of the 1st Division in his absence. Blamey was made a Companion of St Michael and St George (CMG) in the 1918 New Year's list.
On 1 June 1918 Blamey was finally promoted, becoming Brigadier General General Staff (BGGS) of the Australian Corps under its new commander, Lieutenant General Sir J. Monash. The two men soon built up an excellent working relationship. Monash later wrote:
No reference to the staff work of the Australian Corps during the period of my command would be complete without a tribute to the work and personality of Brigadier General T. A. Blamey, my Chief of Staff. He possessed a mind cultured far above the average, widely informed, alert and prehensile. He had an infinite capacity for taking pains. A Staff College graduate, but not on that account a pedant, he was thoroughly versed in the technique of staff work, and in the minutiae of all procedures.
He served me with exemplary loyalty, for which I owe him a debt of gratitude which cannot be repaid. Our temperaments adapted themselves to each other in a manner which was ideal. He had an extraordinary capability for self-effacement, posing always and conscientiously as the instrument to give effect to my policies and decisions. Really helpful whenever his advice was invited, he never intruded his own opinions, although I know that he did not always agree with me.
Some day the orders which he drafted for the long series of history making operations on which we collaborated will become a model for Staff Colleges and Schools for military instruction. They were accurate, lucid in language, perfect in detail, and always an exact interpretation of my intention. It was seldom that I thought that my orders or instructions could have been better expressed, and no commander could have been more exacting than I was in the matter of the use of clear language to express thought.
Blamey was a man of inexhaustible industry and accepted every task with placid readiness. Nothing was ever too much trouble. He worked late and early, and set a high standard for the remainder of the Corps Staff of which he was the head. The personal support which he accorded to me was of a nature of which I could always feel the real substance. I was able to lean on him in times of trouble, stress and difficulty, to a degree which was an inexpressible comfort to me.
Monash's prediction that Blamey's orders would be studied at staff colleges has since come to pass.
Blamey remained interested in technological innovation. He was impressed the capabilities of the new models of tanks and pressed for their use at Hamel, where they played an important part in the success of that battle. He noted the wide use that the Germans had made of their Mustard gas and took extraordinary steps to arrange for a supply of mustard gas shells for the assault on the Hindenburg Line in September. For his services as Corps Chief of Staff, Blamey was made a Companion of the Bath (CB). In all, he had been mentioned in dispatches seven times.
Blamey finally returned to Australia on 20 October 1919 after more than six years overseas and was posted to army Headquarters in Melbourne as Director of Military Operations. In May 1920, he became Deputy Chief of the General Staff. His first major task was the creation of the RAAF, working with Lieutenant Colonel R. Williams of the Flying Corps as the Army representatives. On 1 November 1922, Blamey left for London as the Australian Representative at the Imperial General Staff. Most of his work was connected with the establishment of a naval base at Singapore and the development of the RAAF.
On the retirement of the Chief of the General Staff (CGS), Major General Sir C. B. B. White, in 1923, Blamey expected to become CGS. However, his ambition was thwarted by Major General V. C. M. Sellheim, who wrote to the Minister of Defence, protesting his supersession, and that of other senior permanent officers including Major Generals J. H. Bruche and C. H. Brand and Brigadier Generals W. A. Coxen, T. H. Dodds, and C. H. Foott. Instead, the post was given to General H. G. Chauvel, the Inspector General, while Blamey became 2nd CGS, a newly created post.
On 1 September 1925, Blamey resigned from the permanent forces and became Chief Commissioner of Police in Victoria. Almost immediately he became embroiled in a scandal when on 21 October 1925, police raided a brothel and apart from finding alcohol being sold without a liquor licence, they discovered a man in possession of Blamey's police badge. Apparently, Blamey had loaned his badge to a friend. Blamey modernised the force, improved and increased recruiting, raised the number of women in the force, overhauled the promotion system and established the Licensing Branch. He was created a knight bachelor in 1935 but was forced to resign on 9 July 1936 for issuing an untrue statement in order to protect the reputations of two ladies who were innocent victims of an armed hold up.
After leaving the regular army, Blamey had transferred to the militia. On 1 May 1926 he took command of the 10th Infantry Brigade, succeeding Brigadier General J. C. Stewart. The brigade was part of the 3rd Division, which was commanded by Major General G. J. Johnston from 1922 to 1927 and then by Major General H. E. Elliott. Following Elliott's death on 23 March 1931, Blamey took command of the division and was promoted to major general, one of only four militia officers promoted to this rank between 1929 and 1939, the others being H. G. Bennett in 1930, I. G. Mackay in 1937 and E. A. Drake-Brockman, who succeeded Blamey as 3rd Division commander in 1937, when he moved to the unattached list.
At this point, where the biographies of most Great War generals end, that of Blamey usually begins.
In September 1938, with the prospect of another war looming, the government established a Manpower Committee at the Department of Defence and Blamey took its chairmanship over from Major General Sir C. H. Jess in November. Over the next weeks, Blamey and his staff drew up lists of reserved occupations, selected district manpower officers and made arrangements for a future full mobilisation.
When war broke in September 1939, Blamey was the army's second most senior officer on the active list, ranking after Major General H. G. Bennett and ahead of the CGS, Major General J. D. Lavarack, both vocal critics of the government's defence policies. These officers had their supporters in Cabinet, but Blamey was well known to the Prime Minister, R. G. Menzies, who had been Attorney General in the Victorian Government when Blamey was Chief Commissioner, and the Treasurer, R. G. Casey, who had served under Blamey on the 1st Division and Australian Corps staff.
On 28 September 1939, Blamey was appointed to command the Second AIF and its new 6th Division. He began selecting his staff on 1 October. For GSO1 he selected Colonel S.F. Rowell; for GSO2, Major R. G. H. Irving (the son of Major General G. G. H. Irving); for AA & QMG, Lieutenant Colonel G. A. Vasey, all regular officers. For brigade commanders he selected Brigadier A. S. Allen who had commanded the 45th Battalion in the First AIF, Brigadier L. J. Moreshead, who had commanded the 33rd, and Brigadier S. G. Savige, who had commanded a small independent force in Kurdistan in 1918, and later the 37th and 24th Battalions and 10th Brigade under Blamey in the 3rd Division after the war. For an artillery commander, he chose Brigadier E. F. Herring, commander of the 3rd Division Artillery, a King's Council and Rhodes Scholar. All four brigadiers were militia officers, on orders from Prime Minister Menzies.
Blamey was promoted to lieutenant general on 13 October 1939. On 28 February the War Cabinet decided to raise a second division (the 7th). Blamey was given command of I Corps while Major General I. G. Mackay took over the 6th Division and Lieutenant General J. D. Lavarack dropped in rank to major general in order to command the 7th Division. Blamey took Rowell with him as Brigadier General Staff (BGS) and appointed Major General H. D. Wynter as Deputy Adjutant and Quartermaster General (DA & QMG).
The 16th Infantry Brigade and other elements of the 6th Division had already arrived in Palestine. The 17th Infantry Brigade followed in April, but the 18th was diverted to the United Kingdom due to the deteriorating military situation in France. On 12 June 1940, Blamey left for Palestine with Rowell and others on a Qantas flying boat, in civilian clothes as they were passing through neutral countries. They landed on Lake Tiberias on 20 June 1940 and on 22 June Blamey reported to his new superior, the British Commander in Chief, Middle East, General Sir A. P. Wavell in Cairo. The two men had similar backgrounds, having both been corps BGGS during the Great War.
In December 1940, Wavell launched a surprise offensive against the Italians in Libya. By this time the 6th and 7th Divisions were in the Middle East and more or less complete and Blamey agreed to temporarily attach the 6th Division to the Western Desert Force, with which it participated in the successful attack on Bardia and the subsequent drive to Benghazi. Wavell agreed that I Corps would take over from the Western Desert Force at first opportunity and this it did on 15 February 1941.
Yet within days Blamey was alerted for another operation. Wavell had been ordered to send troops to Greece and wanted I Corps to go. Wavell misled Blamey into believing that the project had been approved by Menzies, while informing Menzies that Blamey approved. In reality Blamey thought that the expedition to Greece had Buckley's chance of success, and was extremely concerned about the ability of the man appointed to command the expedition, Lieutenant General Sir H. M. Wilson. Blamey has since been strongly criticised for failing to make the Australian government aware of his doubts about the project. He learned his lesson and never again failed to keep the Australian government fully informed.
Soon after he arrived in Greece, Blamey scouted the likely evacuation beaches with his aide. While Wavell had proposed to send the 7th Division, followed by the 6th, Blamey revised this order so that the more experienced 6th Division would be available. Unfortunately, this resulted in the recently arrived and inexperienced 9th Division, under Major General L. J. Moreshead, finding itself in the path of the German advance when Rommel counterattacked in Libya, and becoming besieged in Tobruk. Blamey conducted a skilled withdrawal in Greece, culminating in the evacuation he had foreseen. The campaign ended ignominiously when Wavell ordered Blamey out of Greece, an order he protested to no avail. Blamey flew out with Rowell and other staff officers, including his son, Major T. R. Blamey, a matter of resentment to some.
Blamey returned to Cairo to find that he had been appointed Deputy Commander in Chief Middle East as a result of the political fall out of the Greek campaign, and that the AIF had been scattered about the theatre. His first concern was Crete, where German paratroops landed on 20 May 1941. As acting theatre commander, Blamey was unable to salvage the situation but took action to ensure that as many Australians were evacuated as possible. In Syria, where the 7th Division was the principal force, Blamey acquiesced with the British command arrangements, whereby Wilson directed operations from a hotel in Jerusalem a hundred miles from the front, because Blamey was reluctant to appoint another corps commander while still uncertain how secure his job as Deputy C-in-C was. When it became clear that Wilson could not adequately control the operation, Blamey took belated but decisive action, appointing Lavarack as I Corps commander, and interposing I Corps headquarters between Wilson and the 7th Division, which he appointed Allen to command. The campaign in Syria was brought to a successful conclusion. As Blamey was the second most senior officer in the theatre, the British government promoted Wilson to full general in June. The Australian government reacted by promoting Blamey to full general on 24 September 1941. Blamey became only the fourth Australian to reach this rank, after H. G. Chauvel, J. Monash and C. B. B. White.
Later that month Wavell was relieved, replaced by General Sir C. Auchinleck. Blamey and Auchinleck soon clashed. After Syria, Blamey's attention turned to the 9th Division, still holding out in Tobruk. Concerns about Tobruk had receded after Morehead had twice defeated Rommel in April but Blamey and the Australian government still pressed for its relief. The 9th Division was eventually withdrawn from Tobruk in October 1941. For his services, particularly in Greece, Blamey was created a a Knight Commander of the Bath (KCB) in the 1942 New Year's List.
Blamey's stance over the relief of the 9th Division had British Prime Minister W. S. Churchill ready to ask the Australian government for Blamey's relief but the outbreak of war with Japan on 8 December 1941 completely changed the situation. On 11 March 1942 Blamey was appointed C-in-C of the Australian Military Forces and returned to Australia to take command of the Army in its greatest crisis. On 26 March 1942 he arrived in Melbourne and was informed that he would also be C-in-C Allied Land Forces in the new C-in-C of the South West Pacific Area (SWPA) theatre, under American General D. MacArthur who became the Australian government's chief advisor on strategic matters, although Blamey still had direct access to the Prime Minister.
Blamey established his headquarters, which became known as Land Headquarters (LHQ), in Melbourne. He appointed Major General G. A. Vasey as his chief of staff, Lieutenant General H. D. Wynter as Lieutenant General Administration (LGA), Major General V. P. H. Stantke as Adjutant General and Major General J. H. Cannan as Quartermaster General. There were few Americans at LHQ, just as (in spite of express orders from Washington) there were few Australians at MacArthur's GHQ in Brisbane. Blamey initiated a sweeping reorganisation of the defence of Australia that saw Lieutenant General J. D. Lavarack appointed to command the First Army in Queensland, Lieutenant General I. G. Mackay, the Second Army in Victoria and Lieutenant General H. G. Bennett, the III Corps in Western Australia. Lieutenant General S. F. Rowell was given I Corps and Lieutenant General J. Northcott, II Corps. These formations (which became active on 15 April 1942) soon controlled eleven Australian divisions and two American divisions.
The Battle of the Coral Sea on 7-8 May 1942 ended the possibility of a Japanese seaborne attack on Port Moresby but within a fortnight the codebreakers in Melbourne reported that the Japanese intended to make an overland attempt over the Kokoka Trail. MacArthur decided to establish a base on the eastern tip of New Guinea at Milne Bay and Blamey sent the 7th Infantry Brigade to defend it and the 14th Infantry Brigade to reinforce Port Moresby, joining the 30th Infantry Brigade that was already there. Blamey has been strongly criticised for sending the militia instead of the veteran AIF troops of 7th Division, which he was keeping for projected offensive operations. Once the Japanese offensive developed, Blamey ordered Rowell to take command in New Guinea, and sent the 7th Division. There was soon heavy fighting, both at Milne Bay and on the Kokoka Trail.
By the end of August, the Japanese had been decisively defeated at Milne Bay but as Rowell's troops made a fighting withdrawal along the Kokoka Trail over the Owen Stanley Range, some of the most rugged and daunting terrain in the world, MacArthur became increasingly alarmed at what looked like another Malaya style retreat. MacArthur told Prime Minister J. Curtin that he did not share the Australian commanders' confidence in their ability to deal with the situation and he recommended that Blamey be sent to New Guinea to take personal command. Much against his wish and better judgement, Blamey complied this order of Curtin's and MacArthur's.
Blamey arrived in Port Moresby on 23 September 1942, where he found Rowell petulant and uncooperative. Blamey relieved Rowell of his command on 28 September, replacing him with Lieutenant General E. F. Herring. Blamey made sure that MacArthur was kept fully informed on progress back in Brisbane as the 7th Division gradually pushed the Japanese back over the Kokoda Trail. In response to constant calls from MacArthur for a faster advance, Blamey relieved Brigadier A. W. Potts of the 21st Brigade on 9 October and then Major General A. S. Allen of the 7th Division on 27 October, replacing him with Major General G. A. Vasey.
Having pursued the Japanese across the Owen Stanleys, the diggers confronted an enemy ensconced in a vast complex of bunkers in the swamps surrounding Buna and Sanananda. Joining them was the US 32nd Division. MacArthur's hopes for a quick victory were soon dashed and the performance of the American troops was profoundly embarrassing, if only in the light of American criticism of the Australians. MacArthur sent the US I Corps, under the command of Major General Robert L. Eichelberger, with orders to take Buna or not come back alive. For the first time since the Great War, an American Corps fought under an Australian Corps. Eichelburger soon established a good working relationship with the Australians. The campaign dragged on to a grim conclusion, with the Japanese fighting stubbornly to the very end. On 5 January, Blamey flew across the mountains and visited the forward units. Looking at the bunkers that had been captured thus far, Blamey declared that the GIs and diggers who had fought through the fetid swamps and captured the bunkers had performed nothing less than a miracle. For his part, Blamey was created a Knight Grand Cross of the British Empire (GBE) on 29 May 1943.
The Official Historian wrote of Blamey's role in Papua:
At the very peak of this leadership development was General Blamey himself. His greatness was demonstrated almost daily by a knowledge unparalleled in Australia of how an Army should be formed and put to work; by his exercise of the vital field command at the same time as he kept within his grasp a vastly detailed control of the Australian Army as a whole; by his sagacity and strength in meeting the rapidly changing demands of a difficult political situation; by his ability speedily to encompass the requirements of the new war and plan far ahead of the events of the day as he controlled them; by his generally unappreciated humanity.
Blamey's next campaign in New Guinea was an entirely different affair. One again, Blamey took over personal command of New Guinea Force. His conception involved a gigantic double envelopment of the Japanese forces. American paratroops would seize the airfield around Nadzab, enabling the 7th Division to fly in and attack Lae from the west while the 9th Division -- back from the Middle East and retrained for jungle warfare and combined operations -- would land on the beaches east of Lae and attack it from the opposite side. Blamey's plan involved imaginative use of the latest innovations in air and sea power in a manner worthy of Monash, and one of the most brilliant of the war. Launched in September 1943, it took the enemy by surprise. The capture of Lae followed rapidly. The 7th Division then turned around 180° and drove up the Markham and Ramu Valleys while the 9th Division moved along the coast to Finschafen. After much fighting, the whole New Guinea coast from Milne Bay to Madang was in Allied hands. It was a major victory at low cost, and a vindication not just of Blamey as a field commander, but of his training policies as well.
This was Blamey's last campaign as an operational commander. The Australians had been the spearhead of the Allied effort in the South west pacific for two years. Now that role was taken over by the Americans of Alamo Force, Lieutenant General W. Krueger's US Sixth Army, operating under MacArthur's direct command. Blamey's Australian divisions were withdrawn to Australia to rest. In April 1944, Blamey travelled to the United States with Curtin. In Washington Blamey was warmly received by the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, eager to hear about the war in the South West Pacific, and he met with the Combined Chiefs. Curtin and Blamey flew on to London where they met and discussed British plans for the war in the Pacific with the British Chiefs of Staff. Blamey met with the Supreme Commander, General D. D. Eisenhower, and the Allied Land commander, General B. L. Montgomery, who gave him a detailed briefing on the Normandy invasion plan. Blamey also took the opportunity to speak to Australian Army officers on secondment in Europe who were involved in that operation.
Because the Australian militia could not be employed north of the equator, MacArthur decided to have militia relieve the American garrisons in New Guinea and the Islands, thereby freeing up American troops for the upcoming campaign in the Philippines. Far from withering on the vine, these bypassed Japanese were tying up large numbers of American troops. Blamey believed strongly that it was politically vital for Australia to participate in the invasion of Japan, and only the AIF could do it. This required reducing the garrisons to the point where the militia alone could contain them. Therefore those Japanese still holding out in Australian territories had to go. For the first time, an Australian general led an Australian Army in pursuit of Australian political objectives. It would be the Australian Army's major effort of the war. Lieutenant General V. A. H. Sturdee of the First Army directed operations from Lae. The 5th Division tightened the noose on Rabaul; Savige's II Corps, with the 3rd and 11th Divisions, began a long campaign to wipe out the Japanese on Bougainville; while the 6th Division cleared New Guinea, capturing the main Japanese base at Wewak and driving the survivors across the mountains. Lieutenant General Sir L. J. Morshead's I Corps, with the 7th and 9th Divisions, was under MacArthur's command in case he needed the AIF in the Philippines. Eventually MacArthur used them to capture the oilfields of Borneo.
Blamey received a lot of criticism over these campaigns, both their rationale and their conduct. He was accused of cronyism and sidelining rival generals such as Lieutenant General J. D. Lavarack (who had been sent to Washington), Lieutenant General H. G. Bennett (who had been retired) and Major General H. C. H. Robertson while giving a corps command to Savige, a less highly regarded officer. Blamey responded by appointed Major General G. A. Vasey to command the 6th Division in New Guinea but Vasey was killed in a plane crash en route to his new command on 5 March 1945. Blamey then appointed Robertson to command the 5th Division on New Britain.
Blamey was charged with having an excessive number of generals in the army (in the British army there was one general for every 8,333 men, in the America, 1 per 6,450, in the Australia, 1 per 14,953). He was accused of maintaining an Army that was too large. These accusations had little substance, but Blamey's relations with the government soured.
On 2 September 1945, Blamey stood with MacArthur on the deck of the USS Missouri and signed the Japanese surrender document on behalf of Australia as an equal partner. He then flew to Moratai where he personally accepted the surrender of the remaining Japanese in the South West Pacific. By this time nine out of every ten Japanese who had set foot on New Guinea had died.
Then on 14 November 1945, Blamey was abruptly dismissed by the government. He was formally discharged on 31 January 1946, after 39 years of service. Asked if he wanted any honours for himself, Blamey declined, instead requesting knighthoods for Lieutenant General J. Northcott and Major Generals J. H. Cannan, J. E. S. Stevens and G. F. Wootten. His request was refused. But in December 1949, the government changed an Menzies again became Prime Minister. Blamey wrote to him recommending knighthoods for Lieutenant Generals J. Northcott, S. G. Savige, V. A. H. Sturdee and F. H. Berryman and Major Generals S. R. Burston, J. H. Cannan, C. S. Steele, J. E. S. Stevens and G. F. Wootten. This time all were accepted except Cannan.
On 8 June 1950, Blamey was promoted to field marshal, the first and only Australian to reach the rank. Gravely ill, he was presented with his baton in a ceremony at the Heidelberg Rapatriation General Hospital on 16 September 1950. Blamey never removed from his illness and died of a stroke on 27 May 1951. A state funeral was held in Melbourne. An escort of 4,000 troops accompanied the gun carriage with his coffin along a route from the Shrine of Remembrance to Faulker Crematorium lined by 300,000 people. For pall bearers the field marshal had ten of his lieutenant generals: J. Northcott, L. J. Moreshead, I. G. Mackay, E. F. Herring, V. A. H. Sturdee, S. G. Savige, S. F. Rowell, F. H. Berryman, W. Bridgeford and H. Wells.
A statue of Blamey stands in the King's Domain in Melbourne, near the Shrine of Remembrance. The square at the heart of the Department of Defence complex in Canberra was named Sir Thomas Blamey Square and a bas relief likeness was unveiled there in 1984. On 27 May 2001, the square was renamed Field Marshal Sir Thomas Blamey Square. The baton of the nation's only field marshal is on display in the War Memorial.
"I have always felt", wrote MacArthur in 1954, "that his services in the Second World War were not sufficiently recognized. What he did cannot be overestimated, and his contribution to the defeat of Japan marked him as one of the great soldiers of our time. Australia and, indeed, the whole free world owes him a debt of gratitude."
Sources: Horner, David, Blamey: The Companion in Chief; C. E. W. Bean, The Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918. Volume I: The Story of Anzac, pp. 400-401; Volume II: The Story of Anzac, pp. 176-177; Monash, John, The Australian Victories in France in 1918, p. 296; Long, Gavin, To Benghazi, pp. 43-50; McCarthy, Dudley, South West Pacific Area -- First Year, pp. 236-242, 591
Page created by Ross
Last update 8 June 2010