Lieutenant General Sir Carl Jess

16 February 1884 - 16 June 1948

AWM Accession Number: ART02982 Artist: Longstaff, John Title: Lieutenant Colonel Carl Jess Date Made: 1919 Medium: oil on canvas Dimensions: Overall: 61.2 x 51 cm Copyright: AWM copyright
Notes: First World War; 1918; London, England; portrait; 1st Australian Imperial Force,10th Infantry Brigade; Colonel and Temporary Brigadier General (later Lieutenant General Sir) Carl Herman Jess, DSO, Commanding Officer 10 Bde, AIF, wearing tunic with ribbons of DSO and Serbian Order of the White Eagle, and Sam Brown belt over shoulder (as there are no service medals this portrait was painted before or immediately after the end of the war in 1918)

Carl Herman Jess was born in Bendigo, Victoria on 16 February 1884, one of nine children of George Jess, a master painter from Germany. He was educated at Violet Street State School in Bendigo, where he was a teacher from 1899 to 1906.

In 1899, Jess joined the First Victorian Volunteer Cadets, rising to the rank of sergeant. In February 1902, he enlisted in the 5th Battalion of the Victorian Infantry, rising through the enlisted ranks to lance corporal and then in 1903, and lance sergeant and then sergeant in 1904. On 7 June 1906, he resigned from the militia and the Victorian Education Department in order to take up a position with the permanent forces.

Jess joined the Administrate and Instructional Staff as a staff sergeant on 8 June 1906 and was promoted to sergeant major on 1 January 1907. On 1 July 1909, he was commissioned as lieutenant. On 1 January 1911 he was sent to New South Wales as brigade major of the 5th Infantry Brigade with the rank of temporary captain, which became permanent on 1 July 1912. While there, he took the Diploma of Military Science course at the University of Sydney. He returned to Victoria as brigade major of the 15th Infantry Brigade. On 13 December 1911 he became staff officer in charge of administering the Universal Training scheme in Victoria. Then on 1 July 1914, he became Deputy Assistant Adjutants General (DAAG) at the 4th Military District (South Australia).

On the outbreak of war, Jess was involved in the mobilisation of the AMF in that state, and then of the preparation of the South Australian contingent, the 10th Infantry Battalion and the 2nd Squadron, 3rd Light Horse Regiment. He joined the AIF himself in Melbourne on 23 September 1914, having been selected for the post of staff captain with the 4th Infantry Brigade by Colonel J. Monash. The German origins of the two men sparked a whispering campaign.

Jess landed at Anzac on 25 April 1915 and served throughout the campaign. He became brigade major of the 2nd Brigade on 23 May 1915 with the rank of major, serving with distinction in the front line, most notably alongside Lieutenant Colonel H. G. Bennett in the attack on the German Officers' Trench on 7 August 1915. For his service at Gallipoli, Jess was mentioned in dispatches.

Jess returned to Egypt on 7 January 1916. On 28 February 1916 he was appointed to command the 7th Battalion, and was promoted to lieutenant colonel on 12 March 1916. As Pozieres in July 1916 he again distinguished himself as a frontline leader, braving shellfire so fierce that one could hardly see for all the brick dust. For this he was twice mentioned in dispatches and awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) on 1 January 1917.

On 19 November 1916 Jess was appointed first commandant of the I Anzac Corps Schools but on 27 November he was recalled to temporarily command the 2nd Brigade. From 13 March 1917 to 8 September 1917, he was an instructor at the School for Commanding Officers at Aldershot, England, the first Australian officer to hold such an appointment.

On 8 September 1917, Jess was appointed GSO2 at I Anzac Corps Headquarters. Then on 7 January 1918 he became GSO1 at 2nd Division Headquarters. On 20 January 1918, he was reunited with his old boss, Major General J. Monash at 3rd Division Headquarters, who declared Jess to be "easily the best man in sight for the job". He was also promoted to major in the AMF on 1 January 1918 and lieutenant colonel on 3 June 1918. At the age of 34, Jess was promoted to colonel and temporary brigadier general on 7 October 1918, taking over the 10th Infantry Brigade. For his service on the Western Front in the final year of war, he was again mentioned in dispatches and appointed Companion of St Michael and St George (CMG) in the 1919 New Year's List.

Jess took over the AIF Training Depot at Codford, England in March 1919. In July, he became Commandant of the AIF Administrative Headquarters in London. Jess replaced Monash as Director General of Repatriation, and then Birdwood as GOC AIF, finally winding up the AIF's affairs overseas in January 1920. For this work, he was appointed a Companion of the British Empire (CBE).

On termination of his AIF appointment on 21 January 1920, Jess reverted to his permanent rank of lieutenant colonel. Instead of returning to Australia, he attended the Staff College at Camberley. The first two classes to Camberley after the war were selected on the basis of war experience rather than entering by examination and were a remarkable group. Some twenty of these entrants had, like Jess, been brigadier generals; some 170 had, like him, been awarded the DSO. Five of them had even won the Victoria Cross. He finally returned to Australia in February 1921.

Jess became a staff officer with the 4th Division in May 1921. In 1925, he became Commandant of the 6th Military District (Tasmania). He was promoted to colonel in 1926 and became commandant of the 5th Military District (Western Australia) in August 1927. He was promoted to brigadier in January 1929 (all the while of course retaining his AIF rank of brigadier general as an honorary rank) and was aide de camp to the Governor General from 1931 to 1935. Jess was involved in organising the centennial celebrations in Western Australia and then in 1933 in Victoria. For this he was created a knight bachelor in the 1935 New Year's List.

In December 1934, Jess was appointed Adjutant General, and became a member of the Military Board. He was promoted to major general in July 1935. In 1938, the Menzies government decided to re-establish the post of Inspector General and give it to a British officer. Prime Minister Menzies had become frustrated with the negative attitude of regular officers like Jess and Lieutenant General J. D. Lavarack towards his Singapore strategy and decided to appoint a British officer as Inspector General, a symptom of his government's Imperial cringe. Lieutenant General E. K. Squires was appointed and Jess, along with Major General O. F. Phillips, was on Squires' list of men to be disposed of. In August Jess was informed that he would be forcibly retired.

The outbreak of the Second World War changed all this and Jess was instead promoted to lieutenant general on 12 December 1939. As Adjutant General, Jess had been appointed chairman of the Department of Defence's Manpower Committee in September 1938 but because of his workload in increasing the size of the militia, he relinquished this post to Major General Sir T. A. Blamey in November. When Blamey was appointed to command the 6th Division in September 1939, Jess transferred from Adjutant General to this post. His work was recognised when he was appointed a Companion of the Bath (CB) in June 1940.

Although many of the duties of the services' Manpower committee were absorbed by the Manpower Priorities Board of the Department of Labour and National Service in August 1941, Jess retained the post until March 1944, concurrently being deputy chairman of the new board. He became Director of Women's National Services in 1943 and organised the Australian Women's Land Army. With a strength of over 3,000, this organisation employed women on jobs in rural Australia.

After leaving the Department of Labour and National Service in March 1944, Jess became involved in a survey and classification of Army records, compiling a report of the activities of the AMF from 1929 to 1939. His work was unfinished when he went on sick leave in July 1945. On 1 April 1946 he was placed on the retired list owing to invalidity. He died at the Heidelburg Repatriation Hospital in Melbourne on 16 June 1948 and was cremated with full military honours.

Today Jess' water colours of 19th and 20th century Australian and British military uniforms are in the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, while his hand carved and painted models of military figures at the Royal Military College at Duntroon. Lieutenant General Sydney Rowell, Chief of the General Staff from 1950 to 1954, described Jess thus:

A striking figure, someone said that he should never appear out of uniform. Jess was largely self educated; he had a most inventive brain, was a master of expediency and had an ability to teach far above the normal. He was steeped in the tradition of the army and had hardly an interest outside the service. I learnt from him how to inject life and realism into outdoor tactical exercises without troops. He had no equal in giving a mental picture of the battle area and of the disposition of the troops.

Sources: Australian Dictionary of Biography, 1899-1939, Vol 9, pp. 485-487; AWM 183/27; Bean, C. E. W., The Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918. Volume II: The Story of Anzac pp. 602-606; Volume V: The AIF In France During the Main German Offensive 1918, pp.25; Rowell, Full Circle, p. 30; Grey, Australian Brass, p. 55; Grey, Australian Brass, p. 55; Austin, A Soldier's Soldier

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Last update 8 June 2010