Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Monday, May 22, 2023

Remembering a Veteran: Brigadier (Later Field Marshal) Sir Thomas Blamey, Australian Imperial Force

General Blamey During World War II

By James Patton

Thomas Albert Blamey GBE, KCB, CMG, DSO CStJ, ED (1884 –1951) was born into a farming family of modest means near Wagga Wagga in the Riverina country of New South Wales. He was from a chapel family and a grammar school boy; he became a teacher and a lay preacher at age 16. From these humble beginnings, he rose to become the first (and to date the only) Australian army officer to reach the rank of field marshal. 

A school cadet, in 1906 he was commissioned in the militia, in 1908 he transferred to the regulars and in 1910 was promoted to captain.

In 1911 he was the first Australian up to that time to pass the entrance examination for the staff college. He was sent to the Indian Army Staff College at Quetta (present-day Pakistan), rather than to Camberley in the UK. He completed the course with high marks in 1913, and was assigned to the staff of the Kohat Brigade in India, then sent to England in May 1914 to serve with the Wessex Division. He was promoted to major in July, then after the war began he joined the staff of 1st Australian Division in Egypt. 

Blamey landed at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915. While in his first stint at Gallipoli he got a Mention in Dispatches for leading a daring but unsuccessful raid against a Turkish artillery position, and he played a key role in the development of the periscope rifle. In July he was promoted to lieutenant colonel and was returned to Egypt to help form the 2nd Australian Division, returning to ANZAC in October. 

He proved to be a consummate staff officer, like the American Gen. George C. Marshall. On the Western Front, he became Chief of Staff of the 1st Australian Division. His battle plan led to the bloody but successful capture of Pozières. In June 1918, he was promoted to brigadier and became Chief of Staff of the Australian Corps, serving as Lt. Gen. Sir John Monash’s right-hand man. Monash later wrote this: 

"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 procedure. He served me with an exemplary loyalty, for which I owe 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 faculty 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 obtruded his own opinions, although I knew that he did not always agree with me."

Blamey at the End of the Great War

After the war Blamey became the Deputy Chief of the Australian General Staff, going to London as Australia's representative on the Imperial General Staff. In 1925 he was passed over for the chief’s job, which went to Gen. Sir Harry Chauvel (1865–1945), the famed light horseman.  

Seeing no future prospects, Blarney transferred to the militia and became Victoria's Commissioner of Police. He modernized the police in several ways but was considered confrontational, violent, and ruthless. His tenure was dogged by controversy; in 1936 was forced to resign after having lied to protect one of his senior officers. During his time in the militia, he was promoted to major general, commanded the 3rd Australian Division, and led a recruitment campaign in 1938 that nearly doubled the ranks of the militia.  

Blamey (third from left) on the USS Missouri,
2 September 1945

At the start of the Second World War he was given command of the new 6th Division. In 1940 he became commander of the Australian Corps which was serving in North Africa. Despite a mixed performance, due in large part to the British determination to dissipate his forces and the misguided attempt to defend Greece, in December 1941 he was promoted to general, at that time the fourth Australian to reach that rank. 

In March 1942, he returned to Australia to be the Commander-in-Chief of the Australian Military Forces and then, serving under the American General Douglas MacArthur, Blarney became commander of all Allied land forces in the southwest Pacific theater. Basing himself on the front at Port Moresby, Blamey planned and executed a series of successful offensives.  Favored by MacArthur, who had the ears of both President Roosevelt and the prime minister, and resented by many senior Australian officers, Blamey encountered challenges, and fired several senior officers on MacArthur’s orders.

Late in the war he was criticized when the Australians incurred significant casualties in mopping-up operations against long-bypassed Japanese units. He was also notorious for drinking and womanizing and his failure to stand up for his subordinates prompted one historian to write that he was "the foremost Australian General of World War II but he will never be remembered as the greatest."

On behalf of Australia, Gen. Blamey signed the Japanese surrender on 2 September 1945. He then retired, receiving only his Buick staff car as a reward for his service (the Labor government didn’t believe in honors). 

After the election of 1949, his promotion to field marshal was put forth and announced on 8 June 1950. Since he was retired, he had to be recalled for one day in order to promote him. He was presented with his baton while in a hospital bed and died within the year. Today the Australian army recruit center is named Blamey Barracks and there is a statue in Melbourne which depicts him standing in a jeep rather than astride a horse. 

Melbourne Monument to Blamey

Source: Australian War Memorial


  1. No body is perfect...I guess. He ran the gauntlet of life making many hard decisions. Some good and some not so good. There is still a place in history to say "thank you for your service"and as always, Lest We Forget.

  2. Blamey was never passed over for CGS. He simply was not senior enough and was never considered. He was at the time only a substantive Colonel. Chauvel as a LT General had been Inspector General of the Army, while White as a Lt Gen had been CGS. The appointment of White as Chairman of the Public Service Board 1923 not 1925 caused the Government to ask Chauvel to take on both roles. He demurred. He was being asked to do twice the work for no additional pay. More importantly it meant being tied to a desk in Melbourne doing paper work not meeting troops. The compromise was the establishment of a brand new position DCGS to support Chauvel. Hence the appointment of Blamey

  3. The other point to be made was he was not recalled to active duty for one day to be promoted to Field Marshal. He had been formally retired in February 1950 after 5 years on the inactive list. Menzies as part of his plan to recognise the service of senior AIF officers who had not been awarded knighthoods by the previous governments wanted to make him an FM but a British not Australian FM. It also helped Menzies politically in putting Britain in its place (remember ANZUS follows soon after) The Palace objected due to his status (incorrectly actually) Blamey was returned to the active list back dated to his retirement date and remained on the active list until his death the following year. The paper work was not properly completed until six months after the promotion