John Whitelaw (1921–2010)

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For other people named John Whitelaw, see John Whitelaw (disambiguation).
Note that his father was also Major General John Whitelaw
John Whitelaw
Born (1921-06-11)11 June 1921
Hawthorn, Victoria
Died 18 June 2010(2010-06-18) (aged 89)
Canberra, Australian Capital Territory
Allegiance  Australia
Service/branch Australian Army
Years of service 1939–1978
Rank Major General
Commands held Deputy Chief of the General Staff
Battles/wars Second World War
Indonesia–Malaysia confrontation
Vietnam War
Awards Officer of the Order of Australia
Commander of the Order of the British Empire
Mentioned in Despatches
Bronze Star (United States)
Relations Major General John Whitelaw (father)

Major General John Whitelaw AOCBE (11 June 1921 – 18 June 2010)[1] was a career soldier in the Australian Army who rose to the position of Deputy Chief of the General Staff (1977–1978). In retirement he was very active on many councils and committees.

Early years[edit]

Whitelaw was born on 11 June 1921 in Hawthorn, Victoria into the military family of Major General John Whitelaw and his wife Esther Augusta née Norman. His brothers Fred and Norm also served as Artillery officers, Fred as a brigadier and Norm as a major. He attended schools in both rural and urban Victoria and from an early age displayed a penchant for mathematics. He attended Sydney Boys High School and Wesley College, Melbourne. In 1937 he commenced working as an indentured clerk with the paper merchants Spicers & Detmold Ltd in Melbourne.[2]

Militia and Second World War[edit]

On 11 June 1939, he enlisted in the Militia and served with 10 Field Brigade, Royal Australian Artillery. During his time with the Militia, he rose to the rank of Sergeant and served in Regimental and instructional positions. Based on his abilities and education, he was appointed a Provisional Lieutenant on 15 March 1940. He served with the Citizen Military Force (Full Time Duty) from 1 May 1940 to 25 September 1941, and the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) from 26 September 1941 to 9 September 1946.

His wartime service saw duty with: Arty Wing RTD, Royal Australian Artillery 10 Field Brigade; Eastern Command, 2 Military District; and 9 Field Brigade, 14 Field Regiment, Royal Australian Artillery. Whilst with Eastern Command, he was responsible for coastal defence on the Eastern seaboard. This experience exposed Whitelaw to radar, and he recognised this technology's potential and became a firm proponent of its use for domestic defence.

Whitelaw saw active service in New Guinea and Bougainville. He was wounded in action on Bougainville, however he remained on duty. Captain Whitelaw earned a mention in despatches on 6 June 1944 while serving as an artillery forward observer during an amphibious assault at Porton Plantation to cut off the withdrawing Japanese.[3]

Interbellum and senior command[edit]

Following the cessation of hostilities, in September 1946 he returned to his job with Spicers in Melbourne. In December 1947 he married Nancy Bogle, and in 1948, Spicers transferred him to their Perth office.

When the Citizen Military Force (CMF) was restructured, Captain Whitelaw returned to the Active List with Headquarters Western Command on 4 July 1948. He applied for a commission in the Interim Army, and on 1 July 1949 began a full-time army career which consumed him for the next 29 years during which he rose to become a major general and Deputy Chief of the General Staff.

He served in several staff positions associated with movement control. He also served as Aide de Campe to the Governor of Western Australia. He was transferred to the Australian Regular Army (ARA) on 15 August 1952.

During 1955, Major Whitelaw, Nancy and their three young daughters enjoyed the Canadian Staff College at Kingston. He was subsequently appointed as the Exchange Instructor in Canada for the following 2 years.

Whitelaw continued to serve in various staff positions, which included: Headquarters Australian Army Force, Far East Land Force (FARELF); Chief of Operations, Operations Branch Army Office; and Army Headquarters, Canberra DEP (Director Equipment Policy). He also saw service in Vietnam and the United States.

On 21 April 1977, Whitelaw was appointed Deputy Chief of the General Staff, Department of Defence (Army Office). Whitelaw served in this position until 11 June 1978 when he retired from Australian Regular Army and was placed on Retired List, 2 Military District.


Following his retirement from the military, Major General Whitelaw maintained close ties with veteran and Service organisations. On 20 July 1979, he became the inaugural executive director of the National Farmers Federation. He was active with the Department of Veterans Affairs and served on numerous councils including the Australian Veterans and Defence Services Council, and the Australian Capital Territory Treatment Monitoring Committee. Major General Whitelaw continued to write on military and social topics.

In November 2006 he was presented with Honorary Life Membership of the USI of the ACT, (Royal United Services Institute), in recognition of his enduring support of the organisation and its aims.

He died on Friday 18 June 2010; a military funeral was held at the Anzac Memorial Chapel, Duntroon at 1300hrs on Thursday 24 June 2010.


In retirement, Whitelaw and his wife, Mrs Nancy Lockhart Whitelaw, continued to reside in Canberra. He was survived by his wife, their three daughters, and many grandchildren.

Honours and awards[edit]

Order of Australia (Military) ribbon.png

Order of the British Empire (Military) Ribbon.png 1939-45 Star.png Pacific Star.gif War Medal 39-45 BAR MID.png

Australian Service Medal 1939-45 ribbon.png Australian Active Service Medal 1945-75 ribbon.png Australian Service Medal 1945-1975 ribbon.png Vietnam Medal ribbon.png

ElizabethIICoronationRibbon.png Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Medal ribbon.png DFSM with Rosette x 4.png Australian Defence Medal (Australia) ribbon.png

National Medal with Rosette.png Efficiency-Medal-Ribbon.jpg Vietnam Campaign Medal Ribbon.png Bronze Star ribbon.svg


Name: Major General John WHITELAW, AO, CBE, (RL)
Date of Birth: 11 June 1921 Hawthorn VIC
Next of Kin: Mrs Nancy Lockhart WHITELAW (wife)

Service details[edit]

Militia 11 June 1939 30 April 1940
Citizen Military Force (F.T.D.) 1 May 1940 25 September 1941
Australian Imperial Force (AIF) 26 September 1941 9 September 1946
Reserve of Officers/Active Citizen Military Forces 10 September 1946 4 July 1948
Interim Army 5 July 1948 14 August 1952
Australian Regular Army (ARA) 15 August 1952 11 June 1978

Service numbers[edit]

Militia 448616
Citizen Military Forces N72757
Australian Imperial Force (AIF) NX76407
Reserve of Officers/Active Citizen Military Forces 510427
Interim Army WX700067
Australian Regular Army (ARA) 57506

Promotion details[edit]

11 June 1939 Enlisted in Militia
14 September 1939 Promoted to Bombardier
27 November 1939 Promoted to Lance Sergeant
17 January 1940 Promoted to Sergeant
15 March 1940 Appointed a Lieutenant (Provisional)
20 June 1942 Promoted Temporary Captain
11 March 1943 Promoted to Captain
1 July 1950 To be Captain (Australian Staff Corps)
16 December 1955 Promoted Temporary Major
1 July 1956 Promoted to Major
15 March 1961 Promoted Temporary Lieutenant Colonel
1 December 1963 Promoted Lieutenant Colonel
20 December 1967 Promoted Temporary Colonel
8 February 1969 Promoted Colonel
23 March 1971 Promoted Temporary Brigadier
14 August 1972 Promoted to Brigadier
29 April 1974 Promoted Temporary Major General
25 August 1975 Promoted Major General

Overseas service[edit]

New Guinea 13 February 1944 to 6 August 1944
New Guinea/Bougainville 22 September 1944 to 9 January 1945
Bougainville 11 March 1945 to 9 July 1946
Canada 8 December 1954 to 10 February 1958
New Guinea 13 June 1961 to 27 June 1961
25 March 1962 to 3 April 1962
9 May 1962 to 11 May 1962
24 February 1963 to 28 February 1963
Thailand 11 March 1965 to 14 April 1965
New Guinea 4 August 1965 to 7 August 1965
Singapore 26 December 1965 to 1 December 1967
Thailand 20 February 1966 to 26 February 1966
Sabah/Sarawak/Brunei 2 May 1966 to 7 May 1966
Sabah/Sarawak 1 August 1966 to 4 August 1966
Borneo 17 October 1966 to 22 October 1966
25 November 1966
12 December 1966 to 14 December 1966
Vietnam 15 February 1967 to 20 February 1967
Hong Kong/Vietnam 5 November 1967 to 9 November 1967
United States of America 19 April 1968 to 20 May 1968
Vietnam 24 November 1968 to 10 December 1968
3 April 1970 to 18 November 1970
New Zealand 21 February 1971 to 27 February 1971

Postings and appointments[edit]

11 Jun 1939 Enlisted in Militia, 10 Field Brigade
15 Mar 1940 Appointed a Provisional Lieutenant
1 May 1940 Full Time Duty with Arty Wing, RTD
1 Oct 1940 Transferred from Royal Australian Artillery 10 Field Brigade to Eastern Command, 2 Military District, 9 Field Brigade
10 Sep 1941 Appointed Artillery Reinforcements Unallotted Australian Imperial Force and appointed to the General List as a Lieutenant
7 Jun 1942 Seconded to 14 Field Regiment, Royal Australian Artillery
18 Nov 1942 Remains seconded whilst attending Number 3 Course (Junior Wing) Staff School
6 Jan 1943 Rejoins unit from course
8 Jan 1943 Transferred from 14 Australian Field Regiment
6 Aug 1943 Marched out to Number 4 Staff School Junior Course
18 Jan 1944 Ceased to be seconded (14 Field Regiment) and is transferred to 4 Australian Field Regiment (Jungle Division)(Australian Imperial Force) Royal Australian Artillery
10 Jun 1945 Wounded in action, Bougainville. Remained on duty.
11 Oct 1945 Transferred from 4 Australian Field Regiment (Junior Division)(Australian Imperial Force) Royal Australian Artillery in Field to 2/14 Australian Field Regiment (Junior Division) Royal Australian Artillery in Field
5 Dec 1945 Marched out to 8 Movement Control Group on Detachment
29 Dec 1945 Transferred to Australian Army Movement Control Staff and posted as Captain (Movement Control Organisation) 8 Australian Movement Control Group (Australian Imperial Force)
29 Dec 1945 Ceased detachment on being taken on strength
9 Sep 1946 Relinquished Appointment of Captain Movements Control Organisation, 8 Australian Movement Control Group (Australian Imperial Force
10 Sep 1946 Transferred to Reserve of Officers (Australian Army Movements Control Staff)
5 Jul 1948 Appointed from the Active Citizen Military Forces to the Interim Army in the Rank of Captain
28 Sep 1948 Marched into Headquarters Western Command as General Service Officer Grade 3 (Temporarily) from Unallotted List, Western Command
1 Jul 1949 Appointed Lieutenant (Australian Staff Corps) is seconded for service and remains and Officer of the Interim Arm in the rank of Captain
25 Jul 1949 Attached to 3 Field Regiment as A/Adjutant
5 Dec 1949 Transferred from Headquarters Western Command for duty with Headquarters 13 Infantry Brigade
2 Aug 1950 Appointed Aide de Campe to Governor of Western Australia
15 Jan 1951 Transferred to 1 Field Regiment (Royal Australian Artillery) from Headquarters 13 Infantry Brigade
19 Jan 1953 Transferred from 1 Field Regiment to Army Headquarter as General Staff Officer Grade 3, Directorate of Movement and Transport, General Service Branch
8 Dec 1954 Transferred to Personnel Seconded and Detached, Long Term Student (for Overseas Training)
16 Dec 1955 Appointed Exchange Officer, Canada for 2 years
7 Feb 1958 Transferred to Headquarters Western Command from Personnel Seconded and Detached, Long Term Student
14 Mar 1961 Transferred to Northern Command from Western Command
16 Apr 1963 Transferred from Headquarters Northern Command to Headquarters 1 Division as General Staff Officer Grade 1
26 Dec 1965 Unit now Headquarters Australian Army Force, Far East Land Force (FARELF)
27 Dec 1965 Posting now Assistant Adjutant & Quarter Master General
22 Feb 1967 Posting now Deputy Commander
1 Dec 1967 Unit now Army Headquarters, Canberra
20 Dec 1967 Appointed DEP (Director Equipment Policy ?)
27 Mar 1970 Relinquished appointment of DEP
3 Apr 1970 Unit now Headquarters Australian Forces Vietnam (Army Component)
14 Apr 1970 Establishment Position Chief of Staff
15 Nov 1970 Relinquished appointment of Chief of Staff
18 Nov 1970 Unit now Unallotted List, Eastern Command for medical treatment
1 Feb 1971 Detached to Army Headquarters Canberra
1 Mar 1971 Unit now Army Headquarters Canberra, in establishment position of Director Military Operations & Plans
17 May 1972 Establishment Position Chief of Operations, Operations Branch
29 Apr 1974 Now Chief of Operations
25 Aug 1975 Now Chief of Personnel, Department of Defence (Army Office)
21 Apr 1977 Deputy Chief of the General Staff, Department of Defence (Army Office)
11 Jun 1978 Ceased Australian Regular Army placed on Retired List 2 Military District

See also[edit]

Source Documents[edit]

  1. ^ Funeral notice, Sydney Morning Herald, June 2010. Reproduced at
  2. ^ Arthur Burke (2010) Vale Major General John Whitelaw AO CBE (RL), Australian Artillery Association. Retrieved 22 October 2011.
  3. ^ Burke, Arthur (2006). "Porton, One Beach Too Far – Bougainville 1945". Sabretache (Military Historical Society of Australia) 47 (1): 7. ISSN 0048-8933. 
  4. ^ Officer of the Order of Australia, 6 June 1977, It's an Honour
  5. ^ The Order of the British Empire – Commander (Military), 3 September 1971, It's an Honour
  6. ^ National Medal, 14 July 1977, It's an Honour
  7. ^ National Medal with 1st clasp, 14 July 1977, It's an Honour