Harold Edward Elliott

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For other people named Harold Elliott, see Harold Elliott (disambiguation).
Harold Edward Elliott
Harold Pompey Elliott portrait.jpg
Brigadier General Harold Elliott
Nickname(s) "Pompey"
Born 19 June 1878
West Charlton, Victoria
Died 23 March 1931(1931-03-23) (aged 52)
Malvern, Victoria
Allegiance  Australia
Service/branch Australian Army Rising Sun Badge 1904.png Australian Army
Years of service 1899–1931
Rank Major General
Commands held 3rd Division
15th Brigade
7th Battalion

Second Boer War
First World War

Awards Companion of the Order of the Bath
Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George
Distinguished Service Order
Distinguished Conduct Medal
Volunteer Decoration
Mentioned in Despatches (8)
Order of St. Anna (Russia)
Croix de guerre (France)
Other work Solicitor at Law
Senator for Victoria
board member Royal Melbourne Hospital

Major General Harold Edward "Pompey" Elliott CB, CMG, DSO, DCM, VD (19 June 1878 – 23 March 1931) was a senior officer in the Australian Army during the First World War. Elliot also served as a Senator in the Australian parliament.

Early life[edit]

Elliott, son of Thomas Elliott, was born at West Charlton, Victoria. He was educated at Ballarat College (where one of the school houses, "Elliott", is now named after him), then Ormond College, at the University of Melbourne, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) and Master of Laws (LL.M.) sharing the final honours scholarship in law in 1906. Before this, he had been at the war in South Africa from 1899 to 1902, in which he obtained a commission and the Distinguished Conduct Medal. He was called to the Victorian bar in 1906 and established the firm of solicitors, H. E. Elliott and Company.

First World War[edit]

He had joined the militia after the Boer War, held the rank of lieutenant colonel when the First World War began, and was immediately given the same rank in the Australian Imperial Force, commanding the 7th Battalion. Throughout the War, Elliott was accompanied by a black charger, called "Darkie", who (with subtle encouragement) would spot the smallest irregularities in the men. Years later, his men were still convinced that it was the horse who had noticed the errors their commander had berated them for.

Gallipoli Campaign[edit]

He left Australia in October 1914 was shot in the foot on the landing at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915 and, after rejoining his battalion in June, was in the midst of the fighting at Lone Pine in August.

Suez Canal[edit]

After the Evacuation, the 7th Battalion was returned to Egypt, where they were sent 35 miles across the desert to defend the Suez Canal. The crossing was first attempted by the 14th Battalion, who were forced to turn back. Elliott personally inspected the route, talked with officers familiar with it, and drew up a new timetable for the march, managing to get his men across with only a handful of casualties. On the march, one man forgot the ban on smoking. Elliott characteristically started to scream at the man, even threatening to shoot him. Out from the ranks came a shout: "If you shoot him, I'll shoot you." When the soldier who called out was brought forward and explained that no one talked to his brother like that, Elliott sent the man to his school for NCOs, with the rationale that anyone who could stand up to himself in full flight clearly had leadership potential.

On arriving at Suez, the water that the Battalion had been promised was nowhere to be found. They were assured that the water was coming, but hours later it still had not appeared. Elliott then made one of the "vigorous protests" that he was becoming famous for. He even threatened to march them back across the Suez Canal to get them a drink. "It was outrageous to deprive men of water in the desert, and their understandable fury could escalate into mutiny," Elliott thundered. He was then assured that the water would be available at 5.30 the next morning.

Elliott was up at 5am, where he found many of his men had been unable to sleep due to their thirst and were licking at the taps around camp. He found the camp's Chief Engineer who informed him that the Egyptian authorities had not provided enough water for the troops in camp and that he had strict orders not to start the pumps before 8am, as it would wake the Corps Commander (the officer who had approved the march through the desert to begin with). Elliott remounted his horse and tore off to Corps Headquarters, where he informed a yawning Staff Officer that unless the water was turned on in the next five minutes, the 7th Battalion would be assembling and telling the Corps Commander exactly what they thought of him. The Staff Officer made a phone call, and Elliott was warned that he shouldn't make such a fuss again. He simply replied that he would do whatever was needed to help his men whenever he had to.

Western Front[edit]

He was promoted to brigadier general early in 1916, assuming command of the 15th Brigade shortly before the disaster at Fromelles. Despite his inexperience in Trench Warfare, he pointed out to Major Howard of Field Marshal Haig's staff that the width of No-man's Land was too great for the assault to succeed. Major Howard agreed and, on returning to Haig's Chateau, attempted to persuade him that the attack was doomed to fail. But the commander-in-chief decided that the operation must go on, so Elliott did all that was possible to make it a success by himself going to the front line to personally inspect the lie of the land and encourage his men. At 11.30 of the night of the attack, when asked if he could make a fresh attack, he replied he "cannot guarantee success of attack... but willing to try". An hour later, he realised that the previous attacks had been a complete failure, reported to that effect, and established that he was now organising the defence of the original trenches. In the end, 1800 of the 5533 Australian casualties were from the 15th Brigade. It has been stated that Elliott became intoxicated by danger, but he would not throw away his men uselessly. His brigade did magnificent work at the Battle of Polygon Wood at the end of September 1917, with Elliott proving to be an inspiring leader.

Elliott's brigade also fought at the Second Battle of Villers-Bretonneux in April 1918, the point at which the German "Michael" Offensive was halted. After a British officer had allegedly been caught leaving Corbie with a cart full of looted champagne, Elliott ordered that anyone caught taking wine out of Corbie was to be publicly hanged in the market place, and that anyone spreading rumours or orders to retire was to be shot forthwith unless he could give a good account of himself. Recounting these stories, "reminiscent of the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland", Australian Captain Thomas Louch (of 13th Brigade HQ, 4th Australian Division) said that such orders amused the men of his brigade but others found them embarrassing.[1] During the recapture of Villers-Bretonneux, Elliott ordered that any British troops seen withdrawing were to be stopped and shot if they refused to turn back, angering the well-regarded Major-General William Heneker (GOC 8th Division).[2] Elliott quarrelled with everybody and was even known to put his battalion commanders and members of his staff under arrest when he lost his temper – such men resumed their duties when matters had blown over.[3]

Elliott's brigade also fought at Peronne at the end of August after the Battle of Amiens, and at the Hindenburg Line a month later. Early in October, the Australians were withdrawn for a rest and did not take part in any further fighting.

As the members of the brigade began to return to Australia after the war, Elliott became increasingly depressed. Eventually, he called a parade to hand out some last medals, and gave them a farewell speech to thank them for upholding his demanding standards. They were then dismissed and he returned to his paperwork. Later that afternoon, the brigade returned to his chateau preceded by bands and colours. Each company circled the chateau and cheered for their commander. Lastly, the senior colonel called for three cheers and told Elliott that the men wanted to show their appreciation for him and that, despite it being a voluntary march, everyone was there.[citation needed]

Elliott was mentioned eight times in despatches, was created Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George in 1917, Companion of the Order of the Bath in 1918,[4] and his other decorations included a Distinguished Conduct Medal and a Distinguished Service Order. Besides his Commonwealth decorations, he was awarded the Order of St Anne, 3rd Class, and the Croix de guerre.[5]

Political service[edit]

Having returned to Australia in June 1919, Elliott contested the general election held later that year. He achieved the greatest popular vote of any Victorian candidate for the Senate. Moreover, he repeated this success at the 1925 election. He sat on various committees and, in 1927, was promoted to the rank of major general. In 1909, he had married Catherine "Kate" Fraser, daughter of Alexander Campbell, who survived him, as did a son and a daughter.

Elliott also played an important part in the 1923 Victorian Police strike, making a call for members of the AIF to come to Town Hall and sign up as Special Constables, alongside General Sir John Monash. Many men upon reaching Town Hall came specifically looking for Pompey (Elliott), ready to stand behind him again, although he was forced to leave only a few days into the Strike to attend meetings of a Royal Commission in Queensland.

Although not naturally suited to life in the federal parliament, Elliott made significant contributions and was outspoken in his efforts to assist returned servicemen, particularly those with whom he had served. This outspokenness often took the form of arguing in the Senate in relation to the new legislation being brought before it, when such legislation involved the defence forces. At other times, he would personally champion the cause of those men who had been in his battalion.

Elliott felt, with considerable justice, that he was sidelined by the new leadership of the Australian Army. This was most probably due to his tactlessness, particularly in relation to post-war changes of policy, and indeed the wartime records of some of those now being selected for the prime military appointments.


Increasingly, Elliott suffered from what would now be referred to as "post traumatic stress disorder" and "depression", but was then diagnosed by Dr J.F. Williams as a "definite form of nervous disorder". The result was tragic. Early on the morning of 23 March 1931, Elliott committed suicide while an inpatient in a private hospital in the Melbourne suburb of Malvern. He had been admitted to the hospital late the previous afternoon, after making an attempt to gas himself at his nearby house (56 Prospect Hill Road in Camberwell).

Elliot's funeral took place on 25 March. Following a short service at his home, his casket was drawn, with full military honours, including bands and an escort party, on a gun carriage pulled by horses resplendent with black plumes, to the Burwood Cemetery, a march of some four miles. Reports in the newspapers of the time state that several thousand people followed the cortège and lined the parade route.

Stanley Bruce, whose Prime Ministry had come to an end in late 1929, attended the ceremony. Later, he wrote to Elliott's widow:

I have just returned for his funeral and I have never seen a greater tribute paid to a man ... it must be some comfort to you to see the universal regard, esteem and even affection in which he was held.

The Australian government's official war historian, C.E.W. Bean, provides a character sketch of Elliott in his renowned work, the 12-volume Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918. He summarises Elliott as "outspoken, impulsive, excitable, straight as a ruled line."

In popular culture[edit]

Pompey Elliott was one of the six Australians whose war experiences were presented in the The War That Changed Us, a four-part television documentary series about Australia's involvement in World War I.[6][7]


  1. ^ Hart 2008, p215
  2. ^ Hart 2008, p261
  3. ^ Hart 2008, p261
  4. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 30716. p. 6452. 31 May 1918. Retrieved 25 July 2008.
  5. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 31109. p. 313. 3 January 1919. Retrieved 25 July 2008.
  6. ^ "The War That Changed Us". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 12 September 2014. 
  7. ^ "The War That Changed Us". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Archived from the original on 12 September 2014. Retrieved 12 September 2014. 

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