John Gellibrand

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Sir John Gellibrand
John Gellibrand.jpg
Major General Sir John Gellibrand by James Quinn (1918)
Born (1872-12-05)5 December 1872
Leintwarden, Tasmania
Died 3 June 1945(1945-06-03) (aged 72)
Yea, Victoria
Allegiance United Kingdom
Service/branch British Army (1892–12)
Australian Army (1914–22)
Years of service 1892–1912
Rank Major General
Commands held 3rd Division (1918–22)
12th Brigade (1917–18)
6th Brigade (1916–17)
12th Battalion (1915–16)

Second Boer War
First World War

Awards Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath
Distinguished Service Order & Bar
Mentioned in Despatches (7)
Distinguished Service Medal (United States)
Officer of the Legion of Honour (France)
Croix de Guerre (France)
Other work Member of the Australian House of Representatives

Major General Sir John Gellibrand, KCB, DSO & Bar (5 December 1872 – 3 June 1945) was a senior Australian Army officer in the First World War and a member of the Australian House of Representatives, representing the Tasmanian Division of Denison for the Nationalist Party from 1925 to 1928.

Early life and career[edit]

John "Jack" Gellibrand was born at Leintwarden, near Ouse, Tasmania, on 5 December 1872, the sixth child and third son of a grazier, landowner and local politician. His father died in 1874 and in 1876 his mother took her seven children to live in England. Young John Gellibrand was initially educated at Crespigny Preparatory School at Aldeburgh, Suffolk, England. In 1883 the family moved to Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany where he continued his education before completing it at the King's School, Canterbury in 1888–89. After a visit to Tasmania, Gellibrand returned to Frankfurt in 1891 to study for the entrance exam to the Royal Military College, Sandhurst. He passed the exam and was admitted in 1892.

Gellibrand graduated at the top of his class in 1893 and was awarded the General Proficiency Sword for gaining the highest aggregate marks in the final exams. He was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Prince of Wales' Volunteers (South Lancashire Regiment) on 21 October 1893 and posted to its 1st Battalion, then on garrison duty in Ireland. He was promoted to lieutenant on 24 April 1895.

When war broke out in South Africa, Gellibrand became adjutant of the 2nd Battalion, South Lancashire Regiment. He arrived in South Africa on 25 January 1900. Soon after, he was given command of a company. As such he participated in the campaign to relieve Ladysmith, which concluded on 3 March 1900. On 8 March 1900, Gellibrand became ill with typhoid and lay in a comatose state for a month, after which he was evacuated to England.

On 26 May 1900, Gellibrand was promoted to captain in the newly raised 3rd Battalion of the Manchester Regiment, joining his new command at Aldershot on 29 November 1900. On 28 July 1902, the battalion moved to St Helena where its primary task was guarding of the 6,000 Boer prisoners there. These were released when the war ended in 1902, and most of the battalion moved to South Africa, where Gellibrand joined it on 5 January 1904, becoming adjutant on 24 January.

In August 1905, Gellibrand passed the staff college entrance exam and entered the Staff College at Camberley in January 1906. On graduation in 1908, he was posted to Ceylon as Deputy Assistant Adjutant and Quartermaster General (DAA & QMG). On 27 April 1912, Gellibrand's four-year posting to Ceylon ended and he resigned his commission, returning to Tasmania, where he bought an orchard and settled into life as a farmer.

First World War[edit]

Gellibrand and his staff having breakfast in a shell hole in Sausage Valley.

When war broke out on 4 August 1914, Gellibrand immediately offered his services to the commandant of the 6th Military District (Tasmania). On 20 August 1914, he was appointed to the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) as a captain and given the post of Deputy Assistant Quartermaster General (DAQMG) on the staff of the 1st Division.[1] Staff college graduates like Gellibrand were relatively scarce in Australia, with only six officers available for service. On 23 September 1914 Gellibrand was promoted to major, the usual rank for his post.

The 1st Division staff was shuffled in Egypt when Colonel Victor Sellheim left to command the new Intermediate Base Depot on 12 January 1915. Gellibrand stepped up to become DAA & QMG while Major Cecil Foott took his place as DAQMG. Gellibrand landed at Anzac Cove with the 1st Division Headquarters at around 7:30 am on 25 April 1915. As DAA & QMG, he was responsible for supply. Gellibrand helped organise the beach parties, rounded up stragglers and organised the movement of supplies and ammunition forward. His superior, Lieutenant Colonel W. G. Patterson had a nervous breakdown and was evacuated on 28 April 1915 and Gellibrand performed his job as well until Lieutenant Colonel John Forsyth arrived on 7 May 1915.

Major General William Bridges was not impressed with Gellibrand's staff work. He felt that Gellibrand had mishandled the move of the 2nd Infantry Brigade to Cape Helles. Bridges also expected Gellibrand to organise a proper officers' mess at Gallipoli and was annoyed at the poor quality of what Gellibrand had scrounged from ships' canteen supplies. Gellibrand might have even been dismissed by Bridges but fate intervened. On 1 May Gellibrand had been wounded in the ankle by shrapnel. Then, on 11 May, while laughing at two men whose water bottles had been holed, he received a severe wound in his right shoulder and was evacuated to the hospital ship Gascon. While it was still anchored off Anzac Cove, Bridges was also wounded and brought on board the same ship (and to the same bed, Gellibrand was moved out of the way), where Bridges died on 18 May 1915.

Gellibrand returned to Anzac on 31 May 1915, to find that Forsyth had been given command of the 2nd Infantry Brigade and Foott had become AA & QMG and was now his superior. Gellibrand took this in bad grace although Foott was in fact the senior major. Dissatisfied, Gellibrand put in for a transfer to the 2nd Division, then being formed in Egypt. He became DAA & QMG of the 2nd Division in Egypt on 25 August 1915. Because the 2nd Division's AA & QMG, Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Blamey, was forced to remain in Egypt for medical reasons, Gellibrand became acting AA & QMG on 29 August, embarking for Anzac once again on the Southland that day. On 2 September, the ship was torpedoed. Gellibrand eventually reached Anzac on 6 September. The August offensives being over, Gellibrand settled into routine administration. He was struck down by typhoid again on 11 October and evacuated a second time, returning on 23 October 1915. For his services at Anzac, Gellibrand was Mentioned in Despatches and awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO).[2]

On 4 December 1915, Gellibrand finally received a promotion to lieutenant colonel and was given command of the 12th Battalion, the 1st Division's Tasmanian battalion, then resting on Lemnos. It did not return to Anzac, which was evacuated on 20 December 1915. Instead, the battalion returned to Egypt on 6 January 1916.

Gellibrand expected to get another senior staff post in the reorganisation of the AIF but on 1 March 1916 he was again promoted, this time to full colonel and temporary brigadier general, and given a brigade, the 6th Brigade, on the specific request of the division commander, Major General James Gordon Legge. Apparently Gellibrand had greatly impressed Legge during his time as AA & QMG.

The 6th Brigade sailed for the Western Front just a few days later, on 18 March 1916, and entered the line there on 10 April. On 31 May, Gellibrand was wounded by a German shell that had landed close to his headquarters and was evacuated to England, returning on 28 June. The brigade fought at Pozières, where it performed well in the attack on 4 August. Gellibrand was criticised for having his headquarters in Sausage Valley, some 3 km behind the front.

Gellibrand went to England on leave on 25 November 1916. While there he had four teeth extracted and did not return until December. He was evacuated again on 13 December 1916 with influenza, returning on 30 January 1917. In the meantime he was promoted to brevet major in the British Army's Reserve of Officer's List.[3]

Gellibrand was acting commander of the 2nd Division until 4 March 1917, directing it in probing attacks against Malt Trench when it was suspected that the Germans were withdrawing. Gellibrand's advance began well but ended with a disastrous, ill-planned and ill-executed "unauthorised" attack on Noreuil. This caused Birdwood to lose confidence in Gellibrand, although General Hubert Gough accepted it as part of the risk that had been accepted.

The 6th Brigade next attack was on the Hindenburg Line near Bullecourt. In this attack, Gellibrand had his headquarters well forward and his planning was meticulous and detailed. Nonetheless, the attack was very nearly a disaster and only decisive and forceful leadership from Gellibrand retrieved the situation. For this battle he was awarded a Bar to his DSO.[4]

From 25 May to 5 June 1917, Gellibrand was again acting commander of the 2nd Division. For some reason he asked to be relieved of his command. Birdwood granted the request, and Gellibrand was sent to the AIF Depots in the United Kingdom as Brigadier General, General Staff (BGGS) to Major General James Whiteside McCay. McCay was known as a hard task master, but he had nothing but praise for the work of Gellibrand, who helped him overhaul the organisation and the training syllabus. Likewise, Gellibrand held McCay in high regard. For his services, Gellibrand was appointed a Companion of the Order of the Bath.[5]

Gellibrand returned to the Western Front on November 1917, taking over command of the 12th Infantry Brigade from Brigadier General James Campbell Robertson on 13 November 1917. He soon placed his own distinctive stamp on his new command. In April 1918, the brigade was committed to battle in the path of the advancing German Army at Dernancourt. The brigade held and defeated the German advance.

On 30 May 1918, Major General John Monash was appointed to command the Australian Corps and General Sir William Birdwood selected Gellibrand to take Monash's place in command of the 3rd Division. Gellibrand was promoted to major general on 1 June 1918.

Gellibrand found the 3rd Division a difficult assignment. The division staff had been together for two years, and were accustomed to Monash. A number of other brigadier generals were understandably disappointed at missing out on a division command. At Amiens, Monash and Gellibrand had serious disagreements over tactics and troop dispositions. Gellibrand disliked part of the plan that called for the leapfrogging of divisions, generally regarded as Monash's master stroke. Monash overruled him. On 27 September 1918, the two had a more heated clash over the merits of Gellibrand's intention to attack on a narrow front, something not normally considered advisable. Gellibrand angrily claimed that his battalions were only 200 strong. Monash countered that some were 600 strong. The strength returns show the average strength of Gellibrand's battalions as 648 on 26 October 1918. The attack went in as Monash directed, and was successful, mainly because the Germans began to withdraw.

For his services, Gellibrand was created a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bathin June 1919, having earlier been appointed an Officier of the Legion of Honour by the French.[6]


Portrait of Sir John Gellibrand on the occasion of the last march led by him – in Melbourne on 25 April 1939.

After the war, Gellibrand returned to Tasmania. In August 1919 he accepted the Tasmanian government's offer of the post of Public Service Commissioner. Gellibrand investigated the conditions of the service, and resigned in 1920 after the Tasmanian government chose to ignore his recommendations. He then took up a position as Chief Commissioner of Victoria Police in Victoria, but failed to get the Victorian government to agree with his recommendations for reform and resigned in 1922.

While in Melbourne, Gellibrand was appointed commander of the 3rd Division in 1921. He had to resign when he returned to Tasmania in 1922.

Gellibrand entered Federal politics in November 1925, being elected the member for Denison. Acting as his own campaign manager, he was defeated in the 1928 election, and again in 1929. After that he returned to farming, first in Tasmania and then from 1936 near Yea, Victoria.

As the Federal government's interest in military matters began to grow again in the late 1930s, Gellibrand was consulted by Prime Ministers Joseph Lyons and Robert Menzies about defence matters. He campaigned for an increase in the size of the Army and, after the outbreak of the Second World War, Gellibrand lobbied the Menzies government to appoint Major General Thomas Blamey as commander-in-chief. In June 1940, Gellibrand was appointed commandant of the Victorian Volunteer Defence Corps, the Australian version of the Home Guard, but ill-health forced him to resign in July.

Gellibrand died on 3 June 1945 and was buried in Yea Cemetery.

Honours and Awards[edit]

Order of the Bath (ribbon).svg DSO with Bar.png Queens South Africa Medal 1899-1902 ribbon.png

1914 Star BAR.svg British War Medal BAR.svg Victory Medal MID ribbon bar.svg GeorgeVSilverJubileum-ribbon.png

GeorgeVICoronationRibbon.png Legion Honneur Officier ribbon.svg Croix de Guerre 1914-1918 ribbon.svg Distinguished Service Medal ribbon.svg

Order of the Bath (ribbon).svg Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath (KCB) 6 June 1919[7]
Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB) 1 June 1917[7]
DSO with Bar.png Companion of the Distinguished Service and Bar (DSO and Bar) 2 May 1916
15 June 1917 (Bar)[7]
Queens South Africa Medal 1899-1902 ribbon.png Queen's South Africa Medal With two clasps[7]
1914 Star BAR.svg 1914–15 Star [7]
British War Medal BAR.svg British War Medal [7]
Victory Medal MID ribbon bar.svg Victory Medal with Palm Mentioned in Despatches seven times[7]
GeorgeVSilverJubileum-ribbon.png King George V Silver Jubilee Medal 1935[7]
GeorgeVICoronationRibbon.png King George VI Coronation Medal 1937[7]
Legion Honneur Officier ribbon.svg Officer of the Legion of Honour (France) 28 January 1919[7]
Croix de Guerre 1914-1918 ribbon.svg Croix de guerre with Palm (France)[7]
Distinguished Service Medal ribbon.svg Distinguished Service Medal (United States)[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "First World War Service Record – John Gellibrand". National Archives of Australia. Retrieved 8 October 2014. 
  2. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 29565. p. 4428. 2 May 1916. Retrieved 26 July 2008.
  3. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 29886. p. 19. 29 December 1916. Retrieved 26 July 2008.
  4. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 30135. p. 5980. 15 June 1917. Retrieved 26 July 2008.
  5. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 30111. p. 5455. 1 June 1917. Retrieved 26 July 2008.
  6. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 31395. p. 7420. 6 June 1919. Retrieved 26 July 2008.
    The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 31150. pp. 1445–1445. 28 January 1919. Retrieved 22 June 2012.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l ABC News, The medals of Legacy founder Major General Sir John Gellibrand, 25 August 2014. Retrieved 31 August 2014.

External links[edit]

Parliament of Australia
Preceded by
David O'Keefe
Member for Denison
Succeeded by
Charles Culley
Police appointments
Preceded by
George Charles Thomas Steward
Chief Commissioner of Victoria Police
Succeeded by
Alexander Nicholson