John Lavarack

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Sir John Lavarack
Sir John Lavarack.jpg
16th Governor of Queensland
In office
1 October 1946 – 4 December 1957
MonarchGeorge VI
Elizabeth II
PremierNed Hanlon
Vince Gair
Sir Frank Nicklin
Preceded bySir Leslie Wilson
Succeeded bySir Henry Abel Smith
Personal details
Born(1885-12-19)19 December 1885
Kangaroo Point, Queensland
Died4 December 1957(1957-12-04) (aged 71)
Buderim, Queensland
Spouse(s)Sybil Nevett Ochiltree
ChildrenJohn Ochiltree Lavarack, Peter Lavarack, James Wallace Lavarack (co-discoverer of the Gulf snapping turtle)[1]
Military service
Branch/serviceAustralian Army
Years of service1905–1946
RankLieutenant general
CommandsFirst Army (1942–44)
I Corps (1941–42)
7th Division (1940–41)
Southern Command (1939–40)
3rd Military District (1939–40)
Chief of the General Staff (1935–39)
Royal Military College, Duntroon (1933–35)
Battles/warsFirst World War

Second World War

AwardsKnight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George
Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order
Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire
Companion of the Order of the Bath
Distinguished Service Order
Mentioned in Despatches (4)
Croix de guerre (France)

Lieutenant General Sir John Dudley Lavarack, KCMG, KCVO, KBE, CB, DSO (19 December 1885 – 4 December 1957) was an Australian Army officer who was Governor of Queensland from 1 October 1946 to 4 December 1957, the first Australian-born governor of that state.[2]

Early life[edit]

John Dudley Lavarack, circa 1887

Lavarack was born in Kangaroo Point, a suburb of Brisbane in Queensland, on 19 December 1885. He was educated at Brisbane Grammar School, where he excelled in the school's army cadets program.

Military career[edit]

First World War[edit]

On 7 August 1905, Lavarack was commissioned as a lieutenant in the Royal Australian Artillery. In early 1913, he trained as an officer at the Staff College, Camberley in England, and upon the outbreak of the First World War was assigned first to the War Office, then as a brigade major of the 22nd Division artillery. Lavarack's division spent a month in France during September 1915, but was transferred to Salonica in Greece, where it fought in the Balkans Campaign.[2][3]

In February 1915, Lavarack was assigned to the Australian Imperial Force, but did not join it until July 1916 when he joined the Australian 2nd Division for the Battle of Pozières. He was subsequently assigned as brigade major for the 5th Division, commanding two field artillery batteries during fighting at the Somme and the advance on the Hindenburg Line. In May 1917, his staff college training saw him transferred to 1st Division headquarters, which instigated a lifelong mutual antagonism between Lavarack and his superior at HQ, Thomas Blamey.[2][3]

By December 1917, Lavarack was a lieutenant colonel and general staff officer, 1st grade, in the Australian 4th Division, and took part in battles at Dernancourt, Villers-Bretonneux, Hamel and Amiens, with Lavarack's hand in planning for the Battle of Hamel setting the stage for several subsequent Australian victories.[2][3]

Between the wars[edit]

After the war, Lavarack returned to Australia, where he took up a post at the Royal Military College, Duntroon. In 1926, he was promoted to brevet colonel, and in 1927 attended the Imperial Defence College in London. Back in Australia in 1929, he found himself in heavy debate with fellow IDC student Frederick Shedden over the Australian government's adoption of the "Singapore strategy". Shedden believed that the presence of the Royal Navy in Singapore would deter any aggression from Japan, whilst Lavarack was sure that Japan would take advantage of Britain's focus on Europe and that Australian army forces should prepare for a possible invasion.[2][4]

In January 1933, Lavarack was made commandant of the Royal Military College, Duntroon. On 21 April 1935, with a temporary promotion to major general (later made permanent in June), he was appointed Chief of the General Staff (CGS), the head of the Australian Army. As CGS, Lavarack pulled no punches over what he saw as an over-reliance on the Royal Navy and neglect of Australia's land forces—renewing his argument with Shedden, and causing considerable friction with the Australian government, in particular a number of successive ministers for Defence.[2][3]

Second World War[edit]

In 1938, British officer Lieutenant General Ernest Squires was appointed Inspector-General of the Australian Military Forces. Lavarack and Squires worked together to prepare Australia for war, and by the time Lavarack returned from a tour of Britain, the Second World War had begun. With Squires replacing him as CGS, Lavarack was promoted to lieutenant general and made General Officer Commanding Southern Command. In 1940, Lavarack was considered to command 6th Division, but Thomas Blamey, now the commander of I Corps, refused his appointment, citing "defects of character".[2][3] Lavarack instead took command of the newly formed 7th Division, also accepting a demotion to major general which was almost certainly instigated by Blamey.[5]

In 1941, the commander-in-chief in the Middle East, Lord Wavell, ordered Lavarack to Tobruk, where his units were successful in repelling Erwin Rommel's forces. Wavell requested Lavarack take command of the Western Desert Force, but he was once again confounded by Blamey, who insisted that he was unsuitable for high command. After further successes in the Syria-Lebanon Campaign, Lavarack was re-promoted to lieutenant general, and took over Blamey's role as commander of I Corps, with Blamey now deputy commander-in-chief in the Middle East.[2][3]

Following the outbreak of war with Japan, I Corps was shifted to the Far East, arriving in Java in January 1942. Lavarack was recalled to Australia, where he was made acting commander-in-chief of Australian forces whilst waiting for Blamey to return from the Middle East to fill the role. He then commanded the Australian First Army, with responsibility for defending Queensland and New South Wales. In 1944, he flew to the United States where he became head of the Australian Military Mission, and was military advisor for Australia to the United Nations Conference on International Organization. He returned to Australia in August 1946, and frustrated by his lack of active command and constantly being passed over by Blamey and others, he retired from the military in September that year.[2][3]

Governor of Queensland[edit]

Governor Lavarack with Queen Elizabeth II, 1954

In 1946, the Premier of Queensland, Ned Hanlon, offered the post of Governor of Queensland to Lieutenant General Sir Leslie Morshead, who declined. Hanlon then offered the post to Lavarack, who accepted and was sworn in on 1 October—the second Australian-born person to hold a governorship in Australia (Sir John Northcott had been made Governor of New South Wales two months previously).[6] After completing his five-year term in 1951, Lavarack's governorship was extended by another five years to 1956. In February 1952, he proclaimed Queen Elizabeth II as the monarch in Queensland, following the death of her father King George VI. Lavarack's oath of allegiance and oath of office were then re-administered (at his request) to reflect the new monarch.[7] He was then reappointed for a further year from 1 October 1956, but due to ill health, Lavarack only served four months of the extended term, and was relieved of his duties on 25 January 1957 by his lieutenant governor, although he officially remained governor until September 1957.

Later life[edit]

Left to right: Sir John Lavarack, his son Jim and daughter-in-law Sue, and his wife Sybil, Lady Lavarack at Government House, Brisbane circa 1954.

Lavarack retired to his home in Buderim on a pension of £1000 per annum. On 4 December 1957, he collapsed at the breakfast table and died. He was survived by his wife and three sons.[3][8] A state funeral was held on 5 December 1957.[9]


For his service during the First World War, Lavarack was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (1918) and the French Croix de guerre (1919). He was appointed a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George in 1919, and Mentioned in Despatches three times.[2][3]

In 1942, following I Corps' actions in the Syria-Lebanon Campaign, he was appointed a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (KBE). He was appointed a Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order in 1954 and a Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George in 1955 while Governor of Queensland.[10]

The Lavarack Barracks in Townsville, Queensland were named in his honour.


  1. ^ "Lavarack Family Album | State Library of Queensland". 10 June 2008.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Lodge, Brett (1998). Lavarack: Rival General. Sydney: Allen & Unwin. ISBN 1-86448-507-8.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i D. M. Horner, Lavarack, Sir John Dudley (1885–1957), Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, Melbourne University Press, 2000, pp 61–63.
  4. ^ Dennis, Peter: Heading for Disaster? Australia and the Singapore Strategy, Four Corners (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), 16 February 2002.
  5. ^ Johnston, Mark (2005). The Silent 7th: An Illustrated History of the 7th Australian Infantry Division. Sydney: Allen & Unwin. ISBN 1-74114-191-5.
  6. ^ Cunneen, Christopher (2000). William John McKell: Boilermaker, Premier, Governor-General. Sydney: University of New South Wales Press. ISBN 0-86840-587-6.
  7. ^ "Retakes oath to new Queen". The Courier-Mail. Brisbane: National Library of Australia. 29 February 1952. p. 3.
  8. ^ "Death of Sir J. Lavarack". The Canberra Times. National Library of Australia. 5 December 1957. p. 2.
  9. ^ "VICE-REGAL". The Canberra Times. National Library of Australia. 6 December 1957. p. 2.
  10. ^ LAVARACK, John Dudley, It's an Honour (Australian Honours Database).
Military offices
New command GOC First Army
Succeeded by
Lieutenant General Vernon Sturdee
Preceded by
Lieutenant General Sir Thomas Blamey
GOC I Corps
Succeeded by
Lieutenant General Sydney Rowell
Preceded by
Major General Sir Julius Bruche
Chief of the General Staff
Succeeded by
Lieutenant General Ernest Squires
Preceded by Commandant of the Royal Military College, Duntroon
Succeeded by
Brigadier Charles Miles
Government offices
Preceded by Governor of Queensland
Succeeded by