John Whitelaw (general, born 1921)

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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 1939–78
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 AO, CBE (11 June 1921 – 18 June 2010) was a career officer in the Australian Army who rose to the position of Deputy Chief of the General Staff (1977–78). Joining the Army in mid-1939, as a part-time soldier in the Royal Australian Artillery, Whitelaw was later commissioned and served in the Second Australian Imperial Force (2nd AIF) during the Second World War, seeing action in New Guinea and Bougainville. After the war, he briefly returned to a career as a clerk, before taking up a Regular Army commission in the post war years, which saw him rise to the rank of major general. In retirement he was 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.[1]

Military service[edit]

Second World War[edit]

Having served in the cadets as a youth, following his 18th birthday, Whitelaw enlisted in the Militia – Australia's part-time military force – on 11 June 1939. Assigned to the Royal Australian Artillery, he was posted to the 10th Field Brigade, Royal Australian Artillery. He was rapidly promoted, rising to the rank of sergeant within a year. Based on his abilities and education, he was appointed provisionally as a lieutenant on 15 March 1940, and subsequently undertook full-time duty from 1 May 1940 to 25 September 1941, when he transferred to the Second Australian Imperial Force (2nd AIF).[2]

Whitelaw was subsequently posted to the 2/1st Field Regiment, and then later the 4th Field Regiment, seeing active service in New Guinea and Bougainville. Promoted to captain, he was wounded in action on Bougainville; however, he remained on duty and subsequently earned a mention in despatches on 6 June 1945 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, Whitelaw undertook a posting with a movements control unit based around Rabaul,[4] until September 1946 when Whitelaw's commission in the AIF was terminated and he returned to his job with Spicers in Melbourne. In December 1947, he married Nancy Bogle, and in 1948 he was transferred to Perth. The same year, Australia's part-time military forces were re-raised under the title of the Citizen Military Force (CMF), and Whitelaw was appointed to Headquarters Western Command in July 1948 after returning to full-time service.[2]

He subsequently served in a range of staff positions until his first regimental posting as adjutant of the 1st Field Regiment at Georges Heights in Sydney.[5] In 1955, Whitelaw, then a major, moved with his wife, Nancy and their three young daughters to the Canadian Staff College at Kingston. He was subsequently appointed as the Exchange Instructor in Canada for the following two years.[2]

Whitelaw continued to serve in various staff positions, which included: Headquarters Australian Army Force, Far East Land Force (FARELF) in Singapore in 1966 as the Assistant Adjutant and Quarter Master General, and later as Deputy Commander. He was subsequently posted to Army Headquarters, Canberra as Director Equipment Policy in 1968.[5]

Promoted to colonel, in 1970, Whitelaw was appointed the Chief of Staff at Headquarters Australian Army Forces Vietnam. For his achievements in this role he was later appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in September 1971,[6] and awarded the United States Bronze Star.[5]

After returning to Australia in 1971 he was promoted to brigadier and was appointed Director Military Operations and Plans. Following promotion to major general his postings included Chief of Operations and Chief of Personnel. In 1977, Whitelaw assumed the position of Deputy Chief of the General Staff (DCGS) and in June that year was appointed as an Officer of the Order of Australia.[7] He served as DCGS until his retirement in 1978.[2]


In retirement, Whitelaw and his wife continued to reside in Canberra. He subsequently worked on the Council of the National Heart Foundation, as the founding Executive Director of the National Farmers’ Federation and finally with Greening Australia. Meanwhile, he also maintained close ties with veteran and Service organisations, serving as national president of the Regular Defence Force Welfare Association and vice-president of the Australian Veterans and Defence Services Council. He also served as Colonel Commandant of the Royal Regiment of Australian Artillery in New South Wales from 1978 to 1984.[5]


Whitelaw died on 18 June 2010. A military funeral was held at the Anzac Memorial Chapel, Duntroon.[8] He was survived by his wife, their three daughters, and grandchildren.[2]


  1. ^ Burke, Arthur (2010). "Vale Major General John Whitelaw AO CBE (RL)" (PDF). Australian Artillery Association. Retrieved 22 October 2011. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Burke, Arthur (21 July 2010). "Veteran soldier rose from militia cadet to general staff". The Age. Retrieved 31 July 2015. 
  3. ^ Burke, Arthur (2006). "Porton, One Beach Too Far – Bougainville 1945". Sabretache. Military Historical Society of Australia. 47 (1): 7. ISSN 0048-8933. 
  4. ^ "Quiet Australians – Major General John Whitelaw, AO, CBE, Retd" (PDF). Order of Australia Association. Retrieved 31 July 2015. 
  5. ^ a b c d Burke, Arthur. "Major General John Whitelaw, AO, CBE (RL)". Australian Gunner Obituary Resource. Royal Australian Artillery Historical Company. Retrieved 31 July 2015. 
  6. ^ "Whitelaw, John: The Order of the British Empire – Commander (Military)". It's an Honour. Australian Government. Retrieved 2 August 2015. 
  7. ^ "Whitelaw, John: Officer of the Order of Australia, 6 June 1977". It's an Honour. Australian Government. Retrieved 2 August 2015. 
  8. ^ "Funeral notice: John Whitelaw". The Sydney Morning Herald. Archived from the original on 15 August 2012. 

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