William Birdwood

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Lord Birdwood
General Sir W. R. Birdwood by Elliott & Fry
Born(1865-09-13)13 September 1865
Kirkee, Bombay Presidency, British India
Died17 May 1951(1951-05-17) (aged 85)
Hampton Court Palace, England
AllegianceUnited Kingdom
Service/branchBritish Indian Army
Years of service1883–1930
RankField Marshal
Commands heldCommander-in-Chief, India
Northern Command, India
Fifth Army
Australian Corps
Australian Imperial Force
Australian and New Zealand Army Corps
Kohat Brigade
AwardsKnight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath
Knight Grand Commander of the Order of the Star of India
Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George
Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order
Companion of the Order of the Indian Empire
Distinguished Service Order
Croix de Guerre (France)
Grand Officer of the Order of the Crown (Belgium)
Croix de Guerre (Belgium)
Distinguished Service Medal (United States)
Grand Cross of the Order of the Tower and Sword (Portugal)
Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun (Japan)
Member of the House of Lords
Lord Temporal
In office
25 January 1938 – 17 May 1951
Hereditary Peerage
Succeeded byChristopher Birdwood, 2nd Baron Birdwood

Field Marshal William Riddell Birdwood, 1st Baron Birdwood, GCB, GCSI, GCMG, GCVO, CIE, DSO (13 September 1865 – 17 May 1951) was a British Army officer. He saw active service in the Second Boer War on the staff of Lord Kitchener. He saw action again in the First World War as commander of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps during the Gallipoli Campaign in 1915, leading the landings on the peninsula and then the evacuation later in the year, before becoming commander-in-chief of the Fifth Army on the Western Front during the closing stages of the war. He went on to be general officer commanding the Northern Army in India in 1920 and Commander-in-Chief, India, in 1925.

Early life[edit]

William Riddell Birdwood was born on 13 September 1865 in Kirkee, India.[1] His father, Herbert Mills Birdwood, born in Bombay and educated in the UK, had returned to India in 1859 after passing the Indian Civil Service examination.[2] In 1861, Herbert Birdwood married Edith Marion Sidonie, the eldest daughter of Surgeon-Major Elijah George Halhed Impey of the Bombay Horse Artillery and postmaster-general of the Bombay Presidency.[2] They had five sons and a daughter; William was their second son. At the time of William's birth, his father held positions in the Bombay legislative council, and went on to become a Bombay high court judge.[2] William Birdwood was educated at Clifton College.[3][4]

Military career[edit]

After securing a militia commission in the 4th Battalion Royal Scots Fusiliers in 1883,[5] Birdwood trained at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, from which he was commissioned early, owing to the Russian war scare of 1885, becoming a lieutenant in the 12th (Prince of Wales's) Royal Lancers on 9 May 1885.[6] He joined his regiment in India and then transferred from the 12th Royal Lancers[7] to the Bengal Staff Corps on 20 December 1886.[8] He subsequently transferred to the 11th Bengal Lancers in 1887, seeing action on the North-West Frontier in 1891. He later became adjutant of the Viceroy's Bodyguard in 1893.[5] He was promoted to captain on 9 May 1896[9] and saw action during the Tirah Campaign in 1897.[5]

Birdwood served in the Second Boer War, initially as brigade-major with a mounted brigade in Natal from 10 January 1900 and then as Deputy-Assistant Adjutant-General on the staff of Lord Kitchener from 15 October 1900.[10] Promoted to brevet major on 20 November 1901[11] and local lieutenant-colonel in October 1901,[12][13] he became military secretary to Lord Kitchener on 5 June 1902,[14] and followed him on his return to the United Kingdom on board the SS Orotava,[15] which arrived in Southampton on 12 July 1902.[16] He received a brevet promotion to lieutenant-colonel in the South African Honours list published on 26 June 1902.[17] In a despatch from June 1902, Lord Kitchener wrote the following about his work in South Africa:

This young officer has held a difficult position as Assistant Adjutant-General, Mounted Troops, and responsible adviser as to the distribution of remounts. In carrying out these duties he has proved himself to possess exceptional ability, and he has shown, moreover, remarkable tact in dealing with and conciliating the various interests which he had to take into consideration.[18]

When Kitchener went to India as commander-in-chief in November 1902, Birdwood joined him there as assistant military secretary and interpreter.[19][13] He was promoted to the substantive rank of major on 9 May 1903[20] and appointed Military Secretary to Lord Kitchener with the rank of full colonel on 26 June 1905.[21] Having been appointed an aide-de-camp to the King on 14 February 1906,[22] he was given command of the Kohat Brigade on the North West Frontier in 1908[23] and promoted to temporary brigadier-general on 28 June 1909.[24]

Promoted to the rank of major-general on 3 October 1911,[25] Birdwood became quartermaster-general in India and a member of the Viceroy's Legislative Council in 1912 and then Secretary of the Indian Army Department in 1913.[13]


Anzac Cove looking towards Ari Burnu, 1915

In November 1914 Birdwood was instructed by Kitchener to form an army corps from the Australian and New Zealand troops that were training in Egypt.[13] He was promoted to temporary lieutenant-general on 12 December 1914[26] and given command of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps.[13] Kitchener instructed General Sir Ian Hamilton, Commander of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force, to carry out an operation to capture the Gallipoli peninsula and placed Birdwood's ANZAC Corps under Hamilton's command.[4] Hamilton ordered Birdwood to carry out a landing on 25 April 1915 north of Kabatepe at a site now known as ANZAC Cove.[13] The ANZAC Corps encountered high ridges, narrow gullies, dense scrub and strong Turkish resistance and became pinned down.[4] Major-General William Bridges and Major-General Alexander Godley, the divisional commanders, were both of the view that the Allied forces, dealing with stiffer-than-expected resistance, should be evacuated ahead of an expected attack by Turkish forces.[27] Nevertheless, Hamilton ordered them to hold fast.[28]

W. R. Birdwood
General Birdwood in Shrapnel Gully, Gallipoli, sometime in 1915 MS10484/PHO1 State Library Victoria (Australia)

Birdwood took effective command of the Australian Imperial Force, i.e. all Australian Forces in May 1915 while still commanding Allied troops on the ground at Gallipoli.[4] He launched a major attack on the Turks in August 1915 (the Battle of Sari Bair) but still failed to dislodge them from the peninsula.[4] Notwithstanding this, he was the only corps commander opposed to abandoning Gallipoli.[13] He was promoted to the permanent rank of lieutenant-general on 28 October 1915[29] and given command of the newly formed Dardanelles Army: the one outstanding success of the campaign was the evacuation led by Birdwood, which took place in December 1915 and January 1916, when the entire force was withdrawn before any Turkish reaction.[13]

Western Front[edit]

Sir Douglas Haig with his army commanders and their chiefs of staff, November 1918. Front row, left to right: Sir Herbert Plumer, Sir Douglas Haig, Sir Henry Rawlinson. Middle row, left to right: Sir Julian Byng, Sir William Birdwood, Sir Henry Horne. Back row, left to right: Sir Herbert Lawrence, Sir Charles Kavanagh, Brudenell White, Percy, Louis Vaughan, Archibald Montgomery-Massingberd, Hastings Anderson.

In February 1916 the Australian and New Zealand contingents, back in Egypt, underwent reorganisation to incorporate the new units and reinforcements that had accumulated during 1915: the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps was replaced by two corps, I ANZAC Corps and II ANZAC Corps, and Birdwood reverted to the command of II ANZAC Corps. When I ANZAC Corps became the first to depart for France, Birdwood, as senior corps commander, took over command.[13] During early 1916 Birdwood advocated for the formation of an Australian and New Zealand Army or a Dominion Army also including Canadian forces under his command, but this did not occur.[30][31]

Birdwood was promoted to the permanent rank of full general on 23 October 1917[32][33] with command of a formation then known as the Australian Corps in November 1917.[13] He was also appointed aide-de-camp general to the King on 2 November 1917[34] and given command of the British Fifth Army on 31 May 1918 and led the Army at the liberation of Lille in October 1918[35] and at the liberation of Tournai in November 1918.[13][36]

After the war[edit]

Birdwood was made a Baronet, of Anzac and of Totnes, in the County of Devon, on 29 December 1919.[37] He toured Australia to great acclaim in 1920 and then became general officer commanding the Northern Army in India later that year.[38] He was promoted to field marshal (with the corresponding honorary rank in the Australian Military Forces) on 20 March 1925[39][40] and, having been appointed a Member of the Executive Council of the Governor-General of India in July 1925,[41] he went on to be Commander-in-Chief, India, in August 1925.[38]

After leaving the service in 1930, Birdwood made a bid to become Governor-General of Australia. He had the backing of the King and the British government. However, the Australian Prime Minister James Scullin insisted that his Australian nominee Sir Isaac Isaacs be appointed.[4] Instead, Birdwood was appointed Master of Peterhouse, Cambridge on 20 April 1931[42] and Captain of Deal Castle in 1934.[43][44] In 1935 he wrote for the Western Australian distance education magazine Our Rural Magazine, saying that he had two granddaughters making good use of distance educational courses.[45] In May 1936, he returned to Gallipoli aboard RMS Lancastria and visited war memorials on the peninsula.[46][47] He retired from academic work in 1938.[38]

In retirement Birdwood was Colonel of the 12th Royal Lancers (1920–1951),[48] the 6th Gurkha Rifles (1926–1951),[49] and the 75th (Home Counties) (Cinque Ports) Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment, Royal Artillery (1939–1951).[50] In January 1936 he attended the funeral of King George V[51] and in May 1937 he was present for the coronation of King George VI.[52] He was raised to the peerage as Baron Birdwood, of Anzac and of Totnes in the County of Devon, on 25 January 1938, in recognition of his wartime service.[53][54]

His autobiography Khaki and Gown (1941) was followed by In my time: recollections and anecdotes (1946).[1] Lord Birdwood died at Hampton Court Palace, where he lived in grace-and-favour apartments, on 17 May 1951. He was buried at Twickenham Cemetery with full military honours;[4] the Australian Government pays for the upkeep of his grave.[55]

Honours and awards[edit]

Grave of William Birdwood and family in Twickenham Cemetery




In 1893 Birdwood married Janetta Bromhead, daughter of Sir Benjamin Bromhead; they had a son and two daughters.[5] His wife died in 1947.[1] Their son, Christopher Birdwood (1899–1962), succeeded him as 2nd Baron Birdwood. The elder daughter was Constance 'Nancy' Birdwood,[74] and the younger daughter was Judith Birdwood. Other members of the Birdwood family include Labour minister and peer Christopher Birdwood Thomson (1875–1930), Anglo-Indian naturalist Sir George Birdwood (1832–1917), and Jane Birdwood (1913–2000), the second wife of William Birdwood's son.[75]


The town of Blumberg, South Australia, changed its German name to Birdwood in 1918,[76] and the soldier settlement of Birdwoodton, Victoria was named after Birdwood in 1920.[77] Mount Birdwood in Alberta, Canada also bears his name.[78]

Birdwood House in Geraldton, Western Australia, which was built in 1935 for the Geraldton RSL and named after Birdwood, has served as the centre of ANZAC Day commemorations in Geraldton since 1936. William Birdwood visited Birdwood House in Geraldton 1937 where he was presented with a gold key and Freedom of Birdwood House.[79][80] Birdwood House became Heritage Registered in 2016.[81][82]

Many streets and public spaces in Australia and New Zealand are named or commonly believed to be named after Birdwood, including Birdwood Park in Newcastle West in 1920[83] and a street in New Lambton in 1919.[83]

Coat of arms[edit]

Coat of arms of William Birdwood
Arms of Baron Birdwood
Coat of arms of the Birdwood family
A coronet of a Baron
Out of a Mural Crown Gules a Martlet Argent between two Branches of Laurel proper
Azure five Martlets two two and one within an Inescutcheon voided a representation of the Southern Cross all Argent
Dexter: a Sergeant of the XIIth (Prince of Wales's Royal) Lancers mounted on a Bay Horse; Sinister: a Sikh Daffadar of the XIth (Prince of Wales's Own) Bengal Lancers mounted on a Chestnut Horse, both habited and accoutred proper
In Bello Quies (Calm in action)


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  2. ^ a b c Brown, F. H.; Stearn, Roger T. (2012) [2004]. "Birdwood, Herbert Mills". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/31897. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  3. ^ "Clifton College Register" Muirhead, J.A.O. p70: Bristol; J.W Arrowsmith for Old Cliftonian Society; April 1948 Bristol
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  53. ^ "No. 34477". The London Gazette. 28 January 1938. p. 578.
  54. ^ "No. 34469". The London Gazette (Supplement). 1 January 1938. p. 1.
  55. ^ Miranda, Charles (11 April 2015). "Brit revered by Diggers". The Courier-Mail. p. 54.
  56. ^ "No. 13881". The Edinburgh Gazette. 5 January 1923. p. 18.
  57. ^ "No. 30111". The London Gazette (Supplement). 4 June 1917. p. 5454.
  58. ^ "No. 28505". The London Gazette (Supplement). 19 June 1911. p. 4590.
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  74. ^ Schmidt, Nicholas (14 February 2011). "For Valentine's Day – The airman who married the general's daughter". Australian War Memorial. Retrieved 4 January 2014.
  75. ^ "The Dowager Lady Birdwood". The Telegraph. 29 June 2000. Retrieved 4 January 2014.
  76. ^ "Place Names of South Australia – B | Blumberg". www.slsa.sa.gov.au. State Library of South Australia. Archived from the original on 2 October 2020.
  77. ^ "Birdwoodton and Cabarita". www.victorianplaces.com.au. Monash University and the University of Queensland. 2015. Archived from the original on 28 October 2020.
  78. ^ Place-names of Alberta. Ottawa: Geographic Board of Canada. 1928. p. 20.
  79. ^ "Geraldton City RSL Sub Branch". Geraldton City RSL Sub-Branch. Archived from the original on 24 March 2023. Retrieved 24 April 2023.
  80. ^ "WA State Heritage Register - supporting document".
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  82. ^ "State Heritage Office - Birdwood House, Geraldton". Retrieved 24 April 2023.
  83. ^ a b Wetherall, Lachlan. "Birdwood Park | A bit of this, a bit of that". Retrieved 28 October 2020.


External links[edit]

Military offices
Preceded by General Officer Commanding Australian Imperial Force
May 1915 – November 1919
Succeeded by
Preceded by
New Command
General Officer Commanding Australian and New Zealand Army Corps
December 1914 – February 1916
Succeeded by
Preceded by
New command
(Part of Anzac Corps)
General Officer Commanding II ANZAC Corps
February – March 1916
Succeeded by
Preceded by General Officer Commanding I ANZAC Corps
March 1916 – May 1918
Succeeded by
Preceded by General Officer Commanding British Fifth Army
May – November 1918
Succeeded by
Post disbanded
Preceded by GOC-in-C, Northern Command, India
Succeeded by
Honorary titles
Preceded by Colonel of the 12th Royal Lancers
Succeeded by
Military offices
Preceded by Commander-in-Chief, India
Succeeded by
Honorary titles
Preceded by Colonel of the Royal Horse Guards
Succeeded by
Peerage of the United Kingdom
New creation Baron Birdwood
Succeeded by
Baronetage of the United Kingdom
New creation Baronet
(of Anzac)
Succeeded by
Academic offices
Preceded by Master of Peterhouse, Cambridge
Succeeded by