|A quote from a review of “The Paladin – a Life of Major-General Sir John Gellibrand” by Peter S Sadler.|
|"His role in founding the Remembrance Club in Hobart in 1923 was the inspiration for the network of clubs which subsequently arose to care for widows and children of deceased servicemen. It was Bean who later wrote that “there was a time when some of thought that the best monument to John Gellibrand might be the story of Second Bullecourt. Now I feel there will be an even better – the record of Legacy.” |
|Major-General Sir John Gellibrand (1872-1945)|
By Reg A Watson
|Both on the field of battle and off, Gellibrand was a figure who deserves to be better recognized and understood by Australians."|
|Major-General Sir John Gellibrand was an amazing son of Tasmania. He was what made this State and nation great and would be one of the greatest Tasmanian heroes of World War I. Having served in two wars, Gellibrand, as a man of compassion, saw the horrors of violent conflict. He also looked beyond the time when hostilities ceased. The end of war does not stop in the minds of those who served and its effect continued on the families who were left behind because their men folk paid the supreme sacrifice. In the days before government assistance, Gellibrand came to the fore to give support to the bereaved families of Tasmania. His efforts soon spread to the whole of Australia.|
This is his story...
Gellibrand was born in the rural community of Ouse in Tasmania on 5th December 1872. His grandfather Joseph Tice, had a distinguished political career being the first ever Attorney-General of colonial Tasmania, during Governor George Arthur’s administration (1825-1836). His father, Thomas, was a Member of the Tasmanian House of Assembly and was captain in the Third Rifles Southern Tasmanian Volunteers. Young John (Jack) left his isle home and attended school in England and toured Europe. He entered the military academy Sandhurst and remained “a gentleman cadet” rather than becoming an officer. He became a great sportsman; cycling, shooting, tennis, playing billiards, attending the theatre and music halls. He graduated at the top of his class in 1893. It was during a dance that he met his future wife, Elizabeth (Elsie) Helena Bruel (1869-1949). Elizabeth was a German whose father moved to England to open an antique shop. After marriage on the 27th July 1894, Gellibrand as part of the British Army was sent to Ireland. He also took to writing, submitting work to various military magazines. One of their main concerns of married life was continual financial strain; he had a small legacy from his late father, but this proved to be inadequate. In the end, as was quite common for military personnel he had to borrow against his future pay.
With the coming of the Boer War, Gellibrand was about to put all his army experience into practice. The war had not been going well for Great Britain and there was criticism of the military leadership. Gellibrand was with the South Lancashire Regiment, but hearing that his fellow Tasmanians were to send troops to the war he hoped to be offered the command, but that went to Captain Cyril Cameron of Tasmania.
Operations in South Africa for Gellibrand began in February 1900 where he commanded a company assisting the relief of Ladysmith, then under siege from the Boers. He saw a great deal of action. Ladysmith was eventually relieved, but Gellibrand contracted the dreaded enteric fever and went into a coma. His recovery took some months and it was decided by the authorities that he should return to England. He did so, joined by Elsie who had travelled to Durban South Africa. Recovering sufficiently he was transferred as captain to the 3rd Battalion Manchester Regiment in Aldershot. After 19 months of home service he sailed to the island of St Helena where he was in charge of guarding 6000 Boer prisoners. He would not return to Tasmania until 1912 after serving time on staff at Camberley College and then later he accepted the position of Deputy Assistant Adjutant and Quartermaster General to Ceylon. . Before his four year term was over he was gazetted out of the army on retired pay. On the 27th April 1912 he returned ‘home’ to Tasmania and became a farmer by working an orchard at Risdon. Oddly enough, the author of this work lives on the farm Gellibrand once had.
When war was declared in 1914, Gellibrand offered his vast experience and was given the command of the 6th Military District Tasmania as Major. He was there at the Gallipoli 25th April 1915 landing at ANZAC Cove and immediately got involved with organising the beach landings, distribution of supplies and bolstering the morale of the men. His work, however, was not appreciated by Major General William Bridges who dismissed him from that role. Gellibrand was wounded twice at Gallipoli and was taken aboard the hospital ship Gascon. After recovering, he returned to ANZAC Cove, but soon requested a transfer to Egypt where he was sent. Within a short period of time he was travelling back to Gallipoli and while doing so his ship was torpedoed. He finally did arrive intact and was put into administration. Gellibrand suffered another setback when he experienced a bad bout of typhoid similar to what he had experienced in South Africa with enteric fever.
For his services he was awarded the DSO (Distinguished Service Order) and promoted to Lieutenant Colonel. On 4 December 1915, Gellibrand was given command of the 12th Battalion, the 1st Division's Tasmanian battalion, then resting on Lemnos. He did not return to ANZAC Cove. The battalion sailed to Egypt on 6 January 1916.
Gellibrand received further promotion to full Colonel and was given the command of the 6th Brigade.
The 6th Brigade sailed for the Western Front on 18 March 1916 and entered the line there on 10 April. On 31 May, Gellibrand was wounded by a German shell that landed close to his headquarters and was evacuated to England, returning on 28 June. The brigade fought at Pozieres, where it performed well in the attack on 4 August 1916. Later he became ill once again with a severe bout of influenza.
Until March 1917 he was commander of the 2nd Division, AIF. The attack which he directed against Malt Trench failed and as a result, General William Birdwood, the commander of the ANZAC forces, lost confidence in him. The 6th Brigade was nontheless thrown into the attack against the Hindenburg Line and despite many disasters Gellibrand was instrumental in saving the day. He was awarded a bar to his DSO. Birdwood granted Gellibrand’s request that he be relieved of command and from there he spent some time in England again in administrative work, which was so appreciated that he was awarded the Companion of the Order of the Bath. (CB)
In November he returned to the Western Front and on 1 June 1918 he was promoted to Major General, replacing Major General Monash, who was in command of the 3rd Division.
For Gellibrand it was difficult to replace Monash who had been in charge for two years. He had disagreements with other generals over tactics and troops positions. He and Monash were to clash on plans of attack, but because of Monash’s seniority Gellibrand was over-ruled. However, his service was recognised and later he was created a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath (KCB) in June 1919. He was also appointed an Officer of the Legion d’ Honeur by the French. By then of course, World War One had ended.
On June 9th 1919 the converted German troopship Kaiser docked at Freemantle. There he disembarked, travelling by train to Melbourne. He was now Sir John Gellibrand when on the 2nd May Gellibrand noted in his diary, “had the honour of being received by the King for an hour”. From there it was to Bruny Island where he had to spend a week in quarantine, then home. He was received with great honour by the Hobart community and it was not until a fortnight later he returned to his orchard at Risdon. The war had physically taken its toll on Gellibrand and he suffered badly from lumbago and sciatica. For a brief twelve months he became Tasmania’s Public Service Commissioner. This position proved difficult for him, as he clashed with his political masters. In the end he resigned and later went to Melbourne to take up the position of Victoria’s Police Commissioner with his family accompanying him.
Returning to Hobart in 1923 with a concern to help the plight of ex Servicemen and their families he contacted a number of prominent Hobart business and professional people. He put to them that they should form a “cobbers club” as he termed it with the motive “A desire to co-operate in promoting welfare of the independent R.S. – of securing for them such measure of support from their comrades and the general public as may suffice to fill the national pledge – and since we are now civilians again for keeps we hope to deserve well of the state by doing what in us lies to further progress in state and commonwealth.” Thus the Remembrance Club was formed. The inaugural meeting was held over lunch at ANZAC House, the headquarters of the RSL. Membership grew as did branches throughout Australia. The Remembrance Club and Gellibrand’s influence inspired those who began the Melbourne Legacy Club. The new club rekindled the spirit of optimism and national idealism and filled a great need. The Club’s first publicity stated, “to safeguard the interests of soldiers and developing a broad outlook on national problems.” Legacy was born and has been strong ever since.
|The 90th celebrations of the founding of the Hobart Remembrance Club (later to become Hobart Legacy) which will take place at the John the Baptist Church, Ouse, on 24th March 2013, the birthplace of Gellibrand, will be joined by two grandchildren, Miriam and John. John lived with his grandparents for two years, when he was seven and eight years of age in central Victoria. John remembers his grandfather as “tallish, although not over six foot.|
“By this time of course, he had white hair and was still suffering from his war time wounds and sickness.” said John.
“He was quite strict. He never hesitated to correct me with pronunciation and grammar. He read hugely and I remember him as a very erudite gentleman”.
John Gellibrand, grandson, who spent twenty five years in the Royal Australian Navy and Royal Australian Air Force also remembers his grandfather as being very neat and tidy, “things had to be ordered. In essence, however, I remember him as a lovely old fella. He was very gentle, spoke excellent English. We used to read to each other, many works starting with Kipling, (Jungle Book, Kim, etc) and then moving on to Mark Twain et al.
“When I lived with him and Elsie those many years ago, he was quite frail as was she. He never walked very well, but his mind was as astute as ever,” said John.
|John and Miriam Gellibrand - Grandchildren of Sir Major General John Gellibrand. Photographed at Ouse, 24 March 2013.|
|Gellibrand entered Federal politics in November 1925, being elected the member for Denison in Tasmania. 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 1937 near Yea, Victoria.|
The years began to take a toll on Gellibrand. On ANZAC Day he became depressed and when The Mercury newspaper wrote an article on Monash after his death, the many condolences did not carry Gellibrand’s name. During the early 1930s he worked for the insurance company of AMP and was often asked by the Federal Government to comment and recommend procedures for the nation’s defence. Both he and Elsie left Tasmania for the last time on the 27th March 1937.
On the 3rd June 1945 death came to him brought on by a mild cerebral haemorrhage. After a short private service at Balaclava, he was buried at the Yea Cemetery, Victoria. Elsie died 13th August 1949 in Hobart. They left two children, Cynthia (1901-1994) and Thomas (1908-1981).
- * Reg. A. Watson is a Tasmanian historian and author.
- Recommended reading:
- “The Paladin – a Life of Major-General Sir John Gellibrand” – Peter S. Sadler.
- “Legacy – the first fifty years” - Mark Lyons.
* Reg. A. Watson is a Tasmanian historian and author. Mr Watson has long supported Legacy and is a very active Friend of Hobart Legacy.
|Click here to read an Australian War Memorial Magazine article on Mayor General Sir John Gellibrand.|
|Click here to read the Bowen Lecture - 13 September, 2015:|
Major-General Sir John Gellibrand by Reg A. Watson