Field Marshal (Sir) Thomas Blamey
Field Marshal Sir Thomas Albert Blamey, known as a fierce officer, was loved by those who knew him but despised by those who didn’t.
Thomas Albert Blamey joined the Australian Army in 1906. He was posted to Melbourne on receiving a commission of Commonwealth Cadet Forces. Transferring to the Australian Military Forces in 1910 he was promoted to Captain. He graduated from Staff College in India in 1913 and was in England when WWI began, joining the 1st Australian Division in Egypt, and landing at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915.
Blamey went on to serve on the Western Front playing a key strategic role in the planning for the Battle of Pozieres. Rising to the rank of Brigadier General, he served as Chief of Staff of the Australian Corps under Lieutenant General Sir John Monash. Monash later credited him as being a major factor in the Corps’ success in the Battles of Hamel, Amiens and the Hindenburg Line.
After WWI Blamey was appointed Deputy Chief of the General Staff and was instrumental in the creation of the Royal Australian Air Force. Blamey retired from the Army in 1925. He was appointed to the position of Chief Commissioner of the Victoria Police, and immediately implemented many new initiatives such as police dogs and equipping police vehicles with radios.
Considered to be confrontational, violent and ruthless Blamey’s tenure as Chief Police Commissioner was marred by scandal and he was forced to resign in 1936.
The onset of WWII saw Blamey promoted to Lieutenant General and appointed to command of the 6th Division. In 1940 he became the Commander of the Australian Corps. A lack of understanding around the technological developments across the military proved to be his weakness. This came to the fore during the Battle of Greece when he failed to alert the Australian Government sufficiently early of his doubts about the Greek campaign that resulted in the Allies withdrawal. BRIG (Sir) Sydney Rowell observed that Blamey was ‘physically and mentally broken during the withdrawal’. Learning his lesson, Blamey never again failed to inform the government of his views.
Appointed Deputy Commander-In-Chief, British Forces in the Middle East, he was promoted to General in 1941. He returned to Australia in 1942 as Commander-in-Chief of the Australian Military Forces and Commander of Allied Land Forces in the South West Pacific Area under the command of General Douglas MacArthur.
On the orders of MacArthur and Prime Minister John Curtin, he assumed personal command of New Guinea Force during the Kokoda Track campaign, and relieved Lieutenant General Sydney Rowell and Major General Arthur Allen under controversial circumstances.
During the final campaigns of the war Blamey faced ferocious criticism of the Australian Army’s performance with Chief of Staff of the United States Army, General George Marshall, stating that “the Australians have proven themselves unable to match the enemy in jungle fighting. Aggressive leadership is lacking.”
On Australia’s behalf Blamey signed the Japanese Instrument of Surrender at Japan’s ceremonial surrender on-board USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on 2 September 1945, and on 9 September 1945 personally accepted the Japanese surrender at Morotai.
Blamey formally retired from military service on 31 January 1946. As a result of his service and standing in the community the Prime Minister, Robert Menzies, supported Blamey’s promotion to Field Marshal in the King’s Birthday Honours on 8 June 1950.
Blamey passed away on 27 May 1951. His body lay in state at the Shrine of Remembrance, where an estimated 20,000 people filed past. Crowds of up to 300,000 lined the streets of Melbourne at his state funeral.