Journal of the Australian War Memorial

The forgotten man: Lieut.-General Sir Frank Berryman
Peter Dean

{1} The name "Berryman" does not rank in the annals of famous Australian generals. It is not spoken of with reverence on ANZAC Day, nor is his name associated with the deeds of great Australian military men. It does not conjure up the same romantic, heroic or controversial images of contemporaries such as Lavarack, Rowell, Morshead or Bennett, and yet the achievements of this unassuming, yet forthright, general stand alongside, and in some cases above, his contemporaries who enjoy greater fame in popular memory and history. He appears in most histories of Australia in the Second World War as a footnote, but this greatly belies his importance and achievements.

{2} There are a number of reasons why Lieutenant-General Sir Frank Horton Berryman has not been a celebrated figure in Australian military history. First, Berryman made his career as a regular soldier. This had a distinct disadvantage as regular soldiers were often placed in the understated, yet no less important, roles as staff officers. It was within this field of staff work that Berryman came into his own. Both Generals Lavarack and Blamey thought of him as a pre-eminent staff officer. Even those of his peers who were not always on cordial terms with Berryman at a personal level paid homage to his professional abilities.1

{3} Berryman shunned the spotlight. He was an intensely private, loyal and assiduous man who did not seek fame and "avoid[ed] publicity, being too busily occupied loyally serving his command and army."2 He was, as one newspaper reporter described him in 1945; "a soldier's soldier, cool, ruthless, upright, [and] without a single trick of showmanship."3 In fact, Berryman thought that those generals and officers who sought notoriety among the press did nothing to help get the war won. They were, in his words, not acting "in the best interests of the service."4

{4} His efficiency as a staff officer and his skills in coordinating the relationship with Australia's allies have resulted in Berryman assuming the role of a "man behind the scenes". His identity is subsumed by the very staff work that he completed in such an authoritative manner, the dominating personalities of Blamey and MacArthur and the role that the US held within in the Australian-American alliance.

{5} Then there is the question of command experience. Berryman was only given the opportunity to command troops on two occasions during the Second World War. His first command was at Merdjayoun in Syria in 1941, a campaign that is little known, despite the magnificent achievements of the Australian forces, and his second was as a corps commander in the Huon Peninsula, New Guinea, in 1943-44. He held his corps command at a time when the strategic emphasis of the Allied campaign was no longer on the Australian forces, as the apparent threat of invasion had diminished and the Allied counter attack was well developed and on the way to securing victory. That is not to say that Berryman lacked the desire nor the talent for command; in fact, David Horner argues that "he had an important impact on Australian operations and strategy …[and] he showed courage and leadership of a high order."5 Berryman did not, however, command in "the Battles that 'saved' Australia"6 and despite his significant efforts in the war, specifically in the defeat of Japan, his work was largely unknown at the time and remains even more so today. There has been little written of this period in Australia's military history and the events of this time have largely disappeared into what some historians in recent years have described as "the Green Hole"7

{6} Arguably Berryman's most significant achievements came not only as a commander, but as an administrator, staff officer and as a mediator – positions that are generally not showered with praise by journalists and historians alike. An idea persisted among the press that he was "not a fighting soldier, not an inspired leader of men in the field."8 Berryman took such comments and views in his stride, contenting himself with the hard-won and endearing professional reputation that he held within army circles, who to Berryman were the harshest critics and of course the only ones in which he placed any credence.

The career soldier

{7} Born in Geelong, Victoria, in 1894, son of William Lee Berryman and Annie Jane Horton, young Frank showed talent and aptitude in his schoolwork. He gained a place at Melbourne High School where he won the Rix prize for academic excellence.9 This prestigious start to his academic pursuits was a reflection of his intelligence and this was maintained throughout his life and career. He went on to graduate from the Royal Military College at Duntroon and the Staff College at Camberley, England.

{8} Berryman's military career began with his graduation from Duntroon in 1915 and his subsequent posting as an artillery officer to the Western Front. In France, he served in a number of staff and command appointments, receiving temporary promotion to captain in April 1916. He was again promoted in September 1917, this time to major while in command of the 18th Battery where he remained until January 1918. He spent the last year of the war in a mix of staff and command positions, receiving a gunshot wound to the right eye in September 1918 while he was commanding the 14th Battery, 2nd Division, Australian Imperial Force (AIF). He returned to Australia in October 1919 with a mention in dispatches and the Distinguished Service Order.10

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Major F. H. Berryman, DSO, in 1918 when he was brigade major of 7th Infantry Brigade, AIF.
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{9} Following his return, Berryman served as commander of the 2nd Battery, Royal Australian Field Artillery, and then as Inspecting Ordnance Officer - North East Area (1923-27). Then followed attendance at the very prestigious course at the British Army's staff college at Camberley. A report by Major General Charles Gwynn, the commandant at Camberley (who had also been director of military art at Duntroon during Berryman's cadet days), provides some very perceptive comments about Berryman's character. He was described as "possessing a considerable strength of character – very zealous and hardworking – [and] completely devoted to the interests of his service."11 The instructors at the staff college, while aware of his talents, also noticed that he was "highly strung – [and] might have done even better if he had not been almost over anxious."12 Berryman graduated in 1928 and stayed on in London to work at the Australian High Commission, which was then headed by the esteemed First World War commander in the Light Horse, Major General Sir Granville Ryrie. Berryman's immediate superior, however, was Major General J. H. Bruche, who was the senior military representative at Australia House until May 1931, when he returned to Australia to become (briefly) commandant at Duntroon and then Chief of the General Staff.13

{10} In early 1932 Major Berryman also returned to Australia, where he took up the post of Brigade Major of the 14th Infantry Brigade at Marrickville, in Sydney's inner west. This posting was a typical reflection of the army between the wars. With a small Staff Corps and a restricted budget, opportunities for employment and promotion were exceptionally slow. The cut backs of the depression limited the experience of the post-war Staff Corps and placed enormous pressures on its officers. Berryman's postings and experience followed closely those of fellow Staff Corps members: George Vasey, Sydney Rowell, Alan Boase and Horace Robertson. Opportunities were restricted in Australia and many sought postings overseas in England, as Berryman did, or India like George Vasey. They were, in essence, fulfilling not just Australian but Imperial service as well.

{11} The realities of peacetime Australia had brought only disappointment to many career soldiers. Promising young officers such as George Wootten, Jim Broadbent and David Whitehead resigned during the 1920s and even Brigadier General Blamey sought better prospects in civilian life.14 Berryman had been a brevet major since 1917 and he was, in 1932, occupying the same position which he had held in October 1918 with the 7th Brigade. In reality, he was still a captain, a rank that he held for nineteen years until he was confirmed as a major in 1935!

{12} Berryman's commanding officer in the 14th Brigade was the Militia brigadier and well-known Second World War general, A. S. (" Tubby" ) Allen, under whom Berryman was to serve in Syria in 1941. In 1935-39, Berryman served as General Staff Officer Grade One (GSO1) Operations at Army Headquarters under Generals Sturdee and Lavarack. Both these officers made repeated recommendations for his promotion and attendance at the Imperial Defence College. His hard work was rewarded with a promotion to the rank of brevet lieutenant colonel in 1938. In fact, Berryman had been so devoted during his time at Headquarters that in his efficiency report, dated August 1938, Colonel Sydney Rowell stated that as he had been "under continuous mental strain [without] the same opportunities for relaxation as many others. I feel it would be in the best interests of the Service and himself that he should be released for duty with troops – as soon as conditions permit."15

"A soldiers' soldier"

{13} " Berry"16 was sent to Melbourne to be the senior staff officer of the 3rd Division at the outbreak of the Second World War. With the raising of the Second AIF, his hard work, perseverance and talents as a staff officer were recognised with his appointment as GSO1 of the 6th Division, in succession to Rowell who in March 1940 stepped up to become chief of staff of the 1st Australian Corps. Berryman's talent for operational staff work now came to the forefront. As senior staff officer of the 6th Division, he was responsible for completing the operational staff work for the attacks at both Bardia and Tobruk, Libya, in 1941. It was in this operational role that he was again recognised when he was appointed C.B.E.

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Leiut.-Colonel Berryman (left) with Colonels S. F. Rowell and S. R. Burston, and Lieut.-Generals Blamey and Lavarack, at the embarkation of the second AIF convoy from Melbourne in April 1940.
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{14} This period of Berryman's career, however, was not as harmonious as it seemed. There existed a considerable degree of friction between Militia and Staff Corps officers in the AIF and it reached its nadir in the period 1939-41.17 Second World War generals like Leslie Morshead, Edward (" Ned" ) Herring, Gordon Bennett and Tubby Allen, were all Militia officers during the inter-war period and there existed a considerable degree of competition between the officers of Australia's "two armies". Berryman was not immune to these events and it seems that he felt contempt for many of the Militia officers at this time, referring to them as "mere weekend soldiers".18 In fact, personal rivalries within the upper echelons of the army transcended those between Militia or Staff Corps service. During this period Berryman was involved in a feud with fellow Duntroon graduate and Staff Corps member Colonel George Vasey, who accused Berryman, as GSO1, of being "unco-operative – selfish – too independent [and] a slave to procedure."19 Berryman also had a run-in with his former brigade commander, Tubby Allen, as well as the CRA (Commander, Royal Artillery) Brigadier Herring and Brigadier Stan Savige of the 17th Brigade.20

{15} Stuart Sayers (Herring's biographer) noted that "jockeying – is endemic in an[y] hierarchical organisation such as the Army. Jealousies and professional differences seemed more than ordinarily marked in the 6th Division under Mackay."21 This, it seems, is unfortunately true. Vasey and Berryman obviously had a clash of personalities which they were unable to resolve; instead, this was exacerbated by the rivalry that existed between the two men. Both had graduated from Duntroon in 1915 and Vasey remained bitterly critical and jealous of Berryman, largely because he was senior to him and Vasey often filled Berryman's positions after he had been promoted.22 However, Sayers argues that Herring blamed much of the discord at 6th Division Headquarters on Berryman, observing: "He was a brilliant staff officer, but a trying colleague. He was obsessively secretive, [and] woundingly sarcastic."23

{16} It is easy to see how Berryman got his nickname in some circles of the army as "Berry the Bastard". Certainly he must accept some responsibility for this awkward atmosphere, but jealously and rivalries worked in both directions. This was simply a reflection of Berry's character. He was known as a ruthless operator and he could be cold and sarcastic with his juniors and contemporaries. It was said that "His astringent tongue will wither a subordinate who has made a mistake, but he would, if necessary stand by the same erring subordinate before the combined Allied General Staffs."24 To many soldiers and officers, Berry "was a warm and engaging character, possessing a hard streak but one tempered by humour and a sense of the practical."25 Despite the personnel problems evident among senior officers in the 6th Division, Berryman was recognised by both his divisional and corps commanders as having considerable talent. He was rewarded in January 1941 with a promotion to brigadier and command of the artillery of the 7th Division, AIF.

{17} Berryman's service in Syria ranks as his only time in command of troops in direct action during the Second World War,26 and it was a time in his career that he looked back at fondly.27 His personal relationships had improved, and many of the misapprehensions he developed about Militia officers had been dispelled by the battles of 1940-41. He also got along well with Lavarack (GOC 7th Division, 1940-41), who he had known in the 1930s, and their relationship in the division again proved to be built on mutual respect and admiration for each others' professional qualities. Lavarack's calm and professional demeanour and intellectual abilities fitted well alongside Berryman's temperament. Berryman also worked in admirable accord with Tubby Allen during the campaign, but his forceful personality was contrary to others, and he found himself at professional odds with Brigadier J. E. S. Stevens. Lavarack observed that "he [Berryman] and Jackie Stevens struck off a few sparks between them, as was only natural when two such good hard bits of stuff came into contact."28

{18} The Syrian campaign of June-July 1941 began in an air of unreality. The area was strategically important, especially since the pro-Axis coup in Iraq, but the British High Command optimistically believed that the Vichy French forces occupying Syria and Lebanon would offer only token resistance. Unfortunately, this was not so, and the well-equipped French determinedly opposed the invasion. The assault on Syria and Lebanon was under the command of the British General Maitland Wilson who had recently commanded the ill-fated Greek campaign.

{19} Wilson's plan called for three equal-strength thrusts into Syria, even though he recognised the coastal area as the significant sector. The bulk of the force was comprised of the Australian 7th Division (of two brigades), which were responsible for the advance on the coastal strip and in the central sector. British and Free French Forces were provided for the inland drive to Damascus.29 Wilson's command arrangements were unnecessarily complicated; he was to command the operation from Jerusalem with the 1st Australian Corps taking over only after the troops had reached the Damascus-Rayak-Beruit line. These plans simply meant that, like in Greece, Australian commanders would take control in the middle of a desperate battle.

{20} The campaign was fought under trying conditions. Not only was the terrain especially suited to defence, but Vichy forces outnumbered the attacking Australians, British and Free French. Furthermore, the Vichy French had considerable armoured assets and a supporting force of over 100 aircraft. The Allied forces were allotted no armour and they could rely on the support of only 60 frontline aircraft. The assault began well, but on 16 June the Vichy French forces counter-attacked and threw the whole operation into jeopardy. There was ferocious fighting along the entire front and in particular around the town of Merdjayoun in the central sector. The Vichy French forces were held and then thrown back. The Australians and their allies were eventually successful and the Vichy French surrendered on 13 July. Syria had been a close run campaign and success had more to do with hard fighting, operational and tactical planning than with the organization and planning on the part of the British High Command.

{21} Berryman relished his time in Syria. He had profited from his desert experience with the 6th Division, and as 7th Division CRA he trained the artillery regiments to a peak of efficiency in open warfare, focusing on operations that supported the infantry, engaging enemy tanks and operating while isolated and cut off from other forces.30 Above all, he fostered the ideals of self-reliance and support for the infantry. During the campaign he displayed considerable courage and tenacity under fire. Berryman, along with his Brigade Major, John Wilton,31 took fourteen prisoners in Khirbe on 11 June, and later that day he personally led the troops into Merdjayoun with Lieutenant Colonel Selwyn Porter.32 In the assault on Jezzine three days later it was Berry, at the head of an infantry company, who led Australian forces into the town.

{22} Berry's inspired leadership of troops came to the fore during his time in Syria and especially as commander of "Berry Force" at Merdjayoun. There were numerous incidents that demonstrated his coolness under fire and his ability to lead from the front. These qualities were even more needed, given that the 7th Division was as yet untested in action. When his headquarters came under shell fire for the first time, Berryman sat calmly eating his breakfast "among the flying brick dust and bursting shells",33 simply telling the men to shut the door "so [that] they can eat breakfast without being covered in dust."34 Berryman's displays of steadfastness were characteristic of the artillery in Syria as a whole.35 He also believed in moving forward and conducting personal reconnaissances and spending as much time with the men in the front line as possible. It was "by reconnoitring from the most forward posts, through the bold use of artillery and personal drive, and by his constant presence forward [that] he maintained – the morale of the troops."36

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Syria, June 1941: Major General A. S. Allen, Brigadier Berryman and Brigadier A. R. Baxter-Cox.
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{23} During the Vichy French counter attack, Berryman was given command of the Australian forces in the centre of the position around Merdjayoun. For two weeks, outnumbered and outgunned, he battled to retake the strategically important town and to stop the Vichy French from penetrating into the rear of the Allied positions. It was during this engagement, and later at Damour, that Berry recommended Lieutenant Roden Cutler for the Victoria Cross, the only such award ever received by a member of the Royal Australian Artillery. Berryman took a great interest in his junior officers' careers and Cutler received numerous mentions in the Brigadier's diary. Berryman wrote that: "In my experience, the best junior officer from either World War I or World War II was Cutler."37

{24} Despite some initial setbacks,38 Berryman was successful in his recapture of Merdjayoun. "Berry Force" was subsequently disbanded, but both Berryman and his artillery continued to perform superbly throughout the remainder of the campaign and were a major factor in the Australian success. Berryman continued to show versatility and lateral thinking during the campaign with his raising of "The Kelly Gang", which was comprised of Australian soldiers from the divisional cavalry regiment mounted on captured horses. They proved to be excellent in the rugged terrain and worked very proficiently while operating on the flanks of Australian main force units.39

{25} Berryman's contributions to the Syrian campaign were not overlooked and he was rewarded, not with the fighting command that he desired but with the important position of BGS (Brigadier General Staff), or senior staff officer, of the 1st Australian Corps. It was during this period that the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and much of the South Pacific was being overrun.

{26} Along with the headquarters staff of the 1st Corps, Berryman arrived in Batavia, Java, on 26 January 1942. With an eye to training and a thirst for knowledge about his new opponents, he was instrumental in organising a long interview with Colonel I. M. Stewart of the British Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Regiment, who had just fought the Japanese in Malaya. This interview became the basis of a paper on Japanese tactics that Berryman and Major General Allen developed and had widely distributed throughout the Australian army; this was compulsory reading not just for officers, but for sergeants and corporals as well.40

{27} On his return to Australia, Berryman was promoted and made MGGS (major general, general staff) of the First Australian Army, again under Lavarack. In September, however, he became Deputy Chief of the General Staff under the Commander-in-Chief, General Sir Thomas Blamey, who also called on him in December to simultaneously act as chief of staff of New Guinea Force, the principal Australian army formation in the South-West Pacific Area. It was from this time onwards that Berryman formed a very close professional and personal relationship with Blamey, and, with the exception of his time in 1944 as a corps commander, Berryman was able to operate as Blamey's chief of staff and head of operational planning. This made him "one of the most important officers in the Australian Army in its struggle against the Japanese."41 Blamey and Berryman remained close for the rest of the war and Blamey came to rely heavily on Berryman for advice.42

{28} Berry was not passive in his approach as a staff officer in New Guinea and as Blamey's virtual deputy. He often set out for the front to encourage both troops and commanders, and to carry out personal reconnaissance. In 1943 he went to Wau on two separate occasions when this position was in danger, and on one of these, while venturing forward with another officer, he was subjected to small arms fire. Berryman remained in Wau, taking virtual command until ordered back to Advanced Land Headquarters in Brisbane.43

{29} Berryman, however, was not just a favoured colleague or protégé, nor was he simply a "yes" man. He frequently opposed Blamey on a number of operational and strategic issues and Blamey often changed his mind on the advice of Berryman and others such as Major General Charles (" Gaffer" ) Lloyd.44 Blamey was endeared to Berryman's predilection for secrecy as well as his candid and loyal demeanour. One of the main reasons that Blamey respected Berryman so much, and was so reliant on him for advice, was that he saw Berry not as a rival but a trustworthy and very capable subordinate, one who at all times made paramount the interests of the army and gave loyalty to his commander-in-chief above his own ambition. As a consequence, Berryman's personality and achievements have been overshadowed by Blamey's. His role as a planning and operations officer in the Pacific has been lost, not just in the ascendancy that Blamey had over the army and its personalities during the Second World War, but also in the dominance that Blamey's role subsumes in the post-war history and literature of the Pacific campaigns. As a result, Berryman's role and importance has been largely overlooked.

America's ally

{30} Berryman's importance within the army high command was further enhanced by his particular talents in inter-Allied cooperation. One of the most beneficial skills that he possessed, which assisted both Blamey and the army, was that Berry developed an intimate, personnel and professional relationship with Australia's most important allies, the Americans. As the key planning and operations officer, Berryman worked closely with MacArthur's General Headquarters (GHQ). The relationship between Australian and American commanders was often difficult and strained, fuelled by competing political and military objectives and cultural misunderstandings. But as John Hetherington (Blamey's biographer) points out:

Berryman understood the Americans and they understood him; he had a knack of avoiding friction without sacrificing Australian dignity or interests. His achievements in keeping the peace were of no mean order in light of America's preponderant contribution to the overall forces under MacArthur's command. It was a time when a careless word or a thoughtless gesture could have upset the delicate balance of the Australian-American partnership.45

{31} From August to November 1943, Berryman was present at the 3rd Division's operations in the Salamaua area, at the behest of the Commander-in-Chief, where he took an active role in guiding the operations of Major General Savige. In November, Berry was finally given the command that he had desired for so long, taking over the 2nd Australian Corps from Lieutenant General Morshead.

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Berryman as GOC 2nd Australian Corps, pictured at Port Moresby on 13 March 1944.
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{32} Berry commanded the campaign in the Huon Peninsula in northern New Guinea until April 1944. During this time, the 9th Division, AIF, captured Sattelberg and fought their way up the peninsula, linking up with the Americans at Saidor. In the period from September 1943 to April 1944,46 Australian forces:

had not only captured Finschhafen and other important points in the area,

it had also soundly defeated its principle opponent, the 20th Japanese Division, and had mauled elements of two other divisions – The Finschhafen-Langemak Bay-Dreger Harbour area was transformed into a massive sea and air base from which subsequent amphibious operations against Hollandia and Aitape were launched. It was a considerable achievement.47

{33} Throughout his time as GOC 2nd Corps, Berryman followed the same ideals in personal leadership that he had shown in Syria and had continued, where possible, as a staff officer. He was steadfast, led by example and visited the forward troops as often as possible. During the assault and capture of Mount Tambu near Salamaua, and similarly on many other occasions, Berryman was in the front line sharing the privations of his men, motivating and making sure that every soldier knew that his contribution was appreciated. This was a situation that was not commonly seen with a lieutenant general commanding a corps of two divisions.48

{34} Berry's work as a corps commander did not go unnoticed or unappreciated. MacArthur described him as "quite brilliant"49 and Blamey praised his "skilful planning, able supervision and vigorous leadership".50 However, when Berryman's headquarters was relieved by the 1st Corps, he was bitterly disappointed to find himself back in a staff position. He had again relished his time as a commander and shown his preference for command in the field to staff work, but Blamey required his talents and skills for a much more delicate and important post.51

{35} With MacArthur's interests moving further away from those of Australia, Blamey was hoping to base a Commonwealth Army in Darwin to fight northward back to Hong Kong and Singapore. Berryman moved to Advanced Land Headquarters where he took the position as chief of staff and commenced work on drawing up the plans for a force of British, Australian and New Zealand troops that would number around 657,000. Berry completed the report in August when Blamey returned from his trip to England, but by then it was obvious that Blamey's hopes were fanciful and Berryman was moved back to the "real war" with the US at Land Operations.52

The lost commands

{36} During the course of 1944-45, Berryman was the Australian Army representative at MacArthur's GHQ. Berryman and the Forward Echelon of Blamey's Land Headquarters, which he commanded, were moved to Hollandia to "safeguard Australian interests".53 It was during this period that Berryman was able to skilfully use his powers of conciliation to maintain a cohesive relationship between the Australian and American high commands. At this time there was intense speculation and debate about the use of the AIF in the remaining campaigns against the Japanese. This issue became increasingly politicised, especially the role that the Australians were to play in the invasion of the Philippines.

{37} As the Australians' commitment was being debated, MacArthur proposed that command arrangements be changed. He recommended that task force commands be formed and that Blamey, as Commander-in-Chief, should remain behind in Australia and that a task force for the three AIF divisions be formed under a separate Australian commander. MacArthur considered either Morshead or Berryman as the only two Australian officers suitable to fill this post.54 Berry's relationship with the Americans, his command of 2nd Corps and his vast experience as a staff and operational officer had made him, by late 1944, one of only two officers capable, proficient and desired by GHQ for high command positions.

{38} Indeed, one could speculate that it would also have come down to Morshead or Berryman to hold the operational command of the Commonwealth Army that Blamey had proposed in 1944, if it had materialised. It would have been virtually impossible for Blamey to hold dual responsibility of commander of this army as well as Commander-in-Chief in Australia. Most probably, these two officers would have filled the positions of Army commander and commander of the AIF Corps. Morshead had considerable more command experience, but Berryman had been picked, as a result of his superior staff work, to draw up the elaborate plans for the Commonwealth Army and had displayed equal if not superior operational planning. Berryman had more intimate ties with the Americans, with whom this army would need to develop close strategic and operational relations, and at this time he had more experience in the Pacific campaign, being present and closely involved in operations since his time as BGS in Java. It was these very talents and his experience that had made Berry so valuable to Blamey as the Australian representative at GHQ.

{39} Despite his tact and the mutual admiration between Berry and the Americans, he failed to influence GHQ to use Australians in the push through the Philippines. Perhaps it is harsh to look at Berryman's role in the under-utilisation of the Australians in this campaign as a failure. It was simply not expedient for MacArthur to "return" to the Philippines on the backs of Australian troops, and no Australian general or politician had ever been able to curb his political impetus.

{40} MacArthur dominated his SWPA command during the Second World War. By early 1943 he had effectively sidelined Blamey as Commander of Allied Land Forces and Australian interests were continually relegated to second place in his list of priorities. MacArthur's headquarters was unusual in that it was not an integrated allied organization with Australian and American staff, like those in the European theatre of operations. He did not accept advice to integrate Australians into his staff but relied principally for advice on the officers who had served on his staff in the Philippines, the so-called "Bataan Gang". Furthermore, GHQ was a highly centralised headquarters that operated, at all levels, on a "top-down" approach.55 MacArthur was the pre-eminent figure in his command and he dominated the war in the South West Pacific at the political, strategic and operational levels.56 He overshadowed not only Blamey, but the Australian prime minister, John Curtin, as well. It is easy to see how Berryman's identity as a commander and as an Australian was subsumed and submerged by his work with MacArthur and the Americans. If a lot of Berryman's work was overshadowed by the domineering personality of Blamey then his work at Advanced Australian Headquarters as a part of GHQ was buried by the dominance of the US in the Australian-American alliance and the forcefulness of MacArthur's personality. This forms a large part of the reason for the loss of recognition of Berryman's role in the popular memory of the war and his unwarranted relegation to the footnotes of Australia's history in the Pacific campaigns.

{41} Berryman had, in the end, missed his last chance to command Australian troops in action in what would have been Australia's largest combined operation of the war. With Japan's acceptance of defeat in August 1945, Berryman's contribution to that outcome was rewarded with an appointment as official Australian Army representative at the surrender ceremonies in Tokyo Bay. Although he was immensely proud of this honour, and newspaper articles called this the high point of his career,57 to Berry the satisfaction of being chief of staff at the surrender of the Japanese II Army to the Australians at Morotai was much closer to his heart.58

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Australia's delegates at the Japanese surrender on USS Missouri, 2 September 1945; Berryman stands behind General Blamey, and between Air Vice-Marshal George Jones and Commodore John Collins.
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{42} With the war over, Berry returned to the family that he loved but had seen little of since 1939. The return to peace did not, however, bring to an end his ambition or career. Rather, the inevitable change in command relationships – including the retirement of Blamey – brought with it an opportunity for Berryman to rise to the paramount role in the Australian Army as CGS, or Chief of the General Staff. Again, however, for Berryman it was to be a case of what might have been.

{43} With the cessation of hostilities, there was much speculation as to which of the Australian generals would become the next CGS. To the press there were a number of eligible candidates, including Berryman, who became one of the officers most frequently discussed. Berryman, however found himself in a difficult position. He was seen as a "Blamey man" and the new Prime Minister, J. B. Chifley, did not hold Blamey in high regard. Berryman's close personnel and professional relationship to the former commander-in-chief did not endear him to the new Labor hierarchy.

{44} Blamey had made major recommendations to the government about positions in the post-war army and one of these was to appoint Berryman as CGS. Blamey's biographer, Hetherington, argues that one of Blamey's regrets at the end of the war was that he hurt Berry's chances of becoming CGS. Just after Blamey's retirement, a press cameraman tried to photograph Berryman and Blamey together at a social function. Blamey reportedly turned and remarked "You get out of the picture Berry–If you're in it, it will finish you."59

{45} Blamey's advice to the government was rejected. Lieutenant General Sydney Rowell had established himself as a favourite with the new Prime Minister, due not just to his experience and suitability, but also because it was seen that Rowell had been the recipient of injustice from Blamey over the his sacking during the New Guinea campaign in 1942. "I hate bloody injustice!", Chifley roared in an interview on Rowell's return from "exile" in Britain.60 In a political move, Chifley made General Sturdee CGS with Rowell as his deputy as Vice CGS; Rowell eventually acceeded to the position on Sturdee's retirement in 1950. Hetherington is right to point out that Chifley's sense of injustice was singularly lacking when the victim was a "Blamey man",61 but to no-one's surprise Berryman graciously accepted his posting as GOC Eastern Command and developed a close working relationship with Rowell.

{46} Berry remained at Eastern Command until the time came for him to leave the army in April 1954. It is claimed that, with Rowell's retirement also due that year, he made a half-hearted attempt to conjure political favour for the CGS position by lobbying the Minister for Defence Production, Sir Eric Harrison, but his age was against him. Instead, he accepted an offer from Prime Minister Robert Menzies to become Director General for the royal tour of Australia by Queen Elizabeth II that same year. He then became Chief Executive Officer and Director of the Royal Agricultural Society of New South Wales, a post he held until 1961.

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Oil portrait of Berryman by Joshua Smith, painted in 1958.
AWM ART27533

{47} In the end Berryman was, in all likelihood, his own worst enemy. He realised too late the power and benefits that could be gained by high ranking officers through securing the favour of political heavyweights and developing close and cordial relationships with the press. He was, ultimately, hampered by his own intensely private, loyal and assiduous nature as well as his intelligence and abilities. Through his skill as a staff officer, liaison officer and planning officer, he had made himself indispensable to the army and to commanders like Lavarack, Blamey and MacArthur. Yet it was the dominance of the personalities and characters of these commanders that has seen the submergence of Berryman's identity and the overshadowing of the role that he played in the defeat of Japan. It was the nature of circumstance, politics and his pre-eminence in staff officer roles that resulted in him being precluded from the command appointments that he so desired and the publicity that he deserved. Despite this, it can be argued that, given the marginalisation of the AIF and the Australian Army in 1944 and 1945, he achieved far more in this period in the roles that he fulfilled than he could ever have done as a divisional or corps commander in what is commonly referred to as the "unnecessary campaigns." In the end, Lieutenant General Sir Frank Berryman can be seen as Australia's "forgotten man" of World War II.

{48} Perhaps the ultimate assessment of Berryman comes from Sir John Lavarack, a professional colleague whom Berryman himself respected and admired. In 1945 Lavarack commented to the official historian Gavin Long that he:

consider[ed] Berryman the best combination of fighting leader, staff officer, and administrator that I have met so far in our army, and I should think he would be hard to beat anywhere.62

© Peter J. Deam

The Author

Peter J. Dean is currently writing a biography of Lieutenant General Berryman as his PhD thesis with the School of History at the University of New South Wales. He holds a Bachelor of Arts (Hons) and a Diploma of Education in History and Sociology from the University of Newcastle. Peter has taught history from high school through to university. In 1999 he was a recipient of a NSW government Access Asia scholarship to conduct research in Vietnam and has served as a Director of the Professional Teachers Council of NSW and President of the NSW Society and Culture Teachers Association. He has been a member of the Australian Army (Reserve) since 1993.



  1. Peter Dennis (et al) The Oxford Companion to Australian Military History (Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1999), p.96.
  2. AWM PR 84/370. Berryman papers. This extract comes from a 1945 report on General Berryman in his personnel file.
  3. Unsourced newspaper article, 1945, "Berryman known as 'Soldier's Soldier'.", by a 'Special Correspondent' as appears in the Berryman family papers, p.16. These papers are a collection of newspaper articles, letters and private papers, in the possession of Sir Frank's son Richard. The page numbers refer to an archive book which Sir Frank and his family used to catalogue a large volume of the collection.
  4. AWM PR 84/370. Berryman papers, 21 November 1944, Berryman to Lt-Col A. G. Fenton, Assistant Director of Public Relations, LHQ, p.2.
  5. D. M. Horner (ed.), The commanders: Australian military leadership in the twentieth century (Sydney: Allen and Unwin, 1984), p.4.
  6. David Horner (ed.), The battles that shaped Australia: The Australian's anniversary essays (Sydney, Allen & Unwin, 1994). I have used this title as an example of popular memory and remembrance of WWII to emphasis the lack of publicity that the command roles that Berryman had during the war.
  7. John Coates, Bravery above blunder (Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1999), p.9.
  8. "Berryman known as 'Soldier's Soldier'.", p.16.
  9. Ours (newsletter of Melbourne High School), September, 1911, p.3. The Rix prize was awarded for the best all round achievement for a boy and a girl at Melbourne High. It was named after Henry Finch Rix, inspector of the Victorian Education Department.
  10. Australian Army service record, Lt-Gen Berryman, F. H., 1919.
  11. AAF A26. Confidential Report on Officers, Brevet Major Berryman, D.S.O., Australian Staff Corps, 12 April 1929.
  12. Ibid.
  13. Joan Beaumont, Australian defence: sources and statistics, vol.6 of The Australian Centenary History of Defence (Melbourne, Oxford University Press, 2001), p.142. See also the entry on Bruche in the Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol.7 (Carlton: Melbourne University Press, 1979), pp.462-3.
  14. David Horner, General Vasey's war (Carlton, Melbourne University Press, 1992), pp.21-22, and Peter Dennis (et al), pp.103, 504, 506, 606.
  15. Lt-Col S. Rowell quoted in AAF A26 Confidential Report on Officers, Brevet Lt-Col Berryman, DSO, Australian Staff Corps, 31 August 1938 (italics added).
  16. Frank Berryman was more often than not known to friends and family simply as 'Berry'. He signed the letters to his wife throughout the Second World War in this manner.
  17. Horner, The commanders, p.9.
  18. Stuart Sayers, "Lieutenant-General the Honourable Sir Edmund Herring: Joint and Allied Commander", in Horner, The commanders, pp.247-8.
  19. Horner, General Vasey's war, pp.65, 72.
  20. Ibid, pp.67, 70.
  21. Sayers, p.247.
  22. It is interesting to note that when Berry was given command of 2nd Corps in New Guinea, Vasey's 7th Division was removed from his operational responsibilities and reported directly to New Guinea Force HQ. It was also widely known that Vasey thought little of Berry's appointment.
  23. Sayers, p.247.
  24. Berryman family papers, p.16.
  25. Dennis (et al), p.96.
  26. Berryman had considerably less command experience during his career than many of his contempories. He had commanded a battery during the First World War, but never commanded a battalion, brigade or a division. In Syria he commanded the artillery and for two weeks an ad hoc brigade task force. In New Guinea he commanded a corps.
  27. AWM PR 84/370, Berryman papers, 21 November 1944. This is reflected in a letter Berryman wrote to Lt-Col A. G. Fenton, Assistant Director of Public Relations at LHQ, after a press article in which Berryman felt he was unfairly treated. In a ten-page autobiography of his military career in the Second World war up until late 1944 he spent no less than four and a half pages describing his time in Syria. He also remained in close touch with many of his subordinates from this time and after the war he took an active interest in the unit associations involved in the fighting in Syria.
  28. AWM 67 3-30 part 2. Records of Gavin Long, Lt-Gen Lavarack to Long, 14 February 1945.
  29. Gavin Long, Greece, Crete and Syria, vol.2 of Australia in the War of 1939-1945 (Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1953), pp.333-40.
  30. Berrryman was also well known for his belief in training and he gained a reputation as being particularly apt in this area.
  31. Later General Sir John Wilton, Chief of the General Staff, 1963-66, Chairman of the Chiefs of Staffs Committee, 1966-70.
  32. Lt-Col Porter was the commander of the 2/31st Battalion. These troops formed the bulk of the forces involved in this action. In 1943 Porter accompanied Berryman to New Guinea to take a brigade command when Berry became GOC 2nd Corps.
  33. Berryman family papers, p.16.
  34. AWM 67 3-30 part 2, Records of Gavin Long.
  35. Ibid.
  36. Ibid.
  37. Colleen McCullough, Roden Cutler, V.C.: a biography (Sydney: Random House, 1999), p.11.
  38. Most of these setbacks could be attributed to Berry's 'overzealous' personality, recognised way back at Staff College in England, and his desire to 'prove' himself as a competent commander of troops in action.
  39. AWM 52 1/5/7 – 7th Australian Division report on operations, campaign in Syria. See also Merdjayoun Report on the Operations of 'Berry Force: 16 June-29June 1941', June 1941, AWM PR 84/370 Series 5, items 75, 76 & 77.
  40. L. Wigmore, The Japanese thrust, vol.4 of Australia in the War 1939-1945 (Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1957), p.443.
  41. Dennis (et al), p.96.
  42. John Hetherington, Blamey: controversial soldier (Sydney: Australian War Memorial, 1973), p.312.
  43. PR 84/370, Berryman to Lt-Col Fenton, 21 November 1944.
  44. Ibid.
  45. Hetherington, p.343.
  46. Berryman took command on 6 November 1943.
  47. John Coates, An Atlas of Australia's wars, vol.7 of The Australian Centenary History of Defence, (Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 2001), p.252.
  48. AWM 67 3-30 part 2, Records of Gavin Long.
  49. Hetherington, p.343.
  50. Dennis (et al), p.96.
  51. Hetherington, p.343.
  52. David Horner, Blamey: The Commander-in-Chief (Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 1998), pp.476-7.
  53. Berryman Diary, 7 September 1944; Blamey to Forde, 26 October 1944, quoted in Horner, Blamey, p.478.
  54. Horner, Blamey, p.445.
  55. Coates, Bravery above blunder, pp.127-128.
  56. Ibid., pp.124-5.
  57. Berryman family papers, pp.14-17.
  58. AWM PR 84/370 Berryman papers, Series 2, item 87.
  59. Hetherington, p.378.
  60. S. F. Rowell, Full Circle (Carlton: Melbourne University Press, 1974), p.159. See also Horner, Blamey, p.574, and Hetherington, p.378.
  61. Hetherington, 1973, p.378.
  62. Letter, Lavarack to Long, 14 February 1945, written from the Australian Military Mission in Washington, AWM 67 3-209 part 1.