The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of General Sir Cyril Brudenell Bingham White, Chief of the General Staff, Second World War

Place Oceania: Australia, Australian Capital Territory, Canberra
Accession Number PAFU2015/343.01
Collection type Film
Object type Last Post film
Physical description 16:9
Maker Australian War Memorial
Place made Australia: Australian Capital Territory, Canberra, Campbell
Date made 13 August 2015
Access Open
Conflict Second World War, 1939-1945
South Africa, 1899-1902 (Boer War)
First World War, 1914-1918
Copyright Item copyright: © Australian War Memorial
Creative Commons License This item is licensed under CC BY-NC
Copying Provisions Copy provided for personal non-commercial use

The Last Post Ceremony is presented in the Commemorative area of the Australian War Memorial each day. The ceremony commemorates more than 102,000 Australians who have given their lives in war and other operations and whose names are recorded on the Roll of Honour. At each ceremony the story behind one of the names on the Roll of Honour is told. Hosted by Richard Cruise, the story for this day was on General Sir Cyril Brudenell Bingham White, Chief of the General Staff, Second World War.

Speech transcript

General Sir Cyril Brudenell Bingham White, Chief of the General Staff
Accidentally killed 13 August 1940
Photograph: 001110

Story delivered 13 August 2015

Today we remember and pay tribute to General Sir Cyril Brudenell Bingham White, one of Australia’s most distinguished soldiers.

Brudenell White was the son of Irish migrants Warren and Maria White. He was born on 23 September 1876 in St Arnaud, Victoria, and at the age of five his family moved to Queensland. His father worked on a number of pastoral stations around Gympie, Charters Towers, and Gladstone, but financial ruin forced the family to move to Brisbane within a few years. White went to Brisbane Central Boys’ School, and an older brother later worked to pay for Brudenell to attend Eton Preparatory School for a year.

White left school with a prize in shorthand, which helped him get work as a bank clerk at the age of 16. From then on he paid his own way, including for a personal tutor to help him to continue his studies at night. White had ambitions of becoming a barrister, but instead found a career in the army. He first served with the 2nd Queensland Regiment, transferring to the Queensland Regiment of the Royal Australian Artillery in 1899. He saw brief service in South Africa in 1902, and later became the first Australian representative at the British Army Staff College in Camberley. He spent a number of years in Britain, at one point being seconded to the War Office.

Brudenell White was a keenly intelligent man who could quickly grasp any problem, either organisational or tactical. It was said that he would understand a question in “one illuminating flash” and be working on a solution while other men were still painfully accumulating the facts. He returned to Australia in 1912 to take up the post of Director of Military Operations in Melbourne, and began working on plans for common action with New Zealand in the event of war.

In July 1914 White was made acting Chief of the General Staff, and when war was declared one month later he was called on to put his plans into action. He was appointed the first Chief of Staff of the Australian Imperial Force, and was instrumental in its creation. He worked on plans for the landing of the 1st Australian Division on Gallipoli, and was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his work in reorganising a force badly muddled in the confusion of the landing.

In October 1915 White was promoted to brigadier general, serving under Lieutenant General Sir William Birdwood. He was instrumental in the success of the evacuation of Anzac, and later in the expansion of the AIF.

White continued as Birdwood’s chief of staff through much of the AIF’s time on the Western Front. His skill was crucial in the creation of tactical plans and operations, and in supply and movement both in and out of the line. At the end of the war White was involved in the demobilisation and repatriation of the AIF.

After the war White was involved in reorganising the military forces, served as chairman of the Commonwealth Public Service Board, and later worked on the problems of reconstruction after the economic depression.

Brudenell White was again called to his country’s service as Chief of the General Staff in March 1940. On 13 August 1940 White was on an aircraft travelling from Melbourne to Canberra with three federal ministers. The aircraft crashed near the Canberra airport, killing all on board.

General Sir Cyril Brudenell Bingham White once said: “I would rather remain a sergeant in the Australian Army than be a Field Marshal in any other.” He died in the service of his country at the age of 63.

His name is listed on the Roll of Honour on my left, along with some 40,000 Australians who died during the Second World War. His photograph is displayed beside the Pool of Reflection.

This is but one of the many stories of service and sacrifice told here at the Australian War Memorial. We now remember General Sir Cyril Brudenell Bingham White, and all those Australians who have given their lives in the service of our nation.

Dr Meleah Hampton
Historian, Military History Section

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