Guide to the papers of Lieutenant General Sir Leslie Morshead


Title: Papers of Lieutenant General Sir Leslie Morshead

Date range of collection: 1914-1962

Collection number: 3DRL 2632 and PR00368

Extent: 3DRL 2632: 1.44 shelf metres 8 boxes, 4 oversize items. PR 00368: 0.18 shelf metres, 1 box, 1 oversize item. Paper documents and photographs.

Location: Private Records Collection, Research Centre, Australian War Memorial.

Abstract: Collection of personal papers, official correspondence, operational records, administrative papers, reports and addresses documenting Morshead's experiences in both World Wars.

Administrative information

Provenance: First World War records were located by staff working in Australia House in London, and sent to the Memorial in 1929. Second World War records were donated both by Morshead himself around 1954 and the remainder by Lady Morshead in 1965.

Access: Open

Restrictions on use: Copyright of materials described in this guide is governed by copyright law in Australia. For further information contact the Curator of Private Records, Research Centre.

Preferred citation: Papers of Lieutenant General Sir Leslie Morshead, 3DRL 2632 and PR00368


Additional information

Related collections: The Australian War Memorial has numerous other collections relating to Morshead . These include official records , film footage, medals/awards and uniforms. 

Additionally, a personal letter written in November 1942 is in 3DRL 2562. The National Archives of Australia (NAA) holds related official records, listed on the NAA's Recordsearch database.

Subjects: 1914-1918; 33 Battalion; Western Front (France); 1939-1945; 18 Australian Mixed Brigade; England; 9 Division; North Africa; Tobruk; El Alamein; I and II Corps; New Guinea; Borneo.


Biographical note

Lieutenant General Sir Leslie James Morshead, KC, KBE, CMG, CBE, DSO, ED

Early Life

Leslie James Morshead was born on 18 September, 1889 at Ballarat East, Victoria, the sixth child of parents William and Mary Eliza Morshead. He attended Mount Pleasant State School where he captained both the cricket and football teams.

Morshead later attended Melbourne Teachers' College, and after gaining his qualifications, taught at schools in regional Victoria and New South Wales. In 1914 prior to the outbreak of war, he was teaching in Melbourne. In addition to his teaching role, he commanded the local cadet corps.

First World War

In September 1914, Morshead was appointed Lieutenant in the 2nd Battalion, AIF. Soon promoted to Captain, he took part in the Gallipoli landings in April 1915, and subsequent actions at Baby 700 and Lone Pine where he was wounded. Morshead returned to Australia briefly while recovering from his wounds and illness, but by 1916 was back in England . Morshead's skill as a commander had not gone unnoticed, for he was promoted again in April 1916, this time to Lieutenant-Colonel, and given command of the 33rd Battalion to lead in France.

During the next two years, Morshead continued to impress senior officers with his Battalion's performance in battles such as Messines, Passchendaele, Villers Bretonneux and Amiens. He was mentioned in despatches six times, awarded the CMG, DSO and the French Legion of Honour. At the end of hostilities in November 1918, Morshead was assigned to the AIF demobilisation staff based in London. By December the following year, he had himself returned to Australia.

Between the wars

Morshead's military appointment officially ended in March 1920. In the year that followed, he considered a life on the land, bought a block of land and worked as a jackeroo, but soon decided it was not for him and returned to Melbourne. On 17 November 1921 he married Myrtle Catherine Hay Woodside. By 1924, Morshead was working for the Orient Line, which took him to Sydney, Brisbane and London. By 1936 he had risen to the position of Sydney branch manager . The following year, he visited London again and while there, observed British military exercises. Morshead had been active in the CMF with apromotion to colonel in 1933 and temporary Brigadier in 1938.

Second World War

At the outbreak of the Second World War, Morshead was appointed to the Second AIF and given command of 18 Brigade. The Brigade accompanied by some other units was first sent to England in May 1940 where they remained for five months until the threat of a German invasion had passed.

By January 1941, Morshead had been appointed CBE and moved to the Middle East. In February he was promoted to Brigadier-General and given command of 9 Division, AIF. In the following months the Allies were forced to retreat under the onslaught of Rommel's Afrika Korps. By April, Morshead's division supported by an assortment of other allied troops, were in Tobruk, ready to face a long siege.

Morshead was given command of the entire fortress and set about ensuring the defences were as strong as possible. The defence of Tobruk was to be his most famous battle, for his troops successfully repulsed strong attacks from German and Italian forces until relieved in October 1941. This stubborn resistance denied Axis forces the port they badly wanted to supply further offensives towards Egypt and the Suez Canal. During this time, Morshead's reputation among his troops for being a tough disciplinarian earned him the nickname "Ming the Merciless," but this seemed to be balanced by a well earned respect as a capable leader and an appreciation that he stood up for his men's best interests.

After Tobruk, Morshead and 9 Division remained in the Middle East after most other AIF units had been transferred to the Australia and the Southwest Pacific. He was appointed KBE in 1942 and promoted to Lieutenant-General. His division played an important and distinguished role in the pivotal battles of El Alamein towards the end of 1942, which finally turned the tide in North Africa.

By February 1943, Morshead and 9 Division had returned to Australia to prepare for action against the Japanese in New Guinea. This time he was given command of a larger unit, the Australian II Corps and was involved in the battles around Finschhafen and Lae. By November 1943 he was elevated to command the entire New Guinea Force and the Second Australian Army. He then was appointed commander of the Australian I Corps in July 1944, which was stationed back in Australia for training. Morshead then led I Corps through the final campaigns in Borneo (notably the amphibious landings at Balikpapan), until the end of the war.

Post War

Immediately afters war's end, Morshead chaired a military court of inquiry into the Malayan campaign and the fall of Singapore. Declining offers for military and diplomatic posts, he returned to employment with the Orient Line, becoming Australian General Manager in 1948. He maintained connections with the military, giving lectures to young officers and making speeches at reunions for 9 Division.

Morshead also held various board positions with prominent companies and in 1957 was appointed to chair a committee reviewing the organisation and functioning of the Defence Department. Soon after, Morshead's health began to fail as he battled cancer. He died on 26 September, 1959. Morshead was given a military funeral, the cortege passing through streets lined with veterans from 9 Division.


  • Ritchie, John (ed.) 2000, The Australian dictionary of biography, vol. 15, 1940-1980, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne
  • Dennis, Peter et al. 1995, The Oxford companion to Australian military history, Oxford University Press, Melbourne

Scope and content note

Collection of personal papers, official correspondence, operational records, administrative papers, reports and addresses documenting Morshead's experiences in both World Wars. The strength of the collection is in its coverage of Morshead's Middle East campaigns, particularly of Tobruk and El Alamein. There are many operational papers and official correspondence with other senior officers. First World War papers have quite detailed descriptions of several major engagements, but not the breadth of information that the Second World War Middle East papers. South West Pacific Area papers are the weakest part in the collection. Personal papers and correspondence are a much smaller part of the collection, and do not give much insight into his thoughts and feelings. There is quite a good collection of annotated, official photographs and a comprehensive number of post war speeches and addresses.

3DRL 2632, SERIES 1: Personal correspondence 1939 - 1948

Second World War era correspondence and congratulatory messages concerning Morshead's appointments and victories. Includes one letter to his wife on the eve of the Battle of El Alamein.

Series/Wallet Title, date and description Box
1/1 Congratulatory messages and appointment to 18th Infantry Bde. Also miscellaneous newspaper cuttings 1939-43. 1
1/2 Congratulatory letters, biographical details by Chester Wilmot, and some demi-official material concerning Tobruk 1941-43. 1
1/3 Transfer of command of the AIF (Middle East) from Gen. Blamey to Lt. Gen. Morshead, and a letter to his wife prior to the Battle of El Alamein 1942. 1
1/4 Personal and demi-official correspondence concerning appointments, ministerial missions and unit re-structuring 1943-44. 1
1/5 Personal and demi-official correspondence concerning patronage, congratulatory messages, and operations. SWPA and Japanese surrender 1943-45. 1
1/6 Miscellaneous correspondence and papers related to public relations and operations, particularly Oboe 2, Balikpapan, SWPA 1945-48. 1

3DRL 2632, SERIES 2: Official correspondence1916-1947

Correspondence and congratulatory messages from figures such as Prime Minister Curtin and General Montgomery concerning successful campaigns in North Africa and New Guinea. Includes routine operational correspondence generated by 9 Division, as well as some correspondence between Morshead and the media in Australia.

Series/Wallet Title, date and description Box
2/1 Typescript copy of Commanding Officer's correspondence, 33 AIF 1916-18. 2
2/2 Mixed correspondence concerning "Operation Lightfoot," behaviour of AIF troops, discussion of a Salt article relating to Tobruk and some intercepted German communiques. 2
2/3 Mixed correspondence and messages relating to the Tobruk fortress, 1941. 2
2/4 Covering notes related to 9 Australian Division Special information summaries and presentations by the Polish forces 1941-43. 2
2/5 Mixed papers concerning the battles at Tobruk and El Alamein. Also papers raising criticisms of the film,The Rats of Tobruk 1941-47. 2
2/6 Correspondence received from various allied commanders following the relief of Tobruk. Includes numerous farewell & good luck letters between various departing units, 1941. 2
2/7 Correspondence and papers related to the reinforcement of 9 Div in the Middle East 1942. 2
2/8 Congratulatory messages received following the Battle of El Alamein and later in New Guinea. Includes messages from Montgomery and Curtin 1942-1944. 2
2/9 Notification of appointments of AIF commanders 1942. 2
2/10 Administrative arrangements and congratulatory messages, 9 Div Middle East. Includes AIF order of battle and recommendations for awards 1942. 2
2/11 Correspondence related to various honours and awards, congratulatory messages, (including handwritten notes from Montgomery) and discussions with Chester Wilmot. Also letters from Lord Birdwood plus newspaper cuttings regarding the siege of Tobruk 1942-44. 2
2/12 Correspondence received again complaining about aSalt article about Tobruk 1943-44. 2
2/13 Correspondence with Corps and Divisional Commanders, particularly Gen Berryman 1943-44. 2
2/14 Correspondence covering the colour patch for 2/15 Bn 1943. 2
2/15 Correspondence with Gen Blamey covering general matters on New Guinea. Includes reports of troop misconduct 1943-44. 2
2/16 Correspondence received by Morshead while Commanding Officer of New Guinea Force 1943-45. 2
2/17 Correspondence covering general administrative matters in New Guinea, Borneo, and Australia 1943-47. 2
2/18 Correspondence related to operations in New Guinea and later in Borneo 1944-45. 2
2/19 Messages and correspondence related to the return of 9 Div to Australia 1942-43. 2

3DRL 2632, SERIES 3: Diaries and notebooks1915-1942

Diaries and notebooks mainly covering organisation of AIF early in the Second World War. Also includes one diary from the First World War, 1915.

Series/Wallet Title, date and description Box
3/1 Original diary and typescript copy 1915. 3
3/2 7 notebooks and 1 diary containing brief entries covering organisation of the AIF units in Australia and the Middle East 1939-42. 3

3DRL 2632, SERIES 4: Financial papers1938-1943

Private financial papers kept by Morshead during the Second World War.

Series/Wallet Title, date and description Box
4/1 Private financial papers, income statements and tax office correspondence. 3

3DRL 2632, SERIES 5: Operational papers1914-1918

First World War operational papers kept by Morshead while commanding 33 Battalion on the Western Front. Mainly concerning Messines and 3rd Ypres in 1917, and Proyart (8 August) 1918.

Series/Wallet Title, date and description Box
5/1 Operations instructions for 33 Bn at the battle of Messines 1917. 3
5/2 Battle of Messines; maps, plans and aerial photographs including the Warneton section 1917 3
5/3 Operations instructions, 33 Bn for the Third Battle of Ypres (Zonnebeke & Paschendaele) including maps and aerial photographs 1917 3
5/4 Third Battle of Ypres; aerial photographs 1917. 3
5/5 Papers related to 9 Brigade and 33 Bn operations in the Proyart area, 8 August, 1918. 3
5/6 Maps related to 9 Brigade and 33 Bn operations in the Proyart area, 8 August, 1918. 3

3DRL 2632, SERIES 6: Operational papers, Middle East 1939-1945,

Second World War operational papers concerning 9 Division in the Middle East. Includes operational orders and staff instructions for Tobruk and El Alamein battles, as well as intelligence reports, situation reports, orders of battle and messages to and from senior commanders.

Series/Wallet Title, date and description Box
6/1 Mixed papers covering the AIF in the UK; 18th Australian Mixed Brigade 1940. 4
6/2 Report on operations in Cyrenaica including 9 Div preparations for the defence of Tobruk 1941. 4
6/3 Report on operations of 9 Div in Cyrenaica, March-April, submitted by Morshead 1941. 4
6/4 Translation of captured German documents and diaries, Libya 1941. 4
6/5 9 Div operations orders and instructions, Tobruk 1941. 4
6/6 9 Div "G" staff instructions, Tobruk 1941. 4
6/7 16 Brigade instructions for the initial attack on Tobruk January 1941. 5
6/8 Intelligence summaries, 9 Div Tobruk 1941. 5
6/9 Intelligence summaries, 9 Div Tobruk 1941. 5
6/10 Report on operations in Cyrenaica by 9 Div March-October, 1941. 5
6/11 Operational orders for 9 Div attack on Tobruk 'Operation Battleaxe', 1941. 5
6/12 9 Div and other units; locations and strengths in Tobruk fortress 1941. 5
6/13 AIF unit reports on operations in Tobruk fortress and communications 1940-41. 5
6/14 Cipher messages forwarded to General Blamey in the lead up to the Battle of El Alamein 1942. 5
6/15 Report on 9 Div operations. July-November, 1942. 5
6/16 General papers concerned with the planning of 'Operation Lightfoot' (El Alamein), 1942. 5
6/17 Messages received concerning awards and El Alamein 1942. 5
6/18 Battle casualty statistics sheets October-November, 1942. 5
6/19 Intelligence summaries and reports leading up to El Alamein 1942. 5
6/20 Situation reports compiled in the lead up to, and including El Alamein 1942. 5
6/21 Situation reports compiled in the lead up to, and including El Alamein 1942 (continued). 5
6/22 Copies of messages sent by Morshead to General Blamey during operations at El Alamein 1942. 5
6/23 Operation orders, 9 Div June-September, 1942. 5
6/24 Operation orders, 9 Div 'Operation Lightfoot' (El Alamein) 1942. 5
6/25 Operation orders, 9 Div 'Operation Lightfoot' (El Alamein) 1942 (continued). 6
6/26 Order of battle and location statements, 9 Div 1942. 6
6/27 AIF order of battle and movements in the Middle East from 1940-43. 6
6/28 IGS (Australian Section) Australian Intelligence diary, (part 2) 1942. 6

3DRL 2632, SERIES 7: Operational papers, South West Pacific Area1939-1945,

Administrative papers from Corps HQ during campaigns in the South West Pacific Area. Includes translations of captured enemy documents, plans for various operations, and Morshead's copy of II Corps war diary.

Series/Wallet Title, date and description Box
7/1 New Guinea Volunteer Rifles; copies of administrative papers associated with their expansion and activities 1941-42. 6
7/2 Transcriptions of captured Japanese documents from Lae. 1943. 6
7/3 Personal copy of HQ II Australian Corps war diary 1943-45. 6
7/4 Operations in New Guinea including defence schemes, NGF operations orders and policy directives 1943-44. 6
7/5 'Operation Oboe Six' reference maps 1945. 6
7/6 Basic plan for 'Operation Montclair' and comments on usefulness of Staghound armoured cars 1944-45. 6
7/7 Index to operations reports 1939-45 held by CGS branch AHQ 1945. 6
7/8 Order of the day issued by Morshead, GOC 1 Australian Corps 1945. 6

3DRL 2632, SERIES 8: Administrative papers1943-1945

Miscellaneous administrative documents concerning affairs in New Guinea, as well as documents outlining plans for the British Borneo Civil Administration Unit (BBCAU).

Series/Wallet Title, date and description Box
8/1 Review of operations in New Guinea. Administrative papers concerning New Guinea 1943-44. 6
8/2 'Operation Stepsister' transportation of AIF troops 1942. 6
8/3 BBCAU plans for the military administration of British Borneo and related papers 1945. 6
8/4 Australian Military Forces occupational index (no date). 6

3DRL 2632, SERIES 9: Speeches and addresses1945-1947


Series/Wallet Title, date and description Box
9/1 'Valedictory to Tarakan'. Address given to troops by Morshead following the presentation of awards 1945. 6
9/2 Lecture, 'Tobruk' given at Victoria Barracks, 1947. 6

3DRL 2632, SERIES 10: Reports1944-1952

Post war reports for the War Service Homes Commission and on a special allowance for Australian POWs.

Series/Wallet Title, date and description Box
10/1 War Service Homes Commission 1944-52. 6
10/2 Committee report; special allowance for Australian POWs, 1939-45 conflict. With note from Mr Justice Owen 1950. 6

3DRL 2632, SERIES 11: Printed material1941-1947

Magazine articles and newspaper cuttings relating to Morsheads victories, particularly in the Middle East. Published both during the war and shortly after.

Series/Wallet Title, date and description Box
11/1 Assorted magazines and troop serials related to Morshead including Homeward Bound, Bir Hakim, Nasze Drogi, & The Australasian 1941-43. 7
11/2 Maps of line and wireless communications, Tobruk, 1941. 7
11/3 Newspaper cuttings related to Morshead's military and post war activities 1943-47. 7
11/4 Newspaper cuttings related to Morshead's military and post war activities 1943-47 (continued). 7
11/5 Newspaper cuttings; war activities 1941-45. 7
11/6 Newspapers;Guinea Gold, Table Tops and The Guinea Pig 1943. 7
11/7 Newspaper scrapbook covering the activities of Morshead 1941-42. 7

3DRL 2632, SERIES 12: Photographs1941-1949

Morshead's personal copies of official photographs taken in England, the Middle East and SWPA during the Second World War.

Series/Wallet Title, date and description Box
12/1 Copies of official photographs taken in the Western Desert and Middle East. Mostly captioned 1940-42. 7
12/2 Copies of official photographs taken in England, the Middle East and SWPA. Mostly captioned 1940-49. 7
12/3 Copies of official photographs taken in England, the Middle East and SWPA. Mostly captioned 1940-49. 8

3DRL 2632, SERIES 13: Miscellaneous1941-1946

Miscellaneous Second World War souvenir items including cartoons, poems and songs as well as programs for performances and a troopship serial. Also includes 'recording notices' relating to postwar memorials to Australians in the SWPA.

Series/Wallet Title, date and description Box
13/1 Words and music to a song, That cause - the motherland, written by Brigadier G Clarke and dedicated to 9 Div 1942. 8
13/2 Draft manuscript detailing the preparations for the Battle of Alamein. With corrections, author unknown (no date). 8
13/3 Cartoon. Large format ink cartoon poem related to the gunners of the El Alamein box. Artist and date unknown. 8
13/4 Souvenir items including menu & programme from Army 50/50 show in New Guinea, Japanese surrender at Morotai and Mayoral Ball programme 1941-46. 8
13/5 Troop serial,The Defenders of Tobruk, in English and Polish. Presentation copy.1941. 8
13/6 'Crossing the Line' certificate presented to Morshead by the crew of USS Wasatch, 4th July, 1945. 8
13/7 Recording notices, New Guinea. These were commemorative markers for the activities of Australian troops against the Japanese, 1942-45. Includes information such as mapping and design of the notices. Additionally there are three magazines with feature articles on Morshead People (1950), The Sphere (1941), and Parade (1942). 8

PR 00368, SERIES 1: Miscellaneous1934-1962

Numerous papers relating to Morshead's post war activities. Includes official duties for defence and the inquiry into the Malayan Campaign of 1942. Of a more personal nature, are numerous typed and handwritten notes for speeches, correspondence with the Orient Line, andnewpaper cuttings regarding Morshead's death and funeral.

Series/Wallet Title, date and description Box
14/1 Newspaper cuttings relating to Morshead's appointment to Defence Reform Review, 1957-58; newpaper cuttings relating to his postwar activities, both private and official, 1947-62; newspaper cuttings reporting the death and funeral of Morshead, including numerous editorial tributes, 1959. 8
14/2 Brief notes on various battles both in the Middle East and SWPA for the Australian and UK Battles Nomenclature Committee 1953. 8
14/3 Various correspondence with Orient Line, 1954 and some ex-serviceman's organisations, 1947-52; copy of the British Borneo Military Administration Gazette, 1945; letters from Blamey and Auchinleck officially transferring command of AIF in the Middle East to Morshead, 1942; miscellaneous newpaper cuttings and papers from 1941-46; some speeches and addresses, 1944-45. 8
14/4 Morshead's service and pay books; a copy of the play The smile of the tiger; a letter from Prime Minister Menzies discussing some concerns with industrial strife in 1950; miscellaneous papers including his certificate of baptism, letters and postcards, the Gowrie Scholarship fund, and some sketches and prints of Morshead, 1934-59. 8
14/5 Speeches and addresses, both handwritten and typed notes, 1945-59. 8
14/6 Miscellaneous papers and letters from both wartime and post wartime period. Includes poems and a letter relating to the inquiry into the Malayan campaign that Morshead chaired 1941-56. 8
14/7 Numerous notes for speeches and lectures, 1937-59. 8
14/8 Numerous assorted newspaper cuttings ranging 1941-87; notes and information gathered for Moore's biography of Morshead; correspondence and papers regarding the Australian War Memorial and the Nomenclature Committee, 1950s. 8