Australia’s best known modern general. After he assumed command of Interfet in East Timor (1999–2000), Cosgrove soon became the regular and reassuring face of the Australian Army on television news services across the country.
General Peter John Cosgrove, AC, MC (b. 1947)
General Peter Cosgrove retired from the army in 2005. Four years earlier, he had been Australian of the Year: “In every respect Peter Cosgrove demonstrated that he is a role model. The man at the top displayed those characteristics we value most as Australians – strength, determination, intelligence, compassion and humour.”
The son of a soldier, Cosgrove graduated from the Royal Military College, Duntroon, in 1968. He was sent to Malaysia as a lieutenant in the 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (RAR). Soon afterwards, his next posting was to Vietnam with 9RAR. There he commanded an infantry platoon and was awarded the Military Cross for his work during an assault on enemy positions.
In the following years Cosgrove was an instructor at the Infantry Centre, was promoted, commanded 1RAR, undertook staff work, and spent periods in the United States, Britain, and India. In 1990 he was the Director of Infantry, and Commandant of the Infantry Centre. In 1997 he completed a circle when he became Commandant at Duntroon.
In 1999 the general became a national figure on being appointed commander of the International Forces East Timor (Interfet), responsible for overseeing East Timor’s transition to independence. With the large deployment of Australian troops, and considerable uncertainty about the outcome, it was a tense period. Cosgrove combined the roles of soldier and diplomat. A strong and reassuring figure, always in his familiar slouch hat, he appeared regularly on television throughout Australian homes.
After Timor, where he had won the respect of fellow Australians, East Timorese and the international community, Cosgrove was promoted and made Chief of the Army. This was followed in 2002 by promotion to general and appointment to Chief of the Defence Force. His own soldier son was slightly wounded in Iraq in 2005.