Biography

Birth date: 13 September 1865
Birth place: India: Kirkee
Death date: 17 May 1951
Death place: United Kingdom: England, Greater London, Middlesex
Final rank: Field Marshal
Conflict: First World War, 1914-1918
Units:
  • AIF (IA)
  • I Anzac Corps

Described by Charles Bean as "short and dapper in figure, a vigorous, brave, upright and understanding leader of fighting men", William Birdwood commanded the Australian Corps for much of the First World War. He was born on 13 September 1865 in India and was educated in England.

He attended the Royal Military College Sandhurst before being posted back to India where he served on the north-west frontier. During the Boer War Birdwood served on Lord Kitchener's staff. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order in 1908 and in 1911 was promoted to major general. Birdwood's career was characterised by a series of successful postings and steady promotion. When the First World War began, Britain's Minister for War, Lord Kitchener, placed Birdwood in command of the Australian and New Zealand forces bound for Europe. Before they reached England, however, the ANZACs, as they would soon be known, were ordered to disembark for training in Egypt. Birdwood met them there in December 1914.

Four months later Birdwood's troops landed at Gallipoli. He impressed the men by regularly visiting the front lines and taking daily swims in the sea, heedless of the danger from Turkish shrapnel aimed at men seeking such refreshment. His bravery earned Birdwood the enduring respect of the AIF, and he was appointed its temporary administrative commander, as well as its operational commander, following the death of General William Bridges in May 1915. The appointment was made permanent in September 1916.

Having watched all attempts fail to make headway against the Turks on Gallipoli, Birdwood was nevertheless opposed to the evacuation when the question was raised. In this he was overruled and he oversaw the successful withdrawal in December 1915. In early 1916 the ANZAC Corps was split in two. Birdwood assumed command of I ANZAC Corps, accompanied it to France, and directed its operations throughout 1916 and 1917.

Birdwood made a point of appointing Australians to command and staff positions but took command of the Australian Corps when it was formed from the five AIF divisions in November 1917. He was succeeded by Lieutenant General John Monash in May 1918 and took command of the British 5th Army, but still retained command administrative command of the AIF with the support of almost all senior Australian officers. Despite his having commanded Australians through some of the Western Front's more disastrous actions, Bullecourt being one example, Birdwood continued to be held in high regard. His willingness to support those he commanded, to argue on their behalf and indeed to make it known that he had done so, earned Birdwood a respect from Australians that was given to few British senior commanders.

In 1920 Birdwood was made a general in the Australian Military Forces and five years later was made field marshal. He toured Australia and New Zealand in 1920 to wide public acclaim and was given command of the Indian Army in 1925. He retired from the military in 1930 and was thwarted in his desire to become Australia's Governor-General when the prime minister insisted on the office being held by an Australian. Birdwood died in England in 1951 and was buried with full military honours.

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Rolls and Awards

  • Conflict: First World War, 1914-1918
  • Recommended for: Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath
  • Unit: I Anzac Corps
  • Conflict: First World War, 1914-1918
  • Recommended for: Knight Commander of the Order of the Star of India
  • Conflict: First World War, 1914-1918
  • Awarded: Mention in despatches
  • Unit: AIF (IA)
  • Conflict: First World War, 1914-1918
  • Awarded: Mention in despatches
  • Unit: AIF (IA)
  • Conflict: First World War, 1914-1918
  • Awarded: Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath
  • Unit: I Anzac Corps
  • Conflict: First World War, 1914-1918
  • Awarded: Belgian Grand Officer of the Order of the Crown
  • Unit: AIF (IA)
  • Conflict: First World War, 1914-1918
  • Awarded: Mention in despatches
  • Unit: AIF (IA)
  • Conflict: First World War, 1914-1918
  • Awarded: Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George
  • Unit: AIF (IA)
  • Conflict: First World War, 1914-1918
  • Awarded: Mention in despatches
  • Unit: AIF (IA)
  • Conflict: First World War, 1914-1918
  • Awarded: Mention in despatches
  • Unit: AIF (IA)
  • Conflict: First World War, 1914-1918
  • Awarded: French Grand Officer of the Legion of Honour, Second Class
  • Unit: AIF (IA)
  • Conflict: First World War, 1914-1918
  • Awarded: French Croix de Guerre
  • Unit: AIF (IA)
  • Conflict: First World War, 1914-1918
  • Awarded: Mention in despatches
  • Unit: AIF (IA)
  • Conflict: First World War, 1914-1918

Photograph

Private Record

Digitised Collection

Timeline

Date of birth 1865-09-13 Kirkee, India.
Date and unit at enlistment (ORs) 1883 Joined the Royal Scots Fusiliers.
Other units 1885 - 1899 Served in India as a cavalry officer with the 12th Lancers, 11th Bengal Lancers and Viceroy's Bodyguard.
Other 1899 - 1902 Served in South Africa on the staff of General Lord Kitchener.
Date of honour or award 1908 Companion of the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) and Companion of the Order of the Indian Empire (CIE).
Date promoted 1911 Promoted to major general.
Other 1912 Served as Secretary of the Indian Army Department.
Other units 1914-11 Chosen to command a corps composed of the Australian and New Zealand troops in Egypt. They became known as the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps or ANZAC. This corps later served in Gallipoli.
Date promoted 1914-12-12 Appointed temporary lieutenant general.
Date of recommendation honour or award 1915
Date wounded 1915 Seriously wounded at Gallipoli.
Date of honour or award 1915-01-01 Knight Commander of the Order of the Star of India (KCSI).
Other 1915-03 Sent to report on the naval attack on the Dardenelles.
Date of honour or award 1915-06-23 Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George (KCMG).
Date promoted 1915-10-28 Promoted major general.
Date promoted 1915-10-28 Promoted to lieutenant general and General Officer Commanding of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force.
Other units 1915-11-19 Took command of the Dardenelles Army.
Date of honour or award 1916-01-28 Mention in Despatches.
Other units 1916-02-17 Took command of I Anzac Corps.
Date of honour or award 1916-02-24 French Legion of Honour - 2nd Class Grand Officer.
Date of honour or award 1916-04-10 Mention in Despatches.
Date of honour or award 1916-07-13 Mention in Despatches.
Date of honour or award 1916-07-25 Mention in Despatches.
Date promoted 1916-09 - 1918-05 Formally appointed commander of the AIF.
Date of honour or award 1917-01-04 Mention in Despatches.
Date of honour or award 1917-02-14 Belgian Order of La Couronne - Grand Officer.
Date of recommendation honour or award 1917-03-14
Date of honour or award 1917-05-15 Mention in Despatches.
Date of honour or award 1917-06-04 Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath (KCB).
Date promoted 1917-10-23 Promoted to general.
Other 1917-11-03 Aide de camp to His Majesty the King.
Date of honour or award 1918-03-11 Gazetted French Croix de Guerre.
Other units 1918-05-31 Given command of the British Fifth Army.
Date of honour or award 1919-01-01 Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George (GCMG).
Date of honour or award 1919-03-11 Gazetted French Croix de Guerre, avec Palme.
Date of honour or award 1919-08-21 Portuguese Order of the Avis - Grand Officer.
Date of honour or award 1919-12-30 Created Baron Birdwood of Anzac.
Date promoted 1920 Promoted to general.
Date of honour or award 1923 Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath (GCB).
Date promoted 1925 - 1930 Promoted to field marshal and became Companion in Chief, India.
Other 1930 Retired from the Army.
Date of honour or award 1930-01-01 Knight Grand Commander of the the Order Star of India (GCSI).
Date of death 1951-05-17 Middlesex, England. Birdwood was buried with full military honours.