Biography

Birth date: 18 September 1889
Birth place: Australia: Victoria, Ballarat
Death date: 26 September 1959
Death place: Australia: New South Wales, Sydney
Final rank: Lieutenant General
Service number: First World War, 1914-1918
NX8 - Second World War, 1939-1945
Units:
  • 2 Battalion
  • 1 Corps
  • AIF HQ ME
  • AIF ME HQ
  • GOC AMF ME
  • 2nd Australian Infantry Battalion
  • 33rd Australian Infantry Battalion

Leslie Morshead won fame as the defender of Tobruk during the Second World War and is among the most renowned Australian divisional commanders of that war. He was born at Ballarat in Victoria on 18 September 1889 and became a teacher. Joining the AIF in September 1914 as a lieutenant, Morshead was posted to the 2nd Battalion.

By the time he landed at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915 he was a captain; by August, when he fought at Lone Pine, he had been promoted to major. After Gallipoli he was promoted to lieutenant colonel and given command of the 33rd Battalion, which arrived in France in November 1916. Morshead led the battalion successfully through Messines and the Passchendaele campaign of late-1917, was awarded the Distinguished Service Order, and continued to command through the battles Villers-Bretonneux and Amiens in 1918.

Morshead joined General Monash's staff for the demobilisation of the AIF and returned to Sydney in December 1919. He married Myrtle Woodside in November 1921. Having failed to make a success of a soldier-settlers' block in Queensland, Morshead returned to Sydney to work in shipping, gaining promotions and posts in several Australian cities and in England.

He remained active in the militia, commanding two battalions and reaching the rank of temporary brigadier. In October 1939 he was given command of the 18th Brigade, sailing for Britain in May 1940. The following February Morshead was promoted to major general in command of the 9th Division, then in the Middle East. Reputed to be a tough commander who could be blunt with senior officers, Morshead led his division through the siege of Tobruk where his aggressive defence denied the Germans a breakthrough but earned him the ire of some subordinates concerned at the level of losses.

His success at Tobruk was followed by promotion to lieutenant general and command of the AIF in the Middle East. Morshead, at the risk of alienating his British superiors, argued to keep the 9th Division together in the face of British demands to detach individual brigades. He led the division through the battle of El Alamein, where the 9th Division's contribution was considered vital to the victory. During the battle, he regularly visited both the front and the wounded behind the lines.

Returning to Australia in 1943, Morshead took command of II Corps in October and then in November was elevated to command both New Guinea Force and the Second Australian Army. In May 1944 he was given command of I Corps, leading them through the final battles of the war in Borneo. After the war, he chaired a military court of enquiry into Major General Bennett's departure from Singapore in February 1942.

Morshead refused offers of military and diplomatic posts, as well as the governorship of Queensland, returning instead to the shipping industry as manager of the New South Wales branch of the Orient Line; later he became its Australian general manager. He held a number of other directorships and civil appointments and was involved in right-wing politics before becoming ill with cancer in the mid-1950s. Morshead died in Sydney on 26 September 1959.

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Rolls and Awards

  • Rank: Lieutenant Colonel
  • Date of embarkation: 04 May 1916
  • Place of embarkation: Sydney
  • Recommended for: Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath
  • Conflict: Second World War, 1939-1945
  • Recommended for: Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire
  • Conflict: Second World War, 1939-1945
  • Recommended for: Commander of the Order of the British Empire
  • Conflict: Second World War, 1939-1945
  • Recommended for: Mention in despatches
  • Conflict: Second World War, 1939-1945
  • Recommended for: Mention in despatches
  • Conflict: Second World War, 1939-1945
  • Recommended for: Polish Order Virtuti Militari, Fifth Class
  • Conflict: Second World War, 1939-1945
  • Unit: 2nd Australian Infantry Battalion
  • Conflict: First World War, 1914-1918
  • Conflict: First World War, 1914-1918
  • Recommended for: Mentions
  • Unit: 2nd Australian Infantry Battalion
  • Conflict: First World War, 1914-1918
  • Recommended for: Mention in despatches
  • Unit: 33rd Australian Infantry Battalion
  • Conflict: First World War, 1914-1918
  • Recommended for: Distinguished Service Order
  • Unit: 33rd Australian Infantry Battalion
  • Conflict: First World War, 1914-1918
  • Recommended for: Mention in despatches
  • Unit: 2nd Australian Infantry Battalion
  • Conflict: First World War, 1914-1918
  • Recommended for: French Chevalier of the Legion of Honour, Fifth Class
  • Unit: 33rd Australian Infantry Battalion
  • Conflict: First World War, 1914-1918
  • Recommended for: Mention in despatches
  • Unit: 33rd Australian Infantry Battalion
  • Conflict: First World War, 1914-1918
  • Recommended for: Mention in despatches
  • Unit: 33rd Australian Infantry Battalion
  • Conflict: First World War, 1914-1918
  • Awarded: Commander of the Order of the British Empire
  • Conflict: Second World War, 1939-1945
  • Awarded: Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire
  • Conflict: Second World War, 1939-1945
  • Awarded: Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath
  • Unit: GOC AMF ME
  • Conflict: Second World War, 1939-1945
  • Awarded: Mention in despatches
  • Unit: AIF ME HQ
  • Conflict: Second World War, 1939-1945
  • Awarded: Mention in despatches
  • Unit: AIF HQ ME
  • Conflict: Second World War, 1939-1945
  • Awarded: Mention in despatches
  • Unit: 1 Corps
  • Conflict: Second World War, 1939-1945
  • Awarded: Mention in despatches
  • Unit: 33rd Australian Infantry Battalion
  • Conflict: First World War, 1914-1918
  • Awarded: Distinguished Service Order
  • Unit: 33rd Australian Infantry Battalion
  • Conflict: First World War, 1914-1918
  • Awarded: Mention in despatches
  • Unit: 33rd Australian Infantry Battalion
  • Conflict: First World War, 1914-1918
  • Awarded: Mention in despatches
  • Unit: 33rd Australian Infantry Battalion
  • Conflict: First World War, 1914-1918
  • Awarded: French Chevalier of the Legion of Honour, Fifth Class
  • Unit: 33rd Australian Infantry Battalion
  • Conflict: First World War, 1914-1918
  • Awarded: Order of St Michael and St George
  • Unit: 33rd Australian Infantry Battalion
  • Conflict: First World War, 1914-1918
  • Awarded: Mention in despatches
  • Unit: 33rd Australian Infantry Battalion
  • Conflict: First World War, 1914-1918
  • Awarded: Polish Order Virtuti Militari, Sixth class
  • Conflict: Second World War, 1939-1945
  • Awarded: United States Medal of Freedom
  • Conflict: Second World War, 1939-1945
  • Awarded: Mention in despatches
  • Unit: 2nd Australian Infantry Battalion
  • Conflict: First World War, 1914-1918

Private Record

Digitised Collection

Timeline

Date of birth 1889-09-18 Ballarat, VIC.
Date and unit at appointment (Officers) 1914-09-13 Enlisted in the AIF.
Other 1914-09-13 Appointed to the 2nd Battalion with the rank of lieutenant.
Date promoted 1914-10-18 Appointed captain.
Other 1915-01-01 Second in command, C Company, 2nd Battalion.
Other 1915-04-25 Landed at Gallipoli.
Date promoted 1915-06-08 Appointed major.
Date of recommendation honour or award 1915-08-13
Date of recommendation honour or award 1915-08-31
Date of honour or award 1916-01-28 Mention in Despatches.
Date promoted 1916-04-16 Appointed lieutenant colonel and given command of the 33rd Battalion.
Date of embarkation 1916-05-04
Date of recommendation honour or award 1917-03-05
Date of honour or award 1917-06-01 Mention in Despatches.
Date of honour or award 1917-06-04 Companion of the Distinguished Service Order.
Date of recommendation honour or award 1918-03-06
Date of recommendation honour or award 1918-09-01
Date of recommendation honour or award 1918-09-30
Date of honour or award 1918-12-31 Mention in Despatches.
Date of honour or award 1919-01-23 French Legion of Honour - 5th Class Chevalier.
Other units 1919-07-14 Assistant Adjutant General, Headquarters AIF Depots UK.
Date of honour or award 1919-10-24 Mention in Despatches.
Date returned to Australia 1919-12 Returned to Sydney.
Other 1920-03-15 AIF appointment terminated.
Date of honour or award 1920-03-25 Companion of the Order of Saint Michael and Saint George.
Date of honour or award 1920-04-01 Mention in Despatches.
Date and unit at appointment (Officers) 1939-10-10 Enlisted in the 2nd AIF and was given command of the 18th Brigade.
Other 1940-05 Sailed for Britain.
Date of honour or award 1941-01-01 Commander of the Order of the British Empire
Date promoted 1941-02 Promoted to major general in command of the 9th Division.
Date of honour or award 1942-01-06 Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire.
Date of honour or award 1942-06-30 Mention in Despatches.
Date of honour or award 1942-11-24 Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath.
Date returned to Australia 1943 On returning to Australia he took command of II Corps which he led in New Guinea.
Date of honour or award 1943-06 Mention in Despatches.
Date of honour or award 1943-06-24 Mention in Despatches.
Other units 1944 Given command of I Corps, leading them through the final battles of the war in Borneo.
Date of honour or award 1944-11-23 Polish Virtuti Militari - sixth class.
Date of discharge 1945-12-21
Date of honour or award 1947-03 Mention in Despatches.
Date of honour or award 1947-03-06 Mention in Despatches.
Date of honour or award 1948-01-02 Medal of Freedom.
Date of death 1959-09-26 Sydney, NSW.