Biography

Birth date: 15 December 1894
Birth place: Australia: South Australia, Adelaide, Lockleys
Death date: 12 April 1975
Final rank: Lieutenant General
Service number: First World War, 1914-1918
VX3 - Second World War, 1939-1945
Units:
  • 1 Corps
  • CGS
  • Australian Army

One of the Australian Army's most controversial senior officers in the Second World War, Sydney Rowell was born on 15 December 1894 at Lockleys, South Australia. In 1911 he became one of the Royal Military College, Duntroon's first students; he was commissioned on 14 August 1914, and joined the 3rd Light Horse Regiment.

Ill with pneumonia, Rowell did not join the regiment in Egypt until early 1915. Soon afterwards he broke his leg. He arrived at Gallipoli on 12 May 1915 but was soon hospitalised in Malta. He returned to the peninsula but was evacuated with typhoid in November and returned to Australia. He taught at Duntroon until June 1917 and was then given a staff post in Adelaide. In August 1919, he married Blanche Murison.

Rowell studied at the Staff College, Camberley in England between 1924-26 and was promoted to major before returning to take up a posting in Perth. He was transferred to Army Headquarters in Melbourne in 1932 and returned to England in 1935 on exchange as Operations Staff Officer in the Territorial Army. In 1937 he joined the Imperial Defence College as a lieutenant colonel.

Back in Australia, Rowell was appointed Chief of Staff in the 6th Division shortly after the beginning of the Second World War. In February 1940 he was appointed Brigadier, General Staff on the headquarters of I Australian Corps under Thomas Blamey. Relations between the two men soured irreparably after the Greek campaign of 1941. Rowell felt Blamey to be both "incompetent" and guilty of poor judgement; Blamey considered Rowell to be lacking in the stamina needed during a long campaign.

Rowell ran the 7th Division's operational headquarters during the Syrian campaign and returned to Australia in August 1941 to serve as Deputy to the Chief of General Staff. In March 1942 Rowell was given command of I Corps and promoted to temporary lieutenant general. He was sent to Papua to command New Guinea Force in July 1942 and made responsible for defending Port Moresby and recapturing Kokoda.

His enmity towards Blamey came to the fore when the latter was sent to Papua from Australia by General Douglas MacArthur, the supreme allied commander in the South-west Pacific. Rowell had no wish to become Blamey's chief of staff and a series of heated arguments led to his dismissal in September 1942. Despite his now being in Australia, further conflict with Blamey followed. Blamey threatened to reduce Rowell to his substantive rank of colonel; forced to yield by the Prime Minister, Blamey instead sent Rowell to Cairo.

Rowell ended the war working in the War Office in London and was involved in high-level planning for the fighting that would follow D-Day. After the war, Rowell served as Vice Chief of the General Staff and played a leading role in the Army's breaking of the 1949 coal miners' strike. In 1950 he became Chief of the General Staff. He retired to Melbourne in 1954, where he held a number of company directorships. He died on 12 April 1975.

Rolls and Awards

First World War Embarkation Roll

  • Rank: Lieutenant
  • Date of embarkation: 21 December 1914
  • Place of embarkation: Newcastle

Honours and Awards (Recommendation) : Order of the Bath

  • Conflict: Second World War, 1939-1945

Honours and Awards (Recommendation) : Order of the Bath

  • Conflict: Second World War, 1939-1945

Honours and Awards : Mention in despatches

  • Unit: 1 Corps
  • Conflict: Second World War, 1939-1945

Honours and Awards : Mention in despatches

  • Unit: 1 Corps
  • Conflict: Second World War, 1939-1945

Honours and Awards : Order of the Bath

  • Unit: Australian Army
  • Conflict: Second World War, 1939-1945

Honours and Awards : Greek War Cross, First Class

  • Conflict: Second World War, 1939-1945

Collection Items

Photograph

004852

1941-01-02. PALESTINE - BRIG. ROWELL (CHIEF OF OPERATIONS) AND GENERAL BLAMEY DISCUSS MOVEMENTS WITH THE AID OF MAPS, WITH MR. SPENDER AT CORPS H.Q. (NEGATIVE BY G. SILK).

004852

004865

1941-01-02. GAZA - GENERAL BLAMEY & BRIG. ROWELL DISCUSS MOVEMENTS WITH MR. SPENDER OVER SOME MAPS. (NEGATIVE BY G. SILK).

004865

004899

1941-01-01. SEA OF GALILEE - GEN. STURDEE GETS STRAIGHT ONTO THE JOB WITH BRIG. ROWELL SOON AFTER ARRIVAL AT THE SEA OF GALILEE. (NEGATIVE BY G. SILK).

004899

006438

1941-01-10. GAZA. IN THE MAP ROOM, BRIG. ROWELL B.G.S. WITH CAPT. SADLER. (NEGATIVE BY G. SILK).

006438

013174

1942-09-03. PORTRAIT OF LT. GENERAL S. ROWELL, COMMANDER OF THE NEW GUINEA FORCE. (NEGATIVE BY CRANSTONE).

013174

013175

NEW GUINEA ? 1942-09-03. PORTRAIT OF LIEUTENANT GENERAL S. ROWELL, COMMANDER OF THE NEW GUINEA FORCE. (PHOTOGRAPHER FRANK CRANSTONE)

013175

044739

MAJOR GENERAL A.J.H. CASSELS (LEFT) AND LIEUTENANT GENERAL SIR SYDNEY ROWELL (RIGHT), KOREA MID-1952.

044739

044755

SENIOR AUSTRALIAN ARMY OFFICERS IN KOREA 1953. LEFT TO RIGHT: LIEUTENANT COLONEL A.I. MACDONALD, CO 3RAR; LIEUTENANT GENERAL SIR SYDNEY ROWELL, CGS; BRIGADIER J.G.N. WILTON, COMMANDER, 28TH BRITISH COMMONWEALTH INFANTRY BRIGADE; LIEUTENANT GENERAL H. WELLS, COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF BCF KOREA; LIEUTENANT...

044755

026299

PAPUA, NEW GUINEA. 1942-08. LIEUTENANT-GENERAL S.F. ROWELL CB., GENERAL-OFFICER-COMMANDING NEW GUINEA FORCE.

026299

026582

PORT MORESBY, PAPUA. 1942-09. LIEUTENANT-GENERAL S.F. ROWELL, CBE., GENERAL-OFFICER-COMMANDING NEW GUINEA FORCE.

026582

026583

PORT MORESBY, PAPUA. 1942-09. LIEUTENANT-GENERAL S.F. ROWELL, CBE., GENERAL-OFFICER-COMMANDING NEW GUINEA FORCE.

026583

026708

PORT MORESBY, PAPUA. 1942-09. SENIOR OFFICERS OF NEW GUINEA FORCE. LEFT TO RIGHT:- BRIGADIER H.G. ROURKE, CHIEF OF STAFF TO COMMANDER, LIEUTENANT-GENERAL S.F. ROWELL, GENERAL-OFFICER-COMMANDING THE FORCE AND BRIGADIER J.R. BROADBENT, DA & QMG.

026708

026709

PORT MORESBY, PAPUA. 1942-09. LIEUTENANT-GENERAL S.F. ROWELL, GENERAL-OFFICER-COMMANDING NEW GUINEA FORCE (RIGHT) AND BRIGADIER H.G. ROURKE, CHIEF OF STAFF TO THE GENERAL-OFFICER-COMMANDING.

026709

044320

PEARL HARBOR, HAWAII. 1952. THE FIRST MEETING OF AUSTRALIA, NEW ZEALAND AND UNITED STATES (ANZUS) MILITARY REPRESENTATIVES. SEATED FROM THE LEFT: LIEUTENANT GENERAL S.F. ROWELL, AUSTRALIAN CHIEF OF GENERAL STAFF; ADMIRAL A.W. RADFORD, US COMMANDER IN CHIEF PACIFIC; AND MAJOR GENERAL W.G. GENTRY,...

044320

044321

MELBOURNE, 1955. ADMIRAL A.W. RADFORD, CHIEF US GUEST, TAKES THE SALUTE AT THE CORAL SEA ANNIVERSARY MARCH. THE UNIFORMED OFFICERS TO HIS LEFT ARE LIEUTENANT GENERAL S.F. ROWELL AND ADMIRAL SIR JOHN COLLINS.

044321

044322

CANBERRA, CIRCA 1955. LIEUTENANT GENERAL S.F. ROWELL AND MR J. FRANCIS, MINISTER FOR THE ARMY, AFTER A DUNTROON GRADUATION PARADE.

044322

044323

PEARL HARBOUR, 1952-09-24. US LIEUTENANT GENERAL JOHN O'DANIEL, COMMANDING GENERAL USARPAC, GREETS ANZUS MILITARY REPRESENTATIVES LIEUTENANT GENERAL S.F. ROWELL, CHAIRMAN OF THE AUSTRALIAN CHIEFS OF STAFF COMMITTEE, AND MAJOR GENERAL W.G. GENTRY, CHIEF OF STAFF OF THE NEW ZEALAND GENERAL STAFF.

044323

044324

ENGLAND, LARKHILL, SCHOOL OF ARTILLERY, 1952. COMMONWEALTH ARMY CHIEFS OF STAFF AT THE CHIEF OF THE IMPERIAL GENERAL STAFF EXERCISE. FROM THE LEFT ARE- GENERAL AYUB KHAN (PAKISTAN), GENERAL G.G. SIMONDS (CANADA), GENERAL W. DU TOIT (SOUTH AFRICA), FIELD MARSHAL SIR WILLIAM SLIM (BRITAIN),...

044324

044325

CANBERRA, 1954. MR J. FRANCIS (MINISTER FOR THE ARMY) WITH LIEUTENANT GENERAL S.F. ROWELL.

044325

044326

CANBERRA, 1954-02. AT AN ARMED SERVICES PARADE FOR THE QUEEN WERE FIELD MARSHAL SIR WILLIAM SLIM, LIEUTENANT GENERAL S.F. ROWELL, VICE ADMIRAL SIR JOHN COLLINS AND AIR MARSHAL SIR JOHN McCAULEY.

044326

042448

MELBOURNE, VIC. 1947. FIELD MARSHAL VISCOUNT MONTGOMERY OF ALAMEIN, KG, GCB, KCB, CB, DSO., CHIEF OF THE IMPERIAL GENERAL STAFF, CONFERRING WITH MEMBERS OF THE AUSTRALIAN MILITARY BOARD, SHOWN, ARE, LEFT TO RIGHT:- BACK ROW:- VX38969 MAJOR GENERAL W. BRIDGEFORD, CB, CBE, MC., QUARTERMASTER GENERAL....

042448

126240

MELBOURNE, VIC. 1946-03-11. LIEUTENANT-GENERAL S. F. ROWELL CB CBE, VICE CHIEF OF GENERAL STAFF, AT HIS DESK AT HQ AUSTRALIAN MILITARY FORCES, VICTORIA BARRACKS.

126240

JK1020

KIMPO, SOUTH KOREA. 1953-05-28. THE COMMANDING OFFICER OF NO. 77 SQUADRON RAAF, WING COMMANDER J.W. HUBBLE, EXAMINES THE ROCKETS ON A METEOR AIRCRAFT WITH THE CHIEF OF THE GENERAL STAFF, LIEUTENANT GENERAL SIR SYDNEY ROWELL KBE, CB.

JK1020

JK1021

KIMPO, SOUTH KOREA. 1953-05-28. SQUADRON LEADER ROSS GLASSOP, EXECUTIVE OFFICER OF NO 77 SQUADRON RAAF SHOWS A ROCKET ARMED METEOR TO THE COMMANDER IN CHIEF, BRITISH COMMONWEALTH FORCES, KOREA (BCFK) LIEUTENANT GENERAL H. WELLS AND THE CHIEF OF THE GENERAL STAFF, LIEUTENANT GENERAL SIR SIDNEY...

JK1021

001706

1940-05. BRIG. ROWELL O.B.E. B.G.S. 1ST AUST. CORPS H.Q. 1ST AUST. CORPS.

001706

Private Record

Film

Chief of General Staff visit to Japan & Korea DPR/S/4

General coverage of visit of Chief of General Staff 35 (VX3) Lieutenant General (Lt Gen) Sydney Faibairn Rowell CB CBE to Australian service establishments in Japan and Korea in May 1952. While in Korea the General visted the United Nations War Cemetery at Pusan and American General Van Fleet as...

F07528

Army Apprentice School, graduation day DPR/S18, DPR/S/39

Lieutenant General (Lt Gen) Rowell presented trade certificates to apprentices at a ceremony held at the Army Apprentice School Balcombe Victoria. Lt Gen Rowell inspected a parade of apprentices and took the salute at the march past. Apprentices entertained parents and friends at a tea party after...

F07542

In a great tradition out takes (DPR/S/44)

Coverage of the return of 3 Battalion the Royal Australian Regiment (3RAR) from Korea, showing the arrival and city marches in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne.

F11416

[Duntroon graduation parade 1954] (DPR/S/48)

Cadets graduation parade at the Royal Military College Duntroon. Present at the parade was the Govenor General Sir William Slim, Minister for the Army Josiah Francis and Chief of the Australian General Staff Lieutenant General Sir Sydney Rowell. Lieutenant General Rowell ended his military career...

F11418

General Blamey arrives in Tiberias

General Sir Thomas Blamey with Brigadier S F Rowell, GSO 1 Australian Corps and Captain J Wilmoth ADC arrived at Tiberias by Imperial Airways Empire Flying Boat on 20 June 1940. General Blamey was met by Major General Mackay GOC 6 Australian Division and afterwards lunched with Brigadier Brunskill...

F01039

Australian contingent to take part in the victory parade London. Australian contingent film out takes.

This film shows the story of the teo hundred and fifity servicemen and women who were chosen to represent the RAN, AIF and RAAF at the Victory Parade held in London on 8 June 1946. It starts with the AIF contingent being kitted out and training in marching and arms drill at Watsonia Camp, VIC, and...

F07438

Timeline

Date of birth 1894-12-15 Lockleys, SA.
Other 1911 Attended Royal Military College Duntroon.
Date commissioned 1914-08-14 Joined the 3rd Light Horse Regiment.
Date of embarkation 1914-12-21
Other 1915-05-12 Arrived in Gallipoli.
Date returned to Australia 1915-11 Evacuated from Gallipoli with typhoid.
Other 1924 - 1926 Studied at the the Staff College, Camberley, in England.
Other 1932 Transferred to Army Headquarters in Melbourne, VIC.
Other 1935 Returned to England on exchange as operations staff officer in the Territorial Army.
Other 1937 Joined the Imperial Defence College as a lieutenant colonel.
Date of honour or award 1938-06-09 Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE).
Date and unit at appointment (Officers) 1939-10-13 Appointed chief of staff in the 6th Division, 2AIF.
Date promoted 1940-02 Appointed brigadier, general staff, I Australian Corps, Middle East-Greece-North Africa.
Date of honour or award 1941-04-01 Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE).
Date returned to Australia 1941-08 Appointed deputy to the Chief of General Staff.
Other units 1942-03 Given command of I Corps and promoted to temporary lieutenant general.
Other units 1942-07 Sent to Papua as general officer commanding New Guinea Force.
Other 1942-09 Dismissed from position as Chief of General Staff.
Other units 1943 General Officer Commanding Australian Imperial Force, Middle East.
Other 1944 - 1945 Director of Tactical Investigation, British War Office.
Date of honour or award 1944-11-23 Greek War Cross - First Class.
Other 1946 - 1950 Vice Chief General Staff.
Date of honour or award 1946-01-01 Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB).
Other 1950 Became Chief of the General Staff.
Date of honour or award 1953-06-01 Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (KBE).
Date of discharge 1954 Retired to Melbourne.
Date of death 1975-04-12