Biography

Birth date: 16 April 1887
Birth place: Australia: Victoria, Balwyn
Death date: 01 August 1962
Death place: Australia: New South Wales, Dural
Final rank: Lieutenant General
Service number: First World War, 1914-1918
NX70343 - Second World War, 1939-1945
N76069 - Second World War, 1939-1945
Units:
  • City of Melbourne Regiment
  • 1st Australian Division
  • 3rd Australian Infantry Brigade
  • 6th Australian Infantry Battalion

Gordon Bennett, born on 16 April 1887 at Balwyn, Melbourne, was Australia's most controversial Second World War commander. As a youth he attended Balwyn State School and Hawthorn College before becoming an actuarial clerk at the Australian Mutual Provident Society. He was commissioned into the Citizen Military Forces in 1908 at the age of 21 and posted to the 5th Infantry Regiment. In 1912 he was promoted to major.

Shortly after the First World War began Bennett transferred into the AIF; he embarked for Egypt in October 1914 as Second-in-Command of the 6th Battalion. He landed at Gallipoli early on the morning of 25 April 1915 and was wounded that afternoon. Having been evacuated to a hospital ship, Bennett took it upon himself to return to the line and quickly acquired a reputation for courage and leadership. He was involved in the 2nd Brigade's disastrous charge against Turkish positions at Krithia on 8 May and the next day was promoted to temporary lieutenant colonel, taking command of the 6th Battalion.

During the battalion's early operations on the Western Front Bennett alternated as battalion and acting brigade commander. He married Bessie Buchanan in November 1916 and in December was promoted again, to temporary brigadier, taking command of the 3rd Brigade. His reputation as an excellent front-line commander grew throughout 1917 and 1918 with his performances at Bullecourt, Passchendaele, and the Hindenburg Line. Alongside his reputation as a fine commander, however, Bennett also acquired among some of his fellow officers a very different reputation; as a jealous, prickly, and querulous individual.

After the war Bennett worked in Sydney as a clothing manufacturer and accountant. He sat on the State Repatriation Board and in October 1928 became one of three commissioners administering Sydney City. Between 1931-33 he presided over the New South Wales Chamber of Manufacturers. Bennett continued also in the military, taking command of the 2nd Division in 1926. But when the Second World War began he was furious at not being given command of the AIF; his difficult temperament made such an appointment impossible. Only in September 1940 was he given a divisional command, the 8th Division, which he led to Malaya in 1941.

Following the Japanese invasion of Malaya on 8 December 1941, Bennett had as little success preventing their southward advance as had his British counterparts. In February the Japanese reached Singapore and on the 15th of that month, as surrender negotiations took place, Bennett handed over command of his division and left the island. Some supporters applauded his escape but his claim that he left to pass on his knowledge about how to fight the Japanese - given his lack of success - failed to convince many. He was never given another field command and an enquiry after the war found he was not justified in leaving Singapore. Bennett's dreams of leading the Australian Army were ruined.

After the war Bennett took up farming near Sydney. He died at Dural, Sydney, on 1 August 1962.

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Rolls and Awards

  • Rank: Major
  • Date of embarkation: 19 October 1914
  • Place of embarkation: Melbourne
  • Unit: 1st Australian Division
  • Conflict: First World War, 1914-1918
  • Recommended for: Mention in despatches
  • Unit: 3rd Australian Infantry Brigade
  • Conflict: First World War, 1914-1918
  • Unit: 1st Australian Division
  • Conflict: First World War, 1914-1918
  • Unit: 6th Australian Infantry Battalion
  • Conflict: First World War, 1914-1918
  • Recommended for: Brevet Colonel
  • Unit: City of Melbourne Regiment
  • Conflict: First World War, 1914-1918
  • Recommended for: Distinguished Service Order
  • Unit: 3rd Australian Infantry Brigade
  • Conflict: First World War, 1914-1918
  • Unit: 6th Australian Infantry Battalion
  • Conflict: First World War, 1914-1918
  • Unit: 6th Australian Infantry Battalion
  • Conflict: First World War, 1914-1918
  • Recommended for: Mention in despatches
  • Unit: 6th Australian Infantry Battalion
  • Conflict: First World War, 1914-1918
  • Recommended for: Mention in despatches
  • Unit: 6th Australian Infantry Battalion
  • Conflict: First World War, 1914-1918
  • Recommended for: Mention in despatches
  • Unit: 3rd Australian Infantry Brigade
  • Conflict: First World War, 1914-1918
  • Recommended for: Brevet Lieutenant Colonel
  • Unit: 3rd Australian Infantry Brigade
  • Conflict: First World War, 1914-1918
  • Recommended for: Distinguished Service Order
  • Unit: 3rd Australian Infantry Brigade
  • Conflict: First World War, 1914-1918
  • Recommended for: Order of the Bath
  • Unit: 3rd Australian Infantry Brigade
  • Conflict: First World War, 1914-1918
  • Recommended for: Mention in despatches
  • Unit: 3rd Australian Infantry Brigade
  • Conflict: First World War, 1914-1918
  • Unit: 6th Australian Infantry Battalion
  • Conflict: First World War, 1914-1918
  • Unit: 6th Australian Infantry Battalion
  • Conflict: First World War, 1914-1918
  • Unit: 6th Australian Infantry Battalion
  • Conflict: First World War, 1914-1918
  • Awarded: Mention in despatches
  • Unit: 6th Australian Infantry Battalion
  • Conflict: First World War, 1914-1918
  • Awarded: Mention in despatches
  • Unit: 3rd Australian Infantry Brigade
  • Conflict: First World War, 1914-1918
  • Awarded: Mention in despatches
  • Unit: 3rd Australian Infantry Brigade
  • Conflict: First World War, 1914-1918
  • Awarded: Mention in despatches
  • Unit: 3rd Australian Infantry Brigade
  • Conflict: First World War, 1914-1918
  • Awarded: Mention in despatches
  • Unit: 3rd Australian Infantry Brigade
  • Conflict: First World War, 1914-1918
  • Awarded: Montenegrin Order of Danilo, Third Class
  • Unit: 3rd Australian Infantry Brigade
  • Conflict: First World War, 1914-1918
  • Awarded: Distinguished Service Order
  • Unit: 3rd Australian Infantry Brigade
  • Conflict: First World War, 1914-1918
  • Awarded: Order of St Michael and St George
  • Unit: 3rd Australian Infantry Brigade
  • Conflict: First World War, 1914-1918
  • Awarded: Order of the Bath
  • Unit: 3rd Australian Infantry Brigade
  • Conflict: First World War, 1914-1918
  • Awarded: Mention in despatches
  • Unit: 3rd Australian Infantry Brigade
  • Conflict: First World War, 1914-1918
  • Awarded: Mention in despatches
  • Unit: 6th Australian Infantry Battalion
  • Conflict: First World War, 1914-1918
  • Awarded: Mention in despatches
  • Unit: 6th Australian Infantry Battalion
  • Conflict: First World War, 1914-1918

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Digitised Collection

Timeline

Date of birth 1887-04-16 Balwyn, VIC.
Date commissioned 1908-08-14 Commissioned as a second lieutenant, 5th Australian Regiment.
Date promoted 1912-07-01 Promoted to major.
Other units 1914 Served as a major in the 64th Infantry.
Other 1914-08-14 Joined the Australian Imperial Force as second in command of the 6th Battalion.
Other 1914-10 6th Battalion embarked for Eygpt.
Date of embarkation 1914-10-19
Other 1915-04-25 Landed at Gallipoli. Bennett was wounded on Pine Ridge, while directing fire on the Turkish positions. He was evacuated to a hospital ship but rejoined his battalion on the front line the next day.
Other 1915-05-08 Involved in Second Battle of Krithia. The 6th Battalion suffered heavy loses. Bennett was the only original officer of the 6th who survived the battle.
Date promoted 1915-05-09 Bennett became commander of the 6th Battalion and was promoted to temporary lieutenant colonel.
Date of recommendation honour or award 1915-06-21
Date of honour or award 1915-08-05 Mention in Despatches, for services at Gallipoli.
Date of honour or award 1915-11-05 Mention in Despatches, for services at Gallipoli.
Date of honour or award 1915-11-08 Companion of the Order of Saint Michael and Saint George, for services at Gallipoli.
Date of recommendation honour or award 1916-10-06
Date promoted 1916-12-03 Temporary brigadier general in command of the 3rd Infantry Brigade. At 29 he became the youngest general ever in the Australian army.
Date of recommendation honour or award 1917
Date of honour or award 1917-01-04 Mention in Despatches, for services in France.
Date of recommendation honour or award 1917-03-07
Date of honour or award 1917-03-09 Montenegrin Order of Danilo - 3rd Class.
Date of honour or award 1917-06-01 Mention in Despatches, for services in France.
Date of recommendation honour or award 1917-09-26
Date of honour or award 1917-12-28 Mention in Despatches, for services in France.
Date of honour or award 1918-01-01 Companion of the Bath, for services in France.
Date of recommendation honour or award 1918-03-08
Date of honour or award 1918-05-28 Mention in Despatches.
Date of recommendation honour or award 1918-09-28
Date of honour or award 1918-12-31 Mention in Despatches, for services in France.
Date of recommendation honour or award 1919-01-06
Date returned to Australia 1919-05-15
Date of honour or award 1919-06-03 Distinguished Service Order.
Date of honour or award 1919-07-11 Mention in Despatches.
Other units 1921 - 1926 Bennett commanded the 9th Infantry Brigade.
Other units 1926 - 1932 Bennett commanded the 2nd Division.
Date promoted 1930-08-01 Promoted to major general.
Other units 1940-09-30 Bennett became General Officer Commanding 8th Division, Australian Imperial Force.
Other 1941 Bennett was posted to Malaya with the 8th Division.
Other 1941-02-15 Singapore was surrended to the Japanese. Bennett and several others managed to escape from Singapore and return to Australia.
Date promoted 1942-04-07 Lieutenant general in command of III Corps in Perth.
Date of discharge 1944-05-09 Transferred to the Reserve of Officers.
Date of death 1962-08-01 Dural, NSW.