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Guide to the Papers of Field Marshal Sir Thomas Albert Blamey
The papers of Field Marshal Sir Thomas Albert Blamey held at the Australian War Memorial document one aspect of the long career of Australia's foremost soldier of the twentieth century. His military career dominates in the records tot he exclusion of most other facets of Blamey's life. The collection is relatively narrow in content. It is predominately concerned with the exploits and experiences of Blamey as Commander in both the Middle East and the South-West Pacific Area, 1939 - 1945. The remainder of his military career is scantily represented in the papers. The strength of the collection lies in the range and level of administrative detail reflected, particularly, in relation to the SWPA. There is little documentation relating to the detailed operational planning for the Western Desert, Greece or many of the campaigns against the Japanese. The papers refer to Prime Minister John Curtin and General Douglas MacArthur but there is not material on Blamey's personal dealings with either individual. Overall, the records reflect the work of an individual in control of a large organisation. They do not detail the personal aspirations Blamey may have felt over the five years of his leadership of the AMF.; History of the collection: With the death of Blamey in May 1951, his papers were placed in the control of the executors of his estate, namely Lady Olga Blamey, his son Lieutenant-Colonel T R Blamey and a family friend, Lieutenant Colonel J Wilmoth. The collection was eventually loaned to the general editor of the Official History of Australia in the War, 1939 - 1956, Mr Gavin Long, in February 1953. The papers remained with the official historians until 1967. During this period access to the records was restricted to the official historian, his staff and Mr John Hetherington, biographer of the late field marshal.Control of the papers eventually passed to the Memorial in 1967. Research interested had developed in the material by this stage and, following repeated requests to the Department of Defence to provide approval, limited access was granted to the papers in 1973. Internal processing of the material began in 1974 and the task of an item listing of the four major series was undertaken, first by Anne Lu, the donated records librarian, and then by Ron Gilchrist in 1982. The task was completed in 1985. Further papers were forwarded to the Memorial by Mr Michael Morton in 1974 after being discovered in the basement of Blamey's former South Yarra residence. These appear to be the residue of records formerly held by Lady Blamey, the majority of the material having been previously destroyed due to their advanced stage of deterioration. IN 1985, Mr T R Blamey deposited further personal papers and transcripts with the Memorial; Arrangement of the papers: The long period between the retirement of Blamey from the AIF in 1945 and the eventual partial release of records to the public in 1974 has made an accurate compilation of a guide to Blamey's surviving papers difficult. Unfortunately, there was little in the way of evidential material accompanying the papers to assist in the final arrangement of the collection. With this in mind, only limited arrangement of the material has been attempted. The majority of the records (Series 1 - 4) form natural series, probably developed for Blamey during the Second World War. For convenience of access, the remaining material has been organised within artificial series. Additional material either directly related to Blamey or about him has been deposited with the Memorial since the early 1950s. This, and material compiled by the Memorial over a similar period, has been placed in Series 10. The papers were loaned by Lady Blamey and Lieutenant Colonel T R Blamey in 1953 to Mr Gavin Long, General Editor of the Official History of Australia in the War. During this period access was restricted to the official historian, his staff and to Mr John Hetherington, biographer of the late Field Marshal. Control of the papers eventually passed to the Australian War Memorial in 1967 and limited access was granted to the papers in 1973. Processing of the material by the Memorial began in 1974. Further papers were sent to the Memorial by Mr Michael Morton in 1974, after being discovered in the basement of Sir Blamey's former South Yarra residence. In 1985, Mr T R Blamey deposited more personal papers and transcripts to the Memorial.
SERIES 1: Middle East correspondence and administrative papers, 1940 - 1944. This series, part of the original 1953 deposit, forms the basis for Blamey's working files in the Middle East. They reflect Blamey's commentary on information received from both higher and lower formations, directives issued to the AIF and inwards and outwards correspondence, military appreciations, agenda items and subject files. relates to the placement of the Second AIF in the Middle East. Physically, the files are not discreet items broken down by format. Rather they are more often than not an amalgam of various formats such as correspondence, agenda items, messages and information items. The series is broken into two broad categories, primarily operational issues and policy/administrative concerns. The operational aspects consist of reports and military appreciations carried out in Cyrenaica, Tobruk, Syria and particularly covering the disastrous campaigns in Greece and Crete. The policy/administrative concerns relate to the use and control of the AIF within the British Command structure, training, ""Q""Branch including transport, supplies and amenities and the ""A"" Branch staffing matters. Later issues involve the redeployment of the AIF to the Far East, policy issues within Australia concerned with military organisation, and the eventual higher direction of the war. SERIES 2: South-West Pacific Area correspondence and administrative reports, 1941 - 1946. Description:The 361 files that comprise this series were part of the original 1953 transfer of records to the official historian. As with Series 1, the files are physically an amalgam of various record formats. The files consist of a range of reports, minutes, agenda, subject files and correspondence. This series would appear to be a refinement on Series 1 and were developed to cope with the heavier administrative demand made upon Blamey following his return to Australia in 1942. His appointment as Commander, Allied Land Forces, soon made it apparent that demands upon Blamey's time and energy would be more extensive than existed in the Middle East. The files reflect Blamey's direct involvement in policy and administrative matters. The correspondence with senior Allied officers and officials is predominantly outwards in nature. The Operational Reports were presented mostly for comment or clarification. 'A' and 'Q' branch matters represent a high percentage of the files. Matters of allied command structures, AMF operational formations and commands, training, operational reports and plans for the SWPA, special operations, and semi-official correspondence with senior military and civil administrators form the basis for this series. The material also reflects a noticeable change in policy issues. Developing relations with allied countries, the internal political and military wrangling within Australia, and a broader approach toward the higher direction of the war are clearly apparent in this series. As Commander-in-Chief, AMF and later Commander, Allied Land Forces, Blamey's interests and influences were diverse. The outbreak of the war in the Pacific necessitated a review of the role of Australian troops, mobilisation within Australia and manpower requirements. Attacks on the Australian mainland and adjacent territories saw the need to control the civil populace in the war zones. The changing relationship with the allied nations, particularly the United States, is evident. Relations with the Supreme Commander, SWPA, General Douglas MacArthur, are highlighted, more so once the allies took the offensive in New Guinea. Later files concern preparations for the surrender of Japan. The files also reflect Blamey's pre-eminence in organisation with an emphasis placed on supply, amenities, equipment and training for the army. Also apparent is the difficulty Blamey faced in dealing with matters of public relations, both in relation to himself and in convincing the Australian population of the crucial role being performed by the Australian Forces; SERIES 3: Reports and working papers, 1940 - 1952. Description: It would appear that this series was commenced by Blamey's staff to complement Series 1 and 2 above. The strong emphasis on reports and other printed material suggests this series was used to supplement or evaluate the administrative papers of the earlier series. There is almost no documentary evidence to suggest either the overall extent of the collection nor the time in which it was commenced. Further material was added to this series by Memorial staff when the initial listing was commenced in 1974. This later material appears to have been drawn from both other series and from estrays located after the 1953 transfer. In most instances where possible, this later material has been returned to the appropriate series. The majority of the 146 files relate to operational matters, particularly reports on Australian operations in both the Middle East and the SWPA, operational instructions and various military appreciations on training and operations. Further files are concerned with Blamey's correspondence with senior Army officers on a semi-official level, reports on scientific developments and newspaper cuttings covering his activities in the Middle East and the SWPA.; SERIES 4: Middle East and South West Pacific Area papers, 1940 - 1945. Description: This is an artificial series of twenty-five files. Little is known about this material other than that it would appear to have been part of the original 1953 consignment. It is more than reasonable to expect that this material represents some of the numerous files extracted by the Official Historians Unit and not returned when the work was completed. Noted in 1982 as 'Unlisted material', the files, from the limited evidence available, sit comfortably with Series 1 and 2. Despite this, the files have been retained as a separate entity. Although the material is similar in content to Series 1 and 2, the basic identifiers found in these series are not apparent on this material. The files are basically administrative in nature covering the organisation of the AIF in the Middle East and later policy developments in the Pacific, particularly associated with the establishment of SWPA Command, strategic planning involving military and civil requirements, defence of Australia and the higher direction of warfare planning. As with the larger series, this material is comprised of various reports, subject files, agenda, minutes and correspondence. SERIES 5: School and family papers,1899 - 1940. Description: Originally known to Memorial staff as the 'Morton collection', the thirty-five files that comprise this artificial series were so named after the donor, Mr M Morton, who located the papers in the basement of the former South Yarra residence of Blamey, in 1974. The material, although damaged by damp and neglect, refers to Blamey's early career. The condition of the records supports comments made by the family that many of Blamey's papers suffered the same fate and, as a consequence, were destroyed or discarded sometime in the 1960s. This series contains some of the few surviving personal letters of the young Tom Blamey preparing for his teaching career, and reflect his growing interest in military matters. The correspondence briefly documents his entry into the AMF Administrative and Instructional Staff however this does not continue with his posting to the Staff College at Quetta. This period is simply represented by various reports and academic papers. Despite his rise to prominence after 1914, there is little evidence to document his endeavors over the next four years in Europe, nor of his return to Australia. Later material consists of sundry financial papers and lecture notes from the School of Law, University of Melbourne, a course undertaken while Chief Commissioner of Police during the mid-1930s. Series 6 contains similar personal material and should be consulted in conjunction with this series; SERIES 6: Personal papers, 1905 - 1951. Description: This artificial series, designated PR 85/355, was donated to the Memorial by Mr Thomas R Blamey in 1985. As description of the four major series had been completed, it was decided to retain this later material as a separate entity although many of the items had a close similarity with Series 5. The series contains additional personal correspondence from Blamey to his family related to his teaching duties in WA, early military training and reference to his experiences in both World Wars, particularly Gallipoli, the Middle East and New Guinea. There are also sundry financial records, evidence of the numerous honours and awards bestowed upon Blamey, and drafts of public speeches particularly related to defence matters. The series also contains five original letters written by, or in reference to, General Sir Charles Napier, during February 1852 and March 1853. There is no attached explanation as to the reason why this material should be found in the Blamey collection other than the letters were being returned by the Governor-General, Sir Ronald Munro-Ferguson to Lady Bridges in 1916. Series 5 contains similar personal material and should be consulted in conjunction with this series. SERIES 7: Radio transcripts,1938 - 1939. Description: This material was received by the Memorial in 1985 as part of the PR85/355 deposit. The series consists of eighty-two draft manuscript and typescript copies of radio broadcasts that Blamey delivered for Radio 3UZ, Melbourne over an eighteen month period. Two of the draft scripts were missing at the time of deposit. Prompted by the general manager of 3UZ, A N Kemsley, Blamey launched into the project with vigor. Known only as """"The sentinel"""" to his listeners, he presented the weekly broadcasts on a Sunday evening, discussing issues of world events, particularly covering the military changes in Europe and the Far East. Occasionally he presented special mid-week talks for interstate listeners. His final broadcast, and consequent identification, came upon his appointment as GOC, Sixth Division in September 1939. SERIES 8: Maps, 1905 - 1930. Description: This material was included in the initial deposit in 1953 and later transfer to the Memorial in 1967. The thirty two maps contain a mixture of original hand drawn items compiled by Blamey during his time at the Staff College, Quetta, hand drawn and printed items of the ANZAC Cove - Gallipoli Peninsula area and various printed operational maps for France and Belgium. This material is held in the Private Records section (Oversized Items) under the title of 3DRL 6643, Series 8, Blamey collection'. Additional map material may be located in series 1-4, particularly in various 'Reports on Operations'. These are the standard issue topographical maps accompanying the text of the reports. Some of these are annotated however this does not necessarily mean that the annotation was by Blamey. SERIES 9: Photographic material,c 1900 - 1930. Description: This series of black and white photographs was part of the original 1953 transfer and is located in the Archive store in the photographs section of the administration building, not available for issue (27/2/02) There are nearly 200 prints and negatives in all. Some of the earlier material, particularly that covering India, may well have been taken by Blamey. The majority of the material relates to Blamey's experiences on the Western Front, 1916-1918. This material originates from official sources and predominantly consists of aerial photographs of the frontline areas. There is little evidence to indicate the degree that Blamey may have used the material in his planning work. The few personal and family photographs are generally unidentified or uncaptioned.
Thomas Albert Blamey was born at Lake Albert, near Wagga Wagga NSW, on 24 January 1884, the seventh of ten children of Richard and Margaret Blamey. The young Tom Blamey was educated at the Superior Public School and later at Wagga Grammar School. It was at this school that he furthered his interest in the school cadet corps, rising to the position of head cadet. This interest progressed following his appointment as a pupil-teacher to the Lake Albert school in 1899 and later South Wagga Public School. In 1902 he sat for the NSW Education Department examination for advanced teacher training. Despite his satisfactory results, Blamey was not selected amongst the top candidates. Rather than accept posting to endless country schools in NSW, he looked to the still fledgling state of Western Australia as a means of developing his prospects. He resigned from the NSW Education Department in 1903 and was appointed to an assistant teacher's position at the Fremantle Boys School in July of that year. Blamey later sat, and qualified for the WA Teachers Examination. His interest in the cadet corps did not wane during his three year appointment at the school. He did however at one stage consider foregoing his teaching career to enter the Methodist ministry. Blamey's career took a different turn when he sat the examination for a commission in the Cadet Instructional Staff of the AMF. He was placed third across Australia. Failing initial selection, Blamey's protestations managed to win him a commission and a transfer to Melbourne as Lieutenant in the Administrative and Instructional Corps. His position as staff officer (cadets) made him responsible for the administration of school cadets throughout the State, a responsibility he pursed with vigor.Blamey married Minnie Millard in 1909. Their first child, Charles, was born in June of the following year. At this stage, Blamey was promoted to the rank of Captain. Following a completive examination in 1911, he was successful in gaining entry to the Staff College in Quetta, India. His two years at the College were busy, stimulating and rewarding. Upon graduation in December 1913, he was attached to various British units in the Simla area before posting to the Wessex Territorial Division in England and eventually the War Office in 1914. During this period, a second son, Thomas, was born. First World War: With the outbreak of the First World War, Blamey was well placed to assist the Australian Government. His work in the intelligence section led to his appointment as General Staff Officer III in the newly formed First Division of the AIF under General W Bridges. Recently promoted to Major, Blamey joined the Division in Egypt in December 1914. He landed on Gallipoli with the Division on 25 April 1915 and was actively involved in combat operations during his stay on the Peninsula. Following recall to Egypt in July to assist in the formation of the Second Division, he returned to the Peninsula as Assistant Adjutant and Quarter Master General of that Division. With the withdrawal from the Peninsula completed, Blamey sailed for France as GSO I of the First Division. His fine administrative skills kept him in this position at Divisional Headquarters until May 1918. He did however act briefly as Commanding Officer of the 2nd Battalion and later, of the 1st Brigade, in 1916 - 1917. He came to prominence in mid - 1918 when appointed as Corps as Chief of Staff to General J Monash and the Australian Corps. The success in operations of this Corps saw Blamey end the conflict as Brigadier General. He returned to Australia in 1919. Between the wars:The inter-war years were a mixed blessing for Blamey. On completion of a period as Director of Military Operations, he was first appointed to the position of Deputy Chief of the General Staff and eventually in August 1922 as Australian Representative on the Imperial General Staff, London. While still in the United Kingdom, he concurrently held the post of Second Chief of the General Staff.Facing limited prospects of promotion, Blamey resigned from the Army to accept the position of Chief Commissioner of Police in Victoria in September 1925. For the next eleven years he remained as senior police officer during a turbulent period in the Force's history. He resigned as Police Commissioner in 1936 amidst political bickering and public condemnation. This step from power saw Blamey removed from the public eye until the latter part of the decade. Although he had resigned as a Staff Officer in 1925, Blamey continued his military service in the militia. As first Commanding Officer of the 10th Infantry Brigade, and later as GOC 3rd Division in 1931, he was able to maintain his presence in the military hierarchy until the end of his term in 1937.Minnie Blamey died in 1935 after a long illness. His eldest son, Charles, had been killed in a RAAF flying accident in 1932. Despite his knighthood, Blamey faced a struggle to retain the pre-eminence won over many years of persistence and service. With the assistance of friends, he began a series of radio talks covering international relations for 3UZ in 1938. Known as 'the sentinel', these talks continued for twelve months until his appointment to the Second AIF.With the prospect of another war looming, the Federal Government, recognising Blamey's organisational ability, appointed him chairman to the Manpower Committee and as controller general of the Recruiting Secretariat in 1938. In April 1939 he married Olga Farnsworth. Second World War: Blamey was recalled for full-time military duty by the Menzies United Australia Party Government in September 1939 and appointed GOC of the Sixth Division AIF with the rank of Lieutenant General. In April 1940 he became GOC 1st Australian Army Corps and embarked for service overseas shortly thereafter. Within the year, he held the position of GOC AIF Forces in the Middle East. He took an active role following the placement of Australian Forces in Greece. Sceptical of the military value of this commitment, he nevertheless took command of the Australian, and later briefly, the ANZAC Corps, for the strategic withdrawal from Greece. Blamey was made Deputy Commander in Chief of the British Forces in the Middle East, under General Wavell, in April 1941. In this position, he pursued a vigorous campaign to have the hard-pressed Australian Forces relieved from Tobruk and intervened in the Syrian campaign to hasten its completion. In September 1941, he was promoted to the rank of General.The outbreak of the war with Japan saw Blamey return to Australia in March 1942 as Commander in Chief, Australian Military Forces. This gave him extensive powers to organise the total military effort in relation to the AIF, militia and the voluntary defence units. It brought together his capacity for administration, operational planning and command. With the arrival of American General, Douglas MacArthur, as Commander in Chief of all Allied Forces, SWPA, Blamey assumed command of all Allied Land Forces in April 1942. The alliance was not a comfortable one for either party, more so as MacArthur had the """"ear"""" of John Curtin and his Labor government. At the insistence of MacArthur, with his desire for offensive operations, Blamey assumed command of the New Guinea Force in September 1942. This move saw the successful blocking of Japanese aspirations in New Guinea, however it catapulted Blamey into direct conflict with some of his senior operational commanders, notable Lieutenant-General S Rowell. By 1943 American troop re-organisation had deliberately and effectively dismembered Blamey's Allied Land Forces command. Despite this, he pursued an active period of preparing the AMF for the planned offensive operations at Salamaua, Lae, Finschhafen and Sattelberg. In April 1944 he accompanied Prime Minister Curtin to the UK and US to discuss Australian strategic interests.The re-direction of American troop policy had a direct effect on Australian manpower and usage. Blamey clashed with Curtin and the Secretary of the Department of Defence, F Shedden, over the size and manpower requirements for the AMF. Blamey looked to the operational effectiveness of the AMF in 1944 in New Guinea, around Wewak and on Bougainville and later in 1945 with the operation of Tarakan, Labuan and Balikpapan, to maintain Australia's presence in the lead up to the Japanese surrender. Aftermath: Blamey had shown throughout his command of Australian forces, firstly in the Middle East and in the SWPA, a strong grasp of the changing nature of modern warfare and the effective use of large scale combined operations. His administrative prowess had served his country well. Despite the accolades and his eminent position as the Australian representative at the official surrender of the Japanese in Tokyo in September 1945, Blamey was relieved of his command in early December of that year. He effectively retired from the Army on the 1 February 1946 and was transferred to the Reserve of Officers List. For his long and devoted service Blamey was made a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath in 1941, received the Greek Military Cross in the same year and was mentioned in despatches several times for his work in the Middle East. He later was awarded the Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire (1943), the American Distinguished Service Cross (1943), the Efficiency Decoration and the Grand Cross of the Order of the Oranje Nassau in 1946. Blamey spent his remaining years involved in various semi-official duties, including the Australian Battle Honours Committee in 1947, private business and writing. He took a keen interest in the establishment of what was later to become the Australian National University. He also was involved with the secretive anti-communist organisation, 'The Association.' His health failed in early 1950 and he was admitted to the Repatriation General Hospital at Heidelberg, Victoria in June of that year. Persuaded by the Prime Minister R G Menzies to re-enter the Citizen Military Forces General List, Blamey was promoted to the rank of Field Marshal on 8 June 1950. He received his Field Marshal's Baton from the Governor-General, William McKell, in hospital on the 16 September 1950. This made him the first and only Australian to hold that rank. Blamey died on the 27 May 1951 as a result of his long illness. He was accorded a State Funeral and was cremated at Fawkner General cemetery. Blamey is the subject of three biographies, two by John Hetherington. The first, Blamey: the biography of Field-Marshal Sir Thomas Blamey, was published in 1954. The second,Blamey: controversial soldier was released in 1973. The third,Blamey: the Commander in Chief by David Horner was released in 1998. He has been the subject of numerous books and magazine articles. He is also the subject of two sculptures. The first, by Daphne Mayo, was commissioned by the Memorial in 1948. The second, by Ray Ewers, was completed in 1960.
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Administrative files; Correspondence; Minute books
World War II; World war Two
Gallipoli; Greece; Libya; Middle East; Crete; Western Front