Guide to the Papers of Lieutenant General Sir Leslie Morshead




Collection of personal papers, official correspondence, operational records, administrative papers, reports and addresses documenting Morshead's experiences in both World Wars. The strength of the collection is in its coverage of Morshead's Middle East campaigns, particularly of Tobruk and El Alamein. There are many operational papers and official correspondence with other senior officers. First World War papers have quite detailed descriptions of several major engagements, but not the breadth of information that the Second World War Middle East papers. South West Pacific Area papers are the weakest part in the collection. Personal papers and correspondence are a much smaller part of the collection, and do not give much insight into his thoughts and feelings. There is quite a good collection of annotated, official photographs and a comprehensive number of post war speeches and addresses.

SERIES 1: Personal correspondence 1939 - 1948 - Second World War era correspondence and congratulatory messages concerning Morshead's appointments and victories. Includes one letter to his wife on the eve of the Battle of El Alamein.; SERIES 2: Official correspondence1916-1947 - Correspondence and congratulatory messages from figures such as Prime Minister Curtin and General Montgomery concerning successful campaigns in North Africa and New Guinea. Includes routine operational correspondence generated by 9 Division, as well as some correspondence between Morshead and the media in Australia.; SERIES 3: Diaries and notebooks1915-1942 - Diaries and notebooks mainly covering organisation of AIF early in the Second World War. Also includes one diary from the First World War, 1915.;SERIES 4: Financial papers1938-1943 - Private financial papers kept by Morshead during the Second World War.;SERIES 5: Operational papers1914-1918 - First World War operational papers kept by Morshead while commanding 33 Battalion on the Western Front. Mainly concerning Messines and 3rd Ypres in 1917, and Proyart (8 August) 1918.;SERIES 6: Operational papers, Middle East 1939-1945 - Second World War operational papers concerning 9 Division in the Middle East. Includes operational orders and staff instructions for Tobruk and El Alamein battles, as well as intelligence reports, situation reports, orders of battle and messages to and from senior commanders.; SERIES 7: Operational papers, South West Pacific Area1939-1945- Administrative papers from Corps HQ during campaigns in the South West Pacific Area. Includes translations of captured enemy documents, plans for various operations, and Morshead's copy of II Corps war diary.; SERIES 8: Administrative papers1943-1945 - Miscellaneous administrative documents concerning affairs in New Guinea, as well as documents outlining plans for the British Borneo Civil Administration Unit (BBCAU).; SERIES 9: Speeches and addresses1945-1947; SERIES 10: Reports1944-1952 - Post war reports for the War Service Homes Commission and on a special allowance for Australian POWs.;SERIES 11: Printed material1941-1947 - Magazine articles and newspaper cuttings relating to Morsheads victories, particularly in the Middle East. Published both during the war and shortly after.; SERIES 12: Photographs1941-1949 - Morshead's personal copies of official photographs taken in England, the Middle East and SWPA during the Second World War.; SERIES 13: Miscellaneous1941-1946 - Miscellaneous Second World War souvenir items including cartoons, poems and songs as well as programs for performances and a troopship serial. Also includes 'recording notices' relating to postwar memorials to Australians in the SWPA. ; PR 00368, SERIES 1: Miscellaneous1934-1962 - Numerous papers relating to Morshead's post war activities. Includes official duties for defence and the inquiry into the Malayan Campaign of 1942. Of a more personal nature, are numerous typed and handwritten notes for speeches, correspondence with the Orient Line, andnewpaper cuttings regarding Morshead's death and funeral.

Leslie James Morshead was born on 18 September, 1889 at Ballarat East, Victoria, the sixth child of parents William and Mary Eliza Morshead. He attended Mount Pleasant State School where he captained both the cricket and football teams. Morshead later attended Melbourne Teachers' College, and after gaining his qualifications, taught at schools in regional Victoria and New South Wales. In 1914 prior to the outbreak of war, he was teaching in Melbourne. In addition to his teaching role, he commanded the local cadet corps. First World War: In September 1914, Morshead was appointed Lieutenant in the 2nd Battalion, AIF. Soon promoted to Captain, he took part in the Gallipoli landings in April 1915, and subsequent actions at Baby 700 and Lone Pine where he was wounded. Morshead returned to Australia briefly while recovering from his wounds and illness, but by 1916 was back in England . Morshead's skill as a commander had not gone unnoticed, for he was promoted again in April 1916, this time to Lieutenant-Colonel, and given command of the 33rd Battalion to lead in France. During the next two years, Morshead continued to impress senior officers with his Battalion's performance in battles such as Messines, Passchendaele, Villers Bretonneux and Amiens. He was mentioned in despatches six times, awarded the CMG, DSO and the French Legion of Honour. At the end of hostilities in November 1918, Morshead was assigned to the AIF demobilisation staff based in London. By December the following year, he had himself returned to Australia. Between the wars:Morshead's military appointment officially ended in March 1920. In the year that followed, he considered a life on the land, bought a block of land and worked as a jackeroo, but soon decided it was not for him and returned to Melbourne. On 17 November 1921 he married Myrtle Catherine Hay Woodside. By 1924, Morshead was working for the Orient Line, which took him to Sydney, Brisbane and London. By 1936 he had risen to the position of Sydney branch manager . The following year, he visited London again and while there, observed British military exercises. Morshead had been active in the CMF with apromotion to colonel in 1933 and temporary Brigadier in 1938. Second World War: At the outbreak of the Second World War, Morshead was appointed to the Second AIF and given command of 18 Brigade. The Brigade accompanied by some other units was first sent to England in May 1940 where they remained for five months until the threat of a German invasion had passed. By January 1941, Morshead had been appointed CBE and moved to the Middle East. In February he was promoted to Brigadier-General and given command of 9 Division, AIF. In the following months the Allies were forced to retreat under the onslaught of Rommel's Afrika Korps. By April, Morshead's division supported by an assortment of other allied troops, were in Tobruk, ready to face a long siege. Morshead was given command of the entire fortress and set about ensuring the defences were as strong as possible. The defence of Tobruk was to be his most famous battle, for his troops successfully repulsed strong attacks from German and Italian forces until relieved in October 1941. This stubborn resistance denied Axis forces the port they badly wanted to supply further offensives towards Egypt and the Suez Canal. During this time, Morshead's reputation among his troops for being a tough disciplinarian earned him the nickname ""Ming the Merciless,"" but this seemed to be balanced by a well earned respect as a capable leader and an appreciation that he stood up for his men's best interests. After Tobruk, Morshead and 9 Division remained in the Middle East after most other AIF units had been transferred to the Australia and the Southwest Pacific. He was appointed KBE in 1942 and promoted to Lieutenant-General. His division played an important and distinguished role in the pivotal battles of El Alamein towards the end of 1942, which finally turned the tide in North Africa. By February 1943, Morshead and 9 Division had returned to Australia to prepare for action against the Japanese in New Guinea. This time he was given command of a larger unit, the Australian II Corps and was involved in the battles around Finschhafen and Lae. By November 1943 he was elevated to command the entire New Guinea Force and the Second Australian Army. He then was appointed commander of the Australian I Corps in July 1944, which was stationed back in Australia for training. Morshead then led I Corps through the final campaigns in Borneo (notably the amphibious landings at Balikpapan), until the end of the war. Post War: Immediately afters war's end, Morshead chaired a military court of inquiry into the Malayan campaign and the fall of Singapore. Declining offers for military and diplomatic posts, he returned to employment with the Orient Line, becoming Australian General Manager in 1948. He maintained connections with the military, giving lectures to young officers and making speeches at reunions for 9 Division. Morshead also held various board positions with prominent companies and in 1957 was appointed to chair a committee reviewing the organisation and functioning of the Defence Department. Soon after, Morshead's health began to fail as he battled cancer. He died on 26 September, 1959. Morshead was given a military funeral, the cortege passing through streets lined with veterans from 9 Division.

Contact Senior Curator, Private Records, Australian War Memorial.

Open - Contact Senior Curator, Private Records, Australian War Memorial.

Selected additional and related material available at using the search terms described under 'subject _local'. Copies of many items from the Memorial's collections may also be purchased @


18 Australian Mixed Brigade; 1914-1918; 1939-1945; 33 Battalion; 9 Division; I and II Corps; Military papers

Diaries; Personal correspondence

Lieutenant General Sir Leslie Morshead

Coverage Spatial

Western Front (France); El Alamein; Borneo; New Guinea; England; North Africa; Tobruk

Coverage Temporal



Related Collections


2012-05-30 23:43

2011-06-08 12:32