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Category: Returned Service Clubs

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General Sir John Gellibrand.


Legacy had its origins in Gallipoli, Palestine, France and Flanders in the Great War of 1914-18. 

Some of the men who returned from those battlefields felt their colleagues in business were failing to assist other returned men adequately. 

One of them who lived in Hobart decided to do something about it. His name was General Sir John Gellibrand.

In 1923 Gellibrand founded the Remembrance Club in Hobart. Its aim was to encourage returned men in business. A former 24 Battalion Officer, who had also served on Gellibrand's brigade staff, visited Hobart in August 1923. 

His name was Stanley Savige and Gellibrand urged him to set up a similar club in Melbourne.

Soon after Savige's return to Melbourne a group of ex servicemen met to farewell one of their number who was about to go to England and Savige used this time to bring up the suggestion of a club similar to Gellibrand's Remembrance Club.

 After several informal meetings the inaugural meeting was held in ANZAC House in Melbourne. For the next 26 years, due to Savige's commitment, energy and enthusiasm, his name, the Club and the movement he founded were inseparable.

The Paladin

A Life of Major-General Sir John Gellibrand by Peter S. Sadler 

This book is a very good addition to the Army Military History series. It focuses on the life, and particularly the military career, of Sir John Gellibrand, but also covers both his early life and his post-military career.

The book reduces to their proper scale some myths about Sir John. Having seen him described as a Tasmanian apple farmer who became one of the First AIF’s best generals, I was interested to note that he spent less than two years as an orchardist between his separation from the British Army in 1912 and his appointment to the First AIF in August 1914. I suspect that the nineteen and a half years as a regular officer may well have had more influence on his AIF performance than the 18 months as an apple farmer!

But what would be the reaction now of an officer who was still a Captain after such an extended period of Regular service? Gellibrand seems to have been sustained during this period (and other difficult periods of his life) by his ideal of the Paladins, who were "not leaders of the nation so much as exemplary public servants". His image of them "was not on of super-men, physically, mentally or morally, but rather of men without reproach, positive doers …" These are ideals to which all public employees, not just military personnel, should aspire.

The author makes an attempt to compare the two Sir Johns (Monash and Gellibrand), and suggests that Gellibrand, in different circumstances, might have been a competitor for the command of the Australian Corps in 1918. However, the comparison ignores the very factor that caused Gellibrand to miss out on a divisional command in 1917 – the health problems, including a certain psychological fragility, that plagued him for much of his life. The argument therefore is interesting, but not really convincing. Gellibrand clearly showed great skill in the commands he held, but he also seemed to lack the physical and psychological robustness needed to sustain a commander during extended periods of action. This problem was also evident in his post-war life.

One area where the author is convincing about Gellibrand is in his assessment of Gellibrand the prophet (but one who suffered from the curse of Cassandra in not being believed). Given current concerns about maintaining an Army of a suitable size, his comment on the Squires report of 1939 "They will give us a Regular Army, and at the same time make it impossible to have an Army" has a certain resonance. The intense dislike of the Sandhurst graduate Gellibrand for the concept of a select regular army officers school, because he believed the officers produced stood aloof from the nation, also has its resonance in the 1995 Parliamentary report on ADFA, an organisation which one of the Committee members described as a "military nunnery". Truly, a prophet is not without honour …

In summary, a good book, both for its perspective on Australian military history, and for the insight it gives to a man who was once well known, but now (except for a street name in the Canberra suburb of Campbell) has largely been forgotten. Highly recommended.

Reviewed by: John Donovan, Department of Defence


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Digger History:  an unofficial history of the Australian & New Zealand Armed Forces