About William Birdwood
Field Marshal William Riddell Birdwood, 1st Baron Birdwood, GCB, GCSI, GCMG, GCVO, GBE, CIE, DSO (13 September 1865 – 17 May 1951) was a First World War British general who is best known as the commander of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) during the Gallipoli Campaign in 1915.
Youth and early career
Birdwood was born in Khadki, India and was educated in England at Clifton College, Bristol.
After attending the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, he began his military career in the infantry with the Royal Scots Fusiliers but quickly transferred to a cavalry regiment of the British Indian Army. In India between 1885 and 1899 he served with the 12th Lancers and Bengal Lancers, saw action on the North-West Frontier and was adjutant of the Viceroy's Bodyguard, his regimental base being Dehradun. He was married in 1894 and promoted to captain in 1896.
From 1899 to 1902 during the Boer War Birdwood served as military secretary on the staff of General Lord Kitchener, beginning a close association that continued in India while Kitchener was Commander-in-Chief, India. During the war he was Mentioned in Despatches five times. In 1908, he was given command of the Kohat Brigade on the North West Frontier.
He held the post of Quartermaster-General in India and was promoted to the rank of major-general in 1911. From 1912 until the outbreak of the First World War, Birdwood was the Secretary of the Indian Army Department and a member of the Governor-General's Legislative Council.
In November 1914, Birdwood was instructed by Kitchener to form an army corps from the Australian and New Zealand troops that were training in Egypt before moving to the Western Front. This Australian and New Zealand Army Corps was diverted to the campaign to capture the Gallipoli peninsula and carried out the landing at Anzac Cove on 25 April 1915.
Under Birdwood's leadership, the soldiers of the corps showed great courage and endurance but had been landed on the wrong beach and were too ill-equipped to overcome the obstacles that confronted them. Birdwood was wounded in the forehead on 14 May 1915 and remained on duty. The Anzac front at Gallipoli remained a stalemate for much of the campaign except for a brief period during the Battle of Sari Bair in August.
The one outstanding success of the campaign was the evacuation, starting in December. Although Ottoman troops would not attack enemies while evacuating the front. However, Birdwood was the only corps commander opposed to abandoning Gallipoli. In the campaign's final throes, following the dismissal of the commander-in-chief, General Sir Ian Hamilton, Birdwood briefly took over command of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force which was now responsible for the new front at Salonika as well. (Birdwood had been considered for command of the MEF when it was originally formed but because the commander of the French contingent was his senior in rank, Hamilton was appointed instead.)
Birdwood was promoted to lieutenant-general on 28 October 1915. On 19 November 1915, he took command of the Dardanelles Army, which contained ANZAC plus the British VIII Corps at Helles and British IX Corps at Suvla. While Birdwood managed the Dardanelles Army, the command of ANZAC passed to General Alexander Godley, commander of the New Zealand and Australian Division and head of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force.
In early 1916 the Australian and New Zealand contingents, back in Egypt, underwent reorganisation to incorporate the new units and reinforcements that had accumulated during 1915. ANZAC was disbanded to be replaced by two corps; I Anzac Corps and II Anzac Corps and Birdwood reverted to the command of II Anzac. Birdwood also assumed command of the AIF (that is, command of all Australian forces), a post originally held by Major-General Sir William Bridges who was killed at Gallipoli.
When I Anzac Corps became the first to depart for France, Birdwood, as senior corps commander, took over command, swapping with General Godley who assumed command of II Anzac Corps. In France, where I Anzac joined the fighting in the Battle of the Somme, Birdwood was bypassed by his senior army commander, General Hubert Gough, who directly influenced how the Australian divisions were to be utilised.
Birdwood was promoted to full general on 23 October 1917 but remained a corps commander. Normally a general holds an army command. However, in November the five Australian divisions were combined in a single corps, the Australian Corps, under Birdwood's command. This corps was the largest on the Western Front. Birdwood attained command of the British Fifth Army on 31 May 1918, with command of the Australian Corps passing to Lieutenant-General John Monash. Birdwood remained in command of the Fifth Army until 30 November 1918.
The next year, he toured Australia to great acclaim, and in February 1920 he laid the foundation stone for the Arch of Victory in Ballarat.
He commanded the Northern Army in India until 1925, when he was promoted to field marshal and made Commander-in-Chief of the British Indian Army, which he remained until 1930.
After leaving active service in 1930, Birdwood made a bid to become Governor-General of Australia. He had the backing of the King and the British government. However, the Australian Prime Minister James Scullin insisted that his Australian nominee Sir Isaac Isaacs be appointed. The King ultimately felt bound to accept the advice of the Prime Minister, but he did not disguise his reluctance and displeasure. The official proclamations of these appointments were usually phrased as "The King has been pleased to appoint ...", but on this occasion George V directed that it say merely "The King has appointed Sir Isaac Isaacs". This incident highlighted that Governors-General no longer primarily (if at all) represented the interests of the British government and confirmed the right of a Commonwealth Prime Minister to nominate the Governor-General of his choice.
He was appointed Master of Peterhouse, Cambridge on 20 April 1931, and resigned from this post in 1938. One of the buildings in the college is now named in his honour.
In 1935 he wrote for the Western Australian distance education magazine Our Rural Magazine alluding to the fact that he had two granddaughters using the system
In 1938 he was raised to the peerage in recognition of his wartime service as Baron Birdwood, of Anzac and of Totnes in the County of Devon (see victory title).
Birdwood died at Hampton Court Palace on 17 May 1951 and was buried at Twickenham Cemetery with full military honours. His field marshal's baton is in the Australian War Memorial.
Honours and awards