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Field marshal is the highest rank of the Australian Army and was created as a direct equivalent of the British military rank of field marshal. A five-star rank, the equivalent ranks in the other armed services are admiral of the fleet and marshal of the Royal Australian Air Force. The subordinate army rank is general.

Lieutenant-General W.R. Birdwood near Hill 60, Gallipoli. Photograph by C.E.W. Bean, October 1915.

Lord Birdwood, 1925[edit | edit source]

Field Marshal Sir William Birdwood (later created The 1st Baron Birdwood) was a British Army officer who commanded the First Australian Imperial Force (1st AIF) in World War I. As such, he was made a general in the AIF in 1917, and in the Australian Army in 1920. Despite his British origins, "Birdy", as he was known to the Australian soldiers, was a popular and respected commander and his promotion was seen as reward for his effective command of the AIF. When he was promoted to the rank of field marshal in the British Army in 1925, Birdwood was also made a field marshal in the Australian Army.[1] His baton is kept in the Australian War Memorial, but is not on display.

Sir Thomas Blamey, 1951[edit | edit source]

Field Marshal Sir Thomas Blamey - Relief from Blamey Square, Canberra.

Sir Thomas Blamey was the first and is the only Australian-born field marshal. He was promoted to the rank on the insistence of the then Australian Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies in 1951. Blamey served in World War I in the First Australian Imperial Force (AIF), from the horrors of trench warfare at the ANZAC positions at Gallipoli to duties as chief of staff to Lieutenant General Sir John Monash, Commander of the Australian Corps in France and Belgium. Blamey attained the rank of brigadier general by the war's end. During the inter-war years he served as chief commissioner of the Victoria Police. During the 1920s and 1930s he expressed public concern over the state of the Australian Military Forces due to financial restrictions brought about by the Great Depression.

Later, during World War II he commanded the 2nd AIF. He was promoted to general in 1941 and became Commander-in-Chief of the Australian Military Forces and Commander of Allied Land Forces in the South West Pacific Area under the overall command of United States General Douglas MacArthur. Blamey attended Japan's ceremonial surrender in Tokyo Bay on 3 September 1945 and signed the Instrument of Surrender on behalf of Australia. He later personally accepted the Japanese surrender at Morotai. In his address to the surrendering Japanese commander, Blamey declared: "...in accepting your surrender, I do not recognise you as an honourable foe...". This speech is also on display in the Australian War Memorial, Canberra.

The then British Chief of the Imperial General Staff (CIGS), Sir William Slim, himself a field marshal (and later Governor-General of Australia), resisted Menzies' recommendation for Blamey's promotion, on the grounds that Dominion generals could not be made field marshals. At the time the CIGS was the final authority in the then British Commonwealth for such promotions. Menzies pointed out that Field Marshal Jan Smuts was a Dominion general. Slim countered by saying (untruthfully) that Blamey was a retired officer, and retired officers could not be promoted to field marshal. Menzies got around this restriction by recalling Blamey from retirement. Blamey was, at the time of his promotion, seriously ill and mostly bed-ridden in the Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital. He was presented with his field marshal's baton at a ceremoney held in the sunroom at the Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital by the then Governor-General, William McKell. Blamey died three months later.


Blamey's field marshal's baton is on display in the Second World War galleries at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. It is about 40 centimetres (16 inches) long and at its top has a golden mount with two rings of roses, thistles and shamrocks surmounted by a miniature figure of Saint George mounted on his horse and battling a dragon with his lance. The miniature is about 8 centimetres (3 inches) high. The shaft of the baton is covered in scarlet velvet inlaid with a succession of golden lions passant along its length and around its circumference. The pommel (bottom end) of the baton is ornate solid gold with the details of the presentation to Blamey engraved on the base. It is identical to those of all field marshals of the United Kingdom since Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington in 1813, all of which have been made by the same firm, R. & S. Garrard & Co, Crown Jewellers, of London. The design is based upon that of the Marshal of France, the baton of Marshal Jean-Baptiste Jourdan captured by Wellington at Battle of Vitoria being used as a model. Blamey also appears in the list of field marshals of the British Army.

Duke of Edinburgh, 1954[edit | edit source]

Currently, the only living Australian field marshal is HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, who was promoted to the rank of field marshal in the Australian Army on 1 April 1954[citation needed]—over a year after he attained that rank in the British Army on 15 January 1953. However, as consort of Queen Elizabeth II, the duke's rank is purely ceremonial—he has no command or control role in the Australian Defence Force (ADF), and is not part of the ADF's operational structure.

Prince Philip first paraded in Australia in field marshal's uniform, complete with baton, in Canberra on 17 February 1954 when he and the Queen attended a meeting of 4,000 Australian ex-servicemen in front of (Old) Parliament House.[2]

At the base of the memorial statue of King George V, the Queen and Prince Philip were greeted by presidents of ex-service organisations, after which they talked to 100 disabled men and proceeded to slowly drive through the ranks. Later the same day, the prince wore the uniform when he attended the presentation of new colours ceremony at the Royal Military College Duntroon, conducted by Her Majesty the Queen. During the proceedings, described in contemporary accounts as "poignant" and "spectacular", the new colours replaced those presented to the Royal Military College on the same parade ground by her late father King George VI in 1927.[3]

Current protocol[edit | edit source]

Only the Governor-General of Australia, on the recommendation of the Prime Minister of Australia, can appoint officers to the rank of field marshal. The badge of rank is St. Edward's Crown mounted above a two crossed batons that are circled by a wreath of oak leaves.

After the Duke of Edinburgh, currently the most senior rank held in the Australian Army is lieutenant general, which is held by the Chief of Army. Other three-star positions available to Australian Army Officers are Vice Chief of the Defence Force (VCDF), Chief of Joint Operations (CJOPS), and Chief of Capability Development (CCDG).

The rank of general in the Australian Army is reserved for times when an army officer is appointed as Chief of the Defence Force (CDF). In recent years this rank has been held by General Peter Cosgrove, who retired in 2005, and incumbent CDF General David Hurley.

See also[edit | edit source]

Notes[edit | edit source]

  1. A. J. Hill, 'Birdwood, William Riddell (Baron Birdwood) (1865 - 1951)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, Melbourne University Press, 1979, pp 293–296.
  2. Australian News & Information Bureau. Royal Visit 1954. Angus & Robertson LTD, 1954, p22.
  3. Australian News & Information Bureau. Royal Visit 1954. Angus & Robertson LTD, 1954, p17.

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