Field Marshal (Australia) - Sir Thomas Blamey, 1951

Sir Thomas Blamey, 1951

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.

Baton

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.

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