Leslie Morshead bigraphy, stories - Australian soldier with a distinguished career in both world wars

Leslie Morshead : biography

18 September 1889 - 26 September 1959

Lieutenant General Sir Leslie James Morshead KCB, KBE, CMG, DSO, ED (18 September 188926 September 1959) was an Australian soldier, teacher, businessman, and farmer, with a distinguished military career that spanned both world wars. Most notably, during the Second World War he commanded the Australian and British troops at the Siege of Tobruk and at the Second Battle of El Alamein, achieving decisive victories over the Afrika Korps, led by Erwin Rommel.

When the First World War broke out in August 1914, Morshead was working as a teacher. He resigned his teaching position and his commission in the Cadet Corps, and travelled to Sydney to enlist as a private in the 2nd Infantry Battalion of the First Australian Imperial Force. He was commissioned as a lieutenant in September. He landed at Anzac on 25 April 1915, and his battalion made the farthest advance of any Australian unit that day. Invalided to Australia, he became commander of the 33rd Infantry Battalion, which he led on the Western Front at Messines, Passchendaele, First Battle of Villers-Bretonneux and Amiens.

Between the wars he made a successful career with the Orient Line, and remained active in the part-time Militia, commanding battalions and brigades. In 1939, he was appointed to command the 18th Infantry Brigade of the 6th Division in the Second Australian Imperial Force. In 1941, he became commander of the 9th Division, which he led in the Siege of Tobruk in 1941 and the Second Battle of El Alamein in 1942. He returned to Australia in 1943, where he was appointed to command the II Corps, which he led during the New Guinea campaign. In 1945, he commanded the I Corps in the Borneo campaign. A strict and demanding officer, he came to be referred to by his soldiers humorously as "Ming the Merciless," and later simply as "Ming," after the villain in Flash Gordon comics.


Second World War


On 6 October 1939, Morshead was selected by Blamey to command the 18th Infantry Brigade in the new 6th Division. This brigade was composed of four battalions from the smaller states, and would have been a natural assignment for a regular officer had Prime Minister Robert Menzies not restricted commands to senior posts to Militia officers, few of whom had much experience of the Army outside their home states. Morshead met with Blamey on 13 October to select officers for the new brigade. Like the other brigadiers, he was given a regular officer as Brigade Major, in this case Major Ragnar Garrett.

Morshead formally enlisted in the Second Australian Imperial Force (AIF) on 10 October 1939 and was given the AIF serial number NX8. He was given the rank of colonel and made temporary brigadier three days later. A delay in preparing 18th Infantry Brigade's camp in the Hunter Region meant that it was not concentrated there until December. In the meantime its battalions trained in their home states. After the 16th Infantry Brigade departed for Palestine in January 1940, the 18th Infantry Brigade moved into its vacated accommodation at Ingleburn, New South Wales. As a consequence, its training proceeded more slowly than that of the 16th and 17th Infantry Brigades.

The 18th Infantry Brigade finally embarked from Sydney on the Mauretania on 5 May 1940 but en route was diverted to the United Kingdom owing to the dangerous military situation there following the Battle of France. It moved into camps on the Salisbury Plain, where the 3rd Division had trained back in 1916. The Australian force there under Major General Henry Wynter was poorly equipped but the 18th Infantry Brigade was nonetheless given an important role in the defence of Southern England. In September 1940, Wynter was informed that his force would become the nucleus of a new 9th Division, which he was appointed to command. Morshead and his 18th Infantry Brigade embarked for the Middle East on 15 November, reaching Alexandria on 31 December. Morshead was made a Commander of Order of the British Empire on 1 January 1941. Before his other two brigades could arrive from England and Australia, Wynter became seriously ill. Blamey decided to send him home and appointed Morshead to command the 9th Division on 29 January 1941.

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