William Birdwood

William Birdwood books and biography


William Birdwood, 1st Baron Birdwood


William Riddell Birdwood, 1st Baron Birdwood
13 September 1865 – 17 May 1951

Lieutenant General W.R. Birdwood near Hill 60, Gallipoli. Photograph by C.E.W. Bean, October 1915.
Nickname Birdy
Place of birth Kirkee, India
Place of death Hampton Court Palace
Allegiance British Army
Years of service 1883 – 1930
Rank Field Marshal
Battles/wars Second Boer War
First World War
Awards *Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath
*Knight Grand Commander of the Order of the Star of India
*Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George
*Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order
*Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire
*Companion of the Order of the Indian Empire
*Distinguished Service Order
*Mention in Despatches

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 general who is best known as the commander of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) during the Battle of Gallipoli in 1915.


Youth and early career

Birdwood was born in Kirkee, 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 a number of cavalry regiments, saw action on the North-West Frontier and was adjutant of the Viceroy's Bodyguard.

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.

After graduating from the Royal Military College, Birdwood was transferred to the Indian Cavalry, where he served in the 12th Lancers and Bengal Lancers. He was married in 1894 and promoted to Captain in 1896. He served on Lord Kitchner's Staff during the Boer War and was promoted to Major in 1900. During the war he was Mentioned in Dispatches five times.

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 were too ill-equipped and inexperienced to overcome the obstacles that confronted them, particularly as they had been landed on the wrong beach. Birdwood was wounded in the forehead on 14th 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; 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 General Sir William Bridges who was killed at Gallipoli.

Western Front

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 General John Monash.

During service with the AIF Birdwood was presented with the dignity of Grand Officier (of which order?) on 17 January 1916. On 22 February 1916 he was awarded the Legion d'Honneur and Croix de Guerre by French President Raymond Poincaré, with the approval of King George V. Albert I, King of the Belgians, conferred the rank of Grand Officier of the Ordre de la Couronne (Crown Order) on 23 February 1917. On 11 March 1918 Birdwood was awarded the Belgian Croix de Guerre ('War Cross') and decorated with the Order of the Nile (2nd Class) by the then Sultan Fuad I of Egypt, on 16 April 1918. On 11 March 1919 Birdwood was awarded the French Croix de Guerre avec Palme.

Post war

Birdwood had been knighted in 1916, and in 1919 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).

The next year, he toured Australia to great acclaim and February 1920 the foundation stone for the Arch of Victory at the extreme west end of Sturt Street, Ballarat 3350 is laid by General Birdwood

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 retirement from the army 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.

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.

Places named after

Blumberg in the Adelaide Hills was renamed Birdwood in 1917.

The soldier settler village of Birdwoodton (near Mildura) was named after him when founded circa 1920.

Birdwood Road in the city of Lower Hutt, New Zealand.


  • Bean, C.E.W.. Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918, Angus & Robertson
  • William Riddell Birdwood's AIF service record, available in the Australian National Archives as a digital image

This article might use material from a Wikipedia article, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.

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