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SIR JOHN GELLIBRAND, SOLDIER, FARMER, POLITICIAN, LEGACY ADVOCATE

The pair of the OS perfined brownish-lake 1½d Parliament House, Canberra stamps are postmarked PARLIAMENT HOUSE/ 9 MY 27/ F.C.T (the date of issue) and it is addressed to Lady Gellibrand, Lindisfarne, Tasmania (Figure 1).

The flap on the reverse has a printed blue Australia Coat of Arms, over HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, and note the headless kangaroo (Figure 2).

Sir John Gellibrand, soldier and farmer, was born on 5 December 1872 at Ouse, Tasmania, son of Thomas Lloyd Gellibrand, grazier, landowner and parliamentarian, and his wife Isabella, née Brown. Soon after her husband's death in 1874 Mrs Gellibrand took her seven children to England. John was educated in England and Germany, where the family lived for a time, and at the King's School, Canterbury, England, in 1888-89. At 17 he passed the Royal Indian Engineering College entrance examination and he decided on a military career and, after entering the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, in September 1892, gained the highest marks at the final examinations a year later. Commissioned as a second lieutenant, he was promoted lieutenant in 1895, having the previous year qualified as an interpreter in German and French. On 27 July 1894, at the parish church, Ilkley, Yorkshire, he had married Elizabeth Helena Breul.

In the South African War Gellibrand commanded a company in the operations of February 1900 leading to the relief of Ladysmith, and in March served in Natal. In December 1906, soon after his return to England, the 3rd Battalion was disbanded. Gellibrand was selected to attend the staff college at Camberley; he graduated in 1907 and was posted next year to Ceylon. He returned to Tasmania in June 1912. He bought an orchard at Risdon and settled there with his wife and young family in February 1913, working assiduously. He also had a tenth share in Cleveland, the property his father had owned. On the outbreak of war in August 1914 he was appointed on 20 August by General Sir William Birdwood, who granted his request and sent him temporarily to the A.I.F. depots in the United Kingdom, where he overhauled the entire organization and recommended drastic changes in the training syllabus of the several arms. The task completed, he went to France in November 1917 to command the 12th Brigade. At the end of May 1918, when Lieutenant-General Sir John Monash became general officer commanding the Australian Corps, Gellibrand was promoted major general and succeeded him in the 3rd Division, which he commanded with outstanding success in the final operations along the Somme from Hamel to the Hindenburg line.

With every new appointment he had enhanced his reputation as a leader, although he was not always popular with some of his superiors. Birdwood recognized the extraordinary influence Gellibrand had over officers and men but disliked his outspokenness and unconventional dress. The historian of the 12th Battalion wrote that he not only possessed a thorough knowledge of infantry training, but was 'gifted with a wonderful understanding of human nature, and was able to get the maximum amount of work out of his Battalion without apparent effort'.

For his work at Anzac Gellibrand was awarded the Distinguished Service Order and mentioned in dispatches; in France he received a Bar to the D.S.O. for his service at Bullecourt, was appointed C.B. and later K.C.B., and was several times mentioned in dispatches. He was also awarded the American Distinguished Service Medal, the French Croix de Guerre and the Légion d'honneur.

The war over, he returned to his farm at Risdon but was hardly back there, when in August 1919 the Tasmanian government offered him the post of public service commissioner, which he accepted 'with reservation'. In characteristic fashion Gellibrand made a point of personally looking into the conditions of the service. Twelve months later he resigned when the government rejected his proposals for the reclassification of the public service. Shortly before this the Victorian government invited him to become chief commissioner of police in that State. He took up the appointment in August 1920, but resigned in February 1922 when the reforms he recommended were shelved.

At the end of 1925 Gellibrand was elected to the House of Representatives as the Nationalist member for Denison, but he was defeated at the general elections of 1928, and again in 1929. For the next eight years he worked diligently and quietly at Risdon. In 1936, at the age of 63, he decided to settle in Victoria, mainly to be near his son who was then on the land at Yea. Selling Risdon and Garth, he bought Balaclava, at Murrindindi, near Yea, to which he moved early in 1937—'100 years after my grandfather's intention to do the same', as he noted in his diary.

From the time he left the A.I.F. in 1919 Gellibrand had taken a deep interest in public affairs, and particularly in Australia's defence. But perhaps his finest monument was his untiring work for the Legacy movement, the formation of which he inspired when he founded the Remembrance Club in Hobart in 1922. From its original aims, mainly to guard the interests of ex-soldiers, the Legacy clubs extended their activities to caring for widows and children of deceased ex-servicemen.

From 1938, when the Australian government began to think seriously of rearmament after years of neglect of defence, Gellibrand was consulted several times by prime minsters Joseph Lyons and Sir Robert Menzies, and various cabinet ministers; in the next eighteen months he prepared a series of papers, wrote articles for the press in a nation-wide campaign to double the size of the militia, and spoke at recruiting meetings. For some months after the outbreak of war he contributed articles to the daily press and other journals—including 'Defence in dreamland', under the pseudonym 'A General of the A.I.F.' in four issues of Reveille (January-April 1940), as well as articles for the newly formed Department of Information. Recurrent ill health forced him to give up this work in 1940.

Survived by his wife, a son and two daughters, Gellibrand died of cerebro-vascular disease at Balaclava, Murrindindi, on 3 June 1945 and was buried in Yea cemetery. A photo of Sir John Gellibrand is seen in Figure 3.

This paper is a considerably reduced format of the entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
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