Lieutenant-Colonel Rowan Tracey is a military historian and trek leader with Adventure Kokoda. He recently presented the following article to the Royal United Services Institute:
General Sir Thomas Blamey was commander-in-chief of the Australian Military Forces during World War II. Tough and decisive, he did not resile from sacking ineffective senior commanders when the situation demanded. He has been widely criticised by more recent historians for his role in the sackings of Lieutenant-General S. F. Rowell, Major-General A. S. Allen and Brigadier A. W. Potts during the Kokoda Campaign of 1942. Rowan Tracey examines each sacking and concludes that Blamey’s actions in each case were justified.
On 16 September 1950, a small crowd assembled in the sunroom of the west wing of the Repatriation General Hospital at Heidelberg in Melbourne. The group consisted of official military representatives, wartime associates and personal guests of the central figure, who was wheelchair bound – Thomas Albert Blamey. Those present were concerned that Blamey’s ill health would not allow him to endure the ceremony that was about to follow. Although the governor-general, Sir William McKell, and the prime minister, Robert Menzies, were late in arriving from the airport to present Blamey with the baton of a field marshal of the British Army, Blamey’s strength held out and he was able to accept the baton from the governor-general. This minor but historic ceremony recognised Blamey’s service to Australia and he remains Australia’s highest ranking soldier.
Despite the recognition of Blamey by the Australian Government, his reputation has suffered in recent years. Accompanying the increased interest in the Kokoda campaign in Australia, numerous books and articles have been published on the subject. In otherwise balanced histories, Blamey has come under scathing criticism. On the other hand, the performance of other key participants has received little or no scrutiny. At the time of the withdrawal of the Australian troops along the Kokoda Trail in New Guinea, the senior commanders were Lieutenant-General Sydney Rowell (1st Australian Corps), Major-General Arthur Allen (7th Division) and Brigadier Arnold Potts (Maroubra Force, 21st Brigade). All three officers were relieved of their commands, but under different circumstances. (more…)