I have some web pages with biographies of the Great war generals. Occasionally I get family members contacting me. There's also people asking permision to use them. I have told them that most of the personal information on the generals is just paraphrased from the Australian Dictionary of Biography and only the Great War related material is truly mine but they prefer to lift it in toto.
Lately, though, there have been a couple of these kind of emails, possibly related to David Horner's recent proposal to erect a statue of the great man (it wouldn't hurt sales of his book either):
Re: Field Marshal Sir Thomas Blamey
I have just read your biography on the diggerhistory website. I have recently read 2 books relating to the campaign in New Guinea. My question, out of curiosity and as an avid student of Australian military history, is why are yiou so generous in your precis about this man?
By "your biography" I tend to think that he means the biography of the field marshal and not of myself. (Actually, I didn't even know that it was on the diggerhistory site.)
And the email comes from an expert on the subject. He's read two whole books on the subject, which is two more than Victoria Beckham.
Whereas my familiarity with the generals comes from reading their own writing in their own hand. And my biographies are military ones. They examine generalship. So the poor generals get the severe comments. Now, I am aware that Monash (for example) was controversial because of his German origin, his Jewish religion and the fact that he kept a mistress. None of these factors weighs in my estimation of him as great general, which is not to say that I condone any criticism of Monash whatsoever on the basis of these personal factors because frankly I don't.
In the case of Blamey, I have read through his staff work, his plans for the attacks on Pozieres and Hamel and other battles. In the Second World War, he was in command, which I regard as a more severe test than staff posts, however important.
One example of Blamey as a commander would be the battle for Wau. Blamey knows that the Japanese are planning to reinforce New Guinea because the codebreakers have cracked the shipping codes. But he doesn't know what their objective is because they haven't broken the Army codes - yet. Now another general might have waited and seen how the campaign developed - whether the Japanese objective was Wau or Buna. Not Blamey. Satisfying himself that the defences of Buna are adequate, he starts the 17th Infantry Brigade - his only reserve - moving from Milne Bay to Wau. They actually start moving two days before the Japanese set sail from Rabaul. They then fly from Port Moresby up to Wau. The deployment to Wau by air is interupted by bad weather and they only just get there in time to turn back the Japanese. Blamey wins the battle by getting there first with the most men. He demonstrated boldness and resolution and an excellent grasp of logistics. He therefore won a battle that most generals would have lost. That is the sort of thing that forms my opinion of Blamey as a general.
Blamey, like Monash, had his personal predilections that some moralists of the time disapproved of. He liked his booze, he liked partying, he liked female company. He was uncompromising in his dealing with organisations like the elite Melbourne Club with its anti-semitism and degummed officers for anti-semitic behaviour. He was not a public relations general.
During the Second World War he relieved some senior officers of their commands and benched some others. I would regard them as justified but there were political ramifications at the time and of course there are historians who like to refight these sort of stoushes.
Few officers cared so much for the welfare of their men. I could spend all night cataloging instances of this. However, many of them mistrusted him and therefore his motives.
But what would I know anyhow?