News National Many military links for GGs

Many military links for GGs

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Of Australia’s 25 governors general before Peter Cosgrove, only three were long-term career army officers.

Several others, however, had distinguished war records. And, as was common in the upper reaches of British society a century or more ago, some combined military careers with politics and other forms of public service.

Alexander Hore-Ruthven, Earl of Gowrie, who was governor-general from 1936 to 1945, was the first career military man.

He won a Victoria Cross as a young officer in the Sudan campaign of 1898, rescuing a comrade in the midst of a Dervish charge. He was severely wounded at Gallipoli and finished World War I as a brigadier general.

Field Marshal Sir William Slim (GG 1953-60) was a regular soldier from the outbreak of World War I. He too was wounded at Gallipoli and in 1918 won a Military Cross in Mesopotamia.

His military fame came, however, when he commanded the British army in Burma during World War II.

The third career man, and only Australian, was the 24th – Major General Michael Jeffery (2003-08).

Michael Jeffery
Former governor-general Major General Michael Jeffrey inspects the federal guard at his farewell parade. Photo: AAP

Jeffery, who won a Military Cross in Vietnam, was rushed into the position after the resignation of Peter Hollingworth.

Although earnest and hardworking, he struggled to be noticed in a period in which Prime Minister John Howard was taking over many of the more ceremonial roles, particularly military ones, that had traditionally been the preserve of the viceroy.

Several other governors general came to the position with strong military attachments.

William Humble Ward, Earl of Dudley, (GG 1908-11) was a British officer in the Boer War and World War I.

Viscount Dunrossil (1960-61) won a Military Cross in France in World War I and his successor Viscount De L’Isle, was awarded a VC for his actions at Anzio in World War II.

Richard Casey was primarily a politician before going to Yarralumla in 1965, but he’d fought at Gallipoli and on the Western Front, winning an MC and a DSO.

Finally there was the unusual case of Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester, who was governor-general 1945-47. He was an officer for 18 years and returned to active duty in World War II. He was slightly wounded in France in 1940.

But as the third son of King George V, his primary career was being a royal.