Brudenell White

Sir Cyril Brudenell Bingham White

General Brudenell White in March 1940
Born 23 September 1876
St Arnaud, Victoria
Died 13 August 1940(1940-08-13) (aged 63)
Canberra, Australian Capital Territory
Allegiance Australia
Service/branch Australian Army
Years of service 1896–1923
Rank General
Commands held Chief of the General Staff

Second Boer War
First World War

Second World War
Awards Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath
Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George
Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order
Distinguished Service Order
Mentioned in Despatches (8)
Other work Chairman of the Public Service Board

General Sir Cyril Brudenell Bingham White KCB, KCMG, KCVO, DSO (23 September 1876 – 13 August 1940) was a senior officer in the Australian Army, who served as Chief of the General Staff from 1920 to 1923 and again from March to August 1940, when he was killed in the Canberra air disaster.[1]

Early life and career

White was born in St Arnaud, Victoria, on 23 September 1876. He joined the colonial militia force in Queensland in 1896, and served in the Second Boer War with the Australian Commonwealth Horse.[2] In 1901 he became a founding member of the new Australian Army, and in 1906 was the first Australian officer to attend the British Army staff college. In 1912 he returned to Australia and became Director of Military Operations, at a time when Andrew Fisher's Labor government was expanding Australia's defence capacity.

First World War

When the First World War broke out in August 1914, White supervised the first contingents of the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) to go the front.[3] At Gallipoli, he was chief of staff to Major General Sir William Bridges and then to William Birdwood, gaining the rank of brigadier general. After the evacuation from Gallipoli which he masterminded as "The Silence Ruse", he was Brigadier General, General Staff of I ANZAC Corps in France. In the battle for the Pozières Heights in late July 1916 which ended in failure, the commander of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) on the Western Front, General Sir Douglas Haig, found fault with Birdwood and White. White stood up to Haig and pointed out that whatever mistakes had been made, the commander-in-chief had been misinformed in several particulars, which White then specified "in detail, item by item".[1] Haig was so impressed that when he had finished he placed his hand on White's shoulder claiming, "I dare say you're right, young man."[1]

During 1917 the value of the Australian troops was being more and more appreciated, but among the troops themselves there was some feeling that they were being too often sacrificed through the mistakes of the higher command. By September White had become convinced that as far as possible piecemeal operations must be avoided, that too great advances should not be attempted, and that there must be a proper use of artillery barrage. These tactics were successfully applied in the Battle of Menin Road on 20 September 1917, and in later thrusts.

Early in 1918, White, realizing the difficulties of repatriation at the end of the war, raised the problem of what would have to be done while the men were waiting for shipping. This led to the educational scheme afterwards adopted. In May, Birdwood and White, at the request of General Sir Henry Rawlinson, commander of the British Fourth Army, prepared plans for an offensive but these were shelved in the meanwhile. When Birdwood was given command of the British Fifth Army, the choice of his successor in command of the Australian Corps lay between Monash and White. Monash was White's senior and, though White's reputation stood very high, it was impossible to pass over so capable and successful an officer as Monash. White was given the important position of Major General, General Staff of Birdwood's army. It was a happy combination, for, though Birdwood was a great leader, he was less interested in organization, and White had a genius for it.

Between the wars

After the war White was appointed Chief of the General Staff from 1920 until his retirement in 1923. In the same year he was appointed Chairman of the newly constituted Commonwealth Public Service Board, supervising the transfer of departments from Melbourne to the new capital, Canberra. In 1928 he chose not to move to Canberra, declining a further term with the Public Service Board in order to remain close to his home and grazing property "Woodnaggerak" near Buangor, Victoria.

Second World War and death

In 1940, as Australia mobilised the Second Australian Imperial Force to take part in the Second World War, White was recalled to service at the age of 63, promoted to general, and re-appointed Chief of the General Staff. The appointment was short-lived, as White was aboard the Royal Australian Air Force plane that crashed in the Canberra air disaster on 13 August 1940, killing all aboard. Monash described him as "far and away the ablest soldier Australia had ever turned out".[4]



  • Derham, Rosemary, "The Silence Ruse", Cliffe Books 1998, ISBN 0-9585369-1-0
  • Dennis, Peter; et al. (2008). The Oxford Companion to Australian Military History (Second ed.). Melbourne: Oxford University Press Australia & New Zealand. ISBN 978-0-19-551784-2. 
  • General Cyril Brudenell Bingham White, KCB, KCMG, KCVO, DSO Biography at the Australian War Memorial
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Military offices
Preceded by
Lieutenant General Ernest Squires
Chief of the General Staff
March – August 1940
Succeeded by
Major General John Northcott
Preceded by
Lieutenant General James Gordon Legge
Chief of the General Staff
Succeeded by
General Sir Harry Chauvel
Government offices
New title
Public Service Board first constituted
Public Service Commissioner
With: W.J. Skewes 1923–1931
John Patrick McGlinn 1923–1930
Succeeded by
John McLaren
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