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Walter Edmond Smith
Brigadier Walter Edmond Smith
Nickname the Iron Duke
Born 1895
Died 1976 (aged 80–81)
Place of birth Sydney, Australia
Place of death Coffs Harbour, Australia
Allegiance  Australia
Service/branch Australian Army Emblem.JPG Australian Army
Years of service 1906 - 1943
Rank Brigadier
Service number WWI: 166; WWII: NX127347
Commands held

14th Brigade comprising


World War I:

World War II:

  • Military Cross (Battle of Polygon Wood),
  • Military Cross (Battle of Mont Saint Quentin),
  • British War Medal
  • Victory Medal
  • 1914/15 Star
  • Efficiency Decoration.
  • Other work Founder, WE Smith Engineering Pty Ltd, Australian heavy engineering firm specializing in design and manufacture of heat exchangers for the petrochemical industry, and joint venture partner of New Zealand firm CWF Hamilton & Co. to make and sell Hamilton jet boats in Australia.

    Walter Edmond (Edmund) Smith MC (bar) ED, was an Australian Army officer and industrialist who fought in World War I and World War II. In World War I, he served in the AN&MEF north-east of Australia in New Guinea area then in the AIF on the Western Front from 1916 to 1918. In World War II, he commanded the first force deployed in the New Guinea Campaign, Australia's most important military campaign.[Note 1] During this campaign, he opposed elements of Australian military policy and was made persona non grata. In civilian life he founded Australian engineering firm WE Smith Marine and General Engineer in 1922 (later WE Smith Engineering Pty Ltd) which he managed, except during full-time WWII military service, until his retirement in the 1970s.

    Early life and career

    Walter Smith was born in Sydney in March 1895. On finishing secondary school, he was apprenticed to marine and general engineering firm, Nicol Brothers, 50 Day Street, Darling Harbour, Sydney.

    World War I

    Soon after the outbreak of war, Smith enlisted in the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force (AN&MEF), which in October 1914 occupied the German Protectorate of New Guinea administered from Rabaul on the island of New Britain north-east of the island of New Guinea. This was Australia's first military action of the Great War. The AN&MEF's six-month tour of duty ended in February 1915, too late for the intake for Gallipoli.

    Smith then served with the AIF (First Australian Imperial Force) 14th Infantry Brigade on the Western Front from 1916 to 1918,[Note 2] taking part in the Battle of Fromelles (1916), the Battle of Polygon Wood (1917), and the Battle of Mont Saint Quentin including the attack on Péronne (1918). He was awarded the Military Cross for his part in the Battle of Polygon Wood and again for his role in the Battle of Mont Saint Quentinand the Distinguished Service Order (DSO).[Note 3] He was mentioned in General Sir John Monash's, The Australian Victories in France in 1918,[1] and in the official Australian history of WWI in Europe.[2][3] During his time on the Western Front, he was hospitalized due to injuries by machine-gun fire, shrapnel, poison gas, and trench feet, a form of frostbite.

    Inter-war years

    Walter Smith (center), John Ridley (right)

    Shortly after return to Sydney from Europe in 1920, he married Gladys Emily Bullot, then in 1922 founded WE Smith Marine and General Engineer in Argyle street, The Rocks, Sydney. Walter and Gladys had three children: Win, Elizabeth (Beth) and John.

    Smith was lifelong friend of John Ridley,[4] Smith's WWI Lewis gunner. Ridley, shot through the neck during the Battle of Fromelles, survived to become the Sydney street preacher who was instrumental in converting Arthur Stace to Christianity.

    Between the Wars, Smith served in the part-time militia, the Australian Citizen Military Forces (CMF) centered at Victoria Barracks, Sydney.

    World War II

    1939. Brig. WE Smith, near Central Railway Station, Sydney

    1943. Brig. WE Smith (left), Gen. Sir TA Blamey (front), Lieut. Gen. RL Eichelberger (rear) January 1943 examining a captured Japanese range finder in the Buna area.[Note 4]

    On 23 October 1939, Smith was promoted to the rank of Brigadier and appointed Commander Australian 14th Infantry Brigade CMF (Citizen Military Forces), a militia unit with members drawn mainly from rural NSW and Canberra.

    Till April 1942, the 14th Brigade had responsibility for coastal defense of Australia's main war production centers from Port Kembla about 110 kilometers south of Sydney (steel production) to Newcastle about 160 kilometers north (Coal extraction); and responsibility for training in the Picton, Casula, Greta, Holsworthy and Tomago areas near Sydney, of new intakes of mainly young conscripts.

    The Brigade's War Diary records that a week before the Battle of the Coral Sea of 4–7 May 1942, the Brigade was ordered on 29 April from Tomago near Newcastle to Greta nearer Sydney in preparation for embarkation to Port Moresby, New Guinea: [Note 5] In the Battle of the Coral Sea the Japanese maritime invasion fleet was turned back, and Port Moresby would now face attack overland across the Owen Stanley Range along the Kokoda Track from beachheads in the Buna, Gona, Sanananda area of north-east Papua New Guinea.

    In April 1942, the Australian New Guinea Administrative Unit (ANGAU) administered Papua New Guinea from Port Moresby under Maj. Gen. Basil Morris commanding 30th Brigade militia troops which had arrived at Port Moresby in January 1942.

    Anglican Bishop of New Guinea from 1936 to 1962, Philip Strong, records a diary entry of April 1942 for Port Moresby: "Went to the Rectory ... The whole place had been ransacked... Apparently all houses in Port Moresby are the same and all this looting has been done by the [Australian] military."[5] At this time, these troops were under Morris' command.

    Smith arrived at Port Moresby on 25 May 1942 and strongly opposed Morris, later recounting in his memoirs:

    [I] immediately on landing found myself at cross purposes with the Military administration. ... I decided to stand firm and adopted a really tough attitude. ... Numerous attempts were made to humiliate me ... [but] I fought back, and in most of the violent clashes with high authorities I managed to wriggle out of the trouble and leave them ... in the wrong...[6]

    Smith also strongly criticized Army supply failures and Army Intelligence failures. In early 1943 he threatened Maj. General Vasey, with tabling Army documents in Federal Parliament, that related to what Smith regarded as the needless sacrifice of Australian troops in the Gona-Buna-Sanananda area of New Guinea.

    Smith served in New Guinea from May 1942 to February 1943 being first stationed at Port Moresby then in the Buna, Gona area of the Japanese beachheads, commanding the 14th Brigade. His Officer's Record of Service states:

    23.10.39 To comd. 14 Inf. Bde.
    18.3.43 Relq commd. of 14 Inf Bde & is trans to Reserve of Officers in Hon Rank of Brig.[Note 6]

    Criticism of Smith's leadership

    The official WWII history refers to Smith's leadership, saying: "...the inexperienced and poorly trained 14th Brigade was chosen...";[7] "...the inexperienced 14th Brigade was sent forward...".[8] Peter Brunne in his popular book, Those Ragged Bloody Heroes says: "The Army reinforced Port Moresby with a poorly trained and ill-led 14th Brigade...".[9] The Official History adds that its criticism of the Brigade is not a criticism of the troops themselves: "This [inexperience] is no reflection on their courage, but units contained a large number of young men not yet properly developed or trained".[10] Author Raymond quoting Lieut. General Rowell says: "Had ... the 14th Brigade been sufficiently well trained ... there is no doubt that the enemy would have been prevented from penetrating the Owen Stanley Range".[11] Though this claim now seems absurd,[Note 7] it must be taken as reflecting a deep criticism of Smith as commander of the 14th Brigade. Smith's name was omitted from the official Australian Government history of the WWII New Guinea Campaign.[12] His name was mentioned in two volumes of the official Australian Government history of World War I .[2][3]

    Comments from troops

    Four Brigade members, Ken Laycock,[13] Frank Budden, [14] Stan Brigg[15] and Colin Kennedy,[16] later published accounts of the New Guinea Campaign and the 14th Brigade. Collin Kennedy (3rd Battalion) says: "It was the stiff training ... at Greta which helped "B" company through its initial ordeal [in New Guinea].[17] Stan and Les Brigg (36th Battalion) write: "This period of training [in Australia] saw the foundation laid for a sound unit.[18] However, Laycock [13] criticizes the training, saying it was too tough.[13] Smith's training program was adequate for use elsewhere in the Australian Army. On 7 December 1942, former 14th Brigade officer Paul Williams wrote:[Note 8] "...Brig. A. A. Brackpool ... remarked that the system of training as laid down by the 14 Bde was what he was [using]...[19]". Historian David Horner notes: "...while his [Brig. Smith's] troops were training in the Hexham area [west of Sydney] he worked them fifteen hours a day for weeks...[20]".

    Letters and memoirs

    In his memoirs, Smith says:

    Immediately on landing [at Port Moresby in May 1942, I] found myself at cross purposes with the Military administration. ... I decided to stand firm and adopted a really tough attitude. ... Numerous attempts were made to humiliate me ... [but] I fought back, and in most of the violent clashes with high authorities I managed to wriggle out of the trouble and leave them ... in the wrong. ... One evening [in February 1943] I received a signal to board an aircraft at 3:00 am the following morning, and I returned to Sydney. ... Some months later I received a telegram placing me on the Reserve of Officers list thus ending my military career – unhonoured and unsung without even a "thank you" or a letter of appreciation ... for a lifetime of loyal and enthusiastic service encompassing two world wars. I was greatly hurt and very bitter ... on my return to civilian life at this cowardly and unjust treatment...[6]

    On 16 January 1943, Smith in a letter home wrote:

    HQrs 14 Aust Inf. Bde, ... This is just the commencement of a fight which I will carry through to the bitter end, and will not hesitate to place the whole of the facts before the bar of the Federal House if necessary. As you have no doubt gathered from some of my previous letters I have not been removed from my command, but have had the units of my Bde taken from me one by one ... [H]ad I been forward during the recent ops, I would have been made the scape goat for many things. As it is I've given Mr. Gen. V. [Vasey] such a headache, that all the aspros [headache tablets] on this island won’t cure it.[6]

    Smith's personal Web site maintained by his family claims that these comments made under war-time censorship referred to the military orders, a copy which Smith had in his possession, for the needless sacrifice of Australian troops in the area of the Japanese beachheads. Other authors support the claim of needless sacrifice, including Peter Brunne: "The Gona slaughter was in full spate";[21] "The story of the 21st Brigade's subsequent fighting at Gona is one of a wanton waste of an already diminished force ;[22] and "the brave 25th Brigade at Gona, riddled with disease and stunned by horrendous casulaties".[23] And Adjutant Harry Katekar (reported by Peter Brunne):

    We were thrown in [at Gona] with scant information about the enemy; no aerial photographs, nothing to go on. I don't recall even seeing a proper plan of the area ... The whole thing was rushed and therefore one can expect ... what actually transpired - a slaughter of good men![22]

    Raymond Paul says: "...the Allied victory crowned a futile, bloody slaughter";[24] Collin Kennedy: "By the time Gona fell the total cost for the Australians was shattering" ;[25] and Timothy Hall: "MacArthur's relentless desire to drive on for victory ... cost many unnecessary lives".[26]

    After the War

    During the War, WE Smith Engineering Pty Ltd moved from the Rocks area of Sydney to the bays between the arches under the northern ramp of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. In the mid-1960s, the firm entered into a joint venture with CWF Hamilton and Co. of Christchurch New Zealand to make and sell jet boats[Note 9] in Australia. In 1968, the firm moved as the first significant recipient of a NSW State decentralization grant, about 450 kilometers north to the coastal city of Coffs Harbour.

    See also


    1. "The Pacific War provided the most serious test ever faced by the Australian Army, and by the Australian people", Jeffrey Grey, 2001, The Australian Centenary History of Defence, Vol. I, The Australian Army, OUP, page 133.
    2. Nominal Roll, WWI - Walter Edmond Smith, Embarkation Roll, WWI - Walter Edmond Smith
    3. Documents at Honours and Awards, Australian War Memorial indexed variously under Walter Edmund/Edmond/Edward Smith: Account of Service 1917, Polygon Wood MC, Péronne MC., Recommendation Belgian Croix de Guerre
    4. Photograph of Smith, Blamey and Eichelberger, early 1943 (War Memorial Collection number 014103, Australian War Memorial)
    5. "TOMAGO, 30 April, Received message 2 Div to be prepared to proceed to Port Moresby following concentration at Greta", in the 14th Brigade War Diary 1 April 1942 to 30 April 1942, Australian War Memorial collection document AWM52 8/2/14
    6. Officer's Record of Service, Walter Edmund Smith, can be found at the Australian War Memorial archive.
    7. The Japanese forces had distinct superiority in numbers and battle experience (Jeffrey Grey, The Australian Centenary History of Defence, Vol. I, The Australian Army, page 143).
    8. In a 7 December 1942 letter from former 14th Brigade HQ Officer Paul Williams of 129 Lawson St, Hamilton, NSW, to Brig. Smith.
    9. Hamilton Jet, jet boat history


    1. Monash 1920, p. 166.
    2. 2.0 2.1 Bean 1942, pp. 837-838.
    3. 3.0 3.1 Bean 1929, p. 369.
    4. Ridley.
    5. Strong 1981, p. 96.
    6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Smith.
    7. McCarthy 1958, p. 141.
    8. McCarthy 1958, p. 112.
    9. Brunne 1991, p. 14.
    10. McCarthy 1958, p. 226.
    11. Paul 1958, p. 265.
    12. McCarthy 1958.
    13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 Laycock 1995. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "FOOTNOTELaycock1995" defined multiple times with different content
    14. Budden 1973.
    15. Brigg 1992.
    16. Kennedy 1992.
    17. Kennedy 1992, p. 36.
    18. Brigg 1967, p. 8.
    19. Williams 1942.
    20. Horner 1978, p. 88.
    21. Brunne 1991, p. 233.
    22. 22.0 22.1 Brunne 2000, p. 191.
    23. Brunne 2000, p. 190.
    24. Paul 1958, p. 296.
    25. Kenedy 1992, p. 146.
    26. Hall 1981, p. 196.


    • McCarthy, Dudley (1958). Australia in the War of 1939-1945, Series I (Army), Vol. V, South-West Pacific Area First Year: Kokoda to Wau. Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1962. 
    • Monash, General Sir John (1920). The Australian Victories in France in 1918. Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1936. p. 166. ISBN 9781845747848. 
    • Bean, C.E.W. (1929). Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918, Vol. III, The Australian Imperial Force in France 1916. St Lucia, Queensland: University of Queensland Press, 1982. p. 369. ISBN 0702217301. 
    • Bean, C.E.W. (1942). Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918, Vol. VI, The A.I.F. in France During the Allied Offensive, 1918. St Lucia, Queensland: University of Queensland Press, 1983. pp. 837–838. ISBN 0702217433. 
    • Brunne, Peter (1991). Those Ragged Bloody Heroes: From the Kokoda Trail to Gona Beach 1942. St Leonards, NSW, Australia: Allen & Unwin, 1991. ISBN 1863732640. 
    • Brunne, Peter (2000). We Band of Brothers: A Biography of Ralph Honner soldier and statesman. St Leonards, NSW, Australia: Allen & Unwin, 2000. ISBN 1865082856. 
    • Paul, Raymond (1958). Retreat From Kokoda: The Australian Campaign in New guinea 1942. Melbourne: William Heinemann Australia, 1985. ISBN 0855610492. 
    • Hall, Timothy (1981). New Guinea 1942-44. Sydney, Australia: Methuen, 1981. ISBN 0454003218. 
    • Kennedy, Collin (1992). Port Moresby to Gona Beach: 3rd Australian Infantry Battalion 1942. Melbourne: William Heinemann Australia, 1985. ISBN 0646078674. 
    • Brigg, Stan and Les (1967). The 3rd Australian Infantry Battalion 1939 - 1945: The Story of an Australian Infantry Battalion and its part in the War Against Japan. Sydney: The 36th Battalion Association, 1967. 
    • Budden, Frank (1973). That Mob!: The Story of the 55th/53rd Australian Infantry Battalion. Ashfield, Sydney: F.M. Budden, 1973. ISBN 0959925406. 
    • Laycock, Ken (1995). Memories of a Militiaman 1938-1944. Canberra, 1995: K.G. & F.F. Laycock. ISBN 0959734384. 
    • Horner, David (1978). Crisis of Command: Australian Generalship and the Japanses Threat 1939-1943. Canberra: Australian National University Press, 1978. ISBN 0708113451. 
    • Strong, Philip (1981). The New Guinea Diaries of Philip Strong 1936-1945. Australia: Macmillan Co., 1981. ISBN 9780333337226. 
    • Grey, Jeffrey (2001). The Australian Centenary History of Defence, Vol. I, The Australian Army. Australia: Oxford University Press, 2001. ISBN 0195541146. 

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