Military Wiki
The Lord Birdwood
General Sir W. R. Birdwood by Elliott & Fry
Nickname Birdy
Born (1865-09-13)13 September 1865
Died 17 May 1951(1951-05-17) (aged 85)
Place of birth Khadki, India
Place of death Hampton Court Palace, England
Allegiance  United Kingdom / British Empire
Service/branch  British Indian Army
Years of service 1883–1930
Rank Field Marshal
Commands held Commander-in-Chief, India
Northern Command, India
Fifth Army
Australian Imperial Force
Australian and New Zealand Army Corps
Kohat Brigade

North-West Frontier
Tirah Campaign
Second Boer War
First World War

Awards Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath
Knight Grand Commander of the Order of the Star of India
Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George
Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order
Companion of the Order of the Indian Empire
Distinguished Service Order
Croix de Guerre (France)
Grand Officer of the Order of the Crown (Belgium)
Croix de Guerre (Belgium)
Distinguished Service Medal (United States)
Grand Cross of the Order of the Tower and Sword (Portugal)
Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun (Japan)

Field Marshal William Riddell Birdwood, 1st Baron Birdwood, GCB GCSI GCMG GCVO CIE DSO (13 September 1865 – 17 May 1951) was a British Army officer. He saw active service in the Second Boer War on the staff of Lord Kitchener. He saw action again in the First World War as Commander of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps during the Gallipoli Campaign in 1915, leading the landings on the peninsula and then the evacuation later in the year, before becoming Commander-in-Chief of the Fifth Army on the Western Front during the closing stages of the war. He went on to be General Officer Commanding the Northern Army in India in 1920 and Commander-in-Chief, India, in 1925.

Early life

William Riddell Birdwood was born on 13 September 1865 in Kirkee, India.[1] His father, Herbert Mills Birdwood, born in Bombay and educated in the UK, had returned to India in 1859 after passing the Indian Civil Service examination.[2] In 1861, Herbert Birdwood married Edith Marion Sidonie, the eldest daughter of Surgeon-Major Elijah George Halhed Impey of the Bombay Horse Artillery and postmaster-general of the Bombay Presidency.[2] They would have five sons and a daughter; William was their second son. At the time of William's birth, his father held positions in the Bombay legislative council, and would go on to become a Bombay high court judge.[2] William Birdwood was educated at Clifton College, Bristol.[3]

Military career

After securing a militia commission in the 4th Battalion Royal Scots Fusiliers in 1883,[4] Birdwood trained at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, from which he was commissioned early, owing to the Russian war scare of 1885, becoming a lieutenant in the 12th (Prince of Wales's) Royal Lancers on 9 May 1885.[5] He joined his regiment in India and then transferred from the 12th Royal Lancers[6] to the Bengal Staff Corps on 20 December 1886.[7] He subsequently transferred to the 11th Bengal Lancers in 1887, seeing action on the North-West Frontier in 1891. He later became adjutant of the Viceroy's Bodyguard in 1893.[4] He was promoted to captain on 9 May 1896[8] and saw action during the Tirah Campaign in 1897.[4]

Birdwood served in the Second Boer War, initially as brigade-major with a mounted brigade in Natal from 10 January 1900 and then as Deputy-Assistant Adjutant-General on the staff of Lord Kitchener from 15 October 1900.[9] Promoted to brevet major on 20 November 1901[10] and local lieutenant-colonel in October 1901,[11][12] he became Military secretary to Lord Kitchener on 5 June 1902,[13] and followed him on his return to the United Kingdom on board the SS Orotava,[14] which arrived in Southampton on 12 July 1902. When Kitchener went to India as Commander-in-Chief in November 1902, Birdwood joined him there as Assistant Military Secretary.[12] He was promoted to the substantive rank of major on 9 May 1903[15] and appointed Military Secretary to Lord Kitchener with the rank of full colonel on 26 June 1905.[16] Having been appointed an Aide-de-Camp to the King on 14 February 1906,[17] he was given command of the Kohat Brigade on the North West Frontier in 1908[18] and promoted to temporary brigadier-general on 28 June 1909.[19]

Promoted to the rank of major-general on 3 October 1911,[20] Birdwood became Quartermaster-General in India and a member of the Viceroy's Legislative Council in 1912 and then Secretary of the Indian Army Department in 1913.[12]


Anzac Cove looking towards Ari Burnu, 1915

In November 1914 Birdwood was instructed by Kitchener to form an army corps from the Australian and New Zealand troops that were training in Egypt.[12] He was promoted to temporary lieutenant-general on 12 December 1914[21] and given command of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps.[12] Kitchener instructed General Sir Ian Hamilton, Commander of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force, to carry out an operation to capture the Gallipoli peninsula and placed Birdwood's ANZAC Corps under Hamilton's command.[3] Hamilton ordered Birdwood to carry out a landing on 25 April 1915 north of Kabatepe at a site now known as ANZAC Cove.[12] The ANZAC Corps encountered high ridges, narrow gullies, dense scrub and strong Turkish resistance and became pinned down.[3] Major-General William Bridges and Major-General Alexander Godley, the divisional commanders, were both of the view that the Allied forces, dealing with stiffer-than-expected resistance, should be evacuated ahead of an expected attack by Turkish forces.[22] Nevertheless, Hamilton ordered them to hold fast.[23]

W. R. Birdwood

Birdwood took effective command of the Australian Imperial Force, i.e. all Australian Forces in May 1915 while still commanding Allied troops on the ground at Gallipoli.[3] He launched a major attack on the Turks in August 1915 (the Battle of Sari Bair) but still failed to dislodge them from the peninsula.[3] Notwithstanding this he was the only corps commander opposed to abandoning Gallipoli.[12] He was promoted to the permanent rank of lieutenant-general on 28 October 1915[24] and given command of the newly formed Dardanelles Army: the one outstanding success of the campaign was the evacuation led by Birdwood, which took place in December 1915 and January 1916, when the entire force was withdrawn before any Turkish reaction.[12]

Western Front

In February 1916 the Australian and New Zealand contingents, back in Egypt, underwent reorganisation to incorporate the new units and reinforcements that had accumulated during 1915: the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps was replaced by two corps, I ANZAC Corps and II ANZAC Corps, and Birdwood reverted to the command of II ANZAC Corps. When I ANZAC Corps became the first to depart for France, Birdwood, as senior corps commander, took over command.[12]

Birdwood was promoted to the permanent rank of full general on 23 October 1917[25] with command of a formation then known as the Australian Corps in November 1917.[12] He was also appointed Aide-de-Camp General to the King on 2 November 1917[26] and given command of the British Fifth Army on 31 May 1918 and led the Army at the liberation of Lille in October 1918 and at the liberation of Tournai in November 1918.[12]

After the war

File:1920, field marshall lord william birdwood and nawab khan zaman khan, commander in chief india.jpg
Birdwood as Commander-in-Chief of the British Indian Army, together with Nawab Sir Muhammad Khan Zaman Khan. At Darband, Amb State, 1925

Birdwood was made Baronet of Anzac and of Totnes, in the County of Devon on 29 December 1919.[27] He toured Australia to great acclaim in 1920 and then became General Officer Commanding the Northern Army in India later that year.[28] He was promoted to field marshal on 20 March 1925,[29] and, having been appointed a Member of the Executive Council of the Governor-General of India in July 1925,[30] he went on to be Commander-in-Chief, India, in August 1925.[28]

After leaving the service in 1930, Birdwood made a bid to become Governor-General of Australia. He had the backing of the King and the British government. However, the Australian Prime Minister James Scullin insisted that his Australian nominee Sir Isaac Isaacs be appointed.[3] Instead Birdwood was appointed Master of Peterhouse, Cambridge, on 20 April 1931.[31] In 1935 he wrote for the Western Australian distance education magazine Our Rural Magazine claiming that he had two granddaughters making good use of distance courses for educational purposes.[32] He retired from academic work in 1938.[28]

In retirement Birdwood was colonel of the 12th Royal Lancers,[33] colonel of the 6th Gurkha Rifles[34] and Captain of Deal Castle.[35] In January 1936 he attended the funeral of King George V[36] and in May 1937 he attended the coronation of King George VI.[37] He was raised to the peerage in recognition of his wartime service as Baron Birdwood, of Anzac and of Totnes in the County of Devon on 25 January 1938.[38][39]

His autobiography Khaki and Gown (1941) was followed by In my time: recollections and anecdotes (1946).[1] Birdwood died at Hampton Court Palace on 17 May 1951 and was buried at Twickenham Cemetery with full military honours.[3] The Australian Government pays for the upkeep of his grave.[40]

Honours and awards

Grave of William Birdwood and family in Twickenham Cemetery


  • Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath (GCB) – 1 January 1923[41] (KCB: 4 June 1917;[42] CB: 19 June 1911[43])
  • Knight Grand Commander of the Order of the Star of India (GCSI) – 1 January 1930[44] (KCSI: 1 January 1915;[45] CSI: 1 January 1910[46])
  • Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St. Michael and St. George (GCMG) – 1 January 1919[47] (KCMG: 3 June 1915[48])
  • Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order (GCVO) – 11 May 1937[49]
  • Companion of the Order of the Indian Empire (CIE) – 1 January 1908[50]
  • Companion of the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) – 14 August 1908[51]
  • Knight of Grace of the Venerable Order of St. John (KStJ) – 21 June 1927[52]



In 1893 Birdwood married Janetta Bromhead, daughter of Sir Benjamin Bromhead; they had a son and two daughters.[4] His wife died in 1947.[1] The son, Christopher Birdwood (1899–1962), succeeded him as 2nd Baron Birdwood. The elder daughter was Constance 'Nancy' Birdwood,[59] and the younger daughter was Judith Birdwood. Other members of the Birdwood family include Labour minister and peer Christopher Birdwood Thomson (1875–1930), Anglo-Indian naturalist Sir George Birdwood (1832–1917), and Jane Birdwood (1913–2000), the second wife of William Birdwood's son.[60]

Coat of arms

Arms of W
[[File:Arms of Baron Birdwood|frameless]]
Coat of arms of the Birdwood family
A coronet of a Baron
Out of a Mural Crown Gules a Martlet Argent between two Branches of Laurel proper
Azure five Martlets two two and one within an Inescutcheon voided a representation of the Southern Cross all Argent
Dexter: a Sergeant of the XIIth (Prince of Wales's Royal) Lancers mounted on a Bay Horse; Sinister: a Sikh Daffadar of the XIth (Prince of Wales's Own) Bengal Lancers mounted on a Chestnut Horse, both habited and accoutred proper
In Bello Quies (Calm in action)

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 James, Robert Rhodes (2009) [2004] "Birdwood, William Riddell" Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.) Oxford University Press Digital object identifier:10.1093/ref:odnb/31898  (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Brown, F. H.; Stearn, Roger T. (2012) [2004] "Birdwood, Herbert Mills" Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.) Oxford University Press Digital object identifier:10.1093/ref:odnb/31897  (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 "William Birdwood". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Retrieved 27 May 2013. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Heathcote, p. 43
  5. "No. 25468". 8 May 1885. 
  6. "No. 25688". 1 April 1887. 
  7. "No. 25812". 1 May 1888. 
  8. "No. 26768". 14 August 1896. 
  9. "No. 27382". 3 December 1901. 
  10. "No. 27359". 27 September 1901. 
  11. "No. 27383". 6 December 1901. 
  12. 12.00 12.01 12.02 12.03 12.04 12.05 12.06 12.07 12.08 12.09 12.10 Heathcote, p. 44
  13. "No. 27460". 1 August 1902. 
  14. "Error: no |title= specified when using {{Cite web}}". 26 June 1902. 
  15. "No. 27578". 21 July 1903. 
  16. "No. 27851". 7 November 1905. 
  17. "No. 27885". 13 February 1906. 
  18. Tucker; Roberts, p.388
  19. "No. 28288". 14 September 1909. 
  20. "No. 28580". 13 February 1912. 
  21. "No. 29115". 29 March 1915. 
  22. Bean, 1981, pp. 456–457
  23. Bean, 1981, pp. 460–461
  24. "No. 29341". 27 October 1915. 
  25. "No. 30376". 12 November 1917. 
  26. "No. 30365". 2 November 1917. 
  27. "No. 31708". 30 December 1919. 
  28. 28.0 28.1 28.2 Heathcote, p. 45
  29. "No. 33031". 20 March 1925. 
  30. "No. 33069". 24 July 1925. 
  31. "The colleges and halls – Peterhouse". British History Online. Retrieved 27 May 2013. 
  32. "Our rural magazine". The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879–1954). 18 October 1934. p. 14. Retrieved 27 May 2013. 
  33. "No. 31889". 4 May 1920. 
  34. "No. 33141". 12 March 1926. 
  35. "No. 34140". 8 March 1935. 
  36. "No. 34279". 29 April 1936. 
  37. "No. 34453". 10 November 1937. 
  38. "No. 34477". 28 January 1938. 
  39. "No. 34469". 1 January 1938. 
  40. Miranda, Charles (11 April 2015). "Brit revered by Diggers". Courier-Mail. p. 54. 
  41. "No. 13881". 5 January 1923. 
  42. "No. 30111". 4 June 1917. 
  43. "No. 28505". 19 June 1911. 
  44. "No. 14615". 7 January 1930. 
  45. "No. 29024". 1 January 1915. 
  46. "No. 28324". 1 January 1910. 
  47. "No. 31092". 1 January 1919. 
  48. "No. 29202". 23 June 1915. 
  49. "No. 34396". 11 May 1937. 
  50. "No. 28095". 1 January 1908. 
  51. "No. 28168". 14 August 1908. 
  52. "No. 14351". 28 June 1927. 
  53. "No. 31222". 11 March 1919. 
  54. "No. 13052". 16 February 1917. 
  55. "No. 30568". 11 March 1918. 
  56. "No. 31451". 12 July 1919. 
  57. "No. 31514". 21 August 1919. 
  58. "No. 13673". 25 January 1921. 
  59. Schmidt, Nicholas (14 February 2011). "For Valentine's Day – The airman who married the general's daughter". Australian War Memorial. Retrieved 4 January 2014. 
  60. "The Dowager Lady Birdwood". The Telegraph. 29 June 2000. Retrieved 4 January 2014. 


External links

Military offices
Preceded by
General William Bridges
Commander, Australian Imperial Force
May 1915–11 November 1919
Succeeded by
Brigadier General Carl Jess
Preceded by
New Command
Commander, Australian and New Zealand Army Corps
21 December 1914 – February 1916
Succeeded by
(I Anzac Corps General Alexander Godley)
II Anzac Corps General Birdwood
Preceded by
New command
(Part of Anzac Corps)
Commander, II ANZAC Corps
February 1916 – March 1916
Succeeded by
General Alexander Godley
Preceded by
General Alexander Godley
Commander, I ANZAC Corps
March 1916–31 May 1918
Succeeded by
General John Monash
Preceded by
William Peyton
Commander, British Fifth Army
31 May 1918 – 30 November 1918
Succeeded by
Post disbanded
Preceded by
Sir Arthur Barrett
GOC-in-C, Northern Command, India
Succeeded by
Sir Claud Jacob
Preceded by
Walter Howorth Greenly
Colonel of the 12th Royal Lancers
Succeeded by
Sir Richard McCreery
Preceded by
Sir Claude William Jacob
Commander-in-Chief, India
Succeeded by
The Lord Chetwode
Preceded by
Sir William Robertson
Colonel of the Royal Horse Guards
Succeeded by
Sir Richard Howard-Vyse
Peerage of the United Kingdom
New creation Baron Birdwood
Succeeded by
Christopher Birdwood
Academic offices
Preceded by
Robert Chalmers
Master of Peterhouse, Cambridge
Succeeded by
Harold Temperley

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