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Birkbeck, Gilbert Samuel Colin Latona (1876–1947)

by Robert W. Strachan

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

Gilbert Samuel Colin Latona Birkbeck (1876-1947), soldier and public servant, was born on 15 March 1876 at Brisbane, son of Robert Epiphany Birkbeck, grazier, and his wife Francesca Julia Louisa Latona, née Clement; both parents were born in Mexico. After education at state schools, he joined the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Stock on 1 June 1900 and was meat inspector at Normanton in 1901-05 and Mackay in 1905-14. On 17 February 1909 he married a widow Anna Jacinta Mary Elizabeth Thomas, née Antoney, at Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Mackay; they had one son and two daughters.

In April 1908 Birkbeck was commissioned second lieutenant in the 15th Australian Light Horse Regiment, Queensland Mounted Infantry. He was promoted lieutenant in March 1911 and served with this unit (renamed the 27th L.H.R., Australian Military Forces, in 1912) until World War I. On 20 August 1914 he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force as a lieutenant in 'C' Squadron, 2nd Light Horse Regiment, and was promoted captain on 18 October, two days before embarking for Egypt. After training, his unit was sent to Gallipoli to fight as infantry; it took over the defence of Quinn's Post on 12 May 1915 and three days later Birkbeck was wounded while leading an abortive raid. Wounded again in a Turkish attack at Pope's Hill on 30 June, he was evacuated, and rejoined his unit for the Sinai campaign. He was promoted major on 1 August 1916 and in the battle of Romani commanded 'A' Squadron.

On 15 November Birkbeck's regiment joined Major General Sir Philip Chetwode's Desert Column which attacked the Turks at Magdhaba on 22 December. Swooping on a vital Turkish redoubt from the rear, Birkbeck's troops cut off the only line of retreat. For his 'initiative and excellent leadership' he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order. He commanded 'A' Squadron at Rafa and at the second battle of Gaza and was mentioned in dispatches on 6 July 1917. Later that year he was liaison officer between the Desert Mounted Corps and the 20th Army Corps, then served as second-in-command of his regiment at the battle of Beersheba. He was temporary commander from December 1917 to February 1918 and from May to August, and served in the Jordan Valley until the Turkish surrender on 31 October.

Birkbeck returned to Australia on 30 April 1919 and was demobilized in June. He resumed work with the Department of Agriculture and was stock inspector at Mackay in 1919-21, Gympie in 1921-34 and Toowoomba in 1934-41. He served as a captain in 'B' Squadron, 27th Light Horse Regiment, A.M.F., and was promoted major in April 1920. Transferred to the 5th L.H.R. in 1921, he commanded it from 1924, when he was awarded the Volunteer Officers' Decoration. Lieutenant-colonel in 1927, he commanded the 47th Battalion from 1928 to 15 March 1933 when he was placed on the retired list with the honorary rank of colonel.

Birkbeck retired from the public service in 1942 and lived in Toowoomba until he died there of coronary thrombosis on 15 December 1947. He was cremated in Brisbane.

Select Bibliography

  • H. S. Gullett, The A.I.F. in Sinai and Palestine (Syd, 1923)
  • G. H. Bourne, Nulli Secundus: The History of the 2nd Light Horse Regiment, A.I.F. (Tamworth, 1926)
  • Blue Books, Parliamentary Papers (Queensland), 1903, 1908, 1909, 1912
  • Government Gazette (Queensland), 2 Dec 1933, 10 Feb 1934, Oct 1941
  • Courier Mail (Brisbane), and Toowoomba Chronicle, 16 Dec 1947.

Citation details

Robert W. Strachan, 'Birkbeck, Gilbert Samuel Colin Latona (1876–1947)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/birkbeck-gilbert-samuel-colin-latona-5241/text8827, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 17 October 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

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