Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Garrett, Sir Alwyn Ragnar (1900–1977)

by Jeffrey Grey

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

Alwyn Ragnar Garrett (1900-1977), by unknown photograher, 1944

Alwyn Ragnar Garrett (1900-1977), by unknown photograher, 1944

Australian War Memorial, 064074 [detail]

Sir Alwyn Ragnar Garrett (1900-1977), army officer, was born on 12 February 1900 at Northam, Western Australia, second child of Alwyn Garrett, a bank accountant from South Australia, and his Swedish-born wife Maria Carolina, née Wohlfahrt. Ragnar was educated at Guildford Grammar School. He entered the Royal Military College, Duntroon, Federal Capital Territory, in 1918 and was company sergeant major of the Corps of Staff Cadets in his final year (1921). Appointed to the light horse, Garrett held junior regimental and staff positions throughout the 1920s and early 1930s, save for a two-year attachment (1923-25) to the British 2nd Dragoon Guards at Bangalore, India. At St Peter's Anglican Church, Glenelg, Adelaide, on 9 September 1925 he married Shirley Lorraine Hunter, a nurse. He served on the staff of 'G' Branch at Army Headquarters, Melbourne, in 1936-37, then attended the Staff College, Camberley, England.

At the outbreak of World War II he came back to Australia and in November 1939 was appointed captain in the Australian Imperial Force. By June 1940 Major Garrett was again in Britain, on the staff of the 18th Australian Infantry Brigade; he was promoted lieutenant colonel on 16 September and briefly commanded the 2nd/31st Battalion. Sent to the Middle East in February 1941, he took part in the campaigns in Greece and Crete in April-May as a staff officer with the 19th Brigade and Savige Force. After further postings to Australian and British formations, mostly armoured, he returned home early in 1942.

Promoted temporary colonel in April, Garrett was senior operations officer on the staff of the 1st Armoured Division until October when he became director of armoured fighting vehicles, Land Headquarters, Melbourne. In September 1943 he joined the staff of I Corps. From December that year to October 1945 he was brigadier, general staff, successively on the headquarters of I Corps, II Corps, New Guinea Force and, again, II Corps: for most of this period he was in New Guinea or on Bougainville. He was appointed C.B.E. (1945) for his 'abounding energy, devotion to duty, and his ability to create and maintain a co-operative spirit within the Staff'. Having commanded the 8th Infantry Brigade during its repatriation and demobilization, in June 1946 he was posted as commandant of the Staff College, Queenscliff, Victoria.

In March 1947 Garrett was sent to Japan for duty with the British Commonwealth Occupation Force. He made his principal contribution as brigadier-in-charge of administration, a post he filled from July 1947 to October 1949, in which time the force was gradually scaled down and its areas of responsibility contracted. Back at Queenscliff in December, he began a longer term as commandant of the Staff College. Following a stint (August 1951 to January 1953) in charge of Western Command as temporary major general, he was made deputy chief of the General Staff. In October 1954 he was promoted temporary lieutenant general (substantive 16 December) and took over Southern Command, Melbourne. He was appointed C.B. in 1957.

Appointed chief of the General Staff on 23 March 1958, Garrett presided over a period of intense activity and change in the structure of the army, beginning with the disbandment of the national service scheme in 1959. The abolition of many longstanding units of the Citizen Military Forces--an emasculation seen by some critics as the regulars’ revenge for Militia dominance in the years between world wars I and II--and the conversion of the army to the five-sided `Pentropic’ organization were intended to increase the service’s flexibility and rationalize its resources.

Garrett was elevated to K.B.E. in 1959 and transferred to the Retired List on 1 July 1960. He was a man of great personal charm and polish. His had been a model staff officer’s career, entailing little opportunity for troop command. One of the few officers of his generation with extensive experience in armoured warfare, he held a succession of increasingly senior administrative jobs which culminated in his appointment to head the army. His tenure as C.G.S. was marked by considerable turbulence, especially over reform of the C.M.F., but the changes which he implemented were to prove transient.

In retirement Sir Ragnar was principal (1960-64) of the Australian Administrative Staff College, Mount Eliza, and chairman (1965-70) of the Western Australian Coastal Shipping Commission. He retained his contacts with the army through appointments (1960-65) as honorary colonel of the Royal Australian Regiment and the Royal Western Australia Regiment. Predeceased by his wife, he died on 4 November 1977 at Mornington, Victoria; he was accorded a military funeral and was cremated. His son and daughter survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • R. N. L. Hopkins, Australian Armour (Canb, 1978)
  • Canberra Times, 11 Nov 1965
  • Bulletin, 29 June 1960.

Citation details

Jeffrey Grey, 'Garrett, Sir Alwyn Ragnar (1900–1977)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/garrett-sir-alwyn-ragnar-10279/text18183, published in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 20 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014

Alwyn Ragnar Garrett (1900-1977), by unknown photograher, 1944

Alwyn Ragnar Garrett (1900-1977), by unknown photograher, 1944

Australian War Memorial, 064074 [detail]