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Glasfurd, Duncan John (1873–1916)

by Chris Clark

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

Duncan John Glasfurd (1873-1916), soldier, was born on 23 November 1873 at Matheran, India, second son of Major General Charles Lamont Robertson Glasfurd of the Bombay Staff Corps, and his wife Jane Cunningham, née Cornwall. His brother Alexander (1870-1942), C.M.G., D.S.O., became a colonel in the Indian Army.

Raised at Altnaskiach, Inverness, Scotland, Glasfurd was educated in Edinburgh—probably at Blairlodge School—and at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, England. In October 1893 he was commissioned in the 2nd Battalion, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, and served as adjutant of the 1st Battalion in South Africa in 1899. He had married Agnes Guinevere Gilmour at Eaglesham, Renfrewshire, on 20 December 1898.

In South Africa Glasfurd was promoted captain in January 1900 and took part in operations in the Orange Free State, receiving slight wounds at Paardeberg; he then saw action in the Transvaal and Orange River Colony until severely wounded in October. In April 1901 he went to British East Africa on operations against the Ogaden Somalis in Jubaland until November. Service in India followed, with an interval in 1903-04 when he served in Somaliland, commanding the 4th Somali Camel Corps; he was mentioned in dispatches.

In June 1908 Glasfurd became staff captain for coast defences, Scottish Command, and that year was selected to attend the Staff College, Camberley, England. He graduated in 1909 and joined his regiment in Malta in May 1910; in November he was appointed brigade major to the Lothian Infantry Brigade. On 24 June 1912 he was seconded to the Australian Military Forces and appointed director of military training at Army Headquarters with the temporary rank of captain, A.M.F. His main duties involved inspection of compulsory training under the cadet scheme, and although enthusiastic over the military potential of Australian youths, he was reportedly dissatisfied with the perfunctory training which many cadets received. Glasfurd was promoted major, British Army and A.M.F., on 20 September 1913.

On the outbreak of war he sought to rejoin his regiment which had been sent to France. Instead, on 15 August 1914, he was appointed by Major General (Sir) William Bridges to the Australian Imperial Force as a general staff officer with the 1st Division. In Egypt he was largely responsible for training the division at Mena Camp. At Gallipoli he went ashore at 5.35 a.m. on the day of the landing, distinguishing himself by his work in establishing the firing line at Anzac, and served throughout the whole of the campaign. He proved himself, according to the official historian, 'one of the bravest and most conscientious officers upon the Staff' and rose to chief of staff of the division. He was mentioned in dispatches and promoted lieutenant-colonel, A.I.F., on 1 October 1915 and for outstanding service in the field was made brevet lieutenant-colonel in the British Army in January 1916.

Next month Glasfurd was given temporary command of the 12th Australian Infantry Brigade; the appointment was confirmed in March with promotion to colonel and temporary brigadier general, A.I.F. His brigade was sent to France in June and on 4 July moved into the Fleurbaix sector, where Glasfurd was slightly wounded on 7 July. He was mentioned in dispatches four days later. Early in August the 12th Brigade went into action at Pozières Heights and later at Vierstraat and Diependal. On 12 November 1916 it relieved the 2nd Brigade at Dernafay Wood. That morning Glasfurd was wounded by shell-fire in Cheese Road while reconnoitring the trenches. After a ten-hour stretcher journey from the front line he died at the 38th Casualty Clearing Station at Heilly, though not before his brother—serving with the British 48th Division—found him in a dressing station at Becordel and spoke with him. He was posthumously mentioned in dispatches. His qualities of courage, unselfishness and devotion to duty were highly regarded within his brigade and division. The official historian described him as 'boyish, loyal and devoted, if somewhat old-fashioned', and as 'an able officer with a profound knowledge of his profession, capable of brain, slow of thought but sound of judgement and possessed of … hard pluck'.

Glasfurd and his wife had been divorced in October 1914 and when he went on active service their three sons were at Geelong Church of England Grammar School. Charles Eric (1902-1940) joined the Royal Navy in 1916 and was captain of the destroyer Acasta during the battle of Narvik; he went down with his ship. Duncan Angus (1905-1980) and Divie Colin Peter (1906-1941) took up sheep-farming in Western Australia. The latter was killed at Tobruk while serving as a captain with 9th Division Headquarters.

Select Bibliography

  • C. E. W. Bean, The Story of Anzac (Syd, 1921, 1924), and The A.I.F. in France, 1916 (Syd, 1929)
  • R. C. B. Anderson, History of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, 1st Battalion, 1909-1939 (Edinburgh, 1954)
  • A. L. Glasfurd, The Glasfurd Family, 1550-1972 (np, nd, c1972)
  • London Gazette, 2 Sept 1904, 5 Aug 1915, 2 May, 11 July 1916, 2 Jan 1917
  • British Australasian, 23 Nov 1916
  • Argus (Melbourne), 16 Nov 1916
  • Times (London), 20 Nov 1916
  • war diary, 12th Infantry Brigade, A.I.F. (Australian War Memorial)
  • private information.

Citation details

Chris Clark, 'Glasfurd, Duncan John (1873–1916)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/glasfurd-duncan-john-6396/text10933, published in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 19 September 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

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