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Glasgow, Sir Thomas William (1876–1955)

by Ralph Harry

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

Thomas William Glasgow (1876-1955), by George Bell

Thomas William Glasgow (1876-1955), by George Bell

Australian War Memorial, ART00107

Sir Thomas William Glasgow (1876-1955), soldier, politician and diplomat, was born on 6 June 1876 at Tiaro, near Maryborough, Queensland, fourth child and third son of Samuel Glasgow, a farmer from Northern Ireland, and his wife, Mary Margaret Trotter, née Anderson, an Englishwoman of Scottish descent. 'Bill' Glasgow was educated at the One-Mile State School, Gympie, and Maryborough Grammar School. In 1893 he started work as a junior clerk in the office of a mining company at Gympie and later became a clerk in the Queensland National Bank there. (Sir) Brudenell White, a clerk in a rival bank, was among his friends.

While still in his teens Glasgow joined the Wide Bay Regiment, Queensland Mounted Infantry, giving up most of his week-ends to soldiering. In 1897, with nineteen other volunteers he represented Queensland at the diamond jubilee of Queen Victoria in London. He served in the South African War as a lieutenant with the 1st Q.M.I. Contingent, participating in the relief of Kimberley, the capture of Cronje's laager on the Modder and the occupation of Bloemfontein in 1900; on 16 April 1901 he was mentioned in dispatches and awarded the Distinguished Service Order.

Back in Australia Glasgow formed a partnership, T. W. & A. Glasgow, with his younger brother Alexander, and took over his father's Gympie grocery store. On 21 April 1904 at Gympie, with Presbyterian forms, he married Annie Isabel, daughter of Jacob John Stumm, Federal member for Lilley. His dedication to military service continued: in 1903 he organized the 13th Light Horse Regiment at Gympie; he was promoted captain in the Australian Military Forces (militia) in 1906 and major in 1912.

Having relinquished storekeeping, Glasgow had just bought a cattle station in central Queensland when World War I broke out. However he immediately enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force and was appointed major in the 2nd Light Horse Regiment. Three of his six brothers also enlisted. He embarked for Egypt on 24 September 1914 and landed at Gallipoli on 12 May 1915. He succeeded Lieutenant-Colonel F. M. Rowell as acting commandant of Pope's Hill and from there on 7 August he led 200 New South Wales Light-horsemen in an attack on Dead Man's Ridge. All but 46 were killed or wounded. Glasgow was among the last to retire, carrying with him one of his wounded troopers. Next day he was given command of the 2nd Light Horse and held that appointment, as lieutenant-colonel, until after the evacuation.

In March 1916 when the 4th and 5th Divisions were formed, Glasgow was promoted temporary brigadier and given the task of raising and commanding the 13th Infantry Brigade. He led his men in many important actions including those at Pozières, Messines, Passchendaele, Mouquet Farm and Dernancourt. He was appointed C.M.G. in June 1916 and C.B. in December 1917.

On 25 April 1918 the 13th Brigade, together with Harold Elliott's 15th Brigade, recaptured the town of Villers-Bretonneux after the Germans had overrun the 8th British Division under General Heneker. It was a feat subsequently described by Lieutenant-General Sir John Monash as the turning-point of the war, and there was disappointment in 1938 when Glasgow was not present at the opening of the memorial at Villers-Bretonneux. Before the counter-attack Glasgow, having reconnoitred the position, demurred at British orders to attack across the enemy's front. 'Tell us what you want us to do Sir', he said to Heneker, 'but you must let us do it our own way'. He refused to attack at 8 p.m.: 'If it was God Almighty who gave the order, we couldn't do it in day-light'. They attacked successfully at 10 p.m.

On 30 June Glasgow was promoted major general and appointed commander of the 1st Division in Flanders. On 8 August, the fourth anniversary of Glasgow's enlistment, his division rejoined the Australian Corps on the Somme and participated in the massive offensive in August and September. He led the 1st Division with distinction in its major successful engagements at Lihons, Chuignes and Hargicourt.

Glasgow remained with the 1st Division until the end of the war, embarked for Australia on 6 May 1919 and was demobilized on 19 August. He was appointed K.C.B. in recognition of his outstanding war service and was nine times mentioned in dispatches; the French government awarded him the Légion d'honneur and the Croix de Guerre; he also won a Belgian Croix de Guerre. Back in Queensland Glasgow continued on the reserve of officers of the 1st Military District with command (from 1921) of the 4th Division. Then he became honorary colonel of the 5th Light Horse and the 1st Battalion. For twenty years he led the Anzac Day parade in Brisbane as general officer commanding the parade.

Charles Bean described him as 'the most forcible of the three strong brigadiers of the 4th Division. With keen blue eyes looking from under puckered humorous brows as shaggy as a deer-hound's; with the bushman's difficulty of verbal expression but sure sense of character and situations; with a fiery temper, but cool understanding and a firm control of men; with an entire absence of vanity, but translucent honesty and a standard of rectitude which gave confidence both to superiors and subordinates, he could—by a frown, a shrewd shake of the head, or a twinkle in [the eye] … awaken in others more energy than would have been evoked by any amount of exhortation'. According to Monash, 'Glasgow succeeded not so much by exceptional mental gifts, or by tactical skill of any very high order, as by his personal driving force and determination'. (Sir) Robert Menzies later described Glasgow as 'the complete personal embodiment of the A.I.F.'.

Glasgow was a stern man in his military views. He joined Brigadier General William Holmes in 1917 in requesting an amendment of the Defence Act to bring it into line with British and New Zealand law so that it would be possible to inflict the death penalty in a few flagrant cases of desertion. In 1918, when 119 men of the 1st Battalion were found guilty of desertion, he refused to recommend remission of the sentences which were, however, not exacted because the war ended. But he was at the same time a great battler for the welfare of his men. Just before the end of the Gallipoli campaign he took 'French leave' from Lemnos, where he had been sent for a few days' rest, to return to Gallipoli to take away the remnants of his regiment; his inspiring voice and wise guidance were valued during those anxious hours. After the war he was an equally stern fighter for the rights of soldiers, though he deprecated extravagant claims to privileges.

In 1919 Sir William Glasgow was elected to the Senate as a Nationalist. He was no orator but his rugged common sense was appreciated and he quickly made his mark in Melbourne. In February 1923 he reluctantly refused the leadership of the non-Labor forces in Queensland with the prospect of becoming premier. He succeeded (Sir) George Pearce as minister for home and territories in the Bruce-Page government on 18 June 1926. From April 1927 until October 1929 he was minister for defence. In 1928 Glasgow led an Australian delegation to the Empire Parliamentary Association conference in Canada and visited England to study modern war methods. In this period the government completed its five-year defence programme which increased the citizen army to 45,000 and modernized and expanded the Royal Australian Air Force.

During the Scullin government Glasgow was deputy leader of the Opposition in the Senate. He saw his role as that of frustrating Labor's attempt to force its inflationary policy on the nation. But in 1931 Labor polled well in Queensland against the national landslide and Glasgow lost his seat in the Senate. Next year he resumed his pastoral interests in Queensland where he became a director of several companies and, in January 1936, a member of the Queensland board of advice of the National Bank of Australasia Ltd. President of the Queensland branch of the United Australia Party, he stressed the necessity for unity among the parties opposed to the 'extremists'.

On 24 December 1939 Glasgow was appointed first Australian high commissioner to Canada where he arrived late in March 1940. His work included negotiation on matters of policy regarding the Empire Air Training Scheme and he regularly visited the far-flung camps and schools in Canada where Australians were training or awaiting embarkation. He made sure the airmen had good conditions and that mail and other amenities were promptly distributed. He established Anzac clubs in Ottawa and Halifax and during his tours publicized the Australian war effort. The University of Manitoba awarded him an honorary LL.D. in 1942.

Glasgow's direct and frank approach won the trust of Prime Minister Mackenzie King and the ministers for external affairs, defence, and munitions and supply. From the time of his arrival he advocated much closer liaison on Pacific strategy and dispositions. He was not so successful in enlisting Mackenzie King's support for Prime Minister John Curtin's idea of a British Commonwealth Council and secretariat. In March 1944 an agreement was concluded for 'mutual aid' between Australia and Canada and a mission set up under Glasgow's supervision. The Canadians provided two merchant ships, one of which, the Taronga Park, was launched by Lady Glasgow. In August 1943 and September 1944 Glasgow attended the Quebec conferences between Churchill and Roosevelt to be briefed by Churchill and his staff and to register Australian interests. Canadian government advisers recommended Glasgow for consideration as governor-general.

He returned to Australia in 1945 and resumed his pastoral and business interest in Queensland. His last years were spent in Brisbane where he died on 4 July 1955, survived by his wife and two daughters. He was given a state funeral after a service at St Andrew's Presbyterian Church, and was cremated. In 1966 a bronze statue of Glasgow by Daphne Mayo was unveiled at the junction of Roma and Turbot streets in Brisbane. At the ceremony Sir Arthur Fadden described him as 'one of the most distinguished soldiers of our age and generation'.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Monash, The Australian Victories in France in 1918 (Lond, 1920)
  • C. E. W. Bean, The Story of Anzac (Syd, 1921, 1924), and The A.I.F in France, 1916-18 (Syd, 1929, 1933, 1937, 1942)
  • Reveille (Sydney), 1 Jan 1937
  • JRHSQ, 11 (1979-80), no 1
  • Table Talk (Melbourne), 25 July 1929
  • Herald (Melbourne), 19 June 1926, 2 May 1931
  • Telegraph (Brisbane), 5 July 1955
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 9 July 1955.

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Citation details

Ralph Harry, 'Glasgow, Sir Thomas William (1876–1955)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/glasgow-sir-thomas-william-6397/text10935, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 22 December 2014.

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

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