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Ryrie, Sir Granville de Laune (1865–1937)

by A. J. Hill

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

Granville de Laune Ryrie (1865-1937), by Charles Wheeler, 1921

Granville de Laune Ryrie (1865-1937), by Charles Wheeler, 1921

Australian War Memorial, ART03556

Sir Granville de Laune Ryrie (1865-1937), grazier, politician and soldier, was born on 1 July 1865 at Micalago, Michelago, New South Wales, son of Alexander Ryrie, grazier and member of the Legislative Assembly (1880-91) and legislative councillor (1892-1909), and his wife Charlotte, née Faunce, both New South Wales born. He was educated at Mittagong and at The King's School, Parramatta (1878-83), after which he gained experience for several years as a jackeroo in the north-western back-country. Rejoicing in life in the outback, Ryrie became a notable horseman, an expert shot with the rifle and a formidable boxer; he was later twice runner-up in the New South Wales amateur heavyweight championship. He had also closely studied the Aborigines and learned a language.

Ryrie took over the management of Micalago, a 35,000-acre (14,162 ha) grazing and cattle-breeding property. On 18 February 1896 he married Mary Frances Gwendoline, daughter of Judge McFarland, at St Thomas's Anglican Church, North Sydney; they had twin daughters and a son. Ryrie joined the volunteer movement as a trooper but it was not until 1898 that he was commissioned second lieutenant in the 1st Australian Horse. He served in the South African War, initially as a captain, with the 6th (New South Wales) Imperial Bushmen from May 1900 to June 1901. They first saw action, briefly, in Rhodesia, then in the Transvaal, Cape and Orange River colonies. Ryrie was severely wounded in September 1900 at Wonderfontein and was promoted honorary major in November.

Returning to Micalago in July 1901 he resumed his service in the 1st Australian Horse which, in the reorganization of 1903, was renamed the 3rd Light Horse Regiment. In October 1904 he became commanding officer and was promoted lieutenant-colonel. Ryrie commanded his regiment for seven years. In the same period he was elected to the Legislative Assembly as member for Queanbeyan in April 1906; it is said that in his election campaign he wooed the electors with 'rollicking ballads sung to his own accompaniment'. He resigned in February 1910 to contest, unsuccessfully, the Federal seat of Werriwa, then in October the State seat of Cootamundra held by W. A. Holman, leader of the Labor opposition, who won narrowly. In 1911, however, Ryrie entered Federal parliament as member for North Sydney where he established a very strong following. He had a reputation for blunt, forceful speaking, ready humour and common sense; though a downright Tory, he mixed easily with all sections of the community.

Soon after the outbreak of war, on 17 September 1914 Ryrie was given command of the 2nd Light Horse Brigade, Australian Imperial Force, as brigadier general. His constituents presented him with a charger, Plain Bill, which came to be regarded as the finest horse in all the mounted regiments.

On arrival in Egypt, Ryrie's brigade and the 3rd Light Horse Brigade became corps troops under the control of Lieutenant-General (Lord) Birdwood, but when the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps left for Gallipoli the light horse remained in Egypt. The brigadiers resisted Birdwood's attempts to have their men sent as reinforcements for the infantry and Ryrie, in spite of the objections of two of his three unit commanders, volunteered his brigade as a dismounted unit as the other brigadiers had done. So on 19 May 1915 Ryrie landed at Anzac and his regiments were attached to the brigades of the 1st Division.

As Brigadier General (Sir) H. B. Walker was doubtful of the capacity of Ryrie and his staff at this juncture, he sent Captain W. J. Foster, an outstanding young Australian regular officer, to act as Ryrie's brigade major. A month later, when his brigade was concentrated and allotted the southernmost section of the Anzac position, Ryrie's common sense and prudence were making an impression. Within the 2nd Light Horse Brigade, 'the old Brig' or 'Bull' held an unassailable position, won not only by his warm, human qualities, but also by his willingness to share the hard rations as well as the hardships of Gallipoli. His calm courage and cheerfulness won his men's admiration and their approval was sealed when it became known that he had protested against an attack order by Divisional Headquarters. Ryrie's knowledge of the ground and the enemy made it clear to him that the proposed attack must be a costly failure; he won his point. 'He was, in camp and in action, the trusted father of his men'.

Ryrie was twice wounded on Gallipoli, remaining on duty on the second occasion. He held the southernmost positions at Anzac until the withdrawal in December and had the satisfaction of having a new position, dug by his men on Holly Ridge, named Ryrie's Post.

When the Australian and New Zealand Mounted Division (known as Anzac Mounted) was formed in March 1916 under Major General (Sir) Harry Chauvel, Ryrie's brigade was in the outposts east of the Suez Canal until they joined the division at Salhia. After a sudden Turkish raid overwhelmed British outposts in April, Ryrie was ordered into Sinai and thus began the long advance that was to end for him near Amman in Jordan in September 1918. Soon after establishing his brigade around Romani, Ryrie obtained leave to attend an Empire Parliamentary Conference in London. This, while not enhancing his reputation at higher headquarters, deprived him of the chance of leading his troops in the crucial victory at Romani in August 1916. He was back in mid-September but as 2nd Light Horse Brigade was enjoying a rest period he did not see any major action until the attack on Gaza in March 1917. There his 5th Regiment fought its way into the town by nightfall so that Ryrie and all others were astounded when Anzac Mounted was ordered to withdraw. He refused to move back until every man of his brigade had been collected.

Ryrie took part in the battle for Beersheba on 31 October 1917, the advance through Palestine, the Amman raid of 23 March–2 April 1918, and the so-called Es Salt raid of 30 April–4 May, which was no raid but a full battle of the reinforced Desert Mounted Corps. In the last great battle which began on 19 September, Ryrie crossed the Jordan for the third time, taking part in the capture of Amman and the surrender of 5000 Turks at Ziza on 29 September. Ryrie allowed the Turks to keep their arms and artillery to save them from hordes of vengeful Arab tribesmen and he with his regiments bivouacked with the Turks. Next day, after the arrival of the New Zealand Brigade, the Turks handed over their weapons and passed safely into captivity to the fury of the Arabs.

It was, in some respects, a disappointing war for Ryrie who, after four years, still commanded his brigade as brigadier general. As the official historian correctly asserts, in over two years of operations he never made a serious mistake. 'Steady, consistent success marked his leadership all the way'. It was his misfortune that not only were there no casualties among divisional commanders in the mounted force, but also that other brigadiers were available, both regulars, with more experience and better qualifications for divisional command on the two occasions when a vacancy occurred. Moreover, the appointment was not a purely Australian matter and Chauvel, whose advice must have been sought, had his doubts about Ryrie's fitness to command a division.

Ryrie had been appointed C.M.G. (1916), C.B. (1917) and was mentioned in dispatches five times. He was also awarded the Order of the Nile (2nd class). In December 1918 he became commander of the Australian Mounted Division, was promoted temporary major general in April 1919 and, when Chauvel departed that month, succeeded him as commander of the A.I.F. in Egypt. Ryrie was appointed K.C.M.G. in October 1919, just before returning to Australia.

When revolutionary disturbances broke out in Egypt in March 1919, the embarkation of the light horse was interrupted and all the regiments were remounted and employed on internal security under the orders of the acting commander-in-chief. Ryrie was involved when a Gurkha sentry of his force disappeared. He employed two Australian Aborigines who found the Gurkha's body and traced the murderers to a nearby village. When the local headmen would not or could not produce them, Ryrie ordered the village to be burnt.

Ryrie resumed his political activities on his return and was made assistant (honorary) minister of defence, from February 1920 to December 1921, in the last government of W. M. Hughes. It was a difficult portfolio in the post-war years but Ryrie was devoted to it; although he had returned to the Australian Military Forces as a major general in June 1920 and as commander of the 1st Cavalry Division in 1921, he obtained leave from military duty to March 1923 and again until July 1924. His command was extended until June 1927 when he retired. In September 1922, when Hughes proposed moving from the doubtful seat of Bendigo to the safe seat of North Sydney, Ryrie was willing to accommodate him by taking over the new and equally safe seat of Warringah. He was temporary chairman of committees in the House of Representatives, and chairman of the Joint Committee on Public Accounts, in 1926-27.

It was said of Ryrie that 'he was a faithful party man of the right wing whose loyalties and attachments everyone knew and whose support could be implicitly relied upon in all circumstances'. His reward came in 1927 when he was offered the post of high commissioner in London. He was engaged there principally in formal rather than policy matters, although Prime Minister Bruce ordered his liaison officer R. G. (Lord) Casey to report regularly to Ryrie and show him their correspondence if required.

Ryrie had lost none of his bluntness and geniality and his worth was soon appreciated. He faithfully represented Australia at the League of Nations in Geneva and may have stirred some of an astonished group of diplomats to action when he adjured them: 'Cut the cackle and let's get down to business'. On another occasion his unconventional and picturesque language when opposing a motion in the assembly of the league, brought roars of laughter from the delegates; when translated into French it reduced Aristide Briand to helpless tears of mirth. He rushed up to Ryrie shouting 'Magnifique, Australia'.

Ryrie came home in 1932 but did not return to public life. Suffering from uraemia and cardiac failure he died in Sydney on 2 October 1937, survived by his wife and children. After a state service at St Andrew's Anglican Cathedral, he was buried at Michelago. Two portraits of him by Henry Woolcott and Charles Wheeler and a pencil sketch by George Lambert are in the Australian War Memorial.

Select Bibliography

  • H. S. Gullett, The A.I.F. in Sinai and Palestine (Syd, 1923)
  • C. E. W. Bean, The Story of Anzac (Syd, 1921, 1924)
  • G. F. Pearce, Carpenter to Cabinet (Lond, 1951)
  • A. J. Hill, Chauvel of the Light Horse (Melb, 1978)
  • L. F. Fitzhardinge, The Little Digger (Syd, 1979)
  • S. Brugger, Australians and Egypt (Melb, 1980)
  • Reveille (Sydney), Feb 1935
  • Punch (Melbourne), 14 Jan 1915
  • Age (Melbourne), 4 Oct 1937
  • Telegraph (Sydney), 4 Oct 1937
  • Ryrie papers (National Library of Australia).

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Citation details

A. J. Hill, 'Ryrie, Sir Granville de Laune (1865–1937)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/ryrie-sir-granville-de-laune-8319/text14593, published in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 1 September 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

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