Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Salisbury, Alfred George (1885–1942)

by Peter Burness

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

Alfred George Salisbury (1885-1942), by George Bell, 1919

Alfred George Salisbury (1885-1942), by George Bell, 1919

Australian War Memorial, ART00103

Alfred George Salisbury (1885-1942), grazier and soldier, was born on 15 February 1885 at Bowen Park, Queensland, son of Brisbane-born Samuel Mudford Salisbury, railwayman, and his wife Ellen Jane, née Hudson, born in London. Known as Dick to his family and friends, he was educated at state schools and was a bank officer before enlisting in the Australian Imperial Force on 20 August 1914.

Salisbury had been an active militia soldier and was a captain in the 7th Infantry (Moreton) Regiment. He carried this rank into the 9th Battalion, Australian Imperial Force, and was appointed officer commanding 'A' Company. On 24 September 1914 he embarked for Egypt where the battalion prepared for the Gallipoli campaign. While there he was promoted major.

The 9th Battalion was in the first wave at the Anzac landing on 25 April 1915. In the first few hours many of its officers became casualties and Salisbury took over temporary command. He directed the 9th throughout desperate fighting and, although wounded, remained on duty until a position was stabilized. He rejoined the fighting next day and continued in command until the end of May, remaining until evacuated through illness on 22 November. He rejoined the battalion on Lemnos on 3 December.

Three times Salisbury had been unsuccessfully recommended for a decoration for his Gallipoli service and many were surprised that he had not been further promoted. In France at Pozières, however, on 21 and 25 July, he was conspicuous in organizing troops while under most intense shell-fire during the attacks on enemy strong-points and was awarded the Distinguished Service Order. On 16 August, after returning from an inspection of front-line positions near Mouquet Farm, he was told he had been promoted lieutenant-colonel commanding the 50th Battalion, 4th Division.

Salisbury had met Florence Ethel Leonard of Swansea, Wales, when on 'Blighty' leave and they were married on 15 December 1916 in London. Only a few weeks later he was back in France commanding his battalion in the terrible winter trenches near Flers. When the German Army commenced its withdrawal to the Hindenburg line, the 50th Battalion was ordered to attack Noreuil. Following savage open fighting the battalion captured the village on 2 April 1917. It was one of the most notable single achievements of the battalion for which Salisbury was awarded the croix du chevalier of the French Légion d'honneur.

The battalion was then heavily committed at Messines, Belgium, and the 3rd Battle of Ypres. In December 1917 it moved back to the Somme and was near Locre when news of the German breakthrough was received early in April. The 13th Brigade was rushed south to Dernancourt where the Australians held the enemy advance.

Later that month Salisbury's battalion was resting when it was suddenly ordered to Villers-Bretonneux where the Germans were threatening to advance on Amiens. Salisbury led his battalion in a night counter-attack of two brigades over difficult ground with no prior reconnaissance. He 'moved about among the men, encouraging and directing them and finally establishing his HQ in an open trench, well forward, which was heavily shelled, but from which he was able to see and control his battalion'. After dawn on 25 April the town had been cleared and a firm defensive line formed.

The 50th Battalion remained on the Somme and on 10 August attacked Chipilly Spur. Later that month they retired for a rest, but by early September were back in action, advancing almost every day. On 16 September the battalion was relieved and Salisbury was attached to the 2nd United States Corps for two weeks. He was preparing to bring his battalion back into action on the day that the Armistice was declared.

'Sally' Salisbury established a reputation as a fighting soldier: he was in action regularly from the first day of the Gallipoli campaign. As a battalion commander he was noted for firmness and efficiency and he often had temporary command of the brigade. He showed no flamboyance and never developed the familiarity with his soldiers that some other Australian battalion commanders had. Quiet and unassuming, 'he proved himself an intrepid leader, never owning defeat, and holding on with grim determination to what, at times, seemed hopeless positions'. His brigadier (Major General Sir) William Glasgow 'had complete confidence in him, knowing that whatever task he was put to would be carried out'. He was awarded a Bar to his D.S.O. for his work at Villers-Bretonneux and in 1919 was appointed C.M.G.

Salisbury returned to Australia with his wife in August 1919. He was keen to take up a property, originally leasing Baree, at North Star, New South Wales, before being able to buy Koarlo, a sheep property near Goondiwindi, Queensland. He retained an interest in the army and in November 1939 was given command of Northern Command Training Depots and later of the Training Brigade at Redbank. His health deteriorated and he retired in 1941. On 6 January 1942 he died in Brisbane of hypertensive renal disease, was given a military funeral at St John's Anglican Cathedral, and was cremated. His wife and two children survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • C. E. W. Bean, The Story of Anzac, vol 1 (Syd, 1921)
  • N. K. Harvey, From Anzac to the Hindenburg Line (Brisb, 1941)
  • Reveille (Sydney), Mar 1942
  • 50th Battalion A. I. F. Club programme, 16 Sept 1935, Adelaide (Australian War Memorial)
  • private information.

Citation details

Peter Burness, 'Salisbury, Alfred George (1885–1942)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/salisbury-alfred-george-8326/text14607, published in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 30 August 2014.

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

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014

Alfred George Salisbury (1885-1942), by George Bell, 1919

Alfred George Salisbury (1885-1942), by George Bell, 1919

Australian War Memorial, ART00103