Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Wynter, Henry Douglas (1886–1945)

by Warren Perry

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

Henry Douglas Wynter (1886-1945), by Ivor Hele, 1944

Henry Douglas Wynter (1886-1945), by Ivor Hele, 1944

Australian War Memorial, ART23696

Henry Douglas Wynter (1886-1945), army officer, was born on 5 June 1886 at Walla, near Gin Gin, Queensland, sixth surviving child of Henry Philip Walter Wynter (d.1889), a sugar-cane farmer from New South Wales, and his Irish-born wife Maria Louisa, née Maunsell. Educated at Maryborough Grammar School, Douglas worked on his mother's farm and later in a butter factory at Bundaberg. Having served in the senior cadets, he was commissioned in the Wide Bay Infantry Regiment, Militia, in 1907. By 1909 he had attained the rank of captain.

On 1 February 1911 Wynter transferred to the Permanent Military Forces and was appointed probationary lieutenant on the Administrative and Instructional Staff, 1st Military District (Queensland). At St John's Church of England, Dalby, on 5 September that year he married Ethel May White, a nurse. Attached to the adjutant-general's department at Army Headquarters, Melbourne, from October 1912, he was appointed temporary director of personnel in November 1914 and made a brevet major in December 1915.

Seconded to the Australian Imperial Force as brigade major of the 11th Brigade on 27 April 1916, Wynter arrived in England in July. He became deputy assistant adjutant and quartermaster general at 4th Division headquarters in October before being sent to Lieutenant General Sir William (Baron) Birdwood's I Anzac Corps headquarters in France in March 1917. There Wynter assisted Birdwood with his A.I.F. administrative duties. In July Wynter was promoted lieutenant colonel and appointed assistant adjutant-general on Birdwood's A.I.F. staff. He commanded the A.I.F. troops in France and Flanders in June-November 1919. For his service as a staff officer he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (1918), appointed C.M.G. (1919) and mentioned in dispatches four times. His A.I.F. appointment terminated in Brisbane on 18 April 1920.

Posted as deputy assistant adjutant-general, 4th Military District (South Australia), Wynter transferred to the newly formed Staff Corps in October 1920. He attended the Staff College, Camberley, England, in 1921-22. Back in Melbourne, he joined the General Staff at A.H.Q. In February 1925 he became director of mobilization. His duties included compiling the Commonwealth War Book which detailed plans for the mobilization of the nation's military forces in the event of war. He completed the 1930 course at the Imperial Defence College, London. From July 1932 he was general staff officer, 1st grade, at 1st Division headquarters, Sydney. In April 1935 he returned to A.H.Q. to become director of military training. He was promoted temporary colonel in June.

In a lecture to the United Service Institution of Victoria in September 1926 (published in the British Army Quarterly in April 1927), Wynter had said that 'if war were to break out with a Pacific Power, it would be at some time when Great Britain was involved in war in Europe'. He argued that the security of Britain was the primary consideration of Imperial defence, and that Australia should provide a naval base in its own territory, apart from the base then under construction at Singapore which he regarded as vulnerable. The 'principal instruments of the local defence of Australia', however, were the army and the air force.

In 1935 Wynter gave a further lecture to the United Service institutions in Melbourne and Sydney on the defence of Australia. The minister for defence (Sir) Archdale Parkhill requested a copy, as did Senator C. H. Brand, who distributed a synopsis of the paper to other parliamentarians. On 5 November 1936 John Curtin, the leader of the Opposition, used it as the basis of a speech attacking government policy, embarrassing Parkhill. Furthermore, Parkhill alleged that an article in the Sydney Daily Telegraph, written by Wynter's son Philip, contained information found in a secret defence document. By ministerial direction, Wynter was posted in March 1937 to the inferior position of G.S.O.1 of the 11th Mixed Brigade in Queensland. He also reverted to his substantive rank of lieutenant colonel, with a reduced salary. The minister refused Wynter a court martial to contest the accusation that he improperly disclosed classified information. It was generally believed in the army that Wynter was unjustly treated.

After Parkhill was defeated at a general election in October 1937, Wynter was promoted colonel (with effect from July 1937) and in July 1938 was appointed commandant and chief instructor of the newly created Command and Staff School, Sydney. Following the outbreak of World War II, in October 1939 he was given Northern Command, based in Queensland, with the local rank of major general. On 4 April 1940 he was seconded to the A.I.F. as a temporary brigadier and made deputy-adjutant and quartermaster general of I Corps.

Arriving in Britain in June 1940, Wynter was promoted major general and appointed commandant of the A.I.F. in the United Kingdom. He took command of the 9th Division in October and sailed for the Middle East next month to prepare for military operations. However, just as he was about to bring to fruition his long years of study, training and experience, his health failed. Declared temporarily medically unfit, he was forced to relinquish his command in February 1941 and return to Australia. His A.I.F. appointment terminated on 6 July and he became major general, General Staff, at headquarters, Eastern Command, Sydney. On 19 December he rose to temporary lieutenant general and took over Eastern Command. He was appointed C.B. (1942).

In April 1942 Wynter became lieutenant general-in-charge of administration at Land Headquarters, Melbourne. Responsible directly to the commander-in-chief General Sir Thomas Blamey, he supervised and co-ordinated the work of his principal subordinates, the adjutant-general, quartermaster general and master-general of the ordnance. Suffering from high blood pressure, he relinquished his position on 19 September 1944 and was placed on the Supernumerary List, pending retirement, the following day.

Wynter was 5 ft 9 ins (175 cm) tall, with fair hair, blue eyes and a physique that was lean but strong. He enjoyed playing tennis. An unassuming and modest man, he was a patient instructor and a clear and forceful public speaker. He was one of a small group of officers who, in the interwar period, had tried to stimulate military thought in and beyond the Australian army. The war historian Gavin Long regarded him as 'perhaps the clearest and most profound thinker the Australian Army of his generation had produced'. Survived by his wife and their two sons, he died on 7 February 1945 in the 115th Military Hospital, Heidelberg, and was buried with military honours in Springvale cemetery. His portrait (1944) by (Sir) Ivor Hele is held by the Australian War Memorial, Canberra.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Long, To Benghazi (Canb, 1952)
  • D. M. Horner, High Command (Canb, 1982)
  • P. Dennis et al, The Oxford Companion to Australian Military History (Melb, 1995)
  • B. Lodge, Lavarack (Syd, 1998)
  • W. Perry, 'Lieutenant General Henry Douglas Wynter: An Officer of the Australian Staff Corps', Victorian Historical Magazine, 43, no 2, May 1972, p 837.

Citation details

Warren Perry, 'Wynter, Henry Douglas (1886–1945)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/wynter-henry-douglas-12083/text21679, published in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 31 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014

Henry Douglas Wynter (1886-1945), by Ivor Hele, 1944

Henry Douglas Wynter (1886-1945), by Ivor Hele, 1944

Australian War Memorial, ART23696