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Sir Frank Horton Berryman (1894–1981)

by A. J. Hill

This article was published:

Sir Frank Horton Berryman (1894-1981), soldier, was born on 11 April 1894 at Geelong West, Victoria, fourth child of William Lee Berryman, engine driver, and his wife Annie Jane, née Horton, both Victorian born. Educated at Melbourne High School, he entered the Royal Military College, Duntroon, Federal Capital Territory, in March 1913; his record at both was impressive. He graduated from Duntroon in June 1915 and was appointed lieutenant in the Australian Imperial Force on 1 July. After brief artillery training, he was posted to the 12th Battery, 4th Field Artillery Brigade, 2nd Division. He arrived in France in March 1916 and became immersed in the artillery war that dominated the Western Front. In July he was made adjutant of the 4th FAB and promoted to captain. He obtained experience of infantry operations as a trainee staff officer with 7th Brigade headquarters from January 1917. Promoted to major in September, he was given command of the 18th Battery, 6th FAB. He commanded the 14th Battery, 5th FAB, in May-September 1918, a most demanding period, after which he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order. He was twice mentioned in despatches. Wounded in action in September, he returned to 7th Brigade headquarters as assistant brigade major, then as brigade major.

Back in Australia in August 1919, Berryman continued his service in the Permanent Military Forces as a lieutenant with the honorary rank of major. A two-year course in Britain in 1921-23 brought appointment as inspecting ordnance officer, followed by promotion to captain and brevet major in March 1923. On 28 November 1925 at St Stephen’s Presbyterian Church, Sydney, he married with Congregational forms Muriel Alice Ann Whipp. He attended the Staff College, Camberley, England, in 1927-28. His report referred to his `considerable strength of character’. He was `very zealous and hard working’, but `highly strung’ and `might have done even better if he had not been almost over-anxious’. After two years in the Australian High Commission in London, he became army representative there in 1931.

When Berryman returned to Australia in 1932 in the depths of the Depression, the army was enduring cuts in personnel and pay. He remained on a captain’s salary, but after two staff appointments was promoted to major in March 1935. Tensions in Europe and East Asia were preoccupying the Australian army. Berryman, promoted to brevet lieutenant colonel in May 1937 (substantive July 1938), was working so relentlessly in the operations branch at Army Headquarters, Melbourne, that his efficiency report in 1938 stated that he was `under continuous mental strain’ and recommended that `it would be in the best interests of the Service and himself that he should be released for duty with troops’. This appears to have had its effect as in December he was posted to headquarters, 3rd Division, as general staff officer, 1st grade.

Seven months into World War II, on 4 April 1940, Berryman was appointed GSO1 of the 6th Division, AIF, with the rank of colonel. He established his reputation as a staff officer at Bardia and Tobruk, Libya, in January 1941, but was then transferred to the 7th Division to command its artillery. His former commander (Sir) Iven Mackay considered that Berryman’s outstanding ability and systematic planning had contributed largely to the successes at Bardia and Tobruk, and Lieutenant General (Sir) Richard O’Connor, commander of Western Desert Force, spoke to Lieutenant General Sir Thomas Blamey `in glowing terms of the way in which the staff work of the 6th Division was done’. Berryman was appointed CBE (1941). Good soldier though he was, he antagonised senior Militia officers; to him they were only `weekend soldiers’.

In the brief campaign in Syria in June-July 1941 Berryman again distinguished himself. For a fortnight he commanded Berryforce, a mixed brigade fighting in the Merdjayoun sector until relieved by a British brigade. He planned and launched five attacks, using his guns well forward and aggressively. By the end of the campaign he was so exhausted that he went into hospital. The mention in despatches which followed was scant recognition of his performance.

Berryman became brigadier, general staff, of I Corps in August 1941. The corps being under orders to move to the Far East, Lieutenant General (Sir) John Lavarack, Berryman and others flew to Java, Netherlands East Indies, in January 1942, but disaster in Malaya and the swift advances of the Japanese put an end to Allied plans. Discussion of Japanese tactics with Colonel I. M. Stewart of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders enabled Berryman and Major General Arthur Samuel Allen to prepare a paper on that subject for circulation within the Australian army. Berryman left for Australia late in February.

After the turmoil of events in February-March 1942, Berryman emerged in April as major general, general staff, of the First Army under Lavarack. In September he was promoted to substantive major general and made deputy-chief of the General Staff at Land Headquarters, Melbourne. At various times he was also in New Guinea as MGGS, New Guinea Force. He worked closely with Blamey, especially in the planning of the operations that cleared the Japanese from the Ramu Valley and the Huon Peninsula in 1943-44. Given com­mand of II Corps (I Corps from April 1944) in November 1943, he was promoted to lieutenant general on 21 January 1944. As a staff officer then as a commander, Berryman was commended for `his skilful planning, able supervision and vigorous leadership’. He was appointed CB (1945).

In July 1944 Berryman was relieved of the retraining of his corps on the Atherton Tableland, Queensland, to undertake work of critical importance as chief-of-staff, Advanced LHQ, Brisbane. He began with a Joint Planning Staff in Melbourne preparing for the proposed concentration in Australia of British forces to be used against Japan. Returning to Brisbane, his main task became liaison with Douglas MacArthur’s General Headquarters, which, with his forward echelon, he joined at Hollandia, Netherlands New Guinea, then on Leyte, the Philippines, and finally in Manila. Berryman was invaluable; he could get on with the Americans and they admired him, but he was there to `safeguard Australian interests’.

Berryman continued in this role until the war ended. He was with Blamey at the surrender ceremony in Tokyo Bay on 2 September 1945 and when the Japanese Second Army surrendered at Morotai, NEI, on the 9th. Again mentioned in despatches, he was one of the officers Blamey recommended for a knighthood only to be rejected by the Australian government. The United States of America awarded him the Medal of Freedom with Silver Palm (1948).

His long service close to Blamey may well have prejudiced Berryman’s standing in political circles, but senior officers respected him even if some did not like him. Lavarack considered him `the best combination of fighting leader, staff officer, and administrator that I have met so far in our Army’. The `soundest planner I saw in the AIF’ was the verdict of (Sir) Horace Robertson. He was indefatigable and could be as hard on others as on himself. An artillery commander writing after the Syrian campaign referred to `the many occasions when your presence, effort and drive made all the difference between success and failure’, but some called him `Berry the Bastard’. He was so concerned about what appeared to have become his accepted image as `the tireless dynamo of the staff’ that he wrote to the army’s assistant-director of public relations to complain, providing a lengthy account of his activities as a front-line soldier.

In March 1946 Berryman was given his final appointment, that of general officer commanding, Eastern Command, and commandant, 2nd Military District. At Victoria Barracks in Sydney in the postwar years, his policy was to raise the prestige of the army and to make it an integral part of the community. He worked to inculcate the spirit of community service in all ranks, himself setting an example by his public activities. Soldiers throughout Eastern Command sent thousands of food parcels to Britain, and war widows and crippled children were supported. Troops came to the aid of flood-hit Maitland and, on the Chifley government’s orders, mined open-cut coal during a miners’ strike in 1949. Berryman delighted in military ceremonial, reviving the annual tattoo in 1947 and establishing the Eastern Command Band. He also began to improve army properties by planting trees, making lawns, gardens and playing fields, and by renovating buildings. A new nickname was heard—`Frank the Florist’.

Although Berryman did not attain the hoped-for prize of CGS in succession to (Sir) Vernon Sturdee, his skills as planner and administrator remained in demand. He was transferred to the Prime Minister’s Department in February 1951 to be director-general of the Commonwealth Jubilee and of the royal visit planned for 1952. As the latter was postponed, he returned to Eastern Command in March, resuming duties as director-general in December 1953. After Queen Elizabeth II’s tour early in 1954, he was appointed KCVO and was placed on the Retired List on 12 April.

Berryman was then the energetic director and chief executive officer of the Royal Agricultural Society of New South Wales until 1961. Other interests included Dr Barnardo’s in Australia (president 1967-80), the Regular Defence Forces Welfare Association (president 1967-79), the Gowrie [q.v.9] Scholarship Trust Fund and the Remembrance Driveway committee (president 1952-81). He was a founder of the War Widows’ Guild of Australia and a director of numerous public companies. He also found time for golf. In 1972 Lady Berryman was appointed CBE for her work with charities. Survived by his wife and their daughter and son, Sir Frank died on 28 May 1981 at Rose Bay, Sydney, and was cremated with full military honours. His portrait (1958) by Joshua Smith is held by the Australian War Memorial, Canberra.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Long, To Benghazi (1952)
  • G. Long, Greece, Crete and Syria (1953)
  • L. Wigmore, The Japanese Thrust (1957)
  • D. McCarthy, South-West Pacific Area—First Year (1959)
  • D. Dexter, The New Guinea Offensives (1961)
  • G. Long, The Final Campaigns (1963)
  • D. M. Horner (ed), The Commanders (1984)
  • D. Horner, High Command (1992)
  • D. Horner, The Gunners (1995)
  • D. Horner, Blamey (1998)
  • Bulletin, 22 Mar 1961, p 47
  • Berryman papers (Australian War Memorial)
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

A. J. Hill, 'Berryman, Sir Frank Horton (1894–1981)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 26 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (Melbourne University Press), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

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