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Thomas Henry Dodds (1873–1943)

by A. J. Hill

This article was published:

Thomas Henry Dodds (1873-1943), soldier, was born on 11 November 1873 at Gateshead, County Durham, England, son of Thomas Dodds, manager of the British Workman, and his wife Jane née Smith. The family migrated to Australia in 1883, settling in Brisbane where Dodds attended the Fortitude Valley State School and the Brisbane Normal School. He entered the Queensland Department of Public Instruction as a teacher in 1888. Attracted by the volunteer movement he enlisted in 1892 and was commissioned in the Queensland Teachers' Corps in 1899.

Dodds served in the South African War as adjutant of the 5th (Queensland Imperial Bushmen) Contingent in 1901-02. When the Bushmen and other units were attacked and almost overwhelmed by a superior force of Boers at Onverwacht, he rallied the surviving Queenslanders and held on to a ridge until help arrived. For this and other spirited actions he was mentioned in dispatches and awarded the Distinguished Service Order. He was also promoted honorary captain. He returned from South Africa in May 1902 and on 29 December, at the Baptist Church, Fortitude Valley, he married Elizabeth Jane Hancock.

In July 1906 Dodds exchanged teaching for a regular commission in the Administrative and Instructional Staff. Although he was again a lieutenant and did not become a captain until 1910 his rise was to be unusually rapid. His chance came in 1911 when he was moved from Brisbane to Army Headquarters in Melbourne. There he quickly came under the eye of Lieutenant-Colonel James Legge who was responsible for the planning and organization of the new compulsory training scheme. Dodds's capacity as an administrative staff officer was soon demonstrated. He was made secretary of the War Railway Council and in July 1911 was appointed director of personnel although still a captain. In 1913 he was promoted major.

When war broke out in August 1914, Dodds was assistant adjutant general and director of personnel so that when the adjutant general, Lieutenant-Colonel Victor Sellheim, was transferred to the Australian Imperial Force, Dodds moved easily into his appointment, was promoted lieutenant-colonel, and became a temporary member of the Military Board. However, like a number of other officers, his very ability kept him in Australia while most of his friends were at the front; the dispatch of the 1st Division and the 1st Light Horse Brigade and their successors left the army in Australia dangerously short of useful officers. Dodds's requests for employment with the A.I.F. were twice refused as was the request of Major General Legge who wanted him as senior administrative staff officer in the 2nd Division.

Even before he became adjutant general, Dodds had become known as a bluff, out-spoken and formidable officer. Given the range of his responsibilities for the personnel of the army, including the recruitment of the A.I.F. until 1916, it was fortunate that a man of such strength of character and energy was available. Dodds was not content to limit his interests to the army in Australia. He was one of the earliest and strongest proponents of the 'Australianisation' of the commands and staffs of the A.I.F., strongly pressing this policy on the minister for defence, Senator (Sir) George Pearce. In the opinion of one of the closest observers of the wartime government, Governor-General Sir Ronald Munro Ferguson, Dodds was the strongest member of the Military Board and exerted too much influence over the minister; Munro Ferguson described Dodds as one 'of the rough and ready school … hard working and capable but ill-mannered, violent and prejudiced … tho' to me personally his demeanour is irreproachable and he is helpful'. In a less exalted position, Charles Bean's assistant, Arthur Bazley, confessed that he was always rather afraid when he had to approach Dodds but he, too, found him helpful in relation to the war history.

Release came for Dodds early in 1917 when he was appointed to the staff of Lieutenant-General Sir William Birdwood as deputy adjutant general, A.I.F. At headquarters of 1st Anzac Corps (later the Australian Corps) Dodds soon won Birdwood's approval. He stood up to the prime minister, Billy Hughes, who made an angry scene when Dodds refused to issue certain orders without Birdwood's approval; 'I have complete confidence in his work and loyalty' wrote the latter to the governor-general. When Birdwood went to command the Fifth Army, Dodds accompanied him to handle Australian personnel matters.

In October 1918 Dodds, now brigadier general, succeeded Brigadier General Thomas Griffiths as commandant of A.I.F. Administrative Headquarters in London. He returned to Melbourne in May 1919. For his services he was twice mentioned in dispatches and was appointed C.M.G. In the early post-war years he became interested in the work of the Returned Sailors' and Soldiers' Imperial League of Australia, joining the Hawthorn sub-branch.

When the Prince of Wales toured Australia in 1920, Dodds was deputy director-general of the royal visit. For this work he was appointed C.V.O. However, it was a brief interlude in his work as military secretary at A.H.Q., 1920-22, and colonel, administrative staff in the Adjutant General's Branch, 1922-24. The chief of the General Staff, his old friend Sir Harry Chauvel, sent him to London as colonel, General Staff, at the Australian High Commission and Australian representative at the War Office, from January 1925. After this well-earned change of duties, Chauvel brought him back in 1927 to command the 2nd District Base in Sydney and the 1st Division. In 1929 Dodds returned to the Military Board as adjutant general to face the heavy tasks of holding the army together during the Depression, with all its consequent retrenchments, and the replacement of the compulsory system which he had helped to create by a volunteer militia. He was promoted major general in 1930. When he retired in 1934 the volunteer force was in being, although short of men.

In 1931-41 Dodds held the post of honorary federal treasurer of the R.S.L. For a time he was active in local government, having been elected to the Hawthorn City Council in 1935. He was a regular worshipper at St Mark's Church of England, Camberwell, and served on the parish council.

Dodds died suddenly on 15 October 1943 of a heart attack, and was accorded full military honours at his funeral. He was survived by his wife and two daughters, his son Lieutenant-Colonel N. G. Dodds, also an able administrator, having died on active service with the A.I.F. in 1942. Dodds's portrait by James Quinn is in the Australian War Memorial.

Select Bibliography

  • Australian Defence Department, Official Records of the Military Contingents to the War in South Africa, P. L. Murray ed (Melb, 1911)
  • C. E. W. Bean, The Story of Anzac (Syd, 1924), and The Australian Imperial Force in France, 1916-18 (Syd, 1929, 1933, 1937, 1942)
  • London Gazette, 29 July, 31 Oct 1902, 28 Dec 1917, 28 May, 3 June 1918, 18 Aug 1920
  • Punch (Melbourne), 15 Apr 1915, 8 Feb 1917
  • Queensland Digger, 1 Mar 1933
  • Birdwood papers (Australian War Memorial)
  • Novar papers (National Library of Australia).

Citation details

A. J. Hill, 'Dodds, Thomas Henry (1873–1943)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 21 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (Melbourne University Press), 1981

View the front pages for Volume 8

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


11 November, 1873
Gateshead, Tyne and Wear, England


15 October, 1943 (aged 69)
Victoria, Australia

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