Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Gilbert Charles Elliott (1872–1934)

by C. Neumann

This article was published:

Gilbert Charles Edward Elliott (1872-1934), British regular soldier, was born on 8 October 1872 at East Stonehouse, Devonshire, son of Gilbert Elliott, physician, and his wife Harriott, née Druitt. He was educated at Clifton College, Bristol, and at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich.

Elliott was commissioned as a second lieutenant, Royal Engineers, on 22 July 1892, and was promoted lieutenant in 1895 and captain in 1903. He served in Canada in 1897-1903, and again in 1906-08 as a major with the Royal Canadian Engineers at Halifax. His majority in the Royal Engineers, however, was not gained until 22 July 1912. Pleased with his Canadian experiences, Elliott volunteered for special duty with the Australian Military Forces and, from 23 October 1913 to 15 April 1918, was employed by the Commonwealth government. Hardly had he become chief engineer, Royal Australian Engineers, in New South Wales, when World War I began. Believing that 'the best training for war was war', he volunteered for service on 18 August 1914 and was appointed to raise and command the engineers of the 1st Division, Australian Imperial Force, as lieutenant-colonel from 16 October.

After training his engineers at Mena Camp, Egypt, Elliott landed at Anzac on 25 April 1915. He was wounded on 15 May and resumed duty two months later. On 26 July he was appointed commander of the 2nd Australian Divisional Engineers whom he trained in Egypt then brought to Anzac. On 30 October he was gassed by poisonous fumes after the explosion of an Australian mine in a tunnel; this left him unfit for duty until early 1916.

Elliott's capacity and thoroughness were recognized by the decision that he should organize and command the engineers of the 4th Division from 26 February. From June 1916 to March 1918, as commanding royal engineer (the first time this designation was used), 4th Australian Division, he was engaged in operations in France and Belgium, mainly in the Ypres sector. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order and the French Croix de Guerre, appointed C.M.G. and mentioned in dispatches three times. In June 1917 he commanded the engineers in holding operations after the battle of Messines, then moved forward for the 3rd battle of Ypres where his men distinguished themselves at Polygon Wood in September. Next March, having suffered poor health since being gassed at Anzac, he was granted leave to England and was then pronounced unfit for further active service. His A.I.F. appointment ended in April. Known in the A.I.F. as 'Snowy', Elliott was 'a man of kindly nature, often distressed by the ravages of war and in all circumstances just and honourable'. He should be remembered in Australia as the officer who first mobilized and led into battle the Royal Australian Engineers.

Elliott was returned to the British Army in April 1918 and was promoted lieutenant-colonel in 1920 and colonel in 1924. In 1920-24 he served as C.R.E. with British forces in Ireland, in Turkey and at York. While in Turkey he met Helen Muriel Cox, whom he married in 1924. He was placed on the retired list in 1926 and, survived by his wife, died of coronary vascular disease at his home at Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, on 1 September 1934.

Select Bibliography

  • C. E. W. Bean, The Story of Anzac (Syd, 1921, 1924), and The Australian Imperial Force in France, 1916-17 (Syd, 1929, 1933)
  • London Gazette, 22, 25 Sept, 21 Nov, 8 Dec 1916, 2, 4 Jan, 11 Dec 1917, 20 May 1918
  • Royal Engineers Journal, supplement, Nov 1934
  • Reveille (Sydney), Dec 1934
  • war diaries, 1st, 2nd and 4th Divisional Engineers, A.I.F. (Australian War Memorial).

Citation details

C. Neumann, 'Elliott, Gilbert Charles (1872–1934)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 17 July 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]


8 October, 1872
East Stonehouse, Devon, England


1 September, 1934 (aged 61)
Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, England

Cultural Heritage

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