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John Keatly Forsyth (1867–1928)

by J. G. Williams

This article was published:

John Keatly Forsyth (1867-1928), soldier, was born on 8 February 1867 in Brisbane, son of William Forsyth, builder, and his wife Elizabeth, née Hood, both Irish-born. Educated at Fortitude Valley State School and the Normal School, Brisbane, he joined the clerical staff of a sawmill and later a solicitor's office. Enlisting in the Queensland Mounted Infantry as a trooper in November 1885, he served in all non-commissioned ranks and received his commission on 18 July 1892. He reached the rank of captain in the militia before appointment on 1 August 1897 as a lieutenant on the headquarters staff of the permanent Queensland Defence force; that year, on 10 November, he married Catherine McMaster in a Brisbane Wesleyan Methodist church.

In February 1901 Forsyth was promoted captain and in 1901-02 served as adjutant to the 1st and 2nd Queensland Mounted Infantry and the 4th Infantry Regiment. After three years as staff officer with the 1st and 2nd Queensland Mounted Infantry he became in 1905 secretary to Major General Henry Finn, inspector general of the Commonwealth Military Forces in Melbourne. He joined the Victorian Administrative and Instructional Staff in 1907, was promoted major in May 1908 and in 1909-10 was an exchange officer in India and brigade major to the Ambala Cavalry Brigade; he was then deputy assistant adjutant general for instruction and later served as a general staff officer before being appointed director of equipment, Army Headquarters, in July 1912.

In March 1914 Forsyth was promoted lieutenant-colonel and just before the outbreak of war appointed quartermaster general and third member of the Military Board. He joined the Australian Imperial Force on 15 August in the same rank and raised and organized the 1st Light Horse Brigade and the 4th Light Horse Regiment of the 1st Division, A.I.F.; in temporary command of these units he embarked from Melbourne on 21 October. As arranged, he handed over command of the 1st Light Horse Brigade to Colonel (Sir) H. G. Chauvel on arrival in Egypt, retaining command of the 4th L.H.R. until May 1915 when, as assistant adjutant and quartermasters general with divisional headquarters, he reached Gallipoli. In July he was appointed commander of the 2nd Infantry Brigade with the temporary rank of brigadier general and planned the assault by the 6th Battalion on German Officers' Trench on 7 August. He remained at Gallipoli until just before the evacuation when his brigade went to Lemnos for a rest period.

In January 1916 Forsyth's brigade reached Tel-el-Kebir, Egypt, and then moved to Serapeum where they constructed and occupied six miles of entrenchments. On 27 March Forsyth, his headquarters and brigade troops, comprising the 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th Battalions and a machine-gun company, embarked for France. After training in the Bailleul area the brigade had four months action in the Fleurbaix sector where it was detached from the 1st Division and served in the line at Messines with the 7th (British) Division; it then rejoined the 1st Australian Division for the attack on Pozières and subsequent actions in July and August. After suffering a breakdown in health on the Somme late in August, Forsyth was evacuated to London and on discharge from hospital became commanding officer of Group 'B' A.I.F. Depots at Rollestone, Salisbury Plain, in October. Ill health forced his return to Australia in December 1916. He had been mentioned in dispatches and was appointed C.M.G. in 1917.

Forsyth became commandant of the 4th Military District (South Australia) on 16 February 1917 and in April left the A.I.F. In July 1918 he was appointed quartermaster general, Australian Military Forces and third member of the Military Board; he was made a colonel in 1920. Although promoted to temporary major general in January 1921, he relinquished this rank in July 1922 when placed on the unattached list. He retired with the honorary rank of major general on 9 February 1925. On retirement he became secretary and later field superintendent to the National Federation of Victoria and then, after transferring to the National Union, was selected in 1928 as the second candidate in the Victorian National Party's Senate team. He contracted influenza while electioneering at Sea Lake and died of labor pneumonia nine days later on 12 November 1928 at his Auburn home.

At the time of his death 'Dad', as Forsyth was affectionately called by soldiers in the 4th Light Horse, was president of the Light Horse Association and a devout member of the Auburn Methodist Church. Both S. M. (Viscount) Bruce and J. H. Scullin paid him tribute. He was survived by his wife, one of his two sons and three daughters. He was buried in Boroondara cemetery, Kew, with full military honours.

Select Bibliography

  • C. E. W. Bean, The Story of Anzac (Syd, 1921, 1924), and The A.I.F. in France, 1916 (Syd, 1929)
  • Reveille (Sydney), July 1929, Dec 1936
  • Sabretache, July 1967
  • Argus (Melbourne), 17 Feb, 28 Sept 1917, 13-15 Nov 1928
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 27 June 1918, 2 Apr 1920, 29 June, 9 Aug 1922, 13, 24 Nov 1928
  • Age (Melbourne), 14, 15 Nov 1928
  • Herald (Melbourne), 14 Nov 1928
  • Queenslander, 15 Nov 1928
  • Bulletin (Sydney), 21 Nov 1928
  • Piesse papers (National Library of Australia)
  • Forsyth file, war records section, and war diary, 2nd Infantry Brigade A.I.F. (Australian War Memorial).

Citation details

J. G. Williams, 'Forsyth, John Keatly (1867–1928)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 24 June 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 February, 1867
Brisbane, Queensland, Australia


12 November, 1928 (aged 61)
Auburn, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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Religious Influence

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