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Sir Frederick Gallagher Galleghan (1897–1971)

by David Griffin

This article was published:

Frederick Gallagher Galleghan (1897-1971), by Murray Griffin

Frederick Gallagher Galleghan (1897-1971), by Murray Griffin

Australian War Memorial, ART25070

Sir Frederick Gallagher Galleghan (1897-1971), army officer and public servant, was born on 11 January 1897 at Jesmond, New South Wales, son of native-born parents Alexander Dunlop Galleghan, crane driver, and his wife Martha, née James. Educated at Cooks Hill Superior Public School, Newcastle, Frederick was a studious lad. In August 1912 he joined the Postmaster-General's Department as a telegraph messenger; fascinated by all things military, he resolved that he would one day exchange his red cap for that of a senior army officer.

After seven years in the cadets, on 20 January 1916 Galleghan enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force. Posted as a corporal to the 34th Battalion, he sailed for England in May. Six months later he was promoted sergeant and sent to the Western Front. Twice wounded in action (June 1917 and August 1918), he was invalided home and discharged medically unfit on 3 March 1919. That he had been denied a commission in the A.I.F. put a chip on his shoulder which gave rise to a tendency to ride rough-shod over officers junior to himself.

At the Baptist Tabernacle, Cooks Hill, on 18 November 1922 Galleghan married a theatre employee Vera Florence Dawson (d.1967); they were to remain childless. Having been employed on clerical duties in the post office, in 1926 he transferred to the Department of Trade and Customs, and in 1936 to the investigation branch of the Commonwealth Attorney-General's Department, Sydney. In September 1919 he had been gazetted temporary lieutenant in the Militia. A lieutenant colonel by 1932, he successively led the 2nd-41st, 2nd-35th and 17th battalions. He joined the A.I.F. on 18 March 1940 and on 17 October was appointed commanding officer of the 2nd/30th Battalion, 8th Division.

Galleghan wanted his battalion to be, and to be seen to be, the embodiment of all that was finest in the Australian army. To achieve his aim, he ordered strenuous training and spared no one—officers, men, or himself. In July 1941 the unit sailed for Singapore. On 14 January 1942 at Gemas, Malaya, Galleghan conducted a brilliant ambush of a superior Japanese force. For his part in the encounter and the subsequent well-executed withdrawal, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order. He became a prisoner of war when the British surrendered on 15 February. With the removal of senior officers from Singapore in August, he assumed command of the A.I.F.; from March 1944 he was deputy commander of all allied prisoners in Malaya. It was for his role at Changi that he was to achieve lasting fame.

Known as 'Black Jack' because of his dark complexion, black hair and piercing brown eyes, Galleghan was a formidable figure, six feet (183 cm) tall, erect, and with a rock-like countenance. His stern expression and military bearing radiated an aura of command. One junior officer represented many when he wrote: 'We were far more frightened of ''B.J." than of the Japanese'. 'His personality', said another, 'left no room for half measures. He did not necessarily seek your regard or goodwill'. Somewhat surprisingly, his harsh discipline earned him the affectionate respect of his men and the grudging admiration even of those who felt the full weight of the occasionally unreasonable exercise of his authority.

Galleghan realized that survival depended on morale and that discipline was the basis of morale. His strict orders—thought by some to border on the absurd for a prisoner-of-war camp—saved countless lives. It was his fate to be remembered most for what he valued least. 'You are not going home as prisoners', he barked in his husky voice, 'you will march down Australian streets as soldiers'. Back home in October 1945, he refused to associate with prisoner-of-war organizations and urged his old battalion to follow his example. In taking this stand he probably did the survivors of the 8th Division a disservice.

Mentioned in dispatches, Galleghan was promoted colonel and temporary brigadier (with effect from April 1942) before he transferred to the Retired List on 3 January 1946. In the following year he was appointed O.B.E. He had been raised to inspector (1945) in the investigation service and in 1947 became deputy-director, in charge of the Sydney office. In 1948-49, as honorary major general, he headed the Australian Military Mission to Germany. Displaying an unexpected gift for diplomacy, he chaired the fourth session of the general council of the International Refugee Organization, served on its executive-committee and helped displaced persons to emigrate to Australia. On his retirement from the public service in 1959 he was appointed I.S.O. He was honorary secretary (1959-70) of the Royal Humane Society of New South Wales, State chairman (from 1963) of the Services Canteens Trust Fund and an honorary colonel (1959-64) of the Australian Cadet Corps.

'Black Jack' always remained the battalion commander, even wearing a miniature colour patch of the 2nd/30th on his major general's uniform. He had a softer side which, for the most part, he took pains to conceal: when his men returned to Changi from the Burma-Thailand Railway he had been so moved by the toll of death and the desperate condition of those huddled before him that he was unable to speak and in tears marched silently between their lines. In 1969 he was knighted for his services to war veterans. On 8 December that year at St Clement's Anglican Church, Mosman, he married a widow and State commandant of the Voluntary Aid Service Corps, Persia Elspbeth Porter, née Blaiklock; Sir Frederick's old soldiers showed their pleasure by calling him 'The Shah of Persia'. Survived by his wife, he died on 20 April 1971 at his Mosman home and was cremated with Anglican rites.

Select Bibliography

  • A. W. Penfold et al, Galleghan's Greyhounds (Syd, 1949)
  • L. Wigmore, The Japanese Thrust (Canb, 1957)
  • S. Arneil, Black Jack (Melb, 1983)
  • E. E. Dunlop, The War Diaries of Weary Dunlop (Melb, 1986)
  • P. Adam-Smith, Prisoners of War (Melb, 1992)
  • As You Were, 1947, 1948
  • People (Sydney), 30 Dec 1953
  • Australian War Memorial records.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

David Griffin, 'Galleghan, Sir Frederick Gallagher (1897–1971)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 26 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (Melbourne University Press), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Frederick Gallagher Galleghan (1897-1971), by Murray Griffin

Frederick Gallagher Galleghan (1897-1971), by Murray Griffin

Australian War Memorial, ART25070

Life Summary [details]


11 January, 1897
Jesmond, New South Wales, Australia


20 April, 1971 (aged 74)
Mosman, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.