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Ernest Ker Squires (1882–1940)

by A. B. Lodge

This article was published:

Ernest Ker Squires (1882-1940), soldier, was born on 18 December 1882 at Poona, India, son of Robert Alfred Squires, clergyman, and his wife Elizabeth Anne, née Ker. He was educated at Eton, England, and the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, where he reached the rank of under-officer. Tall and soldierly in bearing, he excelled at sports and was commissioned in the Royal Engineers in January 1903. After two years at the School of Military Engineering, Chatham, he was posted to India early in 1905 as a subaltern in the 3rd Sappers and Miners, and from 1908 commanded the 22nd Field Company. He remained there until 1910 when he was given command of the 23rd Fortress Company at Aden. On 31 July 1912 in the parish church at Westgate-on-Sea, Kent, England, he married Ethel Elsie Sylvia Risley and in June 1913 again went to India.

Promoted captain in January 1914, Squires sailed for France on the outbreak of World War I as assistant field engineer, Lahore Division. Although wounded at Givenchy in December, he continued his sapping operations for four hours before being evacuated. Back in the front line in 1915, he was wounded at Ypres, Belgium, on 25 April. After convalescing in England until August, he returned to France as field engineer, Lahore Division. Sailing with the division to Mesopotamia in December 1915, Squires saw action during the bitter fighting to relieve Kut and in the advance to Baghdad. In 1917 he commanded the field squadron of the Indian Cavalry Division, being promoted major in January 1918. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order and the Military Cross, and was mentioned in dispatches six times, the last occasion being in 1919 during the Afghan war.

In 1920 Squires attended the Staff College, Quetta, India, and thereafter held increasingly important staff and instructional appointments; he also attended the Imperial Defence College in 1928. Promoted major general in December 1935, he was appointed director of staff duties in April 1936.

In June 1938 Squires accepted the post of inspector general of the Australian Army (which carried the rank of lieutenant-general) in preference to that of general officer commanding, Southern Command, India. Some senior officers in Australia questioned the need for such an appointment, but the chief of the General Staff, (Sir) John Lavarack, foresaw that the Australian Army would benefit from the posting. Squires's first task was to investigate the army's preparedness for war. After reading his report, submitted to the government in December 1938, the chief of the Naval Staff, Sir Ragnar Colvin, threatened to resign because he felt that Squires had proposed too large a role for the army. The government, however, welcomed the report, as did the Military Board. Squires's proposals were sound and wide-ranging: they included raising a permanent force of all-arms, establishing a simplified command arrangement, forming new militia units and increasing the peacetime size of the army.

Under Joe Lyons, the government began to approve many of the recommendations. Squires was greatly disappointed in 1939 when Lyons's successor, (Sir) Robert Menzies, withdrew approval for the most important proposal: the formation of a permanent force of 3600 troops. Nevertheless, other recommendations designed to increase the army's efficiency were carried out, such as the early retirement (Squires called it a much-needed 'purge') of a number of senior Staff Corps officers and the introduction of an administrative system more suited to active service.

When war broke out in September 1939 Squires, who had been acting C.G.S. since May, was confirmed in the post in time to oversee the formation of the 2nd Australian Imperial Force (so designated at his suggestion), but his health failed early in 1940. Survived by his wife, two daughters and a son, he died on 2 March in St Ives Private Hospital, East Melbourne, following surgery for cancer. His staff officer, Lieutenant-Colonel (Sir) Sydney Rowell, later wrote: 'Squires did not spare himself. He had a keen, alert mind, he spoke and wrote well and he showed a wide knowledge of all aspects of army life. The reports Squires wrote contained nothing he had not seen for himself, and he was generous in praise and incisive in criticism'. Squires's experience, intelligence, sincerity and amiability, and not least his imperturbable nature, ensured that he had received co-operation and respect from both soldiers and civilians during his time as inspector general and chief of the General Staff.

Select Bibliography

  • S. F. Rowell, Full Circle (Melb, 1974)
  • Royal Engineers Journal, 54, Sept 1940
  • Herald (Melbourne), 15 Mar 1939
  • F. Shedden papers (National Archives of Australia)
  • J. Lavarack private collection (Australian War Memorial)
  • Squires papers sighted by author.

Citation details

A. B. Lodge, 'Squires, Ernest Ker (1882–1940)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 26 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (Melbourne University Press), 1990

View the front pages for Volume 12

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


18 December, 1882
Pune, Maharashtra, India


2 March, 1940 (aged 57)
East Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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