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Sir Eric Winslow Woodward (1899–1967)

by Darryl Bennet

This article was published:

Eric Winslow Woodward (1899-1967), by unknown photographer, 1945

Eric Winslow Woodward (1899-1967), by unknown photographer, 1945

Australian War Memorial, 120376

Sir Eric Winslow Woodward (1899-1967), army officer and governor, was born on 21 July 1899 at Hay, New South Wales, third son of Victorian-born parents Albert William Woodward (d.1911), manager of Toms Lake station (near Booligal), and his wife Marie Caldwell, née Reid. Bert Woodward later managed two properties in Queensland: Biddenham, north of Charleville, and Ellangowan, near Clifton. Eric attended Toowoomba Grammar School, where he did well academically, captained the swimming team, played in the first XV, and 'proved himself industrious and gentlemanly and a boy of sterling character'. His mother's reduced means after her husband's death prevented him from going to university. In 1917 he entered the Royal Military College, Duntroon, Federal Capital Territory. He graduated close to the top of his class and was commissioned lieutenant on 16 December 1920.

In 1921-22 Woodward served for twelve months with the 7th Queen's Own Hussars in India. Returning to Australia, he gained further experience as adjutant and quartermaster of light horse regiments in New South Wales. In 1925 he transferred to the Royal Australian Air Force and qualified as a pilot at No.1 Flying Training School, Point Cook, Victoria. He was made adjutant of the school and developed a reputation as an excellent pilot. On 7 February 1927 at St Stephen's Presbyterian Church, West Caulfield, he married his cousin Amy Freame Weller. Her distress at the high death rate of R.A.A.F. aircrew in flying accidents may have influenced his decision to revert to the army in 1928.

Promoted captain in December, Woodward became adjutant and quartermaster of the 19th Light Horse Regiment, at Ballarat (1928-29), and of the 4th L.H.R., at Warrnambool (1929-34), before being posted to the Directorate of Military Training, Army Headquarters, Melbourne. In January 1937 he was sent to the Staff College, Camberley, England. Next year he gained his majority. Back in Australia, he joined the Australian Imperial Force on 13 October 1939 as deputy assistant quartermaster general, 6th Division, responsible for logistical matters: accommodation, transport, and the supply of food, clothing and ammunition. He sailed for the Middle East in April 1940.

For 'devotion to duty', especially in the operations in North Africa (December 1940-January 1941), Woodward was appointed O.B.E. (1941). He served in Greece (March-April) as a lieutenant colonel on General Sir Thomas Blamey's staff. Promoted temporary colonel in May, he was assistant adjutant and quartermaster general, I Corps, in the Syrian campaign (June-July). Following a series of short appointments, he was posted as A.A. & Q.M.G., 9th Division, in May 1942. Sir Leslie Morshead praised his efforts before and during the battle of El Alamein, Egypt (23 October-4 November), describing him as 'one of the finest staff officers I have ever known'. Woodward was awarded the Distinguished Service Order. He was twice mentioned in dispatches for his work in the Middle East.

Arriving in Australia in February 1943, Woodward held the post of brigadier, general staff, at headquarters, Northern Territory Force (March-December), and then that of director of staff duties at Land Headquarters, Melbourne. In July 1945-March 1946 he was D.A. & Q.M.G., and sometime senior officer, at headquarters, Morotai Force. After a term at A.H.Q., Melbourne, in 1946-47, he attended the Imperial Defence College (1948), and remained in London as Australian army representative. From December 1949 he was at A.H.Q., Melbourne, as deputy adjutant general. He implemented the new national service scheme, and fought for improvements in soldiers' pay and conditions. For several months in 1950-51 he reported directly to Prime Minister (Sir) Robert Menzies as head of a special staff which planned counter-measures should the government's attempt to proscribe the Communist Party of Australia lead to widespread industrial unrest.

On 20 February 1951 Woodward was promoted temporary major general and made deputy chief of the General Staff. Seven months later he became adjutant general. In 1952 he was elevated to C.B.E. Although he was seen as a candidate for appointment as chief of the General Staff, he was 'tired of dealing with bureaucrats and politicians' and requested that his name should not be put forward. He moved to Sydney in May as general officer commanding, Eastern Command. His new role as senior army officer in New South Wales—which his great-grandfather Charles William Wall had filled in 1823-25—made him a public figure. In speeches and interviews with journalists he avoided controversy. Promoted temporary lieutenant general and substantive major general in December 1953, he was appointed C.B. in 1956.

When Sir John Northcott's successful term as governor of New South Wales drew to a close, Premier J. J. Cahill sought another Australian-born military officer to succeed him. He chose Woodward, who assumed office on 1 August 1957. The thirty-first governor of New South Wales, he was the first to have been born there. Appointed K.C.M.G. (1958) and K.C.V.O. (1963), he was awarded honorary doctorates by the universities of New South Wales (1958), Sydney (1959) and New England (1961). His term was free from serious constitutional problems, and he came to like and respect Cahill and his successors R. J. Heffron and J. B. Renshaw.

Sir Eric and Lady Woodward carried out their duties assiduously, travelling throughout the State, supporting charitable, community and religious organizations, and hosting the many official visitors who stayed at Government House. Democratically minded, they endeavoured to meet a cross-section of the community and to be 'a unifying force' in society. They were understandably annoyed when (Sir) Roden Cutler announced in 1965 (as governor-designate) that he intended to make the office less stuffy and bring it closer to the people. Woodward retired on 31 July that year. Thereafter, he and his wife lived at Wahroonga.

Woodward was six feet (183 cm) tall, handsome and athletic. Driven 'by conscience and a sense of duty', he was an intelligent and hard-working man, always attentive to detail. He found it difficult to delegate responsibility and could sometimes be 'excessively censorious' of the work of others. Sir Eric died of myocardial infarction on 29 December 1967 at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Camperdown; he was accorded a state funeral with full military honours and was cremated. His wife survived him, as did their daughter and their son (Sir) Edward who became a judge. W. E. Pidgeon's portrait of Woodward is held by Government House, Sydney.

Select Bibliography

  • Sydney Morning Herald, 28 July 1965, 30 Dec 1967
  • private information.

Citation details

Darryl Bennet, 'Woodward, Sir Eric Winslow (1899–1967)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 26 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (Melbourne University Press), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Eric Winslow Woodward (1899-1967), by unknown photographer, 1945

Eric Winslow Woodward (1899-1967), by unknown photographer, 1945

Australian War Memorial, 120376