Commandants of the Western Australian Defence Force

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Lt Col John Bruce (Establishment-4th Nov 1870)

Lt Col John Bruce

Lt Col John Bruce was born in Athlone, Ireland on the 25th July 1808 to Scottish Parents. He was educated at the Military College, Sandhurst and appointed an Ensign in the 16th Regiment in India on the 31st July 1828 at 20 years old. He became a Lieutenant in 1831 and married Johannah Jacoba Herklotz of Dutch ancestry. He joined the 18th Regiment in 1840 as he wanted to see active service in the First Opium War. However once he arrived the war had ceased and he was tasked with admin duties for the next 3 and a half years. During this time he was promoted to Captain

He finally managed to see active service in 1847 when he took part in the fight for Canton in which he served with distinction. He returned to England and was posted as a staff officer at Tilbury for the next 3 years. In 1850 when the war office called for applications for the post of staff officer to the Pensioner Force being formed for the Penal Colony of Western Australia he applied and was selected. He arrived in W.A. on the transport Hashemy on the 25th Oct 1850 with his Wife, 5 Daughters and 1 son.

He worked incredibly hard to keep the troops well maintained and supplied and founded the Pensioner’s Benevolent Fund in 1855. By 1854 he had been promoted to Major and became the CO of the Pensioners and when the Western Australian Volunteer Force was formed in 1861 he immediately became the commanding Officer and was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel.

During his leadership he oversaw the creation of the Volunteers and the permanent creation of the Perth Infantry, Fremantle Infantry and Pinjarra Mounted Infantry. Overall he seems to have been an incredibly effective administrator. He suddenly died in 1870 at the age of 62 and was buried with military honours.

Since 1854 he had been appointed to the colony’s executive Council and for a period of nearly a year In 1868-1869 served as the Governor of the colony.  He acquired the property now known as Nedlands naming after his son Edward. He was active in the founding of the Mechanics Institute, Perth Building Society and doing unpaid work for benevolent societies. His wife outlived him to 1904 at the age of 94. Mount Bruce the highest point in the colony was named in his honour in 1881.

Maj Robert Henry Crampton (5th Nov 1870- 14th Aug 1871)

Robert Henry Crampton was born in 1827 to a family of Anglo-Irish Clergymen. In 1847 he received a Commission in the British Army and fought in 2 wars in Colonial South Africa. Over this time he was promoted to Major and sent to WA to be the staff officer in the Enrolled Pensioner Force. He served as Commandant of the Volunteers only for less than a year and additionally served as the Acting Superintendent of Police for 11 Months from 1866-1867.

The Western Australian Volunteer Force did not flourish during this time and saw the disbandment of the Fremantle Infantry for a short 2 year period. Although he tried his best, he too died in office in 1871 at the age of 44.

Cpt Charles Finnerty (15th Aug 1871- 14th Aug 1872)

Cpt Charles Finnerty

Charles Finnerty was born in Bumlin, Ireland on the 4th May 1815 a relatively poor town of 5,000. He Joined the 47th Regiment of the British Army  as a private on the 12th August 1833. For his first 10 years he served in peace abroad in Gibraltar, Malta and the West Indies before being based in Lancashire and Ireland for the next decade. He was promoted to Corporal in 1837, Sergeant later in the year and Sergeant Major by 1850 and within seven months was promoted to Ensign without needing to pay for a commission.

On the 23rd March 1854 he departed Malta still as an Ensign for service in the Crimean War with his Regiment. He saw out his service in Scutari Hospital where he was promoted to Lieutenant by June. Finnerty during this time was an effective administrator and served alongside Florence Nightingale in attending the wounded men. He served until July 1856 when he was returned to Malta with the rest of his regiment. He was then promoted to Captain in 1857 and was the commanding officer of a Company before leaving the regiment in 1859.

He had married Elizabeth Mathews in Malta on the 11th July 1839 and proceeded over the next 17 Years to have 4 Boys and 3 Girls with 1 Boy dying at age 5 and his 6 Month old Daughter dying in the Crimean War. After leaving the Regiment he and his family headed for the Enrolled Pensioner Force as a staff officer In 1859. The day that the ship crossed the Equator his wife gave birth to their third daughter which had been her second birth at sea. Charles’s 2 brothers joined the New Zealand Fencibles around this time.

During his time as commandant of the Volunteers he managed to rebuild the Perth Infantry and Fremantle Infantry being a capable administrator as well as the creation of the Perth Artillery. The Volunteers expanded from 200 to 250 Personnel in his time as commandant. Later on in 1876 he took part in the Catalpa Rescue. Up until 1880 he continued to serve as a Staff Officer in the Volunteers becoming a Lieutenant Colonel in 1878 and retiring with the honorary rank of Colonel in 1881. Unfortunately, he died on the 18th December 1881 at age 66 from Apoplexy.

Lt Col Edward Douglas Harvest (15th August 1872- 16th Nov 1880)

Lt Col Edward Douglas Harvest was born on November 20th 1824. He received his commission in 1842, became the CO of the 97th Foot before eventually retiring with the honorary rank of Major General in 1881. He is mentioned in Newspapers as being a very popular commandant. He Oversaw a great period in which the Geraldton Infantry, Albany Infantry, Guildford Infantry, York Infantry, Fremantle Artillery and Wellington Mounted Infantry were formed. Due to all these successes he oversaw a period of rapid growth from a strength of ~250 to a strength of ~500 and for this he must be heartily commended.

Major Edric Gifford VC (17th Nov 1880- 2nd Jun 1882)

Maj Edric Gifford VC

Edric Gifford was born in London in 1849 to his father the 2nd Baron Gifford making Edric the 3rd Barron. His brother was Maurice Gifford who was awarded the CMG for his raising of Gifford’s Horse in the 2nd Matabele War. He was educated at Harrow school and in 1869 joined the British Army’s 83rd Regiment. By 1874 he was a Lieutnenant in the 24th Regiment during the third Anglo-Ashanti War in West Africa. It was in this conflict that he was awarded the VC.

For his gallant conduct during the operations, and especially at the taking of Becquah. The Officer commanding the Expeditionary Force reports that Lord Gifford was in charge of the Scouts after the Army crossed the Prah,’ and that it is no exaggeration to say that since the Adansi Hills were passed, he daily carried his life in his hand in the performance of his most dangerous duties. He hung upon the rear of the enemy, discovering their position, and ferreting out their intentions. With no other white man with him, he captured numerous prisoners; but Sir Garnet Wolseley brings Him forward for this mark of Royal favour most especially for his conduct at the taking of Becquah, into which place he penetrated with his scouts before the troops carried it, when his gallantry and courage were most conspicuous.

In 1876 he left the 24th and joined the 57th Regiment where he was posted to Cyprus before in 1879 he deployed to the Anglo-Zulu War as aide-de-camp to Field Marshal Garnet Wolseley. He then retired from the army with the rank of Major. In 1880 he married Sophia Catherine Street the daughter of General John Alfred Street and set forth to Western Australia to take up the post of Colonial Secreatary and became a member of the legislative council.

His time as commanding officer of the Volunteers was not a good one with both the Pinjarra and Wellington Mounted Infantry’s being disbanded bringing the volunteers total numbers to around 400. He left the colony in 1883 following disputes with many colonial elites and later became the colonial secretary of Gibraltar form 1883-1887 and in 1889 becoming the director of the British South Africa Company. He died in 1911 at the age of 61.

Lt Col Edward Fox Angelo (3rd Jun 1882 -15th February 1886)

Lt Col Edward Fox Angelo

Edward Fox Angelo was born in Karnal, Bengal 1836 from a Calabrian Family and was a descendant of the incredibly famous 18th century Italian celebrity Angelo Domenico Tremamondo. He was commissioned as an Ensign in the 28th Regiment in 1854 at age 18. As soon as he joined he was thrust into the Crimean War where he was promoted to Lieutenant and took part in the Siege of Sevastopol. He received the Crimean Medal and the Turkish Crimea Medal for his service in the conflict. After a decade he was promoted to Captain and sent to the 1st Royal Scouts Regiment in India. He was a very capable administrator and became Deputy Assistant Quartermaster General for Certain Provinces in India in the 1870’s. He was promoted to Major in 1877 and retired from the Army in 1878 during his service he had 11 children with his Wife Mary Colquhoun Fraser.

He was in 1880 appointed Commandant of the Tasmanian Volunteers before in 1882 becoming the Commandant of the Western Australian Volunteers. During his 3 and a half year tender he tried often in vain to upgrade the Volunteers. He served as co-Commandant alongside Lt Col George Braithwaite Philips. During his tenure as commandant the Volunteers were still going through a rough patch with 15% less attendance in all units and the disbandment of the York Infantry however his leadership also oversaw the creation of the Northampton Infantry and the Guildford Infantry

He was in 1886 appointed Government resident in Roebourne continuing in this aspect until 1890 when he was appointed superintendent of Rottnest Island which he would be stationed at until 1900. His service in Roebourne had been the most difficult thing he had had to accomplish in his life as he attempted to fix the state of the North West. He died in 1902 in Peppermint Grove and was buried in Karrakatta Cemetery at the age of 66.

William J Phillimore

I have been unable as of yet to find any relevant information about William J Phillimore.

During his tenure as Commandant the Volunteers slowly continued to grow in numbers.

Col Henry Lionel Pilkington CB (1st Jan 1890- 5th July 1890)

Col Henry Lionel Pilkington CB

Henry Lionel Was born in 1857 in Dublin, Ireland and moved to W.A. in adulthood. Although not having a military rank at the time he was appointed the acting Commandant for a period of 7 Months awaiting replacement. He later commanded the 2nd WAMI in the 2nd Boer War as a Maj before in the next year becoming a Lieutenant Colonel. For his service in South Africa he was awarded the Companion of the Order of the Bath, the Queens South Africa Medal with 5 Clasps and was Mentioned in Despatches. He then joined the South Africa Constabulary for the rest of the war before returning home in 1902 becoming a Colonel and retiring. He later died in 1914 at the age of 57.

Lt Col George Braithwaite Philips (6th July 1890- 31st Oct 1892)

Lt Col George Braithwaite Philips

George Braithwaite Philips was born in Perth in 1836 the son of John Randell Philips who came to the colony in 1831 making him the first W.A. Commandant to be born in W.A. He went to school in Albany and by age 15 was working as a Clerk in the Colonial Secretary office. In 1854 he was sent to Shark bay to look after supplies for some months before he was compelled to return to Perth due to no expedition arriving. By 1856 his duties as Clerk dramatically increased including becoming the Governors personal confidant. Eventually from 1872-1873 he was Colonial Secretary and from 1875-1877, 1878-1880 he was Colonial Treasurer with a seat on the executive Council before again becoming Colonial secretary in 1883.

He joined the W.A. Troop of Volunteer Horse Artillery in the early 1870’s as a Private before being commissioned as a Lieutenant in 1873. The next year he was promoted to Captain in the unit and by 1879 became the Staff Officer of all Volunteer units in W.A. and by 1882 was acting co-Commandant a post he would hold for the next 4 years. After retiring from the Volunteers in 1886 he was appointed Commissioner of the W.A. Police in 1887, a post he would hold for 13 Years before dying in office in 1900 at the age of 64.

He became Commandant again in 1890 and was promoted to Major before retiring in 1892 with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. His tenure as commandant in his first term oversaw a rough patch with the disbandment of the York Infantry and the creation of the Guildford Infantry and Northampton infantry however his 2nd Term saw the growth of the Volunteers the changing of the name to the Western Australian Defence Force and the establishment of the following units: Permanent Force Artillery, Headquarters and the Bunbury Rifles.

Lt Col Henry Slane Flemming (1st Nov 1892- 25th Aug 1895)

Again I could not find information about Henry Slane Flemming’s early life however in regards to his service as Commandant it must have been extensive as the main competition cup of the WADF was named after him. During his time the WADF rapidly expanded resulting in the creation of the York infantry as well as all other units growing in size. He also made the first steps to integrate units together by forming Regiments rather than the individual company Level unit structure seen up to this point.

Cpt Hector Horatio Harvest (26th Aug 1895- 11th Sep 1895)

Captain Harvest filled the position as a caretaker role for 2 weeks pending the arrival of Colonel Wilson KCB.

Col Alexander Wilson KCB (12th Sep 1895- 31st Oct 1898)

Colonel Alexander Wilson was born on the 29th October 1858 in Framsden, England. He joined the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders as an officer in 1879 where he saw action in the Zulu War. By 1895 he had risen to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and commanded the 1st Battalion, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. In 1895 he was promoted to Colonel and given command of the WADF. He left this command to return to the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders in 1898 where he saw action in the 2nd Boer War and commanded the 1st Battalion in the Battle of Magersfontein.

 In WW1 he was promoted to Major General and commanded the Indian Expeditionary Force E in the Sinai and Palestine Campaign. After the war he was given command of his old regiment and made Lieutenant Governor of Jersey. Additionally he was appointed a KCB. During his time as commandant the WADF modernised quickly and grew well in size.

Col Alexander Wilson KCB (WW1 Era)
Col Alexander Wilson KCB (WW1 Era)
Colonel Wilson while part of the WADF
Colonel Wilson while part of the WADF
Colonel Wilson on his horse in 1898
Colonel Wilson on his horse in 1898

Lt Col William Charles Crume (31st Oct 1898-19th Dec 1898)

Acting Commandant for less than 2 months.

Col George Herbert Chippindall (19th Dec 1898-March 1901)

Col George Herbert Chippindall

Colonel George Chippindall was born on 26th Jan 1855. He joined the 3rd (East Kent) Regiment of Foot and served in the Malay Peninsula 1875-1876 with the rank of Captain and was awarded 1 war medal. In 1893 he was promoted to Major and transferred to the West Riding (Yorkshire) Regiment. In 1898 he was appointed commandant of the WADF and quickly promoted to Colonel. Colonel Chippindall oversaw the WADF during the 2nd Boer War and the transfer to federal control. His tenure as commandant saw the WADF vastly expand in size and capability.