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Sir Thomas Daly Biography Launch

Speech by the Chief of Army Lieutenant General David Morrison, AO at the Sir Thomas Daly Biography launch, 16 November 2012.

Download the speech.

It was with real pleasure that I accepted Jeffrey Grey's very kind invitation to be part of the launch of "A Soldier's Soldier", a biography of Lieutenant General Sir Thomas Daly and there were several reasons for this.

Firstly, I have long been an admirer of Jeff's most significant contribution to the telling of Australia's military history, and the analysis of the key matters that affect this Nation's future security and prosperity. He is a most prominent scholar, and author, and his body of work is rich indeed, replete with that cool, balanced and hard headed perspective that is so lacking in much of the debate that concerns Australia's defence of its national interests.

Secondly, I had been lucky enough to meet Sir Thomas on several occasions when my father, Alan Morrison, worked for him as his Military Assistant when Sir Thomas was Chief of the General Staff in 1970. While is was to be almost a decade before I joined the Army myself, I was very aware of the distinguished bearing of the General and was struck by his engaging manner that extended to a young Australian, the son of one of his officers.

Dad had served on Tom Daly's headquarters in Korea as a newly promoted Captain and his deep admiration for his CGS, and former Brigade Commander, was very evident. My father always maintained that Sir Thomas was the architect of the modern Australian Army and his respect made a significant impression on me at a young age. While I certainly didn't get to know the General in later years, only having very infrequent contact with him, I did meet with Lady Heather Daly and especially BA in recent years, and I would like to acknowledge the family's presence here today and the wonderful support that Lady Heather and the girls provided to this great Australian through his long and most distinguished career.

The third reason that I was so pleased to accept this invitation is that as the serving Chief of Army, I have an affinity with my predecessors. While each Chief faces the challenges of his own time, common to all of the 36 Generals who have held the position of professional head of one of the Nation's most respected institutions, is the sense of responsibility for the health of the service and a keen focus on ensuring its development and its integrity during the tenure of command.

In time honoured tradition, the entrance to my office is a photographic chronicle of those who have held the appointment before me. It is a salutary lesson, afforded to me every morning, that I march in the boots of men such as Harry Chauvel, Sid Rowell, Frank Hassett and of course, Thomas Daly. Daunting, but incredibly exhilarating.

So as I began to prepare for this address, and I started to read what I can promise you is an outstanding biography of a great Australian, I was struck by a question. Why, given Tom Daly's career and the prominent role he played in our Army and our Defence Force, is this the first biography written of his life?

In one respect, it is a great shame that it has taken eight years since his death at 90, for one to be written. However, from a different perspective, it is to our lasting benefit, because it has meant that Jeff Grey has been able to not just author an account of his life, but place it in absolutely the best context.

The reader is given the opportunity to learn not just about the man, but his time, and the contemporary issues that he faced as he became as more senior officer. His early life is covered well, but the book is titled "A Soldier's Soldier" and it is above all a military biography.

From Sir Thomas's early career in the Depression years, to his service as adjutant of the 2/10th Battalion at the start of the Second World War, to his splendid work as Brigade Major of the 18th Brigade in the Middle East in 1941-42, to his appointment as Commanding Officer of the 2/10th in 1945 and his exemplary command of that unit in the fighting at Balikpapan, the Second World War is seen as both the cataclysmic struggle it was, but also the crucible that provided the foundations for his more senior career.

Indeed, I was very pleased to see reference to Garth Pratten's excellent book "Australian Battalion Commanders of the Second World War", in which Lieutenant Colonel Daly’s actions are analysed and commended. Pratten writes eloquently about the journey that the Second AIF took in its development to becoming a world class fighting force in 1945 and stresses that it was a journey of years, made up, in part, of tactical mistakes caused by poor standards and low levels of experience. It is a theme that Sir Thomas Daly would appreciate fully. Army's lose capability surprisingly quickly if they are not properly resourced, as was certainly the case in this Country in the pre-war years and the consequences are almost always fatal as lost skills are regained.

The role of Brigadier Daly in command of the Commonwealth 28th Brigade in Korea is also put into historical context in Jeff's elegant and precise style. It is readily apparent that the shades of grey (no pun intended) that multiply as more senior levels are attained, were a major feature of his command in that war. The influence of politics, both international but also domestic, is well covered with its inevitable impact on tactical decision making, especially as the war was drawing to its very indecisive conclusion.

But for me, it is his time as the Chief of the Army, in the period from 1966 to 1971, that is the core of this excellent biography. There have been several outstanding studies of Australian senior generals, prominent among them David Horner's study of Daly's predecessor as CGS, Sir John Wilton, but as a rule Australian historians, perhaps in keeping with our national pragmatic nature, tend to focus more on command in war, mainly conducted at the tactical level. And yet Service Chiefs, and CDFs, do exercise strategic command and their actions, through words and deeds, often have a legacy that is measured in decades, rather than just years. This makes Jeff's book so valuable in terms of charting the development of the modern Australian Army.

The times in which Sir Thomas served as CGS were interesting to say the least. The Nation was involved in its longest war to that date, Vietnam. The role of our soldiers, how they were prepared for war and how the Government, and the Defence Department, responded to the way in which the war evolved was very much the focus for the serving CGS. As well, our Army was poorly structured and ill-adapted to the demands being placed upon it in the late 1960s.

Adding much to that role was the fact that he served a Government that was in political and electoral decline, which compounded and exacerbated the normal level of creative tension that exists between a Government and its Defence Department. Thomas Daly's role was pivotal to how we fought in Vietnam. He was at the centre of key decisions made about force structure, role and the employment of such critical military assets as that of helicopters. His experience, honed as it was through years of operational service in the Middle East, the South Pacific and Korea was invaluable at a time when the Army grew rapidly with the introduction of national service and sought to re-structure itself so as to be more robust to meet the demands of the 1970s and beyond.

His dealings with Government were characterised by a dignified honesty, and a public loyalty that was not always accorded to him as the Gorton administration fell to replaced by that led by William McMahon. The politics of the day were robust and indeed ruthless. Sir Thomas charted a difficult course for our Army that was to have a long term benefit to the institution. Jeff deals with these matters of national importance with a keen eye for the essential detail and draws, in my view, very balanced and accurate conclusions from a welter of sources. The clear picture he draws of his subject is that of most professional General, who always had the interests of his soldiers to the fore, while always managing to be fair, honest and loyal to his Government. No easy task and yet essential if the Army is to play its role in the defence of Australia.

There are two quotes from Sir Thomas that I will use in my conclusion. Both of them are from his time as CGS and both have much relevance for those who hold such senior positions. He wrote: "Being CGS is not a job I would recommend to my friends. It is the old business of robbing Peter to pay Paul, adding two and two, hoping against hope to make six, the inevitable frustrations. I have been at it now for two years and rather hope to be relieved in another year (if my shortcomings do not become too evident beforehand)."

He was being too modest, as was his nature, and the fact that he was extended in his appointment to serve for almost six years, is a testament to his leadership and to his very considerable legacy.

The second quote was made at a time, in late 1960s, when public opinion had turned against the war and attacks on the Army, in the press and in the Parliament were combined with as Jeff describes it, a muzzling of the Army as an aspect of government policy. General Daly observed, "It is not for Service Officers to engage in public controversy, but this should not prevent officers from speaking on subjects of public interest on which they are particularly well informed". Indeed he worried that the Army had become conditioned to not talking to anybody and I share his views, both historically and from a contemporary perspective.

I gained much from this eloquent study of a great soldier and a wonderful man. It is scholarly and relevant to our own times but so clearly written as to be very accessible to the general public. I am delighted to be asked to share in a small way with making Thomas Daly, his life and his times, available to Australians who value the Army of which he was so proud to be a part. He was a soldier's soldier, and Professor Jeffery Grey has presented him as such in this wonderful biography which I now launch. I recommend it to you all.