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Major General Edward Hutton; the Father of the Australian Army

In 1902, Minister of Defence Forrest appointed Major-General Edward Hutton as the army's first, and only, General Officer Commanding. Hutton, an imperial officer, had considerable experience with colonial troops, including having served as the Commander of the New South Wales military forces from 1893 to 1896. 

"The most essential element in the organisation of the future is to provide a Military System which shall be elastic, capable of expansion, and which shall form a carefully constructed framework into which the fighting material can be fitted when the emergency arises". Edward Hutton

Colonel Henry (Harry) Finn DCM. Hutton's 2nd in Command

Colonel Henry (Harry) Finn DCM (later CB) (1852-1924) wearing the buttons of the 21st (Empress of India) Lancers, his British Army regiment, and medal ribbons for the Afghanistan 1878-80 Medal, Distinguished Conduct Medal, Sudan 1896-97 Medal, and Khedive's Sudan 1896-1905 Medal. The mourning band on the left arm is probably for the death of Queen Victoria. In 1899 he accompanied his unit to Newbridge, Ireland. 

Three months later he was offered and accepted the post of Commandant of the Queensland Defence Force. He was subsequently offered the post of Commandant in New South Wales at the rank of brigadier general, which post he commenced on 1 January 1902. In terms of seniority he was second in command of the Commonwealth Military Forces after the arrival in 1902 of Major General Sir Edward Hutton as general officer commanding. In 1904 he was granted brevet rank of colonel in the British Army, and in 1905 he was given local and temporary rank of major general. In 1907 he was appointed CB on his retirement from the army.


On 1 March 190 1, in accordance with the terms of the Commonwealth's Constitution, the Governor-General transferred control of the nation's military forces from the States to the Federal Government. By this action the Australian Army came into existence. Technically, the new Australian nation, whose creation predated the federalisation of the army by two months, was in a state of war, as it also inherited the military commitments of the colonial governments that had dispatched troops to South Africa and China. 

However, these troops were not Australia's real army. They were volunteers who had answered Britain's call, and had come to the aid of the Empire, as others before them had assisted the mother country in Sudan and New Zealand. The proper Australian Army, composed of permanent forces, militia, and volunteers, who had remained behind to guard the continent, were soldiers of the former colonies, and they too passed under federal control.

 Reflecting their disparate origins, these forces were a mix of units represented by different organisations, terms of engagement, levels of efficiency, and standards of equipment.

With its assumption of military responsibility, the Commonwealth Government needed to provide for a continuous defence policy, the efficient control of the military forces, and to introduce homogeneous organisation and training` The value in reaching these goals was simple; a nation's possession of a properly organised military force in peace would greatly ease the attainment of the army's objectives in war. Furthermore, an efficiently trained army would free commanders from the necessity of devoting their energies upon mobilisation towards organisation, in lieu of the planning and conduct of operations.

Therefore, a nation with an army that was ready for war would have a great advantage over an opponent that still had to organise its units? During the period from Federation until the outbreak of World War 1, the government, along with the army's leaders, would establish the policies and structures that would determine the Commonwealth's ability to utilise military force until well into the post World War 11 period.

However, these years would also reveal a number of enduring impediments to the development of an efficient force, impediments that would also have a considerable impact on the future well-being of the army. This era, therefore, represents a crucial period in the development of the Australian Army.

The inheritance

It fell to John Forrest, hastily appointed by Prime Minister Edmund Barton as the Commonwealth's second Minister for Defence upon the death of his predecessor after only nine days in office, to begin the work of creating an efficient military force. Complicating his task was the absence of a commander-in-chief and the lack of federal legislation to govern the defence forces. Forrest did not appoint a General Officer Commanding until the next year, and Parliament did not pass a Defence Act until 1903. In the meantime the troops remained subject to the different defence codes of their respective states, themselves hold-overs of colonial statutes. The army also subdivided the nation into six administrative regions called, military districts, one for each State, under the command of a commandant. Each military district was named after the State in which it was located. These regional commands were simply a federalised version of the former headquarters of the colonial armies. Each military district was responsible for the command and administration of the units within its region. With the arrival of a General Officer Commanding, the commandants of the military districts became subordinate to his authority.

At the time of transfer, the Australian Army had a strength of just over 29,000. The colonies had divided their forces into three categories-Permanent, Militia, and Volunteers-a distinction that the Commonwealth maintained. 

Strength of the Australian Army at Federation, by State

State Permanent Militia Volunteers Total
New South Wales 669 5,549 3,493 9,711
Victoria 443  33554 2,602 6,599
Queensland 301 4,053 654 5,008
South Australia (inc NT) 51 2,949 nil 3,000
Western Australia 50 nil 2,235 2,285
Tasmania 30 nil 2,377 2,407
Total/s 1,544 16,105 11,361 29,010

The nation had, as well as these troops, a potential reserve in the form of the rifle clubs and the school cadet corps. Although they were not an official part of the defence forces at takeover, they did formally join the army's establishment with the passage of the Defence Act 1903. At Federation, the rifle clubs and cadets had a membership of more than 30,000 and 10,000 respectively.  

Establishment Of cadet corps and rifle clubs, 1901

States Senior cadets  Junior cadets Rifle club members
New South Wales 109  4,242  1,908
Victoria 483 5,259 21,570
Queensland 101 916 4,352
South Australia (inc NT) 155 nil 2,180
Western Australia 180 240 nil
Tasmania nil 216 nil
Total/s 1,028 10,873 30,010

While not forming a part of the army's organisation, thousands of other Australians were on active duty with the British Army in South Africa. The majority of these soldiers had enlisted in units raised by the colonial governments, and only the final contingent was a federal matter. In late 1901, Joseph Chamberlain, Britain's Secretary of State for the Colonies, asked Barton if Australia could provide further drafts for the empire's war effort.

Within five months, Australia enlisted and embarked over 4,200 volunteers, organised into eight battalions of mounted infantry called the Australian Commonwealth Horse. However, half of the battalions arrived in Africa after the conclusion of hostilities, and only two of the eight saw any action.

Thus, while the Commonwealth Horse were the nation's first truly Australian military units to serve overseas, their limited experience left only a minimal mark on the army's history and tradition.

Although Australia possessed a large military establishment, its quality, particularly its degree of training and standard of equipment, was poor. As one of his first acts as Minister for Defence, Forrest appointed a Federal Military Committee, composed of the commandants of the military districts, to undertake an appreciation of Australian defence infrastructure. Their report revealed severe problems.

Of particular concern was the low stock of ammunition held by the States, of which the worst case was Victoria, which had reserves of only 17 rounds per rifle. By comparison, the Colonial Defence Committee in London recommended a minimum reserve of 1,000 rounds per rifle. The field artillery, the military commandants noted, had in its inventory unserviceable guns, guns without carriages, and carriages without guns, as well as obsolete ammunition. The supply of submarine mining stores was out of date, and over the years the States had followed a haphazard procurement policy, so that there were few replacement parts.

The organisation of the services also came under scrutiny. New South Wales was the only state with an ordnance store depot and a medical department set up as military units. In Queensland, South Australia, and Western Australia the local governments had made no provision for an army service corps, and the last two States did not have an engineering corps. Last, despite the army's reliance upon horses for transport, none of the states had a veterinary department.

In 1902, Forrest appointed Major-General Edward Hutton as the army's first, and only, General Officer Commanding. Hutton, an imperial officer, had considerable experience with colonial troops, including having served as the commander of the New South Wales military forces from 1893 to 1896. One of his first tasks was to assess the equipment held by the army. While he found the materials available to the garrison force sufficient for static troops, he observed that what was available for the field force leaves much to be desired'.

He wrote that in all the States there was a nearly complete absence of modern infantry equipment, including the supply of magazine rifles, and that the ammunition stores were in a seriously defective condition. Hutton described the materials for the mounted troops and field artillery as incomplete and unequal to modern demands. Last, he considered the quantity of supplies available to the field engineers and field hospital as inadequate. Hutton concluded his assessment with the warning that troops without efficient and sufficient arms, ammunition, and equipment are useless for the purpose for which they exist, and are therefore a mischievous delusion'.'

The coast defence system also suffered from grave equipment and infrastructure deficiencies. Between the six States there were five different fire-control systems, including two types in New South Wales. Guns and equipment were in poor condition, and included unserviceable pieces. A report on the defences at Albany by Major V.L Beer, the Commanding Officer Western Australian Artillery, highlighted the gravity of the deficiencies. While he complimented the garrison on its efficiency, he noted that the current staff of 40 gunners was only sufficient to man two of the fort's guns, leaving a further five pieces and two machine-guns unattended. Furthermore, he observed that the fort's two Hotchkiss 6-pounders were not yet on permanent mounts, even though they had been on site for five years.

He also noted that the reserves of ammunition were inadequate. The government provided for only 200 rounds for the 6-inch breechloader, and it was necessary to order replacements from England. Beer also complained about insufficient uniforms and the unavailability of cloth to make them. The medical officer submitted a companion report that highlighted the paucity of the base's reserves of water. He observed that the capacity of the establishment's storage tanks was insufficient for the dry season, and that if a large body of troops were to man the defences, they would quickly exhaust the water supply?'

The Colonial Defence Committee also evaluated the coastal defences of Australia in 1901. It concluded that there was far too great a variety of weapons and mountings, and that in some cases certain guns were peculiar to individual States, with only two or three pieces in existence throughout the empire. It went on to observe that many of the Commonwealth's guns were obsolete, and that they lacked the range and power to deal with the improved armour and weaponry of modern cruisers.

The report further pointed out that the Commonwealth's great number of calibres was a financial liability, and that it could lower the overall cost of its ammunition purchases by replacing its non-standard gun types. Finally, the Colonial Defence Committee also recommended that the Australian Government construct an arsenal for the local manufacture of ammunition, and stores to alleviate the difficulty of obtaining supplies from abroad, especially in time of war."

In 1902, Hutton undertook his own study of the garrison artillery, which confirmed the Colonial Defence Committee conclusions. Hutton found that of the 185 weapons assigned to coastal defence, including machine-guns, there were 25 different types. Some were quite rare, such as the two 10-inch breechloaders in Victoria and the two 7-inch rifled muzzleloaders in Tasmania. In a related assessment, Hutton also recommended that Australia create its own manufacturing department for its defence forces. He believed it necessary for the Commonwealth to have the ability to produce its own small arms, guns, and ammunition. He also thought that such a facility could meet the needs of the Royal Navy and the future Australian Navy.

The establishment of the field artillery displayed a similar degree of variety and antiquity as had the garrison batteries. A 1904 assessment found that Australia possessed 84 field guns. However, of these, only the 28 15-pounders and the four 5-inch howitzers were modern, while the rest consisted of obsolete breechloaders or even older muzzleloaders. The colonies had made no attempt to standardise their armaments, and the army inherited eight kinds of calibres, including some of which there were only two in the nation. By 1904, under Hutton's initiative, the army had taken some steps to improve the field artillery, and six of the twelve 12.5-pounders that had belonged to Victoria were in England for conversion to up-to-date 15-pounders."

  • extract from

    • The Australian Army by Albert Palazzo.

    • Oxford University Press ISBN 0 19 551507 2


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