Harold Edward (Pompey) ELLIOTT CB, CMG, DSO, DCM, VD

ELLIOTT, Harold Edward

Service Numbers: 121, Officer
Enlisted: 17 August 1914, Melbourne, Victoria
Last Rank: Brigadier General
Last Unit: 15th Infantry Brigade Headquarters
Born: West Charlton, Victoria, Australia, 19 June 1878
Home Town: Northcote, Darebin, Victoria
Schooling: Ballarat College, Ormond College and University of Melbourne
Occupation: Solicitor
Died: Suicide, Malvern, Victoria, Australia, 23 March 1931, aged 52 years
Cemetery: Burwood General Cemetery
Memorials: Law Institute of Victoria
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Boer War Service

1 Oct 1899: Involvement Australian and Colonial Military Forces (Boer War / Boxer Rebellion), Private, SN 121, 4th Victorian Imperial Bushman
1 Mar 1901: Honoured Distinguished Conduct Medal

World War 1 Service

17 Aug 1914: Enlisted AIF WW1, Lieutenant Colonel, Melbourne, Victoria
19 Oct 1914: Involvement AIF WW1, Lieutenant Colonel, 7th Infantry Battalion, Enlistment/Embarkation WW1
19 Oct 1914: Embarked AIF WW1, Lieutenant Colonel, SN Officer, 7th Infantry Battalion, HMAT Hororata, Melbourne
25 Apr 1915: Involvement AIF WW1, Lieutenant Colonel, 7th Infantry Battalion, ANZAC Gallipoli
19 Jul 1916: Involvement AIF WW1, Brigadier General, 15th Infantry Brigade Headquarters, Fromelles (Fleurbaix)
11 May 1917: Involvement AIF WW1, Brigadier General, 15th Infantry Brigade Headquarters, Bullecourt (Second)
31 Jul 1917: Involvement AIF WW1, Brigadier General, 15th Infantry Brigade Headquarters, Third Ypres
20 Sep 1917: Involvement AIF WW1, Brigadier General, 15th Infantry Brigade Headquarters, Polygon Wood
1 Mar 1918: Involvement AIF WW1, Brigadier General, 15th Infantry Brigade Headquarters, German Spring Offensive 1918
24 Apr 1918: Involvement AIF WW1, Brigadier General, 15th Infantry Brigade Headquarters, Villers-Bretonneux
30 Aug 1918: Involvement AIF WW1, Brigadier General, 15th Infantry Brigade Headquarters, Mont St Quentin / Peronne

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Biography contributed by Robert Wight

Brigadier General Harold Edward 'Pompey' Elliott, CB, CMG, DSO, DCM, commanded the 15th Brigade (earlier also 7th Battalion and 1st Brigade), 1st Australian Imperial Force. Elliott was at the Gallipoli Landing and took part in the evacuation. He later fought on the Western Front.

Prior to the First World War he had taken part in the Boer War. Elliott proved himself a skilled and courageous soldier; he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal, mentioned in despatches, and once received Lord Kitchener's congratulations for his defence of a post. Equally successful as a student and athlete, Elliott returned to university, earned a number of scholarships and prizes, played football, and was a champion shot-putter. He was called to the Victorian and Commonwealth Bar in 1907 and established a firm of solicitors. He married Catherine Campbell in 1909 and in the meantime had joined the militia as a second lieutenant.

By 1913 he had reached the rank of lieutenant colonel and was given command of the 58th Battalion. The army was Elliott's passion and he immersed himself in military lore. When the First World War began Elliott was given both command of the 7th Battalion and the nickname 'Pompey' that stuck for the rest of his life. He landed at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915, was shot in the foot, evacuated and did not return until June.

Once back he quickly gained a reputation for courage and leadership; four of the seven Victoria Crosses awarded at Lone Pine went to Elliott's battalion. A short-lived command of the 1st Brigade was followed in March 1916 by promotion to brigadier general and command of the 15th Brigade. Through no fault of Elliott's, the brigade's first action on the Western Front, at Fromelles, was a disaster in which over 5,500 men were killed or wounded in one night. Elliott wept as he met survivors coming out of the line. But war also energised Elliott. Careful of men's lives, he was sometimes reckless with his own. A frank, outspoken man, he clashed with his superiors and was considered a difficult subordinate. In battle he proved to be an excellent, sometimes inspirational, leader. He expected to be given a divisional command and the denial of his ambition in May 1918 remained a source of bitterness until his death.

For the rest of the war he led with characteristic zeal and in January 1919 he received the fondest of farewells from his brigade. In 1919 Elliott won a seat in the Victorian parliament for the National Party and took command of the 15th Militia Brigade. Alongside his political and legal career, Elliott was involved in the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia. His protests at having been denied higher command continued and were rejected by the Military Board and the Minister for Defence. Only in 1927 was Elliott promoted to major general and given command of the 3rd Division; however, his bitterness, expressed in correspondence to his superiors, remained. In March 1931 he committed suicide.

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Biography

Brigadier Harold "Pompey" Elliott

 

Brigadier General Harold "Pompey" Elliot was one of the standout, albeit controversial, personalities among the leadership of the AIF. 

A Boer War veteran, he commanded the 7th Battalion at Gallipoli and then during the 'doubling of the AIF' he was promoted to command the 15th Brigade of the 5th Division.  He held that appointment throughout the remainder of the War, through the disaster at Fromelles, the relentless grind of Bullecourt and Third Ypres to the triumph of the ANZAC Day counter attack at Villers Bretonneux in 1918 in which he commanded the right wing of the attack, then later in the year the Hundred Days offensive culminating in the capture of Mont St Quentin on 2 September 1918.

A commander of almost god-like status to his men, he was blunt and direct, an attribute that did not always endear him to his superiors.  His biography has been extensively documented and a number of books have been written about him so it is not intended to replicate that here.

A fact often overlooked by his biographers is that, after the war, he entered a legal partnership with one Walter Downing, who had been an articled clerk before the war.  What is perhaps most remarkable is that Downing was a private soldier in the 57th Battalion of Elliot's 15th Brigade.  Downing won a Military Medal at Polygon Wood.  He went on to author one of the most enthralling eye witness accounts of soldiering on the Western Front - "To The Last Ridge" published in 1921.  Hs accounts of the battle of Fromelles and Villers Bretonneux are beautifully written and capture the fury of mortal combat in the way only an eloquent eye witness could.  Like everyone else in the 15th Brigade, Downing remained fiercely loyal to Elliot long after his death.

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