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Harold Edward (Pompey) Elliott (1878–1931)

Harold (Pompey) Elliott, c.1918

Harold (Pompey) Elliott, c.1918

Australian War Memorial, H15595

Major-General Harold Edward (Pompey) Elliott, a member of the Senate for Victoria and one of the leading Australian officers of the Great War, as well as one of the most popular personalities of the Australian Imperial Force, died yesterday morning in a private hospital at Malvern. The deepest regret will be felt not only by the late Major-General Elliott's wide circle of acquaintances, but also by every former member of the A.I.F. Death was due to hemorrhage supervening upon protracted treatment for blood pressure.

Arrangements are in progress for a State funeral with full military honours. At half past 9 o'clock to-morrow morning the body will be transferred, at Messrs. Le Pine and Son's mortuary parlour, Burke road, Camberwell, to a gun carriage and taken to Major-General Elliott's late home, 56 Prospect Hill road, East Camberwell, whence the funeral procession will leave for the Burwood Cemetery at 10 o'clock. An artillery salute of 13 guns will be fired at the cemetery.

Harold Edward Elliott was born near Ballarat in 1878. He was a son of the late Thomas Elliott and he obtained his early education at Ballarat College, of which he was dux. His studies at Melbourne University were interrupted by the Boer War, in which he served with distinction with the Victorian Imperial Bushmen in Rhodesia, Transvaal, the Orange Free State, and Cape Colony, winning the D.C.M. as well as being mentioned in despatches. Awarded a commission with the 2nd Battalion Royal Berkshire Regiment, he elected to remain with the Australians, and he joined the Border Scouts. His successful defence of a post near Priska, Cape Colony, against Commandant Conroy earned him a telegram of congratulation from Lord Kitchener.

Resuming his studies with the aid of scholarships and exhibitions, he graduated B.A., LL.M., from Melbourne University; he was called to the Victorian and Commonwealth Bar in 1906, and he founded the firm of H. E. Elliott and Co., notaries and solicitors, eventually being appointed solicitor to the City of Melbourne. In 1920 he was elected to the Senate, as a Nationalist representative of Victoria; he was re-elected in 1925. He was president of the Law Institute of Victoria in 1927-28, and he had been a director of The National Trustees, Executors, and Agency Co. since 1919.

Major-General Elliott maintained from his student days an enduring interest in military science. After the Boer War he joined the Commonwealth Militia, and at the outbreak of the Great War in 1914 he was lieutenant-colonel in command of the 58th Battalion C.M.F. (Essendon). His service on Gallipoli and in France was singled out for the highest praise, and he won a reputation for personal courage second to that of no man in the Australian forces. Probably no other officer of the A.I.F. is the subject of so many anecdotes and reminiscences.

A recognisable human pen-picture is given in The Story of Anzac, by the historian of the A.I.F., Captain C. E. W. Bean. "Elliott," he writes, "was a heavily built man of bull-headed pugnacity, but with some of the simplicity and buoyancy of a child. He placed in the old principles of drill and field tactics a simple faith which was very largely justified. He cherished a boylike admiration for the great soldiers of history, and a simple ambition to imitate them. Outspoken, impulsive, excitable, 'straight' as a ruled line, intensely headstrong, he worked his men perhaps harder than any commander in the force. If a heavy or dangerous task had to be undertaken for the common good, his troops would be offered to do it. The 7th knew this and constantly groaned under the toil; but they loved him from the first. He was not exempt from their practical jokes. The Egyptian newsboys in Mena Camp were bribed to walk past his tent in the early morning crying ribaldries about 'Old Elliott,' while the men in their tents wriggled with amusement. When he issued a stern order that any man appearing on parade without the wide-brimmed Australian hat would be severely punished, he found, a minute before leaving his headquarters for the parade-ground, that his own hat was missing. Some of the men had filched it. They would not for words have stolen anything else belonging to the old man. A month later the old hat, carefully packed, stamped, and addressed, was received through the post by Mrs. Elliott in Australia. His men's feeling for him was the same until the end of the war, and the fighting of the 7th Battalion during his command, and of the 15th Brigade at a later date, cannot be fully appreciated without an understanding of the leader whom they affectionately nicknamed 'Pompey' Elliott."

As lieut.-colonel commanding the 7th Battalion, he was a leading figure in the landing on Gallipoli, and was, in fact, wounded on the first day of the fighting. With characteristic impetuosity he had exposed himself to enemy fire on the notorious "Plateau 400," having leaped upon the parapet to view the positions. Many stories of his disregard of danger are familiar to Australians. On July 18, 1915, the Turks entered a tunnel held by the 7th on Steele's Post. Colonel Elliott, with only two men, strode into the obscurity of the tunnel, and though a bullet passed under his left arm and struck one of his men, while another whizzed past his head, he refused to budge, and, building a barricade, held the position until Captain Permezel and a party arrived; it was two days before the tunnel was cleared. He participated with the 7th in the battle of Lone Pine on August 8 and 9, 1915, his own personal bravery being an inspiration to the men under his command. It was in this engagement that Captain W. Symons, a Victorian, won the Victoria Cross. Colonel Elliott handed him his own revolver, and told him to retake a trench, captured by the Turks with murderous loss of life: "I don't expect to see you again," he said, "but we must not lose that post." Symons single-handed drove out the enemy. 

In March of 1916, Lieut.-Colonel Elliott was given the command of the 15th Infantry Brigade with the rank of Brigadier-General, and he was in the thick of the fighting throughout the war in France. Men of the 15th recall in July, 1916, before the battle of Fromelles — launched against his advice — he moved among them in the front line, utterly oblivious of his own danger, heartening them to the coming offensive. Both in this engagement, in which he was again wounded, and in the subsequent fighting on the Somme, he was conspicuous for his personal gallantry under fire. At Bullecourt, Polygon Wood, Messines, and Villers-Bretonneux, he shared all the dangers and discomforts which fell to the lot of the men he led.

A rigid disciplinarian Major-General Elliott was punctilious to a degree in exacting recognition even of regulation dress and equipment. He issued on one occasion an order that men disregarding orders on these points, and officers conniving at such conduct, should be sent for court-martial. His precipitancy brought him into early conflict with both General Sir William Birdwood and Major-General Sir Brudenell White, but his persistency was effective, and Captain Bean records that he "undoubtedly succeeded in producing a brigade marked for its fighting spirit and esprit-de-corps."

Major-General Elliott, who already held the V.D., was awarded the C.B., C.M.G., and D.S.O.; he was seven times mentioned in despatches, three times gaining special mention; among his decorations were the Cross of St. Anne of Russia, second-class with swords, and the Croix de Guerre. He was promoted Major-General in 1927.

Major-General Elliott leaves a widow, a daughter of the late Mr. Alexander Campbell, of Warrnambool, a son, and a daughter.

All officers and other ranks of all units and arms of the 3rd Division (Vic.), of which Major-General Elliott was the commanding officer at the time of his death, are requested to form the escort at the funeral. Troops forming the escort will assemble at a quarter past 9 o'clock on the north side of the Camberwell railway station, facing west, in the following order, in column of route: —

14th Battalion, 29/22 Battalion, 46th Battalion, 57/60 Battalion, 58th Battalion, 59th Battalion, 24th Battalion, 37/52 Battalion, 39th Battalon, all technical units, special detachment 39th Battalion, band and buglers 57/60 and 59th Battalions. Troops forming escort will wear review order with rifles, side arms, medals, and decorations.

Officers will carry swords and wear black arm bands. Officers, other than officers of the escort, will assemble in the vicinity of the residence at a quarter to 10 o'clock. They will wear review order, with swords and black armbands.

Railway fares will be paid by the Defence department to members of the escort. 

"I have been associated intimately with Major-General Elliott both as a soldier and as a politician," said the leader of the Opposition in the Senate (Sir George Pearce), who was Minister for Defence in the war years. "In both spheres he was a true patriot, earnest, full of zeal, courageous alike in war and politics, never sparing himself. His regard for his men became a tradition in the Australian Imperial Forces. The qualities that earned him the respect and love of all the men who served under him in the battle-field he carried into politics, so that he was respected alike by his associates and his opponents. Australia has lost a good citizen, a brave soldier, and an honest political leader." 

The Quartermaster-General of the Australian Military Forces, Brigadier-General C. H. Brand, said that Major-General Elliott was a fine peace soldier and a splendid war leader. He was loved by all ranks, and he would be a great loss to the Australian Army. As president of the Victorian Militia Rifle Union he took a keen interest in the movement and attended most of the monthly matches. "Always Fought for His Men." Speaking for the Returned Soldiers' League, of which he is patron and past president, Mr. E. Turnbull said yesterday: — "Major-General Elliott was one of the few high commands who had an intimate personal regard for every man in his charge. He always fought for his men; they were his chief consideration. He was outstandingly brave in action, and he would not expect any man to go where he would not go himself. Since the war he has continued that same interest, and every returned solder in Australia has had reason to thank him for it. He was primarily responsible for the redrafting of the Returned Soldiers' League constitution. His death is a very great loss to returned soldiers."

On behalf of the Limbless Soldiers' Association the secretary (Mr. C. R. Laraghy) expressed deep regret last night at the death of Major-General Elliott. Major-General Elliott was closely identified with the association from its inception, and gave great assistance in drafting its constitution.

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'Elliott, Harold Edward (Pompey) (1878–1931)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 26 July 2024.

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