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Reginald William Winchester (Chester) Wilmot (1911–1954)

from Advertiser

In his 42 years of life Chester Wilmot achieved distinction as a broadcaster, military commentator and war historian.

The promise of this brilliant and energetic young Australian was such that he could well have become a senior statesman or developed into one of the leading historians of the English-speaking world.

Reginald William Winchester Wilmot was born in Melbourne in June, 1911, son of the late Mr. R. W. E. Wilmot, a widely known journalist.

He was educated at Melbourne Grammar School and graduated in arts and law at Trinity College, University of Melbourne.

In 1942 he married Miss Edith Irwin, daughter of the late Rev. W. H. Irwin. a master at St. Peter's College, Adelaide.

They had two young daughters and a son.

After leaving the university Mr. Wilmot travelled extensively in many parts of the world, and the outbreak of World War II found him back in Australia to read for the Bar.

Instead, he went to the Middle East as a war correspondent for the ABC, and his dispatches were heard on the BBC in Britain.

In 1944 he joined the BBC Second Front team of war correspondents, and in 1945-46 saw the final eclipse of the Nazi leaders at the Nuremberg trials.

His experiences prompted him to collect documentary material for his now-famous history of Allied policy in the war — ''The Struggle For Europe."

This outspoken, highly controversial treatise was translated into many languages.

Its spirited defence of British war policy caused a furore in America.

Chester Wilmot took part in the round-the-world radio programme which preceded the Queen's Christmas Day broadcast from Auckland, NZ.

His part in the programme was to introduce from Sydney speakers from all parts of the British Commonwealth.

His last articles published in 'The Advertiser' were a series on rocket warfare, which appeared at the time of the Woomera atom bomb tests last October and November.

N.G. Clash

Chester Wilmot used to say that from the day Field Marshal (then Gen.) Blamey threw him out of New Guinea he never looked back.

He was an ABC war correspondent, and the General did not like his critical dispatches.

His usefulness to the ABC down to zero because of Blamey's dislike of him, he got himself a job with BBC as war correspondent.

By the end of the war such was Wilmot's prestige as a military commentator that he received official aid from several Governments in preparing his monumental — and best-selling — "The Struggle For Europe."

But for the Blamey banishment, he might have been back in his original job of a Melbourne lawyer.

He was a brilliant history student who saw more bread-and-butter in law than in history.

But after watching history's most lurid chapter in the making and reporting on it as a radio journalist, he decided to make his main life job the writing of the history of his own times.

Wilmot's war history reads better than most history because in so many of the situations he was there.

Like other world-ranking historians, such as Professor Sir Keith Hancock, K.C. Wheare and A. G. B. Fisher, Wilmot was a product of Professor Ernest Scott's famed "Historians' Factory" at Melbourne University.

Professor Scott's main teaching was "Go to the primary sources."

You find the fruits of that teaching in Wilmot's gently chiding historian Sir Winston Churchill with being 100 p.c. wrong (in Churchill's current war memoirs) in attributing to Rundstedt the halting of the German armor in France on May 24, 1940.

Churchill got his facts from the captured archives of Rundstedt's headquarters.

But through perusing himself the field files of Gens. Jodl and Halder, Wilmot traced the order personally to Hitler.

Rundstedt has admitted that his staff's documents were inaccurate.

For the memorable Normandy invasion the chapters in "The Struggle For Europe," Wilmot was his own primary source. ("There is soft rain on the perspex of the cockpit and all we can see is the guiding light in the tail of the tug").

Likewise the recording of the triumphant Cockney voice in the dark as the glider spilled its men into a Normandy paddock:— "This is it, chum — I told her we wouldn't have to swim."

And a moment later in the perilous dark, the raised voice of airborne Gen. Sir Richard Gale: — "Don't you dare argue with me, Richard Gale."

Publishers and statesmen spotted "The Struggle For Europe" as a winner before it came into the shops.

What a newspaper termed "The top crust of the general staffs of the Western world" graced the champagne-and-orchids launching of the book two years ago this month at the Dorchester.

Britain's War Minister (Mr. Anthony Head) gave the launching speech.

In the first week of publication the BBC had Wilmot give a one-hour talk on the book — the longest BBC talk on record, and gave him a 40-minute television interview — also a record.

The first day United Kingdom sales were 60,000.

Original publication

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Citation details

'Wilmot, Reginald William Winchester (Chester) (1911–1954)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 25 July 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Life Summary [details]


21 June, 1911
Brighton, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


10 January, 1954 (aged 42)
at sea

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.

Military Service
Key Organisations