ELLIOTT, Harold Edward (1878-1931)


ELLIOTT, Harold Edward (1878-1931)
general
son of Thomas Elliott, was born at West Charlton, Victoria, on 19 June 1878. He was educated at Ballarat College and Ormond College, university of Melbourne, where he graduated B.A. and LL.M. sharing the final honours scholarship in law in 1906. Before this he had been at the war in South Africa from 1899 to 1902, in which he obtained a commission and the D.C.M. He was called to the Victorian bar in 1906 and established the firm of solicitors, H. E. Elliott and Company. He had joined the militia after the Boer War, held the rank of lieutenant-colonel when the 1914-18 war began, and was immediately given the same rank in the 7th Battalion, Australian Imperial Forces. He left Australia in October 1914, was wounded at the landing at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915, and rejoining his battalion in June was in the midst of the fighting at Lone Pine in August. He was promoted brigadier-general early in 1916 and before the disaster at Fromelles pointed out to Major Howard of the British staff that the width of No-man's Land was too great for the assault to succeed. But when the commander-in-chief decided that the operation must go on, Elliott did all that was possible to make it a success by himself going tip to the front line to encourage his men. At 11.30 of the night of the attack when asked if he could make a fresh attack he replied "cannot guarantee success of attack . . . but willing to try". An hour later he realized that the previous attacks had been a complete failure, reported to that effect, and that he was now organizing the defence of the original trenches. It has been stated that Elliott became intoxicated by danger, but he would not throw away his men uselessly. His brigade did magnificent work at Polygon Wood at the end of September 1917, Elliott proving to be an inspiring leader, and again at second Villers-Bretonneux in April 1918, at Peronne at the end of August, and at the Hindenburg Line a month later. Early in October the Australians were withdrawn for a rest and did not take part in any further fighting.
Elliott returned to Australia in June 1919 and at the general election held in that year was top of the poll at the election for the Victorian senators, and had the same position at the 1925 election. He sat on various committees but did not make any special mark as a politician. He was promoted to the rank of major-general in 1927 and died at Melbourne on 23 March 1931. He married in 1909 Catherine Fraser, daughter of Alexander Campbell, who survived him with a son and a daughter. Elliott was mentioned seven times in dispatches, was created C.M.G. in 1917, C.B. in 1918, and his orders included the D.S.O., the Order of St Anne of Russia, and the Croix de Guerre.
Elliott was a heavily-built man, outspoken, impulsive and headstrong, brave and vehement, who worked his troops harder than any other commander, and yet held their affection and respect. Familiarly known as "Pompey" or "The Old Man" he had their complete confidence, and they would attempt any dangerous task so long as they, understood that their commander thought its success was possible. His personality and driving power more than once was responsible for turning the tide of battle, and from the point of view of the ranker, no greater soldier fought in the war. He had, however, the faults of his qualities and would put into written reports criticisms of superior officers or reflections on other troops which caused trouble, and this more than anything else, was accountable for his not rising to higher command during the war.
C. E. W. Bean, The Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-18, vols. I to VI; The Argus and The Age, Melbourne, 24 March 1931: A. D. Ellis, The Story of the Fifth Australian Division; Debrett's Peerage, etc., 1930; Commonwealth Parliamentary Handbook, 1901-30.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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