Melbourne’s Sir Harry Chauvel and the VDC (our Dad’s Army in WW2)

Eighty years ago in 1940, this 75-year-old was called back from retirement. Australia was at war and needed a Volunteer Defence Corps - its version of Britain’s Home Guard or “Dad's Army”. General Sir Harry Chauvel was called upon to organise and lead them as their Inspector General.

This famous Australian general had commanded the most powerful cavalry force in modern times during WW1. In the Middle East, his Desert Mounted Corps and its Australian Light Horse was the decisive arm that helped drive the Ottoman Turks back across the Sinai Desert (including the famous charge at Beersheba), up through Palestine to capture Jerusalem, and then in the sweeping breakthrough of the Great Ride to seize Damascus, and the final pursuit far beyond into northern-most Syria.

In the decade after the First World War, Sir Harry had continued to serve his country as its senior regular Army commander and military adviser to Government, until his retirement in 1930. He worked from Victoria Barracks in Melbourne, and enjoyed a daily horse-ride around the Tan in his retirement.

He became Chairman of Trustees of the new Shrine of Remembrance and often led the Anzac Day marches. He was a patron of Legacy and consistently showed much care for his former soldiers. At public events, the crowd would leap to their feet and cheer when someone called out “Here’s Sir Harry!”

Sir Harry before VDC parade  in Melbourne - 1 Nov 1942

Chauvel chats with VDC nembers on Williamstown rifle range 1940

'On Guard' - see inset at bottom on an article referencing Sir Harry

Now, he was back in the saddle, and based once more at the Victoria Barracks HQ in Melbourne. Sir Harry set to work, criss-crossing the country to visit facilities, inspect training, boost morale, and advise the government once more. It was a big job: following Japan’s entry into the war, the VDC strength grew to almost 100,000 across Australia. As Ron Monro’s article in their book ‘On Guard’ shows (see below), Sir Harry’s return was very welcome.

Sir Harry’s health began to fail in 1944 and he died on 4 March 1945 before war’s end. He was given a huge military funeral in Melbourne at St Paul’s Cathedral. A plaque there commemorates him. His sword rests at Christ Church South Yarra.

Lest We Forget.

Footnote: Fittingly, there is talk that Sir Harry and his Australian Light Horse may be depicted in artwork at the new Anzac Station near the Shrine.

An Image Gallery

VDC members - Watsonia camp july 1942

Lieutenant Ronald Monro (VX46163).

In the VDC book (1944, see cover above) Chauvel is described on pages 79,80.  Monro wrote:

'To give prestige to the Corps, a great name was needed. Nor was it hard to find. That fine old soldier, General Sir Harry Chauvel, GCMG, KCB, who in the Great War had led the largest body of cavalry in modern history, was appointed by the (Returned Soldiers) League, with the concurrence of the Minister for the Army, to be Inspector-in –Chief of the Corps and his interest in it has never waned since the date of his appointment.'

Chauvel in centre with VDC - training to fire Owen gun

VDC train on aircfaft detection equipment 1942

Mt Isa VDC cooks Sgt Davies Pte McCarthy Jan 1944

VDC train with guerilla firebombs 1942

Qld VDC train with 3.7 inch antiaircraft gun - Sep 1942

Minister for Army Mr Forde inspects WA members of VDC