Pompey Elliott is a comprehensive award-winning biography of Australia’s most famous fighting general in World War I.
A charismatic, controversial and outstandingly successful commander, Pompey Elliott was an accomplished tactician, exceptionally brave and renowned for never sending anywhere he was not prepared to go himself. He was also forthright and volatile — his tempestuousness generated a host of anecdotes that amused his men and disconcerted his superiors.
Publisher: Scribe Publications Pty Ltd
Available in: Hardback, Amazon Kindle, Apple iBook
Published: April 7, 2008
Praise for Pompey Elliott
This is the most detailed study that I have ever read of a brigade commander in World War I. Having walked the ground of the 5th Division attack at Polygon Wood, I found McMullin’s account made me appreciate the brilliance of what Elliott and his COs achieved. Elliott would do it again during the German March offensive of 1918 and in the attack on Villers-Bretonneux in April 1918, one of the outstanding events in Australian military history. McMullin’s biography of Pompey Elliott is a major step in Australian military historiography … This is a biography that has been written by an author who knows how to write and structure a gripping yarn. Elliott is deservedly a figure of legend, but now, thanks to McMullin, we see his greatness as a man in the context of Australian achievement in World War I.
Pompey Elliott is a large book, and rightly. It encompasses a period and individuals of more than mere military significance … The assiduous McMullin has scored several scoops, including the revelation that Elliott argued successfully against an appallingly misconceived advance on St Denis Wood shortly after the battle of Mont St Quentin in September 1918 — in the lives preserved, an achievement as considerable as any great battlefield coup.
Pompey also presents many appealing personal cameos of Elliott. Impossibly brave, not to say reckless, his letters home were strewn with heartbroken lamentations of ‘my poor boys’, and tender passages explaining to his children both war (‘we … caught thousands and thousands of the Kaiser’s naughty soldier men’) and its privations (‘Dida’s soldiers get so dreadfully tired they can hardly work or walk at all. Isn’t that old Kaiser a naughty old man to cause all this trouble?’) … Elliott is fascinating.
By 1918 Australia was playing for the first and only time in its history a world historical role … [Pompey] understood the historical significance of those events. Why? Because he had been near the heart of all of them … When I finished this book I said to my wife ‘I don’t want it to end’ … Australian military history will be different as a result of the publication of this truly excellent biography … an absolute historical tour de force.
McMullin does not make a triumphalist argument for the performance of the First AIF as exemplified by Elliott’s 15th Brigade. But his chronicle of the performance of Australian troops on the Western Front makes it quite clear that [they] produced some of the great military achievements of the war … Elliott was a brilliant brigade commander because he worked very hard and made sure that his men were properly equipped, well fed and trained in the skills needed for every task they undertook … And they trusted Elliott because he led from the front, had no sense of class-based superiority and, most important, because he demonstrably knew what he was doing …
For a man with an intemperate manner and overbearing demeanour, Elliott was an extraordinarily capable leader, loved long after the war by thousands of men who had seen their mates killed on his orders … As portrayed by McMullin, Elliott was a model brigade commander and an Australian hero, egalitarian, innovative, loyal and intensely patriotic. But in the ways of real heroes, he was also an enormously complex man … His wartime heroism, physical, moral and psychological, [and] his undoubted ability to inspire respect, even love, among his men does not disguise his black-hearted reaction and his obsession with protecting his reputation … Elliott was not just a brave field commander; he was a military innovator.