Frank Forde file photo [8556]

Frank Forde

Given NameFrank
Born18 Jul 1890
Died28 Jan 1983


ww2dbaseFrancis Michael Forde served a greater number of successive prominent political posts in Australia during the Second World War than any other person. Forde was born during 1890 in Mitchell in Queensland, the state in which the Australian labour movement had its first union victory amongst the bush unions during 1891, when Queensland was still a colony. His father was a grazier, and young Frank was educated at St Mary's College, a Roman Catholic school in Toowoomba. When Forde was mature enough he settled in Rockhampton. Here he became involved in the ALP and worker's education groups. In 1917 he was elected to the state Legislative Assembly as ALP member for Rockhampton, which he resigned from in 1922. Forde was elected to the federal House of Representatives for the electorate of Capricornia, a fairly safe ALP seat. When the ALP won the 1929 election Forde became the Assistant Minister for Trade and Customs in the Scullin government. Near the conclusion of this government, the only federal ALP government in office during the Depression, Forde became Minister for Trade and Customs. He was one of the few senior Labor MPs to survive the electoral defeat in 1931, and in 1932 he became the Deputy Opposition leader. He was well liked, so when Scullin resigned as leader of the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party (FPLP), Forde was expected to succeed him. Since the 1931 debacle, Scullin had attempted to carry the ALP banner nobly, but could not muster the vitality needed to reproduce the hard-hitting opposition he displayed in the late 1920s. Poor health during the winter of 1935 forced his decision resign as leader of the FPLP. At the first FPLP meeting after Scullin's decision was announced, on 23 September, caucus unanimously pleaded with Scullin to reconsider. He paused, fighting off another bout of sickness, which made the decision for him. In the ensuing leadership battle, Forde was predicted to win. His next strongest rival, Norman Makin, was representing the FPLP in an international parliamentary session in London. Standing against Forde was a dark horse of the leadership struggle, a man by the name of John Curtin. When the smoke cleared in this leadership ballot the unlikely had been achieved: the dark horse had won. Curtin beat Forde by a single vote. That one caucus ballot ensured the composition of the Opposition at the beginning of the Second World War: Curtin as leader, and Forde as loyal deputy. This combination dramatically affected Australia's war effort through much of the war's length. Curtin may have improved Australia's war preparedness greatly, but Forde was not merely riding on Curtin's coattails, the deputy provided much needed support to the much respected, yet ill, leader through lending diligence and vitality in key posts at each point in the ALP involvement in the governing of Australia during the Second World War. As Curtin's deputy, Forde was admitted to the Advisory War Council, a bi-partisan decision making body suggested to Menzies by Curtin to include the ALP opposition into the government's confidence in all military and political decisions relating to Australia's war effort, while insulating the government from traditional parliamentary questioning. In the Council Forde often followed Curtin's line of questioning with queries whose answers held great importance to Australia's defence position. Two weeks after the Council's first session on 28 October 1940, when Curtin requested information on the disposition of all RAN ships, Forde followed it up with a question about how long they would take to return to Australian waters if recalled, and asked the new Chief of the General Staff, Vernon Sturdee, about the Australian Army's ability to repel an invasion from a belligerent. When John Curtin announced his choices for ministry posts in his new ALP administration, on 6 October 1941, Forde expected to become Treasurer. Ben Chifley was given the Treasury portfolio, but the Deputy was given the post of Minister of the Army. As civilian responsible for the army when the cabinet decided to appoint Thomas Blamey as C-in-C of the Australian Army in March 1942, Forde became a politician with a target painted on his back, with ALP members of parliament, who hated Blamey, and officers within the army, who were covetous of the height of the profession he had attained, peering at Forde through the crosshairs. On 18 March, shortly after the cabinet's decision had been made Major-General George Vasey, Major-General Edmund Herring, and Brigadier Clive Steel met with Forde in Melbourne to offer a proposal which was intended to dethrone Blamey, which is known as "the Revolt of the Generals". The suggestion that the three generals made was to enforce retirement upon all Australian Army officers once they pass the age of fifty. Although this idea was quite ludicrous, the legendary Australian military historian, David Horner, points out that it was a move suggested out of sheer frustration by the younger senior commanders of the Australian army, who were annoyed at being consistently passed over for senior command positions by a bunch of old men. Horner says:

Most of the younger senior commanders had been absent from Australia for about two years.... They found some of the officers filling divisional commands were too old for war, while others....had been promoted rapidly in Australia but had no recent combat experience. It was galling for officers returning from the Middle East to find that they had been overtaken by officers who stayed behind.

ww2dbaseThis concept, was, of course, unfeasible, both in the light of the Australian and international situation. If such a move in the Australian Army, it would retire Leslie Morshead, John Lavarack, Vernon Sturdee, and John Northcott would be retired, and an unbiased glance at the ages of many of the well-known senior Allied commanders at the time would have revealed that age has little to do with ability to command troops in a battlefield campaign: Bernard Montgomery, soon to become the hero that was to defeat the Desert Fox at El Alamein, was 54 at the time; George Patton was 56; and Douglas MacArthur was 62. Justifiably so, Forde dismissed this argument, but failed to mention to his three visitors that a week prior to their meeting, the cabinet had nominated to make Blamey the Commander-in-Chief of the Australian army. Three days later in Melbourne Forde met with a much more accomplished general, who would soon have a more significant role to play in Australia's war effort, he welcomed MacArthur to Australia on behalf of the Australian government, as the American general stepped off his train onto a platform of the Spencer St Station on 21 March. As the year progressed, and the conservative Opposition desperately sought to find an issue with which to prise open the Curtin government grip on the war effort. The issue they saw as likely to do that was the issue that had split the ALP during the First World War, one which Curtin himself believed in opposing so passionately that he had been jailed for campaigning according to his convictions: conscription. The Opposition leader, W M Hughes, had charged the ALP view, that conscripted Australian troops should only be used within Australia or mandated territories, with being unfair to allied nations who sent conscripted troops to defend Australia. Forde declared this viewpoint to be "the foolish clamour of political opportunists", defending his government in the face of the issue that had caused a massive split in the ALP ranks during the First World War. What he failed to consider was Curtin's conviction about the prosecution of this war, the Prime Minister argued that all struggle against the Japanese was aimed towards the defence of Australians, whether the stand was made on Australian soil or in the Netherlands East Indies (NEI), so he raised the issue at a Special FPLP Conference in October, the delegates voted to allow the use of conscripted militia divisions on any adjacent islands that the Governor-General decides is vital for Australia's defence. The overwhelming victory won by the Curtin government in the 1943 election meant Curtin was more inclined to take risks to improve Australia's war effort, in early 1944 he decided to travel to the Allied capitals to attempt to gain greater resources for the Pacific. Curtin travelled to San Francisco by boat, Washington by plane, then onto London by plane to London by plane to participate in a Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference. Before he departed, Curtin appointed Forde acting prime minister, to head the government while Curtin was absent. By the time Curtin arrived in Washington, Forde announced the release of a further nine thousand men from the services to fill the empty places in civil industry, according to the numbers MacArthur agreed upon in 1943. Forde did this to abate criticism in Australia that demobilisation was not rapid enough, he submitted to this criticism because he thought it was best for Australia, but this announcement stirred up trouble for Curtin on his visit to the Allied capitals. Forde's announcement caused a furor in the American press, which did not cease to cause Curtin consternation after he had left Washington. Churchill had been reading the American press reports before Curtin arrived in London, and this had confirmed the British prime minister's pre-conceived notions about the distant dominion, he thought the Australians were taking advantage of the circumstances near the end of the war, when Britain and the United States needed a ready supply of foodstuffs. Forde had made releases of men into the dairy industry a priority, allegedly to supply "the butter for Britain's bread", Churchill believed. This made it difficult for Curtin to achieve his aim in the Allied capitals, to divert resources from the European theatre to the Pacific. At this juncture, the British Army were planning the D-Day landings, a factor which meant a diversion of Allied resources from Europe was less likely in 1944. After returning to Australia from a fruitless trip he increasingly became ill, Forde was in San Francisco for a conference discussing the United Nations, where he was later joined by Evatt. Forde received alarming news from Australia, Curtin had been hospitalised by a heart attack. From May to June 1945 Chifley was acting prime minister, Forde returned to Canberra post haste. Upon arrival Forde was greeted with the gut-wrenching news: the Prime Minister had died on 5 July. As Deputy Forde was sworn in as the 15th Australian prime minister by the Governor-General the next day, 6 July. Forde was only leader of the nation until a caucus ballot would decide Curtin's successor. Those taking part in the leadership struggle were Forde, who was experienced; Chifley, who was the successor Curtin had named while he was living; and Norman Makin. The caucus vote was scheduled for 12 July, by that time it was confirmed that Chifley had the numbers. Forde discovered this prior to the ballot when he invited a knowledgeable fellow ALP member into his office and asked how the numbers looked in the upcoming vote, the MP told Forde honestly, and respected Forde for this reaction:

He asked me about his chances. I told him frankly what his position was. It was brutal, but it was the kindest thing to do.... His face went deathly white, the veins on his neck stood out in an effort to suppress his emotions.... After awhile he said, "I must say a little prayer for Ben. It is not an easy job".

ww2dbaseIn caucus Chifley got 45 votes; Forde received fifteen; and Evatt, who still had not returned to Australia from San Francisco, received one. Chifley was sworn in as prime minister on 13 July. Frank Forde's tenure in the position lasted eight days, the shortest of any Australian prime minister. Forde became Chifley's deputy, meaning he had served as deputy under three ALP leaders: Scullin, Curtin, and Chifley. He also served as Minister for Defence, so was criticised for sluggish rates of demobilisation, as a consequence Forde lost his seat at the 1946 election, although the ALP won a convincing victory overall. Chifley appointed Forde High Commissioner to Canada, a post which he held until 1953. He returned to Australia and tried to enter Parliament in the 1954 election for the seat of Wide Bay, but without success. He ran as MP for the seat of Flinders in the Queensland Parliament in the 1955 by-election, finding success. He lost his seat in 1957, the year the ALP split caused the party to fall from power.

ww2dbaseAt the request of Prime Minister Robert Menzies, Forde represented Australia at Douglas MacArthur's funeral in Arlington in 1964. Forde himself died aged 92 in 1983, and his funeral was held on the same day caucus elected Bob Hawke leader of the ALP. The Queensland electoral division of Forde and Canberra suburb of Forde were named after Frank Forde.

ww2dbaseSources: R. McMullin, The Light on the Hill: The Australian Labor Party 1891-1991, Wikipedia, P. Thompson, Pacific Fury, D. Day, The Politics of War: Australia at War 1939-45: from Churchill to MacArthur, The National Archives of Australia, J. Beaumont, Australia's War: 1939-45, P. Brune, A Bastard of a Place.

Last Major Revision: Sep 2009

Frank Forde Interactive Map

Frank Forde Timeline

18 Jul 1890 Frank Forde was born in Mitchell, Queensland, Australia.
23 Jan 1942 In the evening in Australia, Deputy Prime Minister Francis Forde announced that the government had learned of a Japanese landing at Bougainville in the Solomon Islands, but there were no words on whether Rabaul had been invaded.
24 Jan 1942 Australian Deputy Prime Minister Francis Forde announced in the afternoon that the Japanese had presumably landed at Rabaul, New Britain, Bismarck Islands.
28 Jan 1983 Frank Forde passed away.


Frank and Vera Forde with their children Mary, Mercia, Gerard, and Clare at their home in Strathfield, Sydney, Australia, 1940Prime Minister John Curtin and his ministry, Government House, Canberra, Australia, 1941US Ambassador Nelson Johnson, Lady Gowrie, John Curtin, Douglas MacArthur, Governor General Lord Gowrie, and Frank Forde, Australia, 8 Jun 1943Australian Army Minister Frank Forde and Minister for Information Arthur Calwell on an inspection tour with senior Army officers, Australia, 1944
See all 5 photographs of Frank Forde

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Visitor Submitted Comments

1. David Bowden says:
22 Jan 2013 06:04:41 PM

Good article. Please check the fact that his father was a grazier when he was born. Our history shows he was working for Queensland Rail at Muckadilla (near Mitchell). Would appreciate if you can verify one way or another. We are involved in erecting a Fraank Forde Memorial Room at the Mitchell Library and a Memorial at the Cenotaph at Muckadilla.
2. Anonymous says:
2 Jun 2014 09:52:49 PM

Frank Forde died in Brisbane
3. Marie Marinelli says:
25 Aug 2014 05:01:11 PM

Thank you for the article. I have been researching the family history and Frank Forde's birth certificate shows father occupation as labourer. His father's occupation is shown as lengthsman or ganger on other life certificates. A John Forde did make application to purchase 1/2 acre at Muckadilla in 1906.

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Frank and Vera Forde with their children Mary, Mercia, Gerard, and Clare at their home in Strathfield, Sydney, Australia, 1940
See all 5 photographs of Frank Forde

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