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Field Marshal the Lord Birdwood
, 1938

by Barbara Tribe

cast plaster, patinated (including base: 57.2 cm x 47.3 cm depth 32.2 cm)

William Birdwood KCMG KCSI KCB DSO, 1st Baron Birdwood of Anzac and Totnes (1865–1951) commanded the Australian Imperial Force for much of World War I. Birdwood served with distinction on Lord Kitchener’s staff during the Boer War. When World War I began, Kitchener put him in command of the Australian and New Zealand forces bound for Europe. He met them in Egypt at the end of 1914; four months later they landed at Gallipoli. Here Birdwood regularly visited the front lines, and swam daily at the place he named Anzac Cove. Though opposed to retreat, he oversaw the successful withdrawal of troops in December 1915. Soon after, the ANZAC Corps was split in two. Birdwood accompanied I ANZAC Corps to France, and directed its operations throughout 1916 and 1917; he took command of the Australian Corps when it was formed from the five AIF divisions in November 1917. Despite his having led them through disastrous Western Front actions, Birdwood won far more respect from Australian soldiers than did most British senior commanders. In 1930, King George V said that he believed he would make an excellent governor-general, ‘the more so since after my close association with the Australian troops many people had come to believe that I was an Australian by birth, and not simply by adoption’, as Birdwood wrote. However, the honour went to Isaac Isaacs instead.

Barbara Tribe (1913–2000) had been a student in London for eighteen months when she persuaded Gordon Selfridge to let her set up a sculpture studio in Selfridge’s china department. There, over a four-month period in 1937, she made many busts of prominent figures; and one of Birdwood’s grandson. After she had moved on, the old soldier came to her new studio to pose, bringing medals that he had withdrawn from the bank for the occasion. The resulting bust, which was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1939, is of one of relatively few twentieth-century portraits in the Collection of the National Portrait Gallery to be acquired under the criterion of ‘Australian by birth or association’.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Gift of the Estate of the late Barbara Tribe 2009
Accession number: 2009.47