BRAND, Charles Henry (1873–1961)
Senator for Victoria, 1935–47 (United Australia Party; Liberal Party of Australia)

Charles Hayman (Henry) Brand, schoolteacher and army officer, was born on 4 September 1873 at Mount Radford Reserve, Ipswich, Queensland, son of Charles Hayman Brand, farmer, of Devon, England, and his wife Elizabeth, née Elliott, of Londonderry, Ireland. Educated at state schools in Maryborough and Bundaberg, young Charles joined the Department of Public Instruction on 8 November 1887 as a pupil-teacher. He taught initially at Bundaberg North and later in Brisbane and the Charters Towers district. In his youth he was a noted cross-country runner and rugby footballer.

Although previously commissioned (1898) in the volunteer branch of the Queensland Defence Force (Land), in early 1900 Brand enlisted as a private in the 3rd (Queensland Mounted Infantry) Contingent, bound for the South African War. He sailed in March and was promoted lieutenant in June. The unit fought in Rhodesia, the Transvaal and the Orange River and Cape colonies before returning to Australia in May 1901. Brand was back in South Africa in June the next year as a captain in the 7th Australian Commonwealth Horse, but hostilities had ended and he saw no further action. He resumed teaching in Queensland and served part-time with the Kennedy Infantry Regiment. In December 1905 he transferred to the Permanent Military Forces in Brisbane.[1]

Posted to Sydney, he married, on 25 June 1906 at the Methodist parsonage at Bondi, Ella Arline Armstrong, a schoolteacher from Ballarat whom he had met at Charters Towers. They had two daughters, Lorna Eileen and Phyllis Leonie. Brand performed instructional and staff duties in New South Wales, served in India from 1910 to 1911, and was promoted major in 1912, taking command the following year of the 4th Military District, Adelaide. In August 1914 he joined the AIF, embarking in October for the Middle East as brigade major, 3rd Infantry Brigade. Accompanying the first wave of Australians to land at Gaba Tepe on the Gallipoli Peninsula on 25 April 1915, he dashed inland, took charge of leaderless groups of men, carried messages under fire and disabled three enemy guns; he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order. In July he was promoted lieutenant colonel and placed in command of the 8th Battalion, which he led until the evacuation in December.

Moving to the Western Front, in July 1916 Brand was promoted temporary brigadier general and made commander of the 4th Brigade. He began badly, delivering what Australia’s official historian of the war, C. E. W. Bean, considered ‘an extraordinarily inept and egoistic oration’ to the assembled troops. The incident was soon forgotten as the men became aware of his efficiency and devotion to their welfare. They retained their respect for him even after the disastrous attack at Bullecourt on 11 April 1917, in which his brigade bore the brunt of the losses, with nearly 2500 killed, wounded or taken prisoner. The Australians believed that the British higher command had botched the operation. Brand wept as he watched the weary survivors return from the field. The 4th Brigade helped contain the German offensive in the spring of 1918 and won further victories before being withdrawn from the line in September. Appointed CMG (1916) and CB (1918), seven times mentioned in despatches and twice wounded during the war, ‘Digger’ Brand returned to Australia in December 1918.

His subsequent posts included commandant, 3rd Military District, Melbourne (1919–21), commander, 1st Division, Sydney (1921–25), second chief of the General Staff (1926–30) and Quartermaster General and third member of the Military Board (1930–32). As Defence Liaison Officer during the royal visit in 1927, for which he was awarded CVO, Brand was closely involved in organising the Duke of York’s spectacular review of some 3000 troops after the opening of Parliament House, Canberra. He had been an honorary major-general from 1922 to 1925 and was granted that rank on his retirement in 1933.

Stating publicly that he was entering politics because he was physically fit, had no business or other ties and wished to continue serving his country, Brand was endorsed by the United Australia Party in 1934 as a Senate candidate for Victoria. He believed that the policies of J. A. Lyons’ UAP Government were leading Australia out of the Depression and keeping ‘the door to communism’ closed. Brand was elected in September that year at the head of the poll and took his seat on 1 July 1935. He was re-elected in September 1940, this time with an absolute majority.[2]

In the Senate his principal concerns were defence and the welfare of ex-service personnel. His expert commentary on broad defence policy and on specific issues affecting the armed services was of substantial value to Parliament. In the 1930s he stressed the need for Australia to become more self-reliant and to take greater responsibility for its security, noting that ‘that bulwark of defence’, the Royal Navy, ‘is no longer available to us’. He promoted the ideas of Lieutenant Colonel H. D. Wynter, a serving officer and leader of those who argued that Australia should depend on its army and air force to repel invasion. Brand passed his ideas to Curtin, with whom he often discussed defence issues, annoying party politicians. When Japan entered World War II, he argued that the AIF and the Citizen Military Forces should be amalgamated as an operational necessity.

While he usually spoke temperately, Brand was passionate about ‘party politics’ getting in the way of the war effort, especially after Labor came to power in 1941. He was critical of some members and senators who, he said, ‘should be in uniform doing real war work’, adding, ‘If I were as young as they are, I should feel ashamed of escaping service on account of statutory parliamentary exemption’. Senator Aylett, the second youngest man in the Senate, whose only child was an air force officer, took the remark personally, and defended the value of his own parliamentary work against the view of an ‘old worn-out General’. Undeterred, Brand went even further in 1943:

It makes my blood boil when I hear politicians who have never done a day’s soldiering . . . who have always opposed the training of any one to defend this country, and who never raised their voice, or lifted a finger, to help us in the first world war, airing their views on military strategy and battle tactics.[3]

Brand welcomed legislation that liberalised benefits for veterans, in particular the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Bills of 1935 and 1943. He carried two amendments of clauses in the 1943 bill against the Government. One ensured that an applicant for a service pension should have the same rights as an applicant for an old-age or invalid pension in any assessment of property whose full value could not be realised. The other more controversial amendment required the Commonwealth Public Service and Commonwealth instrumentalities generally—including the Commonwealth Railways, the Commonwealth Bank and munitions factories—to give preference in employment to returned men. To Brand, preference was ‘a form of repatriation which no government can ignore’. So strongly did he feel about the issue that when Government speakers opposed his amendment he threatened to introduce preference for returned men to all industry, ‘whether it be controlled by the Government or private enterprise’. Despite the initial refusal of the House of Representatives to accept Brand’s amendment, Opposition senators stood their ground and won. Brand made it his business to see that the broad principle of preference for returned men was implemented: he was pleased that recalcitrant departments, hearing that he was ‘on the war-path’, fell into line. ‘Good old General!’ interjected Senator Aylett: ‘He put the wind up them’.

Brand became spokesman for an informal committee of returned soldiers in Parliament, formed initially from the UAP and Country Party, which regularly met the Minister for the Army to discuss defence matters from late 1940. The twenty-eight returned men from all parties (excluding four men serving overseas) unequivocally recognised Brand’s standing as a spokesman for service and defence matters by unanimously electing him as its chairman, which he took as a sign that he ‘still had a little initiative, energy and common sense’. Even after the war, he maintained his role as defence spokesman, warning that ‘to relapse into a state of isolational lotus-eating is surely to invite disaster’.[4]

Perceiving the economy as a partnership between the primary and secondary sectors, he supported protectionist measures, such as the Sugar Agreement Bill of 1935. He was not doctrinaire, however, and declared that ‘The ardent high protectionist is as big a nuisance to me as the dyed-in-the-wool freetrader; I prefer to steer a middle course’. Consistent with his economic views, he saw social classes as interdependent and took an interest in the well-being of the whole community. In World War II he opposed increases in company taxes, yet demanded action against firms profiteering on defence contracts; additionally, he urged that the prices commissioner keep down the cost of foodstuffs so that children of working men could receive proper nutrition.

Essentially Brand was a practical man, who spoke occasionally and to the point. Sometimes he read his speeches, citing in justification the example of the leader of the Labour Party in the House of Commons. Although the practice was against the standing orders of the Senate, the President, Gordon Brown, did not intervene ‘because he always had something worthwhile to say’.[5]

In 1939 Brand chaired the Senate Select Committee on the Discharge of Captain T. P. Conway from the Australian Military Forces. This officer had been retrenched from the Permanent Military Forces in 1922, unfairly, in his view. Subsequently, he had battled the Department of Defence and successive ministers for defence, seeking compensation for his dismissal and alleging that official statements about his circumstances had discredited him. Brand’s committee found unanimously that Conway had no grounds for compensation but that, because he had suffered nervous strain as a result of the handling of his case, he should be given an ex gratia payment of £100; the Government eventually paid the amount.

Under Brand’s chairmanship, the Joint Standing Committee on Public Works reported twice in 1941, recommending that a new abattoir be constructed in the Australian Capital Territory, and counselling against the erection in Canberra of two temporary Commonwealth office blocks, the siting of which would infringe Walter Burley Griffin’s plan for the city. Inquiring in 1943 into the production of shale oil in Australia, the committee recommended, as a first step, that machinery be bought and the water supply improved, so that output at Glen Davis, New South Wales, could be increased to 39.2 million gallons a year.[6]

Brand was defeated in the 1946 election and vacated his Senate seat on 30 June 1947. Retiring to Melbourne, he retained close links with the ex-service community. President of the South African Soldiers’ Association for thirty-five years and chairman of the Sailors’ and Soldiers’ War Widows’ Homes Trust for thirty-three years, Brand was also patron of the Limbless Soldiers’ Association, the Totally and Permanently Incapacitated Sailors’ and Soldiers’ Association and the Bendigo Legacy Club, as well as the Victorian Rugby Union. He had been a member of the Naval and Military Club. He died on 31 July 1961 at his Toorak home and was cremated with Church of England rites and full military honours. His wife and daughters survived him. Although Brand had been known in Parliament as ‘the General’, Labor Senator N. E. McKenna recalled that he was no militarist.[7]

Darryl Bennet

[1] A. J. Sweeting, ‘Brand, Charles Henry’, ADB, vol. 7; Brand—Australian War Records Biographical Forms, AWM183/9, NAA; QLA, V&P, Reports of the Secretary for Public Instruction, 1888, 1891, 1895, 1900, 1905; Reveille (Syd.), 1 Aug. 1933, pp. 16–17; Queensland Government Gazette, 19 Feb. 1898; P. L. Murray (comp. & ed.), Official Records of the Australian Military Contingents to the War in South Africa, Government Printer, Melbourne, 1911, pp. 463, 466, 469, 530; Commonwealth of Australia Gazette, 23 Dec. 1905.

[2] Brand Papers, 3DRL/2750, AWM; Brand, C. H.—War Service Record, B2455, Recommendation Files for Honours and Awards, AIF, 1914–18 War, AWM28/2/100, NAA; C. E. W. Bean, The Australian Imperial Force in France 1916, A & R, Sydney, 1939, pp. 707, 735, The Australian Imperial Force in France 1917, A & R, Sydney, 1939, pp. 342–3, 350–1; Age (Melb.), 10 May 1927, p. 12; Argus (Melb.), 10 May 1927, p. 19; CT, 13 May 1927, p. 4; Commonwealth of Australia Gazette, 22 May 1930, p. 1089; Argus (Melb.), 6 Aug 1934, p. 9.

[3] CPD, 1 Oct. 1935, pp. 325–7; David Day, John Curtin: A Life, Harper Collins, Pymble, NSW, 1999, p. 350; Alan Chester, John Curtin, A & R, Sydney, 1943, p. 67; D. M. Horner, High Command: Australia and Allied Strategy, 1939–1945, George Allen & Unwin with the assistance of the AWM, North Sydney, 1982, p. 12; CPD, 10 Dec. 1942, pp. 1656–8, 11 Sept. 1942, pp. 248–9, 16 Sept. 1942, pp. 327–8, 29 June 1943, p. 498.

[4] CPD, 4 Dec. 1935, p. 2449, 23 Mar. 1943, pp. 2155–8, 15 Aug. 1961, p. 25, 24 Mar. 1943, pp. 2250, 2263, 1 Apr. 1943, p. 2571; Senate, Journals, 24 Mar., 1 Apr. 1943; CPD, 29 June 1943, p. 496, 13 Nov. 1941, pp. 361–2, 17 Sept. 1942, p. 438, 2 Oct. 1945, p. 6181.

[5] CPD, 5 Dec. 1935, p. 2581, 13 May 1936, p. 1594, 13 Nov 1941, pp. 361–3, 4 Dec. 1940, pp. 424–5, 14 May 1940, p. 748, 22 Mar. 1944, p. 1717, 17 Sept. 1942, p. 438, 4 June 1947, pp. 3298–9.

[6] CPD, 31 May 1939, p. 980, 21 Sept. 1939, pp. 888–9, 6 Mar. 1942, p. 237; CPP, Select Committee on the Discharge of Captain T. P. Conway, report, 1939, Joint Standing Committee on Public Works, reports, 1941, 1943.

[7] Brand Papers, AWM; Age (Melb.), 2 Aug. 1961, pp. 3, 21; CPD, 15 Aug. 1961, p. 24.

This biography was first published in The Biographical Dictionary of the Australian Senate, vol. 2, 1929-1962, Melbourne University Press, Carlton, Vic., 2004, pp. 134-138.

BRAND, Charles Henry (1873–1961)

National Library of Australia

Commonwealth Parliament

Senator, Vic, 1935–47

Senate Committee Service

House Committee, 1935–47

Joint Standing Committee on Public Works, 1937–47

Select Committee on the Discharge of Captain T. P. Conway from the Australian Military Forces, 1939

Joint Committee on Taxation (Including Sales Tax), 1941