Wavell State High School opened on 27 January 1959, under the leadership of its founding Principal, Mr C.E. Anstey. The school quickly developed a strong reputation in the northern suburbs of Brisbane, a reputation we strive to maintain today. Current Principal, Mr J. J. Major, has held this position since 2006 and is the eighth Principal of the School.
Our School Name
Our school name honours the memory of Field Marshal Earl Wavell, Commander-in-Chief of British and Dominion Forces in the Middle East from July 1939 to July 1941. Many Australians served under his command during this early period of World War II, particularly in North Africa, Greece, Crete and Syria. Our suburb was named Wavell Heights in 1942.
Archibald Percival Wavell was born in Colchester, England in 1883. He was a distinguished career soldier who graduated from the Royal Military College, Sandhurst in 1900 after education at Winchester College. During the early years of the twentieth century he served in the Boer War, in India, at the Staff College and spent a year with the Russian Army. At Ypres in Flanders in June 1915 he won a Military Cross during fighting against the German Army, but had the misfortune to lose an eye. Later in World War I he served in Turkey and Palestine.
Between the two World Wars, Wavell became well known both within the army and outside it, as an officer not afraid to break with convention. He was recognised as an exceptional trainer of soldiers. In 1937 he became commander in Palestine and Trans-Jordan and in 1938 took over Southern Command in England.
In the Middle East, Wavell enjoyed success in driving the Italian Army 800 km westward from Egypt to Benghazi and El Agheila by February 1941. In addition, the British defeated Italian armies in Somaliland, Ethiopia and Eritrea by May 1941. However, a decision of the British government to divert troops to ill-fated campaigns in Greece and Crete weakened Wavell’s position in North Africa and the German Army drove the British and Dominion forces eastwards back to the Egyptian border by April. The notable exception to this was the garrison in the Port of Tobruk, including many Australians, who withheld a German siege for eight months, causing considerable difficulties for Rommel, the German commander. Despite Wavell’s protests about inadequate resources he was also required at this time to mount campaigns in Iraq and Syria, both of which were successful.
Wavell became Commander-in-Chief in India in July 1941; after Japan entered the war in December, he was appointed commander of the South-West Pacific. The speed, preparedness and strength of the Japanese attacks saw British defeats throughout the region. But Wavell’s resilience as a commander was illustrated by the orders he gave for planning to recapture Burma even before its evacuation by the British was complete.
The year 1943 saw Wavell promoted to Field Marshall, appointed Viceroy of India and raised to the peerage as Viscount Wavell. As Viceroy, Wavell worked tirelessly towards granting independence to India and improving the welfare of its people.
On retiring from public office in 1947, Wavell was created an Earl, with the additional title of Viscount Keren. He now had time to travel and to indulge his taste for literature, becoming president of several societies including the Royal Society of Literature. He published a number of works, mainly on military subjects but also an anthology of poetry. He died in London in May 1950 and was buried at Winchester.
In appearance Wavell was a broad, thickset and sturdy man. Though his silences were proverbial he could be fine company when with friends. Despite his misfortunes during World War II, he at no time complained of his circumstances. He retained the confidence of his troops and his reputation remained high.
Our House Names
Alamein, Burma, Keren, Tobruk
Our four houses are named after places and battles associated with Earl Wavell.
Alamein commemorates the Battle of El Alamein, the turning point of World War II in the Middle East. After two frustrating years of successes followed by reverses, British and Dominion forces led by Lt. General Bernard Montgomery successfully fought this decisive battle from 23 October to 4 November 1942 near El Alamein, in Northern Egypt, not far from Alexandria and Cairo. The Australian Ninth Division had an important role in the battle. The German and Italian Armies subsequently retreated to Tunis where they surrendered in May 1943.
Burma, part of Wavell’s responsibilities as Commander-in-Chief of the South-West Pacific, was invaded in December 1941 by the Japanese Army who gained control of the country by May 1942. This occupation posed threats for India and Ceylon and severed the Chinese nationalists’ main line of communication with the outside world via the port of Rangoon. Allied policy was that Germany should be defeated before Japan and only limited resources were available to assist Wavell and his successors. However, operations by soldiers known as Chindits were organised behind enemy lines during Wavell’s time as Commander-in-Chief. Australian Air Force and Navy personnel were among those Allied forces who retook Burma in 1945.
Keren was the location of a decisive and bitter battle from 15 to 26 March 1941, in which British troops defeated Italian troops, paving the way for British control of East Africa and thereby removing some of the threat posed by the Axis powers to British interests in the Mediterranean. British success in March followed an earlier unsuccessful attempt to secure the area in a battle from 3 to 13 February. The town of Keren is located in a mountain area in the north of Eritrea, near the Red Sea. At the time, Eritrea was one of the six provinces of Italian East Africa.
Tobruk was the scene of an epic siege in which Allied Servicemen defended the town against the German Army from 10 April to 7 December 1941. This siege of 242 days is the longest in British Military history. The defenders, who were outnumbered ten to three, included Australians of the Ninth Division and a Brigade of the Seventh Division, as well as troops from Britain, India and Poland. By holding this strategic port in Libya the Allies were able to thwart the progress of the German Armies in their quest to control Egypt and the Suez Canal. The Rats of Tobruk Association, survivors of the siege, donated a debating trophy which is presented each year at our Wavell Speech Night.
Mr C.E. Anstey, Foundation Principal of Wavell High (1959-1960), gave this advice:
If you belong to Alamein or Burma houses, learn the lesson that what seems to be defeat can, if you have courage and steadfastness, become a glorious victory.
If you belong to Keren house, which commemorates a wonderful victory, remember that the victory was not won without painstaking preparation and a hard fought battle.
If you are a member of Tobruk house, remember those other Australians who survived against overwhelming odds and who finally won through by their courage.