RICHARDSON, Major-General Sir George Spafford, K.B.E.
Soldier and administrator.
A new biography of Richardson, George Spafford appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.
General George Richardson was born at Arundel, England, on 14 November 1868, and as a youth was destined for trade, but early in his teens he took the Queen's shilling and joined the Royal Artillery. His story from this point on has a distinct flavour of the “powder-monkey to admiral” progress of another age. He spent 16 years in the ranks as a gunner but rose to the highest posts before he retired from the Army after 42 years' service. Like some other notable military personalities in the New Zealand forces, it was a case with General Richardson of “once a gunner always a gunner”, and no matter how high he climbed he was always proud of his work for 18 years as Master Gunner Instructor to the New Zealand Army and Director of Artillery. While serving with his regiment at Gibraltar he was chosen for special promotion and went to the English gunnery school at Shoeburyness. Passing out at the top of his class, he was recommended to the New Zealand Government as a gunnery instructor. He arrived in New Zealand in 1891, and by 1912 had risen to the rank of major. At this stage he returned to England to study at the Staff College, Camberley, and on graduating in 1913 was appointed New Zealand representative at the War Office. At the outbreak of the First World War, he was serving on the Imperial General Staff, and immediately went to France with the Royal Naval Division as Chief of Staff. He organised a force of 25,000 men for the defence of Antwerp and then went back to London as a lieutenant-colonel to help refit the Naval Division for Gallipoli. He sailed with that force as Quartermaster-General, moved for a time to the Salonika front, and then returned to England as General Officer commanding the New Zealand Division in the United Kingdom. At the end of the war, in the face of offers of high command in the British Army, he returned to New Zealand and became General Officer in Charge of Administration under Major-General Sir Edward Chaytor. But the end of the road was in sight. The man who had planned and directed the demobilisation of the New Zealand Division in 1918 and 1919 now found himself required to carry out, due to economic conditions, a policy of heavy retrenchment in the Defence Department. In 1923 the outlook for soldiering was so unpromising that General Richardson retired, but in the same year he became the Administrator of Western Samoa. In that role he was greatly assisted by a long-standing interest in, and study of, conditions in the Pacific, and despite the extraordinarily difficult period through which the territory was then passing, his work among the natives was specially commended by the League of Nations. In 1928 he left Samoa for Geneva where he represented New Zealand at the League of Nations. General Richardson returned to New Zealand in the following year and settled in Auckland where he resumed his work for ex-servicemen, and in particular for amputees and other disabled soldiers, which was begun in the demobilisation years. He also took an active interest in civic affairs and after several terms on the Auckland City Council he became deputy mayor of the city. He was busy with his municipal duties right up to the day of his sudden death at the age of 70, at his home in Remuera on 11 June 1938.
It can be said of General Richardson that he was a born administrator as well as a born soldier. The somewhat exalted circles in which he moved during the war precluded those personal contacts with New Zealand troops which he would have preferred, but when he took command of the Division in England in the last stages of the conflict, and addressed himself to the task of shipping the troops home, he demonstrated to all ranks that behind his official and regimental exterior there existed a deep sympathy and understanding of the problems that faced men on their return to civilian life.
Richardson married in 1892 at Wellington, Caroline Warren, by whom he had three sons and two daughters.
by Ronald Jones, Journalist and Script Writer, New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation, Wellington.
- New Zealand Herald, 13 Jun 1938 (Obit).