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British Infantry Battalion Commanders

in the First World War


Ashgate Studies in
First World War History

Series Editor

John Bourne
The University of Birmingham, UK

The First World War is a subject of perennial interest to historians and is often
regarded as a watershed event, marking the end of the nineteenth century and
the beginning of the modern industrial world. The sheer scale of the conflict
and massive loss of life means that it is constantly being assessed and reassessed
to examine its lasting military, political, sociological, industrial, cultural and
economic impact. Reflecting the latest international scholarly research, the
Ashgate Studies in First World War History series provides a unique platform for
the publication of monographs on all aspects of the Great War. Whilst the main
thrust of the series is on the military aspects of the conflict, other related areas
(including cultural, political and social) are also addressed. Books published are
aimed primarily at a post-graduate academic audience, furthering exciting recent
interpretations of the war, whilst still being accessible enough to appeal to a wider
audience of educated lay readers.

Also in this series

New York and the First World War


Shaping an American City
Ross J. Wilson

An Historian in Peace and War


The Diaries of Harold Temperley
Edited by T.G. Otte

A Student in Arms
Donald Hankey and Edwardian Society at War
Ross Davies

The Ordeal of Peace: Demobilization and the Urban Experience


in Britain and Germany, 19171921
Adam R. Seipp
British Infantry Battalion
Commanders in the
First World War

Peter E. Hodgkinson
University of Birmingham, UK
Peter E. Hodgkinson 2015

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval
system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying,
recording or otherwise without the prior permission of the publisher.

Peter E. Hodgkinson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act,
1988, to be identified as the author of this work.

Published by
Ashgate Publishing Limited Ashgate Publishing Company
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British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data


A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

The Library of Congress has cataloged the printed edition as follows:


Hodgkinson, Peter E.
British infantry battalion commanders in the First World War / by Peter E. Hodgkinson.
pages cm. (Ashgate studies in First World War history)
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-1-4724-3825-6 (hardcover) ISBN 978-1-4724-3826-3 (ebook)
ISBN 978-1-4724-3827-0 (epub) 1. Great Britain. Army.HistoryWorld War,
1914-1918. 2. Great Britain. Army. InfantryOfficers. 3. Great Britain. ArmyOfficers
Biography. 4. Command of troopsCase studies. I. Title.

D546.H64 2015
940.40941dc23
2014023588
ISBN 9781472438256 (hbk)
ISBN 9781472438263 (ebk PDF)
ISBN 9781472438270 (ebk ePUB)

IV
Contents

Series Editors Preface vii


Acknowledgements ix
List of Tables xi
List of Abbreviations xiii

Introduction 1

1 Old Contemptibles 9

2 Dug-Outs 27

3 Attrition and Change in Command 47

4 Evolution of Command in the Integrated Army 69

5 Hiring and Firing 95

6 Men to be Followed, Feared and Loved 123

7 Professional Men of War 157

8 The Hundred Days: Meritocracy in Command? 183

Conclusion 207

Bibliography 215
General Index 229
Index of Names and Places 233
Index of Regiments, Units, Formations and Armies 243
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Series Editors Preface

The British army that fought the Great War was the product of an extraordinary
act of improvisation. The pre-war army was neither designed nor intended to
fight major wars against major military powers. It was essentially a colonial
police force, in which the main burden of policing fell on the infantry. This was
recognised by the establishment, in the 1880s, of the armys distinctive two-
battalion infantry regimental system, with one battalion at home and the other
on imperial garrison duty. In the decade before the outbreak of the Great War,
when British policy was deemed to require an expeditionary force capable of
operating on the continent of Europe, the size of the force was dictated not by
Britains actual or potential political obligations but by the number of men who
remained after the demands of imperial policing had been met. This number
amounted only to six infantry divisions and a cavalry division. This was not
surprising since the overall size of the army was small, indeed very small, for a
Great Power with worldwide strategic interests. There were only 247,432 men
serving with the regular army on 1 August 1914, including a mere 10,800 officers.
The situation was rendered worse by the profligate use of this limited trained
manpower. Those British military leaders, such as the future FieldMarshal
Haig, who wished to retain at home a cadre of professional officers to oversee
possible future developments, did not get their way. British officer casualties
in the first year of fighting were colossal: more than 20 per cent of the officer
corps was lost. When the future developments turned out to be a rapid and
unprecedented expansion of the British army, the burden for officering it fell on
the relatively few regular officers who remained, on commissioned senior NCOs
(a forgotten, often heroic, group of men) and on the emerging military skills of
wartime volunteers and conscripts.
One of the armys most pressing needs was for competent battalion
commanders. In 1914, there were 148 infantry battalions in the British regular
army: during the war more than ten times that number were formed. Infantry
battalions bore the brunt of the war and were at the cutting edge of changes in
tactics, organisation, and weaponry. The men who commanded them should be
at the heart of any assessment of British military performance. Now, for the first
time, Peter Hodgkinson, in an outstanding scholarly endeavour, has identified
all the BEFs battalion commanders and subjected them to searching analysis,
based on his mastery of their collective biography, an analysis that avoids literary
anecdote and clich. Future students of the British army on the Western Front
in the Great War will have to take Hodgkinsons work into account in assessing
viii British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

the response of the British state, the British army, and the British people to
the unprecedented challenges posed by a war against the military and industrial
might of Germany.

 John Bourne
Birmingham
 June 2014
Acknowledgements

This book is dedicated to my parents, Allan and Norma Hodgkinson, for their
steadfast support throughout my life. It is also dedicated to three soldiers of the
Great War: my grandfather, Private Peter Rimmer 168093 ASC; my great-uncle,
Private William R. Moxey 206165 ASC; and my great-uncle, Corporal Henry J.
Boyd 113481 RE (Special Brigade). Without these mens stories in my childhood,
my passion for the Great War would have been the less.
My thanks are due to the encouragement and support of Dr John Bourne and
Professor Peter Simkins of the University of Birmingham, where the research
was conducted. Thanks are also due to the following individuals who assisted
in identifying battalion commanders: Lieutenant-Colonel George Latham,
Highlanders Regimental Museum; Ian Hook and colleagues, Essex Regiment
Museum; Matthew Richardson; G. Crump, Cheshire Military Museum; C. Ford,
Regimental Headquarters, Duke of Wellingtons Regiment; Jane Davies and
colleagues, Museum of the Queens Lancashire Regiment; Captain Robert Bonner,
Museum of the Manchester Regiment; David Thompson; Barrie Bertram; David
Read, Soldiers of Gloucestershire Museum; Lieutenant-Colonel Changboo Kang;
Major W.H. White, Regimental Museum, Duke of Cornwalls Light Infantry;
Barrie Duncan, South Lanarkshire Council; Jonathan Capek; I.G. Edwards,
Sherwood Foresters Collection; Dicky Bird, Royal Norfolk Regimental Museum;
Sandy Leishman, Royal Highland Fusiliers Museum; the Museum of the Royal
Irish Fusiliers; Martin Everett of the Regimental Museum of the Royal Welsh; Rod
Mackenzie of the Home Headquarters, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.
Further thanks are due to Trevor Harvey, for reading parts of the text of the
original PhD thesis, furnishing information, and for many conversations on the
Great War; and Nikki Oatham, both for reading the text of the PhD and assistance
with psychological concepts of leadership.
Thanks are also due to the Imperial War Museum, for access, and to the
Documents Collection, Sound Archive, and individual copyright holders, for
permission to quote from the private papers of Seaman J. Murray, Brigadier-General
H.E. Trevor, Lieutenant-Colonel A.G. Horsfall, Commander E. Unwin, Major H.P.F
Bicknell, Brigadier-General H.C. Rees, and Colonel E.C.. Every effort has been
made to contact the copyright holders of the papers of Lieutenant-Colonel H. Lloyd-
Williams, Brigadier-General G.A. Stevens, and Private R.H.Sims. Every effort has
also been made to trace the copyright holders of the papers of Colonel G.W. Geddes,
Lieutenant R.L. Mackay, Lieutenant-Colonel J.R.Webster, and Lieutenant-Colonel
H.M.B de Sales la Terriere, and the author and the Imperial War Museum would
be grateful for any information which might help to trace these whose identities or
addresses are not currently known.
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List of Tables

2.1 Numbers of commanding officers prior to proceeding on


active service: service battalions 31
2.2 Numbers of commanding officers prior to proceeding on
active service: second/third line TF battalions 33

3.1 Relative contribution of various bodies of the infantry to


active battalion command on 29 September 1918 53
3.2 Average days in post for COs prior to major battles 56
3.3 Average and range of ages of COs 63

4.1 Reasons for turnover of COs in 5th Division 71


4.2 Origins of COs of service battalions on active service 76
4.3 Reasons for turnover of COs of service battalions in 9th Division 81
4.4 Origins of active COs of first- and second-line TF battalions 85

5.1 Infantry COs killed in action/died of wounds 109

7.1 Ages of citizen COs compared with all officers, Warwickshire


Regiment 160
7.2 Occupations of demobilised officers and pre-war occupations
of citizen COs  162
7.3 Civilian occupations of Warwickshire Regiment officers and
citizen COs 163
7.4 Entry routes of citizen COs versus distribution of officers 172
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List of Abbreviations

ADC aide-de-camp
ANZAC Australian and New Zealand Army Corps
ASC Army Service Corps
BEF British Expeditionary Force
CO commanding officer
DAAG deputy assistant adjutant general
DAAQMG deputy assistant adjutant and quartermaster general
DAQMG deputy assistant quartermaster general
DSO Distinguished Service Order
GHQ general headquarters
GOC general officer commanding
GSO1 general staff officer grade 1
GSO2 general staff officer grade 2
GSO3 general staff officer grade 3
HMSO His/Her Majestys Stationery Office
HQ headquarters
IWM Imperial War Museum
K1 Kitchener 1 first 100,000 new army recruits
K2 Kitchener 2 second 100,000 new army recruits
K3 Kitchener 3 third 100,000 new army recruits
K4 Kitchener 4 fourth 100,000 new army recruits
KOSB Kings Own Scottish Borderers
KOYLI Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry
KRRC Kings Royal Rifle Corps
LHCMA Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives
LAC Libraries and Archives Canada
LRO Lancashire Record Office
MC Military Cross
NAM National Army Museum
NCO non-commissioned officer
NLS National Library of Scotland
OC officer commanding
OR other ranks
OTC Officer Training Corps
psc passed Staff College
RAMC Royal Army Medical Corps
RE Royal Engineers
xiv British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

RFC Royal Flying Corps


RMC Royal Military College (Sandhurst)
RUSI Royal United Services Institute
SR Special Reserve
TF Territorial Force
TNA National Archives
VC Victoria Cross
WO War Office
Introduction

There are no bad regiments, only bad colonels.


Attributed to Napoleon Bonaparte

This book examines the evolution of the battalion commanders of British infantry
regiments during the First World War. These officers emerged from a small
cadre of professionals and amateurs (the former chosen on seniority, the latter on
social position) and, with an infusion of adept citizens, developed into a tough,
experienced group promoted largely on merit.
The battalion was the building block of the infantry, its basic tactical unit.
The commanding officer (CO) was a lieutenant-colonel. Each regiment, with
the exception of the ten Territorial Force (TF) regiments, had at least two
regular battalions, one Special Reserve battalion, and most (Irish regiments
being the exception) had at least one TF unit. A regiment could, in 1914, have
between four and, in the case of the territorial London Regiment, twenty six
lieutenant-colonels. A lieutenant-colonels command in 1914 numbered 1007
men; 30 officers and 977 other ranks. A major was second-in-command.
Battalion headquarters, comprising 6 officers and 93 men, included the adjutant,
who was either a captain or lieutenant and who was responsible for battalion
administration, and a quartermaster. A lieutenant commanded the machine-gun
section, and an officer of the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) was attached.
The regimental sergeant-major and a number of sergeants and other non-
commissioned officers fulfilled specialist roles.1 The bulk of the battalion was
made up of four rifle companies, each commanded by either a major or captain
with a captain as second-in-command, and each company had four platoons
commanded by a lieutenant or 2nd lieutenant.
The relevance of studying the battalion level of formation has been set out by
Chris McCarthy. Whilst acknowledging that the Western Front was dominated by
artillery, he observes that instead of declining into obsolescence, the infantry unit
evolved to become a key element in the weapons system that in 1918 carried the
BEF to victory.2 The principal reason for examining battalion commanders is given

1
Ralph Gibson and Paul Oldfield, Sheffield City Battalion (Barnsley: Wharncliffe,
1988), 222.
2
Chris McCarthy, Queen of the Battlefield: The Development of Command
Organisation and Tactics in the British Infantry Battalion during the Great War, in Gary
Sheffield and Dan Todman (eds), Command and Control on the Western Front (Staplehurst:
Spellmount, 2004), 173.
2 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

by David French: Whether on the battlefield or in barracks, the most important


person in any unit was its CO. His knowledge could make or break his unit.3
The First World War officer has been the subject of growing interest. Jonathan
Lewis-Stempels Six Weeks: The Short and Gallant Life of the British Officer in
the First World War (2010)4 mines personal accounts and gives a good flavour
of the infantry officers experience, as does Christopher Moore-Bicks Playing
the Game: The British Junior Infantry Officer on the Western Front 191418
(2011).5 Both titles perpetuate popular misconceptions, however. Firstly, the
six-week subaltern is a myth, as the life expectancy of officers in the Royal
Warwickshire Regiment at the front, for instance, has been shown to be one year
and two months.6 Secondly, the notion of the public-school platoon commander
whose attitudes to leadership were honed on the playing field may hold good for
the first year or two of the war but fails to acknowledge the heterogeneity of the
officer corps of the latter years of the war. In terms of academic research, both
Simon Robbins7 and John Bourne8 have studied corps, division, and brigade
commanders; Lieutenant-Colonel Changboo Kang has studied the officer corps
of the Warwickshire Regiment;9 and a descriptive study has been made of non-
commissioned officers.10 This work is important in the evidence-based rolling
back of anecdote-driven criticism of the British officer corps.
The unprecedented expansion of the British army during the war resulted in the
growth of the number of infantry battalions of regiments of the line from 470 to
1,762. A principal question addressed in this book is who their COs were, and how
and where resources were found from the small officer corps of 1914 to cope with
the sudden and endless demand for battalion commanders. The second question
concerns the need for these men to be competent: the matter of quality. The quality
of the pre-war British officer has been the subject of considerable debate, in which

3
David French, Military Identities: The Regimental System, The British Army and the
British People c.18702000 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 147.
4
John Lewis-Stempel, Six Weeks: The Short and Gallant Life of the British Officer in
the First World War (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2010).
5
Christopher Moore-Bick, Playing the Game: The British Junior Infantry Officer on
the Western Front 191418 (Solihull: Helion, 2011).
6
Changboo Kang, The British Regimental Officer on the Western Front in the Great
War, with Special Reference to the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, PhD Thesis (University
of Birmingham, 2007), 42.
7
Simon Robbins, British Generalship on the Western Front 191418: Defeat into
Victory (Abingdon: Frank Cass, 2005).
8
John Bourne, British Divisional Commanders during the Great War: First
Thoughts, Gun Fire: A Journal of First World War History, 29 (n.d.): n.p.
9
Kang, The British Regimental Officer.
10
Stephen Penny, Discipline and Morale: The British Non-Commissioned Officer on
the Western Front 19141918, MPhil thesis (De Montfort University, 2003).
Introduction 3

a principal critic has been Tim Travers.11 His thesis is that the officer corps on the
eve of the war was still largely Victorian and public school in many of its attitudes,
with an overwhelming emphasis on individual personalities, and on social and
regimental hierarchies, a system operating through the influence of dominant
personalities, of social traditions, and of personal friendships and rivalries. Put
simply, British officers were professionals lacking professionalism. Travers
criticism is aimed at the highest levels of army command and he states that this
does not mean that at the lower levels the army was not well trained and well led
in 1914.12 What levels exactly he deems competent are not made clear, but it is
unlikely, as we shall see, that he intended to allow battalion commanders to escape
his condemnation.
Timothy Bowman and Mark Connelly have continued this theme, describing
the officer corps as drawn from a tiny section of society with selection processes
being far from rigorous. They state that officer training was of a poor standard
and that professional development was very limited, with most promotion
simply by seniority.13 These negative observations of the officer corps need,
however, to address the single most important fact, namely that it was under its
guidance that the supposedly more professional German army, applauded by
historians such as Martin Samuels, was beaten.14 Simon Robbins acknowledges
many of Travers observations concerning the senior officer group, yet points
out that the interpretation that the social background of the officer corps was
responsible for the failings of the Army while providing a possible answer for
the shortcomings of some officers remains dubious and conveys the impression
of monolithic stupidity among the officer corps which is not convincing.15
Heconcludes: Enjoying the social activities of their class and era did not preclude
soldiers from being professional once on the battlefield.16
Travers evidence is nearly always anecdotal, rarely data-driven. His discussion
of battalion commanders, which by implication condemns the majority in post
in August 1914 out of hand, revolves around the alleged attempt of Brigadier-
General J.A.L. Haldane, 10 Brigade, to get rid of a certain Colonel Churcher
before the war. Subsequently Churchers conduct at Mons was such that he was
sent home. For the record, 10 Brigade was not actually at Mons, first seeing action
at Le Cateau on 26 August. Haldane had, however, long been unhappy with the

11
Tim Travers, The Killing Ground: The British Army, the Western Front, and the
Emergence of Modern Warfare 19001918 (Barnsley: Pen & Sword, 2003), 336.
12
Ibid. 6.
13
Timothy Bowman and Mark Connelly, The Edwardian Army: Recruiting, Training
and Deploying the British Army 19021914 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 39
40.
14
Martin Samuels, Command or Control? Command, Training and Tactics in the
British and German Armies 18881918 (London: Frank Cass, 1995).
15
Robbins, British Generalship on the Western Front, 17.
16
Ibid.
4 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

performance of Lieutenant-Colonel D.W. Churcher, 1st Royal Irish Fusiliers, who


was indeed replaced on 10 September 1914.17 Travers states that Haldane recalled
that three out of four Battalion commanding officers were not fit for command,
and all had been sent home by the end of September 1914. Haldane may have been
over-critical, but the ratio of incompetent officers in the 10th Infantry Brigade was
probably not unique.18 The other two COs sent home were Lieutenant-Colonels
J.F. Elkington, 1st Royal Warwickshire, and A.E. Mainwaring, 2nd Royal Dublin
Fusiliers, who were both court-martialled after their surrender of St Quentin on 27
August 1914. Travers therefore chooses one of the most unusual occurrences of
the war involving battalion commanders as a means of damning them en masse.
If it is intended to imply that 75 per cent of the BEFs infantry COs of 1914 were
incompetent, then the data presented in this book shows this to be incorrect.
The period 190214 was one of significant change for the British army. The
administrative and organisational changes are well documented.19 Much less
frequently acknowledged is the fact that by the end of the Second Boer War, the
British army had undergone a revolution in tactics,20 changes which affected every
regimental officer and soldier. The infantry had adopted fire and movement tactics
to address the problem of crossing the fire-swept zone by changing from attacking
in formation to advancing in extended order in rushes using cover. Secondly, to
assist this, there had been considerable advances in artilleryinfantry cooperation.
Thirdly, entrenchment to repel counter-attack had become standard practice, and,
lastly, the value of individual marksmanship in addition to the power of volley fire
had been recognised, leading to a major focus on musketry in the interwar years.
These profound changes were encapsulated in Combined Training 1902.21 At a
battalion level there were further changes, with an emphasis (stemming directly
from open-order assault) on junior leadership, battalion organisation changing
from eight to four companies in 1913, giving more officers per company. In short,
the British army was as tactically prepared for continental war as any in Europe,
even if its size did not make it a major contender, and its regimental officers cannot
justly be accused of being completely blinkered by small-war experience against
ill-armed opponents.
Mark Connelly, whilst critical in general terms of the officer corps, is clear in
his study of the East Kent Regiment that training was taken seriously and that pre-
war soldiering for the Buffs concentrated on sharpening rifle and bayonet skills and

17
Peter T. Scott, Dishonoured (London: Tom Donovan, 1994), 45.
18
Travers, The Killing Ground, 14.
19
Edward M. Spiers, Haldane: An Army Reformer (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University
Press, 1980).
20
Spencer Jones, The Influence of the Boer War (18991902) on the Tactical
Development of the Regular British Army 19021914, PhD thesis (University of
Wolverhampton, 2009).
21
War Office, Combined Training (London: HMSO, 1902).
Introduction 5

adapting training to the lessons learnt in the South African War.22 The implication
is that, whatever the overarching problems in the composition of the officer corps
and its formative training, within-battalion skill development was active and on-
going. A contemporary source noted that, impressed by its tactical expertise the
Germans called the British professional army a perfect thing apart.23 Without
good quality officering at the battalion level this perception would not have been
possible. John Bourne concludes: It is difficult to reconcile the fit, adaptable,
energetic, resourceful, pragmatic men who emerge from the pre-war Armys
multi-biography with the somnolent, dogma-ridden, unprofessional, unreflecting
institution depicted by Tim Travers and Martin Samuels.24
In terms of the evolution of battalion commanders during in the First World
War, many of the officers who served at this level had been lieutenants or captains
during the period of the Second Boer War and had either absorbed the hard-won
lessons in the field or experienced the developments of the ensuing 12 years. The
course of their earlier professional development had therefore been redolent with
change. Not all could or would adapt and evolve either in peacetime or war, but
those who were able and willing to apply learning and foster it in others would
probably be those who proved successful in wartime battalion command. The third
question addressed in this book is therefore not simply overall quality, but exactly
what qualities were perceived as making an effective CO.
Tim Travers is correct to observe that the British army, governed by seniority,
had been largely antithetical to the rise of talent on merit. The fourth question
addressed is therefore to what extent a meritocracy developed at the level of
battalion command. Arnold Harvey is the only British historian to have shown
an interest in this issue in a discursive account of promotion, largely of pre-war
civilians, in what he dubs the catastrophically overheated demand for battalion
commanders. His conclusion, that the appointment of the officers does not
indicate they were, or were ever considered to be, military geniuses of a calibre
superior to what might be found in the Regular army, is not a glowing one.25
The important question is, however, not necessarily whether the newcomers were
superior or not, but how they rose, given the highly traditional nature of the British
army, to be considered on a par with those well-established within the system.

22
Mark Connelly, Steady the Buffs! A Regiment, A Region and the Great War, Kindle
edn (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), loc. 199.
23
Colonel R. Macleod, Memoirs, 99, Macleod papers 1/1 (LHCMA, GB0099
KCLMA), quoted in Robbins, British Generalship on the Western Front, 91.
24
John M. Bourne, The BEFs Generals on 29 September 1918: An Empirical
Portrait with Some British and Australian Comparisons, in Peter Dennis and Jeffrey Grey
(eds), 1918 Defining Victory: Proceedings of the Chief of Armys History Conference Held
at the National Convention Centre, Canberra, 29 September 1998 (Canberra, ACT: Army
History Unit, Department of Defence, 1999), 108.
25
A.D. Harvey, A Good War: Wartime Officers Who Rose to Command Level in the
First World War, RUSI Journal 153/2 (2008): 6680.
6 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

Patrick Brennan alone has shown sustained interest in systematically studying


First World War battalion commanders and that purely in the Canadian Corps.26 Of
179 COs, 75 per cent were militia and 9 per cent regulars, with 6 per cent having
no previous military experience, the remaining 10 per cent being retired officers.
The Canadian reliance on amateur soldiers limits his studys comparability to the
British army. The average age of his cohort was 45 in 1914, dropping to 37 in
November 1918, a clear reflection of the physical, psychological and intellectual
demands of combat command on the Western Front.27 Average tenure was nine
and a half months; just over a quarter were wounded at least once, with one in
eight being killed in action. Two were promoted to division and eleven to brigade
command. Whilst Brennan was able to identify the disposal of officers leaving
post, he found difficulty in determining whether officers had been sacked. He
concluded, indeed, that one is struck that so few were removed from their posts.28
On the other hand, he noted a significant number of long-serving COs: Men who
obviously performed well, clearly possessing the requirements for the job, and
yet were never promoted.29 Brennan is thus indicating a difference between what
might be called a good fighting battalion commander and an officer suitable for
commanding larger formations.
For the conclusions drawn in this book, a database of all infantry COs of the
British army during the First World War who commanded as acting, temporary,
brevet or substantive lieutenant-colonels was constructed,30 covering basic
biographical details and aspects of their pre-war and war service. Over 5,000
officers were identified, more than 4,000 of whom saw active service. This was
achieved by examining the Monthly Army List and synthesising the sometimes
inaccurate information with regimental, division, and battalion histories, unit
war diaries, the relevant London Gazette entries, and the records of regimental

26
P.H. Brennan, Good Men for a Hard Job: Infantry Battalion Commanders in the
Canadian Expeditionary Force, Canadian Army Journal 9/1 (2006): 928.
27
Ibid. 15.
28
Ibid. 20: italics in original.
29
Ibid. 28.
30
A substantive rank is a permanent rank. Acting rank was granted to officers to fulfil
particular posts and was confirmed after 28 days and the individual granted the pay of that
rank. It was gazetted on confirmation, but when that officer left that post he relinquished
his acting rank, unless he was appointed to a post which bore the same rank. Temporary
rank could be carried beyond the immediate post. Many were given temporary lieutenant-
colonelcies in 191516 for a matter of days, whereas in 1917, far more acting lieutenant-
colonelcies were granted. The matter of temporary rank was discussed in parliament on
22 April 1915, the Under-Secretary of State for War, Harold Tennant stating: I have
to announce a new departure. ... In the case of a Lieutenant-Colonel being appointed a
Brigadier-General, or his being wounded or sick, the next senior officer will command for
a month in his previously existing rank, and if the vacancy extends beyond a month he will
then commence to draw the pay and allowances of a Lieutenant-Colonel, and he will be
granted the temporary rank (Hansard, HC [series 5] vol. 71, cols 434552 [22 Apr. 1915]).
Introduction 7

museums. Biographical and service details for regular officers were abstracted
from the Quarterly Army List and for territorial officers and civilians relevant
information was also collected from civil registration records and census returns.
The argument of this book is structured chronologically. Chapter 1 examines
the regular and territorial battalion commanders of the army at the outbreak of the
war. In reviewing their careers it attempts to evaluate the quality of the men who
had risen to command in a system based largely on seniority and social position.
Chapter 2 reviews the process of providing commanding officers for the rapidly
expanding army, namely the service battalions of the new armies and the second-
line battalions of the TF. The principles applied in assigning COs are clarified; the
nature of turnover prior to going on active service is examined; and an attempt
is made to evaluate quality, placing the negative image of the retired dug-out
officer into a factually derived perspective.
Chapter 3 firstly considers the erosion of the stock of commanding officers
of 1914 in the fierce battles of that year and goes on to examine the changes
forced on infantry units in the years that followed. Turnover on active service is
reviewed, and general patterns of evolution set out, so it can be understood what
sort of men were being promoted. Institutional aspects, such as origin within the
army are considered, as well as individual aspects, including age, original rank,
experience, and length and number of commands. Chapter 4 explores the different
evolutionary patterns of command in regular, service, and territorial units, both
across the whole army and in three of the most effective divisions in attack during
the Hundred Days campaign (August to November 1918), namely the 5th (regular),
9th (new army), and 42nd (territorial) Divisions.31 A case study of a battalion of each
type is presented so that the precise nature of changes can be understood in the
context of a units experiences.
Chapter 5 examines promotion both to and from the role of battalion commander
and considers the reasons for loss of command, namely death, invalidity,
promotion, and replacement. It also considers the armys formal attempts to train
COs. Chapter 6 reviews leadership and battalion command. From the examination
of memoirs, diaries, and letters, the experiences of other ranks (ORs), officers,
and COs are brought together. An attempt is made to reach a view on the key
elements of leadership and command both as valued by those on the battlefield and
as understood by the British army at the time, within the framework of modern
theories of leadership.
Chapters 7 and 8 attempt to clarify the end point of the evolution of battalion
command, concentrating on the abilities of the men in post in the final stages of
the war and whether they had reached their positions through the development of
merit-based promotion. Chapter 7 concerns the rise of citizen COs, men who had
not previously served. Their characteristics and the pace of their advancement

31
From information supplied by Professor Peter Simkins. See also Peter Simkins,
Co-Stars or Supporting Cast? British Divisions in The Hundred Days, 1918, in Paddy
Griffith (ed.), British Fighting Methods in the Great War (London: Frank Cass, 1996).
8 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

are set out. Chapter 8 considers the battalion commanders of the Hundred Days
campaign, investigating the experience and qualities of the COs of this critical
period, both in general and in 5th, 9th and 42nd Divisions.
Chapter 1
Old Contemptibles

On 10 March 1915, Lieutenant-Colonel W.M. Bliss, commanding officer of the 2nd


Scottish Rifles, died in front of uncut wire at Neuve Chapelle. Both his battalion
and the neighbouring 2nd Middlesex were victims of the misfortune that the two
six-inch howitzer batteries which were to shell this section had only been brought
up the night before and had played no part in the bombardment. Two machine-gun
posts in front of the Middlesex Regiment caused the ensuing carnage, catching
the Scottish Rifles in enfilade. Leading from the front with his adjutant, Bliss was
amongst the first to die. Nine of his officers perished, the rest being wounded
leaving only one unscathed. The surviving 143 men were led out of the line by 2nd
Lieutenant W.F. Somervail, who had been commissioned eight months earlier. The
dead represented 121 years of experience of soldiering.
The battalion was taken over within a week by Major R. Oakley of the 1st
Battalion for 44 days before he was replaced by Major C.B. Vandeleur, also of the
1st Battalion, who was wounded 12 days later. At this point Major George Tupper
Campbell Carter-Campbell, the very popular second-in-command, who had
been wounded in the head, returned and assumed command until 17 September
1915 when he was promoted to brigadier-general of 94 Brigade, ending his war
as a major-general commanding the 51st Highland Division. He was replaced by
Captain Vincent Corbett Sandilands who commanded on and off until the end
of the war. Aged 35 and commissioned captain in 1912, Sandilands had been
sixteenth in seniority in August 1914.
This tale contains many of the elements of the story of this book: the loss of
the original CO of the unit, the rise of a talented major quickly through battalion
to brigade command and beyond, and his replacement by an officer who would
never rise beyond battalion command yet who was clearly an able battlefield unit
commander and who would stay the course.

Regular Battalion Commanders

Wilfrid Marryat Bliss was born in 1866, the son of a London barrister who had
immigrated from Nova Scotia, and was educated at Haileybury public school. He
was commissioned 2nd lieutenant in the 1st Scottish Rifles in 1886 and had served
as adjutant to his battalion as a lieutenant from 1894 to 1898. Promoted lieutenant-
colonel to the 2nd Battalion in October 1913, his career had been unexceptional: he
had held no staff posts and had no war experience. In fact, there is reason to suspect
that he was less than exceptional, one of his officers describing him as Crimean in
10 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

many ways steeped in outmoded tradition and not prone to delegation of duties.1
Perceptions of him may well have been jaundiced by the longstanding rivalry
between the 1st and 2nd battalions, fuelled by suspicions about his unmarried
status.2 A review of his officers opinions of him, however, generously concludes:
He might not have been very clever [but] he was genuine and sincere, and
within his limitations a sound, practical officer.3
How typical was Bliss of the regular battalion commanders of August 1914?
Were they the public-school-educated sons of the professional classes, or did
they represent a more traditional upper-class background? What experience of
staff service and warfare did they possess before taking command? Were they
outmoded and uninspiring, or were they men of ability with the potential to rise
further up the chain of command?

Origins

The social origins of the senior officers of the Edwardian era were fairly narrow.
Of the colonels of 1914, 7 per cent came from the peerage and baronetage and 26
per cent from the gentry: unsurprisingly two thirds were from rural communities.
Families with an armed-services background made a major contribution, and 23
per cent of colonels originated from this source. The fathers of 14 per cent were
clergy, and only 12 per cent were, like Bliss, from a background in the other higher
professions.4 Rising to battalion command and above was almost exclusively the
province of the upper and upper-middle classes. With respect to those entering
the army nearly 40 years later, in a sample of cadets at Royal Military College,
Sandhurst (RMC) between 1910 and 1914, the occupations of their fathers proved
to be 39 per cent service officers, 5 per cent titled, and 30 per cent gentleman. Five
per cent each had fathers in the clergy and legal professions, 4 per cent in the civil
service, and 3 per cent each from the medical and civil engineering professions. The
small remainder contained a few industrialists or new professionals.5 Another
set of figures for 1910 suggests that 32 per cent of entrants to Sandhurst were the
sons of civilian professionals with 9 per cent being the sons of businessmen
and managers.6 Overall, however, very little had changed in terms of the social
composition of the army in half a century.

1
John Baynes, Morale: A Study of Men and Courage (London: Cassell, 1967), 113.
2
Ibid. 21.
3
Ibid. 113.
4
Edward M. Spiers, The Late Victorian Army 18681902 (Manchester: Manchester
University Press, 1992), 947. The remaining 18 per cent were other or dont know.
5
Timothy Bowman and Mark Connelly, The Edwardian Army: Recruiting, Training
and Deploying the British Army 19021914 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 9:
percentages extrapolated from table 1.1.
6
C.B. Otley, The Social Origins of British Army Officers, Sociological Review 18/2
(1970): 21340.
Old Contemptibles 11

Only four of the 157 COs of August 1914 were titled. This is unsurprising
as the titled were much more likely to gravitate to the cavalry. To illustrate the
backgrounds of the others, Lieutenant-Colonel A. Grant-Duff, 1st Black Watch,
was the son of Sir M. Grant-Duff, Liberal MP and Privy Counsellor and had been
educated at Wellington College and RMC. Cementing his relationship with the
aristocracy, he had married the Honourable Ursula Lubbock, daughter of the
first Baron Avebury. Another with a non-military background, although less well
connected, was Lieutenant-Colonel L.J. Bols, 1st Dorsetshire (a future lieutenant-
general who would command 24th Division and serve as Edmund Allenbys chief
of staff on both the Western Front and in Palestine), who was the son of a Belgian
diplomat, born in Cape Town, and educated at Lancing College. The education
system was a narrow funnel into an army commission, and at the point the COs
of August 1914 were entering RMC, 55 prominent public schools and universities
supplied all the cadets.7
Augustus David Geddes, 2nd Buffs, was a model of military pedigree, being
the son of Colonel J.G. Geddes and educated at Cheltenham College and RMC.
Abrevet colonel, he was killed by a shell landing on his battalion headquarters on
24 April 1915, during the Second Battle of Ypres. Keeping up the family tradition,
but escaping his fate, his brothers J.G. and G.H. Geddes were respectively a
brigadier-general and lieutenant-colonel of the Royal Artillery. Lieutenant-
Colonel O.G. Godfrey-Faussett, 1st Essex, educated at Wellington College, was
the son of Colonel W. Godfrey-Faussett of the 44th (East Essex) Foot. Lieutenant-
Colonel G.B. Laurie, 1st Royal Irish Rifles, was the son of Lieutenant-General
J.W. Laurie, but had received his military education in Canada. Lieutenant-
Colonel V.W. de Falbe, 1st North Staffordshire, who would rise to command
185 Brigade for 18 months from January 1916, was of foreign ancestry but had
more humble military connections, being the son of a Danish navy captain. Of
those who, like Geddes, had military siblings, Lieutenant-Colonel W.L. Loring,
2nd Royal Warwickshire, was one of three serving brothers, all of whom were
dead by November 1915. Walter Latham Loring himself was the first to die on
23 October 1914. Riding a horse, because an earlier wound in his heel left him
unable to walk properly, he led his men in the defence of Polygon Wood. Two
horses were shot from under him before he fell himself. Major C.B. Loring of
the 37th Lancers, Indian Army, was killed just over a month later, and Captain
W. Loring of the Scottish Horse died of wounds in October 1915. On a more
illustrious level, Lieutenant-Colonel C.L. Nicholson, 2nd East Lancashire, was
one of three brothers who became major-generals, he himself being promoted to
the command of 34th Division in July 1916, a post he retained for the rest of the
war. Yet another brother was an admiral, and the father of this remarkable quartet
was General Sir L. Nicholson, Royal Engineers.

7
P.E. Razzell, Social Origins of Officers in the Indian and British Home Army:
17581862, British Journal of Sociology 14 (1963): 24860 (259).
12 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

As might be expected, the higher professions of the clergy, law, and civil
service made a contribution. Lieutenant-Colonel C.E.A. Jourdain, 2nd Loyal North
Lancashire, was the son of the rector of Mapleton, and both Lieutenant-Colonels
G.M. Gloster, 1st Devonshire, and H.O.S Cadogan, 1st Royal Welsh Fusiliers, were
also sons of men of the cloth. The father of Lieutenant-Colonel L.I. Wood, 2nd
Border, shared the same profession as the father of Wilfrid Bliss, being a Suffolk
solicitor; and the father of Lieutenant-Colonel A.W. Abercrombie, 2nd Connaught
Rangers, was a Bengal civil servant.
The COs of August 1914 had entered the army between 1880 and 1892. When
their routes to becoming commissioned officers are contrasted with the figures
for all commissions granted during the period 18851906,8 it becomes apparent
that a properly army educated soldier that is, an RMC graduate was more
likely to achieve battalion command (71 per cent against 55 per cent of officers
overall), and a militia entrant (28 per cent against 41 per cent) or a man who had
been commissioned from the ranks (1 per cent against 3 per cent) was less likely
to reach the rank of lieutenant-colonel. In terms of the back-door into officership,
each regiment was allowed to nominate one 2nd lieutenant for commission each
year from the militia (later the Special Reserve). One of the 28 per cent of militia
entrants who were COs in August 1914 was Lieutenant-Colonel H.O.S Cadogan,
1st Royal Welsh Fusiliers. He had attended the naval preparatory school, Burneys
(later the Royal) Academy, Gosport, but had failed the exam for both Woolwich and
Sandhurst. He was commissioned in the 4th Royal Welsh Fusiliers and came under
the patronage of Colonel Hon. Savage Mostyn, former CO of the 1st Battalion. He
attended a military crammer in Camberley in 1887 and within a year had passed
the Militia Comprehensive Exam and acquired a commission in 1st Battalion.9
These officers had taken nearly 25 years to reach the rank of lieutenant-colonel
and had an average age of a fraction under 48 years. The fact that 16 per cent of
the group had achieved battalion command in a different regiment from the one in
which they had been a major, indicates that those who had the ability could buck
the supposed constraints of the regimental system. As we shall see in Chapter5,
promotion was governed by seniority within the regimental list balanced by
the positive recommendation of the CO and confirmatory success in qualifying
examinations, success which was not a formality.10

War Service

Entering the army during a period when empire small wars were the norm,
88 per cent of the regular COs had war service, fighting in approximately two

8
HMSO, Return as to the Number of Commissions Granted During Each of the Years
1885 to 1906 Inclusive, Parliamentary Paper 111 (1907).
9
Henry Cadogan, The Road to Armageddon (Wrexham: Bridge Books, 2009), 236.
10
HMSO, Report of the Royal Commission on Army Promotion and Retirement,
Parliamentary Paper C.1569 (1876).
Old Contemptibles 13

campaigns each, stretching from the First Sudan War (188485) to the North-
West Frontier (1908), a period containing 33 campaigns in all. Seventeen per cent
of their collective experience of fighting had been accumulated against African
tribes; 37 per cent had been gained in Asia (mainly India and Burma); and 46 per
cent against the Boers, this latter percentage being important, as we shall see, in
terms of the kind of warfare it represented.
Some had extensive experience of warfare. Lieutenant-Colonel Frederick
Gore Anley, 2nd Essex, the son of a Royal Artillery colonel, had served in six
campaigns: the first five were against the fundamentalist Islamic Mahdists in
Sudan (188485), Dongola (1896), and the Nile (1897, 1898, 1899); and lastly he
saw service in South Africa (18991902). Anley was appointed brigadier-general
with 12 Brigade in October 1914 until June 1916, thus becoming one of the most
experienced brigade commanders in the BEF. After eight months commanding
the training centre of what would become the Tank Corps, he returned to brigade
command with 234 Brigade in Palestine, a command terminated by illness after five
months in November 1917. Three of the regular COs had served in five campaigns
each. Edward Peter Strickland, CO 1st Manchester, the son of a major of the
Warwickshire Regiment, had served in Burma in the post-annexation insurgency
(188789); against the Mahdists in Dongola (1896) and the Nile (1897, 1898,
1899); and would rise through various brigade commands to command 1st Division
in June 1916 until the end of the war, thus proving his substance. Lieutenant-
Colonel Colin Robert Ballard, 1st Norfolk, was the son of General J.A. Ballard and
had served in the efforts against the continuing insurgency in Burma (189192);
in the relief of the besieged fort at Chitral in 1895; on the North-West Frontier
during the Pathan uprising of 189798; in South Africa from 1899 to 1902; and
against the Somali religious resistance of Mohammed Abdullah Hassan, the Mad
Mullah, in East Africa (19024). He commanded brigades between November
1914 and April 1917. Lastly, Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Rodolph Davies, 2nd
Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire, had served in Burma (188788), on the North-
West Frontier (189798), in the campaign against the revolt of the Afridis in Tirah
(189798); against the anti-foreigner Boxer Rebellion in China (1900); and in
South Africa (19012). He would rise through brigade command to the command
of 11th Division in May 1917. Six COs had served in four campaigns, 19 in three,
and 32 in two. The service of those who had experienced only one campaign
involved the Second Boer War in most cases.
Thirteen had commanded in the field, albeit at a lower rank, prior to their
elevation to battalion command. Lieutenant-Colonel W.C.G. Heneker, 2nd
North Staffordshire, had thrice been in command in the fighting against the Aro
Confederacy in Southern Nigeria (19023). He wrote a book of tactical guidance,
entitled Bush Warfare, based on his experiences, indicating, as do the pages of the
journal of the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) for the period, that British
regimental officers were more thoughtful about their trade than they are given
credit for. Heneker would rise through a number of brigade commands to end the
war as a major-general commanding 8th Division. Eight of the regular COs had
14 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

commanded mounted infantry in South Africa, and others colonial or native troops.
Lieutenant-Colonel J. Ponsonby, 1st Coldstream Guards, who would command
both 40th and 5th Divisions, had commanded the 5th New Zealand Regiment in
South Africa, where Lieutenant-Colonel G.C. Knight, 1st Loyal North Lancashire,
who was killed by shrapnel on the Marne in September 1914, had both raised and
commanded the 1st New South Wales Mounted Infantry Regiment. Lieutenant-
Colonel W.M. Watson, 1st Duke of Wellingtons, had raised the Chinese Regiment
at Weiheiwei in 1898 and commanded it at the relief of Tientsin and Peking (1900)
during the Boxer Rebellion, later becoming the first regular officer to command
the Shanghai Volunteers.
The true value of the military experience gained in these campaigns of
conquest, suppression of insurrection, or punitive expeditions is a matter for
debate. David French suggests between 1870 and 1970 the British army fought
only four wars in which it found itself fighting against an enemy that was equipped
to the same modern standard as itself, and was organized into large combined arms
formations.11 Prior to August 1914, the only conflict that met these criteria was
that against the well-armed Boers in 1899. Just under half of the regular COs had
accumulated war service in South Africa in that year, at the highest rank of captain.
However, it was not simply the experience of 1899, but the lessons which became
established practice in the field during 1900 and cemented in Combined Training
1902, which were important. Nearly three quarters of the COs saw service between
1900 and 1902. Their key learning had probably been achieved in the field before
they were too set in their ways, and, as company commanders after the war, they
would be responsible for carrying out the training that the 1902 manual set out.
Undeniably, however, much of their war experience was obtained in the role of
policeman of the empire, which bore little resemblance to continental war. Major-
General G.F. Ellison, a keen military observer and close adviser to R.B. Haldane
while he was devising his army reforms of 1907, had deep reservations about
the value of this small-war service. He believed that the qualities of both body
and mind that make for success in the leadership of small expeditions and for
the conquest of savage tribes did not enable a commander to develop the mental
facility to deal with administrative questions of the most complex nature or to solve
strategical problems on which the fate of nations may depend. The prime dangers
of small-force warfare were, he believed, a failure to delegate and believing that
in the power of improvisation lay the whole art of successful administration. His
main complaint concerned what he saw as the lack of an intellectual approach to a
science of soldiering, the small-war experience leading to a dangerous narrowing
of the intellectual vision.12 Ellison was not alone in worrying about such a deficit.
Viscount Esher, a member of the Elgin South African War Commission, declared

11
David French, Military Identities: The Regimental System, The British Army and
the British People c.18702000 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 265.
12
G.F. Ellison, Considerations Influencing the Selection of Officers for Command
and the Staff, Ellison Mss. no. 30 (NAM, 8704-35).
Old Contemptibles 15

in 1904 that only two out of every forty regimental officers were any good at
all. The rest were loafers: a sorry, if untestable, assertion. He was clear in his
belief that only an educated soldier (and by this he meant those who had passed
Staff College [psc]) had the truest worth.13 Haldane himself, however, claimed two
years later that a new school of officers has risen since the South African War, a
thinking school of officers who desire to see the full efficiency which comes from
a new organisation and no surplus of energy running to waste.14 Whilst Haldane
undoubtedly wished the most positive spin for his army reforms, the truth of his
remarks is born out in the contribution made by these very officers to battalion
command during the war.
Undoubtedly, the British army of 1914 had experience of tactical diversity,
and, in its campaigns conducted amidst hostile geography and nature, its
commanders had become masters of small-force tactics and logistics. The German
army, whose colonial military efforts since 1870 hardly bore comparison, would
have welcomed the experience. It had also, since 1902, prepared itself tactically
for continental war. It has been claimed that, at company level, the BEF was at
least as well trained as its German counterpart,15 and it was the commanding
officer who had been responsible for ensuring that this was the case. Despite the
criticisms of Ellison and Esher, it is clear that a number of the infantry battalion
commanders of August 1914 rose to be highly successful corps and divisional
commanders, and whilst they may not have had to address the fate of nations, they
were perfectly able in these senior roles.

Staff Service

Administrative skills were developed through staff service, some form of which was
the mark of both an ambitious and able officer. It was unlikely to relate particularly
to patronage, as the effects of this were considered limited in the Edwardian army.16
Only 12 per cent of the regular COs lacked any sort of staff experience. At the most
basic level of peacetime staff work, battalion administration, 59 per cent had been
adjutants to a regular unit or their regiments militia or volunteers. The adjutancy
might be a desirable post for some as it carried extra pay. Lieutenant-Colonel
H.O.S. Cadogan, 1st Royal Welsh Fusiliers, then a 2nd lieutenant with his battalion
in India in the late 1880s, was relying on extra finance from his widowed mother
and wrote to her: It must be such a drag on you, if only I could get the adjutancy of
the regiment it would be everything but they only give it to senior subalterns and

13
Brian Bond, The Victorian Army and the Staff College (London: Eyre Methuen,
1972), 183.
14
Richard B. Haldane, House of Commons, Army Debates 1906, quoted in John M.
Sneddon The Company Commander, in Spencer Jones (ed.), Stemming the Tide (Solihull:
Helion, 2013), 314.
15
Sneddon, The Company Commander, 328.
16
Bowman and Connelly, The Edwardian Army, 367.
16 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

generally to a captain.17 The adjutants job was to organize the daily routine, run
an office, cope with correspondence, write orders, answer queries from brigade,
anticipate company needs, stave off troubles and ensure the proper deportment
of ORs and junior officers, and hence a quick mind helped.18 The adjutant was
usually selected from the most able and promising of his peers, not least of all
because any sensible CO would have wished to ensure that his own work load was
as light as possible.19 It was hence an indication of competence.
The pre-war officer has been criticised for being regimentally blinkered, but
outside the regiment a range of staff positions were to be had. Twenty two per cent
of the regular COs had passed the two-year course at the Staff College, Camberley,
to become psc; and nearly half, psc or not, had filled extra-regimental staff posts.
Lieutenant-Colonel C.L. Nicholson psc, 2nd East Lancashire, had perhaps the
most richly experienced staff career. He had served as aide-de-camp (ADC) to the
governor and commander-in-chief of Gibraltar in 189193, as staff captain then
deputy assistant quartermaster general (DAQMG) for mobilisation, India (1901),
had then been DAQMG at the headquarters of Bengal East Command for four
years, DAQMG for mobilisation again, before returning home and serving as a
brigade-major (19059) and finally as a general staff officer grade 2 (GSO2) in
South Africa (191112). As we have seen, Nicholson would assume divisional
command in 1916. Lieutenant-Colonel S.C.F. Jackson, 1st Hampshire, had no psc
qualification but had served as ADC to a major-general in Bengal (188993), as
ADC to the commander-in-chief, East Indies (189394), and as a station staff
officer in India (1897), before moving to be deputy assistant adjutant general
(DAAG) at army HQ in Bombay (18971902). He had then served as deputy
assistant adjutant and quartermaster general (DAAQMG) to both 8th and 6th
Divisions (190610). Jacksons rise during the First World War was derailed when
he was wounded and taken prisoner in August 1914.
If the vision of the Elgin South African War Commission had been for Staff
College graduates to provide a professionally trained general staff, then indeed
some of the regular COs of 1914 had achieved this sort of senior staff service.
Lieutenant-Colonel A. Grant-Duff psc, 1st Black Watch, had been assistant military
secretary to the Committee of Imperial Defence from October 1910 to September
1913, where he had been responsible for the production of the War Book, which
contained the detailed the steps to be taken to mobilize the army, the additional
duties of each branch and the extra staff required,20 devising a column format which
allowed easy reference to what various government departments might do at each
stage. Tragically, the promise of this intelligent officer was extinguished by his death

17
Cadogan, The Road to Armageddon, 83.
18
Keith Radley, First Canadian Division, CEF 19141918, PhD Thesis (Carleton
University, Ottawa, 2000), 85.
19
David Langley, Duty Done: 2nd Battalion The Royal Welch Fusiliers in the Great
War (Caernarfon: Royal Welch Fusiliers Museum, 2001), 111.
20
Charles Messenger, Call to Arms (London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 2005), 29.
Old Contemptibles 17

on the Aisne in September 1914. Colonel A.D. Geddes psc, 2nd Buffs, a fatality in
early 1915, as we have seen, had been both GSO3 and GSO2 at army headquarters
(19048) and then had spent two years as GSO2 at the War Office. Lieutenant-
Colonels A.R.S. Martin psc, 1st Royal Lancaster (who was killed in exactly the same
way as Geddes at the Second Battle of Ypres, the victim of a shell on battalion HQ)
and D.C. Boger (without psc), CO 1st Cheshire, who was taken prisoner in August
1914, had been attached to the General Staff at the War Office, as had Lieutenant-
Colonel H.P. Hancox psc, 2nd Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. Hancox was an officer
who did not fulfil his potential, being sent home from the Western Front in 1914.
After a period as an assistant adjutant and quartermaster general he was placed on
half-pay in late 1915 and ended his war in the Labour Corps.
Three officers had served as military attachs: Lieutenant-Colonel H.C.
Lowther, 1st Scots Guards (who became brigadier-general of the 1st Guards Brigade
in November 1914), had served in Madrid, Lisbon, and Paris; Lieutenant-Colonel
J.D. McLachlan psc, 1st Cameron Highlanders (who became brigadier-general of
8 Brigade in October 1915), in Washington and Mexico; and Lieutenant-Colonel
C. Wanliss, 2nd South Lancashire, who had probably had his patience tried at the
Seistan Arbitration Commission, a notoriously protracted negotiation (19035)
which laid down the boundaries between Persia and Afghanistan. As we shall see,
Wanliss was another of the small group of less than successful COs on active
service, sent home in 1914 like Hancox.
Forty four per cent of those COs who had seen active service had performed
extra-regimental staff service in war. Lieutenant-Colonel C.R. Ballard psc, 1st
Norfolk, who as we have seen, became a successful brigade commander, had rich
war-staff experience. He had been transport officer in the mountainous region of
Tirah on the North-West Frontier, in 1898, and was variously adjutant of Roberts
Light Horse, staff captain to a station commandant, and staff officer to a mounted
infantry corps mobile column in South Africa between 1899 and 1902. Lastly,
in 1903, he had again been transport officer to the Somaliland Field Force in
the fighting against Mohammed Abdullah Hassan. Lieutenant-Colonel Norman
Reginald McMahon, 4th Royal Fusiliers, the son of General Sir T. McMahon,
had served in South Africa as ADC to a major-general and as brigade-major and
DAAG. He had also served as chief instructor and staff officer at the School of
Musketry in Hythe for four years from 1905. In 1907, he presciently advocated the
provision of six machine guns per battalion. Rebuffed, the musketry maniac was
instrumental in the development of the 15-aimed-shot mad minute enshrined in
Musketry Regulations (1909) and put to effective use at Mons in August 1914.21
His staff skills were quickly in demand and he left battalion command to become
a GSO1 in October 1914 and was then swiftly promoted to command 10 Brigade,
sadly being killed by a shell at Hooge on 11 November 1914 before he could take
up the post. Similarly, Lieutenant-Colonel C.S. Davidson, 2nd South Staffordshire,

21
Michael Barthrop, The Old Contemptibles (Oxford: Osprey, 1989), 22.
18 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

had previously served as ADC to a major-general and later as a brigade-major. He


would command 123 Brigade for a year from September 1915.
In summary, the education of the regular lieutenant-colonels of August 1914
was better than that of their predecessors but was very patchy compared to that
of most of the captains who in 1914 might have aspired to succeed them. Around
70 per cent had attended RMC, yet virtually all had done so before the course had
become more practical in the 1890s. Of the 22 per cent who were psc, however,
three quarters had attended Camberley after 1902 when Combined Training 1902
and the lessons learned from the Boer War in general were central, an era when
one instructor, agreeing with Haldane and counterbalancing the negative views of
Ellison and Esher, stated that some of very best soldiers in the army were to be
met at Camberley.22 Not all knowledge was acquired through formal education.
In terms of on the job development, only a tenth had not served in any staff
post, and, whilst the regimental system has been criticised for keeping officers
mental horizons confined to their own regiments,23 two thirds had performed
extra-regimental staff service in peace and war. Considering in addition the 59
per cent who had been regimental adjutants, the regular COs were clearly largely
administratively able. Their abilities were also scrutinised. Each officer was
subject to an annual confidential report, and each battalion to an annual inspection,
which was directed at testing the efficiency and capacity of the unit commander
to command his unit and to assess its state of preparedness for war. The inspection
was comprehensive and tested the battalion and its individual components.24
The regular commanding officers had passed through a form of intellectual
quality control for promotion and were regularly monitored. Looking at their
careers, however, it was the rich patina of experience that marked this group as
exceptional in terms of staff and war service. Far from suffering from narrow
vision, the battalion commanders who went to war in 1914 had the potential for
a broad vision provided by varied empire experience balanced with nearly 12
years of training suitable for continental war. Their war experience equipped them
well for managing battalions in the encounter battles of 1914 and may even have
been particularly appropriate in handling the retreat from Mons. Once positional
warfare had been assumed, their store of experience, as for all officers, irrespective
of nationality, no longer served them as well.

Special Reserve COs

Lord Kitchener, on taking up post as Secretary of State for War, mistakenly


described the officers of the Special Reserve (SR) as those old gentlemen I have

22
Lieutenant-Colonel E.S. May, cited in Bond, The Victorian Army and the Staff
College, 195.
23
French, Military Identities, 3.
24
Sneddon, The Company Commander, 321.
Old Contemptibles 19

seen parading with umbrellas in Hyde Park, confusing them with the National
Reserve (a register of retired officers kept by the territorial county associations).
25
The Special Reserve had, of course, been created out of the militia by the 1907
reforms with the express purpose of providing reinforcements for the regular army
and in August 1914 had 101 COs in post.
Given that only four battalions saw active service, these officers will not be
considered in detail. Suffice it to say that they were of two sorts. Forty per cent
were ex-regulars, who were aged on average nearly 49 years and had been retired
on average seven years. The rest were officers whose careers had been spent
entirely in the reserve. The report by the Inspector of Infantry in 1910,26 in which
46 reserve battalions were visited over a three month period, was positive about
both the units and their COs. It was noted that one or two had weak COs and a
few were old-fashioned but even these required very little to bring them into
line with the others.27
Of the four units that saw active service, only one was taken overseas by its
CO of August 1914, but, in all, 15 of the SR commanding officers of August 1914
saw active service, half with new army battalions. Two thirds were ex-regulars,
and, hence, previous professional experience was one of the principal reasons they
were selected. One, indeed, was promoted to brigade command, the retired Hussars
officer Lieutenant-Colonel Arthur Corrie Lewin, 3rd Connaught Rangers, who was
elevated to the command of 40 Brigade in October 1915. Each spent nearly ten
months on average on active service and, proving that some were capable of giving
better service than might have been expected one, the redoubtable ex-regular
Lieutenant-Colonel G.T.B. Wilson, 4th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, had
four active service commands. These included 60 days with the 2/7th Lancashire
Fusiliers, 359 with the 1/4th Kings Own Scottish Borderers (KOSB), 68 days with
the 2/8th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, and 333 with the 2/6th Manchester.
Evidently a survivor, it is not known whether Wilson was with his wife when she
became one of the 121 victims of the most successful V-1 attack of the Second
World War on the Guards Chapel, Wellington Barracks, on the morning of 18
June 1944.

Territorial Force COs

The Territorial Force (TF) had been created out of the Volunteers by the 1907
reforms with the express purpose of providing home defence. In terms of training,

25
Charles Harris, Kitchener and the Territorials, The Times (28 Aug. 1928), 13.
26
Office of the Commander-in-Chief and War Office: Adjutant General and Army
Council: Inspection Returns Report by the Inspector of Infantry of the Special Reserve,
1910, Appendix J, 147 (TNA, WO 27/497).
27
Geoffrey Fox, A Curious Hybrid: the Special Reservist 19081914, Stand To! The
Journal of the Western Front Association 98 (2013): 415.
20 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

that of the TF was less extensive than that required of the Special Reserve. In August
1914, there were 207 territorial COs, of which 16 per cent were ex-regulars. These
officers had an average age of just over 45 and had been retired, mostly at the rank
of captain or major (although three were recently retired lieutenant-colonels from
the Indian Army) for an average of just over eight years. They had almost certainly
left the army because they were unlikely to be promoted beyond the rank of major.
Eighty per cent had seen service in war.
The remaining 174 had all been volunteers. Their average age was nearly 48,
with considerable variation. Lieutenant-Colonel Sir M. Sykes, 5th Yorkshire, who
would earn notoriety for his part in the SykesPicot agreement which defined
British and French spheres of interest and control in the post-war Middle East,
was the youngest at 35 years; the oldest was Lieutenant-Colonel A.R. Meggy, 4th
Essex, a stationers manager who was nearly 60 and who retired just prior to his
battalions departure for Gallipoli. These pure TF officers were, of course, denied
staff experience, regular officers filling the role of adjutant in their battalions.
Eighty per cent had no experience of war, the 20 per cent who did having seen
action in the Second Boer War. It would not be unfair to regard them as under-
trained and under-experienced for the role they would be asked to fulfil.
The issue of surrender of command was not as constrained as for the regulars.
Officers commanding TF units were appointed for four years, but up to two
extensions of a further four years could be granted. Officers other than those
holding commands or staff appointments were required to retire at 60, but again
might be allowed an extension of service, which will not be granted for more than
2 years at a time, or beyond 65.28 There was therefore plenty of opportunity built
into the rules for superannuation. Nearly a quarter of the TF commanding officers
of August 1914 had been in post over four years, fifteen being COs of pre-1908
volunteer battalions, and two had been in post since before the turn of the century.
The Earl of Denbigh and Desmond was the most senior, having been CO of the
Honourable Artillery Company since 1893, but was promoted full colonel before
the end of August 1914 and never took his battalion abroad. The opportunities for
extending command were part of a less than rigorous approach to suitability, as
we shall see.

Quality of Battalion Commanders of August 1914

Regulars

There is no way of producing an objective rating of competence for the regular


COs: few reports on officers remain in their files. At the negative end of the

28
The Territorial Year Book (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1909), 22.
Old Contemptibles 21

spectrum, seven were relieved of command before 31 December 1914.29 Two of


these were court-martialled for their surrender of St Quentin, namely Lieutenant-
Colonels John Ford Elkington, 1st Warwickshire, the son of Lieutenant-General
J.H.F. Elkington, and Arthur Edward Mainwaring, 2nd Royal Dublin Fusiliers.
Two parties of these battalions, led by their exhausted COs, arrived at St Quentin
on 27 August 1914 from the Battle of Le Cateau the previous day. The mayor
begged them to sign a surrender document to spare the town the consequences
of any fighting with the pursuing German army. The COs complied, but a unit of
cavalry, led by Major G.T.M. Bridges intervened, recovered the document, and
galvanised the pair and the remnants of their battalions. Both lieutenant-colonels
were consequently cashiered. Mainwaring, not a well man, returned to civilian
life. Elkington joined the Foreign Legion, serving on the Western Front until
injured in the leg on Vimy Ridge in 1915. He was reinstated in his original rank
and awarded the DSO.
Of the remaining six, Lieutenant-Colonel N.A.L. Corry, 2nd Grenadier Guards,
was sent home for withdrawing without orders (being out of contact with his
brigadier) from Bois la Haut (Mons) on 23 August 1914. He was castigated in
Sir Douglas Haigs diary for doing so,30 but the War Office noted him as not an
inefficiency case.31 Corry took the 3rd Grenadier Guards on active service at the
end of July 1915, but was removed from command within three months and placed
on half-pay in January 1916, indicating that the reassuring War Office note likely
hid competence issues. Lieutenant-Colonel C. Wanliss, 2nd South Lancashire, was
sent home on 29 August 1914, judged totally unfit to command in the field by his
divisional commander, Major-General H. Hamilton. This decision was supported
and approved by Field Marshal Sir J. French, Lieutenant-General Sir H.L. Smith-
Dorrien, and Brigadier-General F.W.N. McCracken. Wanliss was put on the sick
list and sent back to England. He saw the report prepared on him and submitted a
detailed rebuttal, but the Army Council felt they had no alternative but to accept
the opinion formed by the reporting officers. The fact that problems continued
within his unit suggests that his influence outlasted him. Of the others, as we saw
in the introduction, Lieutenant-Colonel D.W. Churcher, 1st Royal Irish Fusiliers,
was replaced on 10 September 1914. He was clearly not highly regarded by his pre-
war brigade commander, J.A.L. Haldane, who viewed him as running a less than
competent unit, writing: There is too much eyewash about this battalion; they
do not take interest in anything but sport and the C.O. is a humbug.32 Churcher,
however, had a previous impressive staff career and, far from being sent home,
was soon made a GSO2, serving as a GSO1 from the first day on the Somme to the
armistice. Lastly, Lieutenant-Colonels H.P. Hancox of the 2nd Royal Inniskilling

29
War Office, letter (17 Jan. 1915), Lieutenant-Colonel Cecil Wanliss file (APC, D/
APC/HD/ABLW/187116).
30
Professor Gary Sheffield, personal communication.
31
War Office, letter (17 Jan. 1915).
32
Peter T. Scott, Dishonoured (London: Tom Donovan, 1994), 45.
22 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

Fusiliers and J.K. OMeagher of the 2nd Munster Fusiliers were sent home, and
neither commanded on active service again.
What is possible is to attempt to assess viability as a commanding officer
in the wider group in terms of their endurance in post on active service or their
promotability. If the number who were either killed in action (40), wounded and
unable to return to command (14), prisoners of war (8), or who remained in India
(5) is subtracted, 90 COs remain whose progress can be followed. Of these, 15
were invalided (either their constitution was genuinely not up to active service
or invalidity was used as a euphemism), 15 were removed, retired or side-lined
into low-level administrative posts, and 2, as we have seen, were court-martialled.
Twenty eight were promoted to brigade command, 25 to divisional command,
and 3 to corps command, the individuals who rose to this exalted rank being
Lieutenant-Colonels R.B. Stephens, 2nd Rifle Brigade (commanding X Corps
from 3 July 1918); W.R Marshall, 1st Sherwood Foresters (commanding III
Indian Corps in Mesopotamia from 24 September 1916); and R.H.K Butler, 2nd
Lancashire Fusiliers (commanding III Corps from 26 February 1918). Overall,
these figures give a viability, or endurance or promotability rate of 64 per cent.
At least two thirds of these COs were therefore leaders of stamina and quality. Tim
Travers assertion that three quarters of the COs of August 1914 may have been
incompetents is clearly untrue.

Territorials

The same principles can be used in assessing the viability of the territorial COs of
August 1914. Unlike their regular counterparts, given the delay in sending them
to war, their first test of suitability for command was whether they actually took
their battalions on active service. The brief of the force was never service abroad,
yet the COs certainly faced the potential of commanding their battalions in action
on home soil. Of the 207 commanding officers, 26 saw no active service because
their units remained in England or were posted to a non-combat zone. Of the
rest, however, a remarkable 39 per cent were removed from command before they
went abroad, the remainder presumably being considered appropriate to command
overseas in war.
The reasons for not proceeding on active service were various. Lieutenant-
Colonel D.C. Campbell, 1/6th Black Watch, died in the autumn of 1914 and hence
never had the chance to lead his battalion. Lieutenant-Colonel Sir M. Sykes, 1/5th
Yorkshire, was, as we have seen, pressed into diplomatic service. Lieutenant-
Colonel B.A. Firth, 1/4th York and Lancaster, was a member of the prominent
Sheffield steel company, Brown Firth, who were heavily involved in forging
artillery pieces, resigned to pursue a career in armaments. Lieutenant-Colonel W.
Naish, 1/4th Hampshire, was an ordained clergyman whose bishop would not allow
him to go overseas with his battalion. The point is the same in all cases: these men
were inappropriate as battalion commanders if, in the event of war, they could not
lead their units.
Old Contemptibles 23

The two main reasons, specified and unspecified, for not leading a unit on
active service were either age/health, as is often proposed in regimental histories,
or competence. In terms of health, Lieutenant-Colonel W.J. Younger, 4th Royal
Scots, for instance, resigned his commission on the grounds of illness in January
1915 without seeing active service. In terms of age, the territorial COs who took
their battalions abroad were in fact only two years younger than those who did not.
It is more likely that whatever the truth about age, health, and associated fitness,
many of these statements were a way of cloaking the need to take action over
low levels of appropriateness or competence, which could not be ignored. Lord
Derby, appointed director-general of recruitment in 1915, described Lieutenant-
Colonel H.L. Beckwith of the 4th Loyal North Lancashire as absolutely useless
to show you what sort of man he is he says he cannot go out now to the front
but he would be ready to go out later when the weather gets warmer.33 Beckwith
resigned in October 1914, later serving as a major in the Labour Corps. Lieutenant-
Colonel R.G. Hayes, 15th London, similarly refused to take the Imperial Service
Obligation, the voluntary agreement to serve overseas. This poor example of
leadership degraded morale and led to a good deal of refusal of imperial service
in his unit. Fortunately, one of the other ranks noted, the arrival of his successor,
the Earl of Arran, bucked things up a lot.34 Hayes was relegated to the 2/15th
Battalion, then the 3/15th.
How critical should we be of these largely amateur officers, who were simply
not up to the task of continental war? The observation concerning Australian militia
COs at the outbreak of the Second World War that senior command was perhaps
beyond all but the most committed part-time officer35 is absolutely applicable to
these territorials. It was, however, a problem that was foreseeable, for, as William
Mitchinson notes, although usually keen and proud of their unit, many were,
in the opinion of the professionals, not up to the task of commanding a battalion.36
The fact that there were so many unsuitable COs in post in 1914 is an indictment
less of the officers themselves and more of the county associations who had clearly
had difficult in asserting authority over the local interests involved in battalion
command.
The first territorial unit to go into action was, famously, the 1/14th Battalion
London Regiment (London Scottish), on the Messines Ridge on 31 October
1914. Having landed in France on 16 September it had been put to lines-of-

33
Derby papers (13 Feb. 1915) (LRO, 920 DER(17)33), cited in Peter Simkins,
Kitcheners Army: The Raising of the New Armies 19141916 (Barnsley: Pen & Sword,
2007), 221.
34
Jill Knight, The Civil Service Rifles in the Great War (Barnsley: Pen & Sword,
2004), 33.
35
Garth Pratten, Australian Battalion Commanders in the Second World War
(Melbourne, Vic.: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 31.
36
K.W. Mitchinson, Englands Last Hope: The Territorial Force 190814
(Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), 159.
24 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

communication duties. Sent to Ypres on 29 October, it was commanded by


42-year-old Lieutenant-Colonel G.A. Malcolm, an East India merchant and pure
territorial CO, who on 10 October was greatly indignant about being too late to
have a look in.37 Malcolms look in lasted until 15 February 1915, when he was
invalided home, finishing the war as labour commandant. Of the 109 territorial
COs of 1914 who proceeded to command battalions on active service, 37 per
cent were lost to command through being killed, seriously wounded, or invalided
like Malcolm. Seventeen per cent were relieved of command and retired, and 16
per cent were relieved but employed further in third-line battalion commands or
administrative jobs.
Assuming that a period of six months in command was likely to have revealed
the effects of age, health, and ability and removing those whose careers were cut
short by death or serious wounds, there remains a group of 89 men whose careers
can be followed. Of these, 71 per cent were promoted or served over six months
and, hence, can be viewed as viable commanders. Fifteen showed particular
resilience, commanding their units into late 1917 and early 1918, and three were
promoted to brigadier-general on active service. Given, as we shall see, the
struggle faced by territorial officers to reach high command, these individuals are
of interest. Two, predictably, were retired regulars: Lieutenant-Colonel Viscount
Hampden, 1st Hertfordshire, a retired officer of the 10th Hussars who commanded
two territorial infantry brigades from July 1916 until the armistice; and Lieutenant-
Colonel J.B. Pollok-McCall, 1/5th Royal Scots Fusiliers, an ex-Black Watch
officer, who commanded the regular 25 Brigade between June and October 1918.
The other was a pure territorial: Lieutenant-Colonel Frederic Gustav Lewis,
1/13th London, a solicitor by profession, who commanded two territorial infantry
brigades from August 1915 to December 1917. One can only conclude he must
have been a highly competent officer. If, however, the group who did not take their
battalions overseas are included, the overall viability rate for the territorial COs
falls to 31 per cent. A sustained continental war may not have been the task they
were primarily intended for, but it was what they were required to undertake. The
majority were clearly not up to the challenge, and 1914 was to provide a severe
test for all commanders, whatever their professional background.
***
Wilfred Marryat Bliss was a man of contradictions. He was one of only a small
percentage of men who represented the professional classes entering the army and,
hence, throws its reliance on class into relief. In other ways, he appears to mirror
many aspects of the stereotype of the limited Edwardian officer, being uninspiring
and old-fashioned. Yet, in his four months of trench warfare, he proved personally
resilient, one of his officers describing him making his daily tour of inspection
of the trenches with the water-mark high up his riding breeches,38 sharing the
daily misery with his men. He was a martinet, as was his popular successor,

37
J.C. Dunn, The War the Infantry Knew (London: Janes, 1987), 69.
38
Baynes, Morale, 56.
Old Contemptibles 25

George Carter-Campbell, and his battalion clearly benefitted from his insistence
on standards. What he lacked, despite what his service as adjutant indicates about
him, was intelligence and imagination.39 He would have undoubtedly have
been counted amongst those showing endurance, but his rigid, unsympathetic
nature would have struggled with the rapid changes that were forced on the army
during the war, and he would almost certainly never have been promoted. Carter-
Campbell, the Indian-born son of a colonel of Royal Engineers, who had served
both as adjutant in peacetime and in South Africa (18991902), had sufficient
qualities for promotion, having, in the judgement of one of his officers, not only
good, though not exceptional brains but especially a capacity for putting his
finger on essentials, whilst his judgement of people was remarkably good.40
If the war had not happened, Carter-Campbell, with seven years service already as
a major in 1914, would have slipped into retirement unnoticed. Bliss is the sort of
officer whom critics would seize upon to prove their thesis about the shortcomings
of the pre-war British regular officer corps; Carter-Campbell is the sort of man
who gives us insight into its quality in depth.

39
Ibid. 113.
40
Ibid. 22.
This page has been left blank intentionally
Chapter 2
Dug-Outs

On 16 October 1925, Lieutenant-Colonel Arthur Wilmot Rickman died at the age


of 51 in an accident at home. It was a wasteful end to the life of a man who had
sustained three years of command and survived being wounded on the Western
Front. Had he lived, he would no doubt have been amused that the volume of the
Official History which dealt with the events of 1 July 1916, published in 1932,
recorded that he was killed that day.1 The Winchester College educated son of a
lieutenant-general, he was commissioned in the 2nd Northumberland Fusiliers in
1897 from the militia and, having campaigned in South Africa (18991902) where
he served as an aide-de-camp, had retired in 1909, joining the Special Reserve.
Promoted to major in September 1914, he took over command of the 11th East
Lancashire Regiment as a lieutenant-colonel on 1 March 1915, replacing 64-year-
old Colonel Richard Sharples, a retired territorial officer who would see no further
service. Rickman nursed his unit through eight months further training before they
were sent to Egypt and thence to the Western Front.
He was awarded the DSO for his efforts at Serre on 1 July 1916, where he was
wounded by a shell and invalided, returning to command on 31 May 1917. He
was wounded again on 11 November 1917, when his battalion HQ was subjected
to high-explosive and gas shells. He returned days before the German offensive
of 21 March 1918, winning a bar to his DSO leading his battalion on 1213 April
1918. The citation describes how he covered the retirement of his brigade to a
new position, displaying great courage and judgement. The following day he held
an extended front against three determined attacks, and when the troops on his
right flank were driven in he rallied them under close fire, and formed a defensive
flank with them.2 He later acted in command of 92 Brigade without ever being
granted temporary brigadier-general status. The vicar who officiated at his funeral
wrote: Few would have suspected from his simple and unassuming manner the
distinguished nature of his military service.3
Rickman was the epitome of the enduring, reliable battalion commander of
the new armies, the raising of which were the most important contribution to
victory of Lord Kitchener, Secretary of State for War. The explosion in demand
for COs caused the army to dig deep into its resources. This process drew a man
of the qualities of Rickman from retirement yet generated the popular tradition

1
James E. Edmonds, Military Operations France and Belgium, 1916, vol. 1 (London:
Imperial War Museum, 1932), 448.
2
London Gazette (16 Sept. 1918).
3
<http://www.pals.org.uk/awrickman.htm>.
28 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

of the dug-out, the bumbling, out-of-date CO, blundering into modern war with
attitudes and skills redolent of the Crimea: indeed, one senior staff officer later
wrote: Dug-outs. They were but ghosts of the past inserted by the War Office to
fill a blank cubby hole.4 This chapter sifts the truth of such a caricature.
Kitcheners decision to raise the new armies outside of the existing structure of
the Territorial Force has provoked controversy. Typically, this has been attributed
to deep prejudice against amateur soldiers.5 Whilst this is undoubtedly not
the whole story, there is truth to the allegation of prejudice, which permeated the
higher ranks of the professional army, and, as we have seen, the varied quality of
the territorial COs at the outbreak of the war gives reason to think that this was
to a certain extent justified. As we shall further see, this attitude had implications
for battalion command throughout the war. As two distinct patterns of command
appointment resulted, the new armies and expanding TF will be considered
separately.

New Army Service Battalions

During 191415, 703 new army infantry service battalions were raised, 404 of
which saw active service. Kitcheners call to arms for the first 100,000 volunteers
to create six new divisions was published on 7 August 1914, and 80 K1 battalions
were raised. The second appeal for a further 100,000 men was made on 27
August 1914, and 79 K2 battalions were raised. On 9 September 1914, Kitchener
authorised the formation of 12 more divisions, the third new army to be raised
immediately, the fourth to be formed from any surplus sent to the Special Reserve,
these battalions later becoming reserve units. Eighty nine K3 units were formed.
Towards the end of August 1914, battalions also began to be raised through
various local authorities, and 128 such units were formed for active service. The
first Kitchener division, the 9th Scottish, arrived in France in May 1915, nine
months after its formation, and 18 were on active service by the autumn of that
year. All these new battalions required competent commanding officers, and the
army had three dimensions to consider when making these appointments: active
versus retired status, professional versus amateur training, and senior versus junior
rank. What exactly therefore were the principles used in appointing the first COs,
and what sort of changes in command took place before their units went abroad?
The priorities of the War Office concerning battalion command during the
first months of the war emerge when each of the cohorts is examined in turn.
The first principle employed was the use of available active regular soldiers,
who made up 82 per cent of K1 COs. If Kitchener, as he avowed, could take

4
W.N. Nicholson, Behind the Lines: An Account of Administrative Staffwork in the
British Army 19141918 (Stevenage: Tom Donovan, 1989), 12.
5
Charles Messenger, Call to Arms: The British Army 191418 (London: Weidenfeld
& Nicholson, 2005), 94.
Dug-Outs 29

no account of anything but Regular soldiers,6 then this was completely achieved
with K1, the main mechanism being the use of 54 majors serving as regimental
depot commanders. The depot was the regiments headquarters, where recruits
were trained, stores assembled, and officers and other ranks awaiting posting were
based. The depot commander was attached to the SpecialReserve battalion based
there, and hence did not go overseas. Lieutenant-Colonel W.D. Villiers-Stuart, a
Gurkha officer commanding the 9th Rifle Brigade and a solder with a very high
opinion of his own abilities, was disparaging towards depot majors on active
service who knew nothing of field fortifications.7 This view was not just. When
their pedigrees are examined, these officers, who were nearly four years younger
on average than their lieutenant-colonels, had a comparable amount of war service,
had more frequently acted as adjutant, and had performed nearly as much extra-
regimental staff service. There is, therefore, no objective reason to believe that
they possessed any less ability or knowledge, based on their experience, than those
who commanded. They were simply men whose position in the list of seniority
meant that they would never be the CO or senior major of a battalion.
The second principle was use of retired regular officers. Eighty per cent were
used for K2 as against 12 per cent for K1, with exactly three quarters of the COs
of K3 units being retirees, the figure for locally raised units being the highest at 85
per cent. Thus, as the process went on, more officers were dug out of retirement.
More recently retired officers were used first, and time since retirement rose from
one year and eight months in K1 to five years and seven months in K3, with the
COs of locally raised units having been retired the longest at exactly six and a half
years.
At the beginning of September 1914, Kitchener instructed the adjutant-general
to get from post offices names and addresses of every officer to whom letters are
arriving addressed colonel, major, captain and lieutenant; and write a civil letter to
each of them, if he has not already sent in his name, inviting him to do so in such
a manner that he can hardly refuse.8 There were, however, formal sources for
locating retired senior officers in addition to local knowledge. The most obvious
and easily accessible was the Reserve of Officers, on which all officers receiving
retired pay were required to be registered, confirming their addresses each year. Of
the 3,202 officers in this reserve in August 1914, however, there were only 103 ex-
regular lieutenant-colonels, potentially sufficient to cover only one tranche of new
army recruitment, and, of these, five were enjoying administrative posts overseas.
Two were appointed to brigade command; 23 to staff posts; 16 more were slotted
into depot command, replacing the majors appointed to K1; and only 31 were

6
Charles Harris, Kitchener and the Territorials, The Times (28 Aug. 1928), 13.
7
Robert M. Maxwell, Villiers-Stuart Goes to War (Edinburgh: Pentland Press, 1990),
92.
8
Notes on Supply of Officers: Instructions of Secretary of State (6 Sept. 1914),
Adjutant-Generals papers (TNA, WO 162/2); cited in Peter Simkins, Kitcheners Army:
The Raising of the New Armies 19141916 (Barnsley: Pen & Sword, 2007), 217.
30 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

allocated to battalion command, with 26 remaining unemployed. This reminds us


firstly that in the rapid expansion of the army, battalion command was far from
being the only demand on resources at senior level, and, secondly, the number
remaining unemployed indicates that there was clear reflection on suitability and
that exclusion applied rather than senior appointment at any price.
The third principle, emerging in K2 appointments, was use of the most senior
remaining officers, those with experience of battalion command, and, hence, 44
per cent of the retired officers used from K2 onwards were colonels. The fourth
principle was then to use active and retired Indian army officers, a convention
emerging in K3, where 15 Indian officers were employed. Colonel W.A.B. Dennys
sheds light on the process. A retired Indian army colonel and brigade commander,
he was living in England at the outbreak of the war and was asked by General Sir
Edward Barrow, military secretary at the India Office, to head the classification
staff, identifying the 2,000 active and retired Indian army officers in England,
with the help of the pay department. Very soon letters came pouring in from
both the War Office and I.O. [India Office] asking for recommendations. We
put the names in order of preference.9 After six weeks, an urgent letter came
from the War Office, asking that the retired Colonels of the I.A. [Indian Army]
would kindly sink all personal interests for higher appointments, in order to take
command of regiments about to be raised in Kitcheners Army.
The fifth and last principle was the eventual greater use, particularly in the
locally raised units, of retired Special Reserve and territorial officers. Ex-reservists
made up 25 per cent and ex-TF officers 38 per cent of first appointments to locally
raised battalions. Service battalions raised by the War Office virtually completely
shunned the initial use of territorial officers, however. The appearance of prejudice
is strengthened when, of the few who were chosen, preference was given to ex-
professionals. Thus, a territorial officer was used for the first time in K3, namely
Major Sir William Stewart-Dick-Cunyngham, who had retired as a regular captain
in 1903 but in August 1914 was a serving as a TF district remount officer. He spent
nearly 350 days in command of the 10th Black Watch on active service.
Overall, therefore, the army pursued a business-as-usual policy, with
an emphasis (not unreasonably) on the all-round military training granted by
professional status and a bias towards seniority. From the standpoint of the
regiments themselves, there was a similar emphasis on regimental particularism,
although this was exhausted relatively quickly. Thus in K1, over 92 per cent of
appointments were of officers who were serving or had served in the regiment
in question, whilst for locally raised battalions the figure was 26 per cent. Peter
Simkins, the historian of Kitcheners armies, notes that in the Pals battalions,
command was generally given to an elderly retired officer on the recommendation
of the Mayor or head of the raising committee. Whilst this method of selection was
open to abuse it also had some virtues, as such officers often lived in the town or

9
W.A.B. Dennys, Some Reminiscences of My Life (privately printed, 1935).
Dug-Outs 31

city concerned and were known to the raisers as a result of their connections with
a local Volunteer, Militia or Territorial unit.10
If there was appointment in haste, there was also repentance at leisure, and
many of the first-appointed did not take their battalions on active service. Table
2.1 sets out the changes. Of the Kitchener units, never less than half were taken
on active service by their first CO. The increasing number of changes through K1
to the locally raised battalions is not surprising, given the increasing number and
varied pedigrees of retired officers employed. The seemingly high turnover of 35
per cent in the active professional officers of K1 is for the most part accounted
for by the replacement of 21 promoted depot majors, 15 being transferred as COs
to their regular unit on the Western Front, indicating both the attrition of those
units and the priority given by the BEF and War Office to keeping the fighting
units properly officered. Two were transferred to other service battalions, one to
a brigade-major post, and three appear to have been genuine cases of ill-health.
Only one, Lieutenant-Colonel R.P. Sadler, 9th Sherwood Foresters, seems not to
have been up to the mark, being transferred back to depot command. Beyond K1,
however, issues of ability and age became more apparent.

Table 2.1 Numbers of commanding officers prior to proceeding on active


service: service battalions

Battalions One Two Three Four


K1 65% 29% 6% 0%
K2 54% 33% 11% 3%
K3 52% 36% 11% 1%
Locally raised 42% 51% 6% 2%

Examples indicate the nature of these changes. The 12th Highland Light Infantry
(K2) underwent three changes of commanding officer before going on active
service. Lieutenant-Colonel A. Giles, a 52-year-old Indian army lieutenant-
colonel, who had first seen active service expelling the Tibetan forces from Sikkim
in 1889, lasted 60 days in command (seeing no further service in the war), to
be replaced by Lieutenant-Colonel A.S. Begbie, another retired Indian lieutenant-
colonel, aged 49, who lasted 124 days (several months later receiving a special
appointment graded staff captain). The next CO was Lieutenant-Colonel F.M.
Sandys-Lumsdaine, a 49-year-old retired regular major of the Highland Light
Infantry, who served for 123 days (later serving as CO with the 2/6th Argyll and
Sutherland Highlanders, a home-service battalion). He was replaced seven days
before the battalion left for active service by Lieutenant-Colonel John Henry

10
Simkins, Kitcheners Army, 219.
32 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

Purvis, a 49-year-old regular captain retired seven years from the regiment, who
commanded on active service for 418 days. The subsequent careers of the replaced
officers indicate that the first three emerged as unfit for command or active service.
The 8th Leicestershire (K3) underwent four changes of command. Colonel E.R.
Scott, a 57-year-old retired regular from the Leicestershire Regiment, lasted 14
days in command, whereupon he was transferred to the 10th Essex (where he lasted
148 days before being transferred again to the 2/4th Loyal North Lancashire, from
whence he retired again without seeing active service). The second commanding
officer was Colonel C.H. Shepherd, who although an ex-regular, was a remarkable
68 years old and whose commission dated from the era of purchase. He lasted 53
days before replacement (being used again approximately a year later as CO of the 1st
Garrison Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment in India). The third CO was the 48-year-
old retired Indian army officer Lieutenant-Colonel H.P. Bell, who served for 180
days (thereafter being appointed a group commander on the Western Front). Bell
was replaced by Lieutenant-Colonel F.J. Radford, an ex-regular who had already
been replaced as a brigade-major, but who only served 46 days. Lieutenant-Colonel
J.G. Mignon, a regular officer 13 years retired from the Leicestershire Regiment,
was appointed the day before the battalion went on active service, commanding until
14 July 1916 when he was killed on the Somme at Bazentin Ridge. Again, an active
process was clearly evaluating fitness for command, a process which picked up
urgency as active service approached. Twenty eight battalions experienced a change
of CO in the two months prior to going abroad.
The competence problems faced in some divisions are indicated by the account
of Captain H.C. Rees, who was appointed GSO1 38th (Welsh) Division in April
1915.

The standard of knowledge of the brigadiers and commanding officers was,


as a rule, so low that any progress in field training was manifestly impossible.
I therefore started staff rides for the senior officers. These staff rides soon
convinced the General that changes were absolutely essential. Eventually
two Brigadiers and nine of the original Commanding Officers were replaced
before the division sailed for France.11

As 38th Division comprised locally raised battalions, a group identified above as


having the highest rate of CO replacement, Rees experiences are unsurprising.

New Territorial Force Battalions

On 21 August 1914, territorial county associations were authorised to form


second-line battalions for each first-line battalion accepted for overseas service

11
Brigadier-General H. C. Rees CMG DSO, private papers, 80 (IWM, Documents
7166).
Dug-Outs 33

and to raise a third-line unit when the first-line went overseas.12 During 191415,
205 second and 211 third/fourth-line TF infantry battalions were raised. Of these,
97 second- and 7 third-line battalions saw active service, the remainder becoming
reserve/home service battalions.
Of the first appointments to these 104 battalions, only one was an active
regular officer. Twenty eight per cent of units received TF officers from the first-
line unit, half of whom were COs removed from command of these battalions.
Sixty per cent of the first COs were retired TF officers, and, of this group, 29 were
colonels. Eighty two per cent were internal regimental appointments. A strong
local and territorial character is therefore clear, and, as with the service battalions,
a preference for the most senior officers available and, hence, supposedly most
experienced is obvious.
These battalions saw active service at different points in the war, and
predictably, changes in command are notable, as seen in Table 2.2.

Table 2.2 Numbers of commanding officers prior to proceeding on active


service: second/third line TF battalions

Year going on active service One Two Three Four


1915 80% 20% 0% 0%
1916 28% 52% 20% 0%
1917 26% 44% 28% 2%
1918 0% 50% 50% 0%

Again, to give a flavour of the nature of these changes, command of the 2/9th
Kings Liverpool went first to 53-year-old Lieutenant-Colonel L. Watts, displaced
from the 1/9th Battalion in December 1914. In June 1915, he was replaced by
62-year-old Colonel R. Eccles, an ex-regular, who had already been removed
from command of the 14th Durham Light Infantry. Watts returned in November
1915, as Eccles had died, but was replaced nine weeks later, playing no further
part in the war. His successor was Lieutenant-Colonel T.F. Parkinson, a major
from the Kent Cyclist Battalion, who was in turn replaced in October 1916 (at
which point Parkinson followed Watts into retirement in the territorial reserve) by
Lieutenant-Colonel Augustus Frederick Shirley Leggatt, a regular captain of the
Royal Scots who had been on the Western Front since 14 August 1914 and who
took the battalion to war four months later. In contrast to the first three clearly
inadequate officers, Leggatt might have enjoyed a long command had he not been
invalided due to wounds in June 1917. Whilst there was clearly a heavier reliance
on superannuated officers than in the service battalions, attention was again

12
Simkins, Kitcheners Army, 456.
34 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

being paid to suitability for command throughout, particularly as active service


approached.

Dug-Outs at War

The term dug-out swiftly became common parlance in place of retired,


attracting over the years a dismissive quality. Captain I.H. Beith described how his
CO, the ex-regular Lieutenant-Colonel A.F. Mackenzie, 10th Argyll and Sutherland
Highlanders (K1), was pleased to call himself a dug-out. He noted how a
fortnight ago he was fishing in the Garry, his fighting days avowedly behind him,
and only the Special Reserve between him and embonpoint.13
Second-Lieutenant A. Thomas, 4/4th Royal West Kent, noted: I had expected
the C.O. to be a tall, lean hard-bitten man, with at least two rows of medals terribly
efficient and exacting. Instead, Lieutenant-Colonel C.D. Disney-Roebuck, an ex-
regular captain of the Northamptonshire Regiment who had retired nine years
earlier, was short and plump and gave the impression of soft living. The C.O.
did not in fact look like a soldier at all. He looked like a city man and his manners
had the silkiness of a financiers.14 Second-Lieutenant Harold Macmillan, 14th
Kings Royal Rifle Corps (KRRC), found his battalion commanded by 56-year-old
Lieutenant-Colonel Sir T.E. Milbourne-Swinnerton-Pilkington, who had retired as
a regular major in 1898: With his white hair, rubicund complexion, and aquiline
nose, he was a figure from the past lovable and bewildered.15
Retired COs were often easy to lampoon, their idiosyncrasies a popular
subject for record. Second-Lieutenant S. Cloete, 9th Kings Own Yorkshire Light
Infantry (KOYLI), noted how Lieutenant-Colonel G.L. Holland, a retired Indian
Army lieutenant-colonel from the Sikh Pioneers, sometimes, in a fit of absent
mindedness, addressed his Yorkshiremen in Hindustani.16 For one individual,
idiosyncrasy led to personal disaster. Lieutenant-Colonel Mad Jack Hugh
de Berdt Hovell, a 51-year-old retired lieutenant-colonel, had commanded
two regular units of the Worcestershire Regiment, including the 2nd Battalion
in India. Undeniably brave, he had won the DSO in 1901 in South Africa and
also the Royal Humane Societys medal for rescuing a private from drowning.
A fitness enthusiast, he could in his day swim round the island of Gozo. He
was deeply concerned about the comfort of his men and, as a captain of the
1st Worcestershire, disguised himself on 2nd Battalion manoeuvres as a private
so that he could understand the experience of the other ranks.17 Intelligent, he

13
Ian Hay, The First Hundred Thousand (Boston: Houghton Miflin, 1916), 6.
14
Alan Thomas, A Life Apart (Letchworth: Garden City Press, 1968), 35.
15
Harold Macmillan, Winds of Change (London: Macmillan, 1966), 62.
16
Stuart Cloete, A Victorian Son (Glasgow: Collins, 1972), 203.
17
<http://www.angloboerwar.com/forum/9-gallery/127-hovell-h-de-b-hugh-de-
berdt-dso>.
Dug-Outs 35

claimed in his Whos Who entry to have originated the use of telephones on rifle
ranges (1886) and the use of field telephones (1888) and was definitely the author
of two manuals, Soldiers Shooting18 and Soldiers Training and Other Notes.19
Appointed to command the 13th Worcestershire on 11 November 1914, he swiftly
came to grief. Early in December 1914, rumours were rife that private soldiers
were making indecent suggestions about [his] conduct and these rumours
continued. A court of inquiry was ordered, and of the two private soldiers who
gave evidence one tried to commit suicide. Colonel P. Holland reported that
the court did consider that there was any ground for specific charges such as
suggested by the allegations made by Privates Fletcher and Baugh regarding
Colonel Hovell, but was of the opinion that Colonel Hovell is undoubtedly
eccentric in his manner and methods in dealing with his men, and that these
peculiarities of his in conjunction with the treatment rendered necessary to his
back are liable to misconstruction.20 Hovell suffered from acne across the top of
his back, and in India the pustules were pressed by hand by soldier-servants. It
was this requirement of his Worcestershire servant which had started the rumour.
Hovell was removed from his command in March 1915. Seeking to retrieve
his reputation and demonstrating his old courage, at the age of 52 he enlisted
secretly under an assumed name as a private soldier in his old (2nd) battalion and
served on the Western Front for five months until his health broke down. He died
of bronco-pneumonia in 1923, having brought a libel action against Holland in
1920 and lost.
A burden of training fell on these retired officers, as, whilst some regulars were
retained to train K1 units, their numbers were inadequate. Captain Basil Williams,
the contemporary historian of the new armies, described the training of the later-
raised new armies suffering in particular, as it had to depend almost entirely
on the idiosyncracies of the commanding officers.21 C.E. Montague, 24th Royal
Fusiliers, was sarcastic about that offered by Colonel A. de B.V. Paget, a brevet
colonel retired in 1903 from the Durham Light Infantry, whom he described as the
old, cold colonel, upright, dutiful, drawn away by a genuine patriotism from his
roses and croquet, lecturing with Infantry Training 1914 in his hand, bringing his
laboured jets of darkness to show the way though sunlight, elucidating plainness
itself with the tangled clues of his own minds confusion.22 The problems facing
these COs were, of course, substantial. Lieutenant-Colonel C.S. Collison, the ex-
regular CO of the 11th Royal Warwickshire, wrote: that I had no alternative but
to start elementary instruction from the very beginning is an instance of the entire
want of method that obtained in the training of some units of the New Army.

18
Soldiers Shooting (London: Gale & Polden, 1888).
19
Soldiers Training and Other Notes (London: Gale & Polden, 1900).
20
The Times (6 May 1920), 4.
21
Basil Williams, Raising and Training the New Armies (London: Constable, 1918),
74.
22
Charles E. Montague, Disenchantment (London: Chatto & Windus, 1924), 22.
36 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

His problem was that officers without the faintest idea of how to train men, and
often as ignorant of their work as the people they were supposed to teach, were
occasionally put in command of these battalions and the results were deplorable.23
Lieutenant-Colonel W.D. Villiers-Stuart presented an entirely different picture
as CO of the 9th Rifle Brigade (K1). Being particularly interested in the use of
machine guns, with Vickers guns being unavailable: I wrote to Erith and asked
them [Maxims people] if they could let me have one for instructional purposes
and they sent me one at once. I started classes on it for the young officers.24
Similarly, after problems with bayonet training: I started classes in the evenings
for the officers and in a short time bayonet fighting was done well. He continued:
I made sure that the battalion learned how to dig properly and how to ring and
revet trenches.25 Training his men hard to give them the best possible chances,
Villiers-Stuart wrote ominously before going on active service: I knew what was
going to happen to all these boys who were so close to my heart.26
As 1915 progressed, the personal burden on the CO of providing training
altered. Major A.G. Wauchope of the Black Watch, wounded and utilised in the
UK as a bombing trainer, noted:

A syllabus of work was brought out by the War Office for a course of twelve
weeks training, and for the average recruit to this was found sufficient. Specialist
officers paid periodical visits of inspection, each specialist being convinced that
his speciality only could win the war, be it bombing, bayonet fighting, musketry
or physical drill.

The commanding officers role was now to satisfy each and every specialist
officer, to preserve his temper and maintain a well-balanced system of training.27
Lampooning aside, it is clear that both officers and other ranks recognised
and appreciated organisational ability in these early COs where it existed.
Second-Lieutenant F. Buckley, 3/7th Northumberland Fusiliers, wrote of his CO,
Lieutenant-Colonel J.J. Gillespie, an amateur territorial major, that he was a
man of great personality a great organiser and a hard worker who did much
to make the drafts efficient.28 Private O. Burgess, 14th York and Lancaster, wrote
of Lieutenant-Colonel W.B. Hulke, a 43-year-old captain who had retired from
the Lincolnshire Regiment in 1911: He was a regular army man and he knew his

23
112 Infantry Brigade, War Diary (TNA, WO 95/2536).
24
Maxwell, Villiers-Stuart, 20.
25
Ibid. 22.
26
Ibid. 39.
27
Andrew G. Wauchope, A History of the Black Watch, Royal Highlanders, in the
Great War 19141918, vol. 1 (London: Medici Society, 1926), 349.
28
Francis Buckley, Q.6.A. and Other Places (London: Spottiswoode Ballantyne,
1920), 13
Dug-Outs 37

job.29 Hulke took his battalion overseas and, after 651 days in command on active
service, knew his job to the extent that he was promoted brigadier-general with
115 Brigade in 1918. Lieutenant J.L. Middleton, 12th York and Lancaster, wrote
in his diary of Colonel C.V. Mainwaring, ex-Indian army, that he looks a terror
but the men worked harder than ever under Mainwarings leadership and that
they had the greatest respect for him.30 Captain I.H. Beith stated of Lieutenant-
Colonel A.F. Mackenzie how on the parade ground he liked a clean finish to any
piece of work, yet he was also capable of overlooking shortcomings that needed
no remark, concluding: He was a good Colonel.31
On what grounds would a dug-out prove adequate or inadequate as CO?
Firstly, an issue which applied to all officers, retired or otherwise, was the simple
matter of general attitude. Lieutenant-Colonel W.D. Villiers-Stuart described the
coup against his predecessor, the hard-of-hearing Colonel A. Grant (a man who,
if not actually a dug-out, was on the verge of retirement), whom he described as
a rotten soldier. He continued: I was ordered to report to the Brigadier. I saw at
once that Champain [a fellow officer] had been going behind the back of the CO
and making insinuations to the BM [brigade-major], whom he had known before.
Although this was absolutely contrary to the Kings Regulations, the Brigadier
told me that he had heard that Colonel Grants officers were all agreed that they
could not serve under him any longer. After all the officers were interviewed,
Grant went in. When he came out he told me that he had resigned his command
and that I was to act for him temporarily.32
Secondly, there was the issue of age and the linked matter of physical fitness
and stamina. It has been observed that the three pillars of generalship courage,
creative intelligence and physical fitness are the attributes of youth rather than
of middle age.33 If true of generals, then this is even more applicable to battalion
commanders. Colonel W.A.B. Dennys raised and commanded the 10th Loyal North
Lancashire (K3) on the Western Front until the end of December 1915. Later he
wrote: Our Army Corps Commander said that he didnt consider it was fair
on me that I, at the age of fifty-six, and with my experience, should have to serve
under Brigadiers, who were subalterns at the time I left India. Dennys was
asked if [he] would like to have the command of a Brigade at home, as [he] was
too old to have one in France. He was indignant as he had not once gone sick.34

29
John Cooksey, Pals: The 13th and 14th Battalions, York and Lancashire Regiment
(Leo Cooper: London, 1986), 88.
30
Ralph Gibson and Paul Oldfield, Sheffield City Battalion (Barnsley: Wharncliffe,
1988), 34.
31
Hay, First Hundred Thousand, 30.
32
Maxwell, Villiers-Stuart, 8, 16.
33
John F.C. Fuller, Generalship, Its Diseases and Their Cure: A Study of the Personal
Factor in Command (London: Faber & Faber, 1933), 32; quoting Baron Wilhelm Leopold
Colmar Freiherr von der Goltz (18431916), a Prussian field-marshal and military writer.
34
Dennys, Some Reminiscences of My Life, 39.
38 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

The Barnsley Chronicle recorded the cause of the removal of Lieutenant-


Colonel J. Hewitt (a 47-year-old solicitor who was a retired volunteer), the first CO
of the 13th York and Lancaster, in November 1915, as inability to physically stand
the strain of an overseas campaign. Hewitt had clearly been previously marked
for overseas service, having been sent on a commanding officers course in York in
March 1915 and on a CO training visit to France in July 1915. His son, however,
had been seriously wounded on the Western Front that month and there may have
been a psychological element to his decline.35 The health of the CO of the 14th York
and Lancaster, Lieutenant-Colonel W.E. Raley (a Barnsley solicitor and alderman
who had no previous military service) broke down at camp in June 1915, and he
was replaced. His son had been killed on the Western Front, and hence the reasons
for his breakdown in health may also have been partly psychological.36 Both of the
sons of Lieutenant-Colonel Luther Watts, who it was noted earlier was removed
from the command of the 2/9th Liverpool in October 1916, were killed on the
Western Front, the second weeks before his fathers removal. Again, it is possible
that Watts could not carry on with such a burden of grief.
Colonel C.V. Mainwaring, CO 12th York and Lancaster, a retired 52-year-old
Indian army colonel who had commanded the 89th Punjabis, departed without
warning from their training camp: He had been in poor health for some time due
to the lengthy spell he had spent in the Far East. He was not seen again by the
battalion during the war.37 His replacement, Lieutenant-Colonel J.A. Crosthwaite,
a regular who had already been on active service commanding the 2nd Durham
Light Infantry from January to June 1915, was also in poor health and never saw
active service with the battalion. Similarly, in the West Yorkshire Regiment in
camp at Ripon, there was muttering in the ranks when it was noticed that both of
the Pals Colonels had a tendency to stay in camp during bad weather when the
men were sent on route marches.38 The sedentary COs were Lieutenant-Colonel
Charles Wallace Warden, 16th Battalion, and Lieutenant-Colonel George Herbert
Muller, 18th Battalion. Warden was a 59-year-old veteran of the 1879 Zulu War who
had fought with the Imperial Yeomanry in South Africa. Muller was a 58-year-old
Yorkshire yarn agent for Cortaulds at the outbreak of the war, having retired as
CO of the 2nd Volunteer Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment in 1904. Older age did
not always sap energy and will, and, in contrast, Major F.P. Crozier, 9th Royal Irish
Rifles, described his CO, Lieutenant-Colonel G.S. Ormerod, who was 58 years old
in 1914, as a grand old chap. He has suffered agonies lest it should be said he
was too old for war, and once on French soil, was younger than ever.39

35
Cooksey, Pals, 99.
36
Ibid. 88.
37
Gibson and Oldfield, Sheffield City Battalion, 66.
38
David Raw, Bradford Pals: A Comprehensive History of the 16th and 18th (Service)
Battalions the Prince of Wales Own West Yorkshire Regiment (Barnsley: Pen & Sword,
2005), 96.
39
Frank P. Cozier, A Brass Hat in No Mans Land (London: Jonathan Cape, 1930), 58.
Dug-Outs 39

One aspect of physical fitness was weight, and some had carried embonpoint
to a fine art. 2nd Lieutenant B.H. Liddell Hart, 11th Kings Own Yorkshire Light
Infantry, described Lieutenant-Colonel J.W. Stead, a 55-year-old retired territorial
CO, as ludicrously fat.40 Lieutenant-Colonel E.E. Bullfrog Wilford, 13th York
and Lancaster, was reported by Private T. Oughton to be a big fellow. I dont
know how his horse carried him.41 Wilford was an active Indian army major,
indicating that not all professional officers were free from excess weight. Weight
was not, however, a prohibitive handicap, and Wilford served on the Western Front
until May 1917. Lieutenant-Colonel E.A. Wood, 6th Shropshire, was similarly a
man of ample proportions, who, in August 1917, at the Battle of Langemarck,
sunk so deep in mire that his release was greeted by loud applause. Despite
his girth, he commanded his battalion on active service for 705 days.42 Patrick
MacGill noted that embonpoint was not achieved on the same diet as the other
ranks, quoting the charming, if sarcastic, rhyme: Long may the colonel with us
bide, His shadow neer grow thinner (It would, though, if he ever tried some Army
stew for dinner).43
Thirdly, there was the issue of current military knowledge, which might be
thought to be closely related to date of retirement. Peter Simkins states that many
retired officers who were suddenly handed senior commands found that they could
not adapt to the changes wrought in drill, tactics and equipment in the decade
before the war, and particularly since the introduction of the new Field Service
Regulations in 1909.44 In this he followed Captain Basil Williams, who wrote:
Others were not up to date, and had not the capacity for making themselves so.45
Almost certainly it was the issue of capacity that was key.
The development of revised organisation and tactics in the British army during
and following the Second Boer War allow certain conclusions to be drawn about
officers possession of up-to-date knowledge. Every regular officer serving in South
Africa before 1902 would have been perfectly aware of tactical development. Any
regular commissioned after the war would have trained using Combined Training
1902, as would any regular without South African experience retiring after, say
1903, although they would have missed the introduction of the four-company
system. Any auxiliary officer serving in South Africa would also have been largely
up-to-date and, theoretically, so would any auxiliary officer retiring after 1910, by
which time such units were also using the Combined Training tactics. The French
General Langlois, observed a territorial battalion advancing against a regular

40
Basil H. Liddell Hart, The Memoirs of Captain Liddell Hart, vol. 1 (London:
Cassell, 1965), 12.
41
Cooksey, Pals, 99.
42
Geoffrey Dugdale, Langemarck and Cambrai (Uckfield, Suss.: Naval & Military
Press, 2005), 74.
43
Patrick MacGill, The Amateur Army (London: Herbert Jenkins, 1916), 21.
44
Simkins, Kitcheners Army, 217.
45
Williams, Raising and Training the New Armies, 60.
40 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

unit in manoeuvres in 1910 by rushes and methodically to the flank of the


defender.46 The auxiliaries had not, however, at the outbreak of the war, changed
to the four-company system, and it is the auxiliaries, who did not have experience
of South Africa and who were retired at the time of the organisational changes
of 1908, who would have been most out-of-date. The only other issue affecting
being up-to-date would have been whether all units across the army would have
practised the changes with the same vigour.
It might be thought that the CO who had been retired for a longer period would
be less likely to take his service battalion on active service. Indeed, of those who
took their units overseas, those retired for shorter periods did proceed on active
service in greater numbers. However, the same picture emerges for those who did
not take their units to war, with those more recently retired being more frequently
discounted, a picture which seems counter-intuitive. Indeed, 12 COs who took
their units abroad had retired before the Second Boer War. The longest retired of
these was Lieutenant-Colonel S. MacDougall, 10th Gordon Highlanders, who had
resigned as a major from the Gordon Highlanders in 1892. To add to the counter-
intuitive picture, those commanding officers who took their units on active service
and who were retired in August 1914 had been retired two years longer than the
first-appointed COs. The only conclusion is that date of retirement per se, with
associated possible knowledge problems, did not particularly affect a COs chance
of seeing active service. It was individual capacity to become up-to-date rather
than being out-of-date that mattered and there was patently an ongoing process
assessing this.
Brigade or division commanders were very active in ensuring poor COs were
replaced. Local judgement (as implied by the account of command in 38th Division
above) about individual ability, balanced by health and stamina, was the key to
proceeding to active service. Thus, Major-General I. Maxse, training 18th Division,
sought the removal of Lieutenant-Colonel C.J. Hawker, 10th Royal Fusiliers, an
unemployed lieutenant-colonel of the Coldstream Guards, on the grounds that he
would ruin a magnificent battalion.47 Maxses GSO1, Lieutenant-Colonel T.H.
Shoubridge, wrote to his wife from the Western Front in October 1915: I cant tell
you how much all the trouble the General took about getting good Brigadiers and
COs is repaying him now.48
A good summary of the reasons for a COs removal are set out in the case
of the territorial Lieutenant-Colonel Richard Arthur Augustus Bottomley, who
commanded the 2/5th West Yorkshire between October 1914 and May 1916. The

46
H. Langlois, The British Army in a European War (London: Hugh Rees, 1910), 25;
cited in Andrew J. Risio, Building the Old Contemptibles: British Military Transformation
and Tactical Development from the Boer War to the Great War 18991914, Master of
Military Art and Science thesis (Georgia Institute of Technology and Fort Leavenworth,
2005), 47.
47
John Baynes, Far from a Donkey (London: Brasseys, 1995), 124.
48
Ibid. 129.
Dug-Outs 41

43-year-old had retired as CO of 6th West Yorkshire in 1910 without any active
service and was described in the 1907 Annual Inspection report as able and
energetic.49 However, whether the ensuing nine years had taken their toll or whether
the experience of the Western Front had sharpened his new brigadiers thoughts
on suitability, Brigadier-General V.W. de Falbe, who took over 185 Brigade in
January 1916, replaced him five months later. De Falbe, who had commanded the
1st North Staffordshire on active service for 15 months, had reported on Bottomley
within weeks of his arrival, finding him fit, but now, with greater knowledge,
stated that the CO did not possess the qualities and experience necessary for the
successful training of a battalion for active service. He observed that he lacked
the power of organizing, was indecisive, left matters to his subordinates without
exercising the supervision necessary, thus showing want of initiative and power
of command. Bottomley never served again.50 Not only does this clarify what
was expected of COs, but also indicates the active role of brigade commanders in
sifting them.
How good were those who went on active service? Excluding the commanding
officers of pioneer battalions, who were not front-line infantry, the careers of 347
COs who first took service battalions overseas can be followed. These men spent
on average exactly eight months in command on active service (ranging from
six days to three years and eight months). In an attempt to review their viability
as commanding officers, a cut-off of six months will be again be taken as likely
to reveal the effects of age, health, and ability. Firstly, we need to remove from
consideration those whose careers were terminated by death, which cut a heavy
swathe through these men, 56 (16 per cent higher than the 11 per cent average
for commanding officers during the war) of whom were killed in action or died
of wounds. Lieutenant-Colonel Edward Henry Chapman, 6th Yorkshire, the depot
major of the Yorkshire Regiment, had the unhappy honour to be the first CO to die
in the first offensive action of a new army battalion on 7 August 1915 at Gallipoli.
The high death rate reflects both the lack of sophistication of the fighting of 1915
and the high casualty bill of the Somme. Thus, in 1915, 13 were killed at Gallipoli
and 12 at Loos, the 58-year-old Lieutenant-Colonel Murray Venables Hilton, 7th
East Lancashire, having the ill-luck to be killed at Loos (20 October 1915) on the
day he was appointed brigadier-general. Twenty one were killed on the Somme,
nine on the first day. A further nine were simple, if tragic, trench wastage in
France and Flanders, typical of these deaths being that of Lieutenant-Colonel F.H.
Gaskell, 16th Welsh, a 36-year-old Special Reserve captain in August 1914, who
had already been wounded in November 1914 serving with the 2nd Welsh and who
was shot by a sniper on the night of 17 May 1916.

49
Fraser Skirrow, Massacre on the Marne: The Life and Death of the 2/5th Battalion
West Yorkshire Regiment in the Great War (Barnsley: Pen & Sword, 2007), 48.
50
Richard Arthur Augustus Bottomley, Personal Service Record (TNA, WO
374/7817).
42 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

If the 12 whose careers were cut short by serious wounds are also removed,
there remains a group of 277 men whose progress can be followed. Eleven
were invalided and 57 replaced, not known to have been wounded or invalided.
Seventy five per cent achieved over six months active service or were promoted
and, hence, were viable commanders, a level bearing good comparison with the
endurance and promotability rate of 64 per cent of the regular COs of August
1914. In terms of advancement, 48 were promoted brigadier-general, all but
two having a professional background. Twenty nine were active professionals
in August 1914, the remainder being retired at the outbreak of the war, notable
amongst these being Lieutenant-Colonel James Dayrolles Crosbie, 11th
Lancashire Fusiliers. He had retired from the Royal Welsh Fusiliers in 1893 and,
hence, proved the rule that ability to be up-to-date could trump actual date of
retirement. He was promoted to brigadier-general commanding 12 Brigade in
June 1916, serving until January 1917.
Despite the very clear preference for promotion of the professional soldier,
the two retired officers from the Special Reserve who were elevated to brigade
command from the new army COs had no previous professional service, indicating
the generally high quality of this group of men. Lieutenant-Colonel Noble Fleming
Jenkins, 7th East Yorkshire, had retired from the reserve of the Border Regiment in
August 1910 and was promoted brigadier-general of 75 Brigade in February 1916,
serving until removed in July 1916 to become deputy commandant of the Machine
Gun Corps Training Centre. A measure of the man, aged 67 and deputy secretary
of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, Jenkins died in 1927 clad in full
tweeds attempting to rescue a young girl in difficulties in the Channel. The other,
Lieutenant-Colonel John Henry Lloyd, 15th Lancashire Fusiliers, had retired from
the militia of the Royal Lancaster Regiment in 1907 and was promoted brigadier-
general of 90 Brigade, serving from October 1916 to November 1917.
Did the group who were appointed to command the new territorial battalions
prove to be of the same quality? Following the careers of the 97 COs who first
took second-line territorial units overseas, we find that these men also spent on
average nearly exactly eight months in command on active service (ranging from
six days to one year and nine months). Only 5 per cent were killed in action, a
much reduced figure in comparison with their new army counterparts, probably
because they were seeing service later in the war when there was more concern
not to lose COs in action. Removing the 5 whose careers were cut short by death,
and the 2 who suffered serious wounds, there remains a group of 90 men whose
careers can be followed. Ten were invalided, and 29 replaced. Fifty seven per
cent had over six-months active service or were promoted and, hence, were viable
commanders, notably less than the 75 per cent viability rate of the service battalion
COs, reflecting the quality of the pool from which they were obtained. Only two
of this group were promoted brigadier-general, namely Lieutenant-Colonel Henry
Edward Palmer Nash, 2/4th Duke of Wellingtons (a regular major of the Royal
Scots in August 1914), who commanded the new army 49 Brigade from May
1918 until the armistice, and Lieutenant-Colonel Wilfred James Woodcock, 2/7th
Dug-Outs 43

Manchester (a Special Reserve major of the Lancashire Fusiliers in August 1914,


but an ex-regular), who commanded the new army 101 Brigade from April 1918
to the armistice. Neither, noticeably, had a territorial background.
The examples of three officers convey the rich experience possessed by some
of those who took their service battalions on active service. Lieutenant-Colonel
Thomas Byrne Sellar, 8th Kings Own Scottish Borderers, had retired as a regular
major from that regiment in May 1913. He had no staff experience but had been
with the Chitral Relief Force (1895), and had served in the Pathan revolt on the
North-West Frontier (189798), against the Afridi revolt in Tirah (189798), and
as a captain in South Africa (18991900). He had been with his battalion in the
UK following the introduction of Combined Training and, with the exception of
absence of experience of the four-company system, was almost completely up-to-
date. He served from the battalions formation to his wounding in October 1916
and returned to command the merged 7/8th battalion in January 1917 until his
wounds got the better of him and he was invalided three months later.
Lieutenant-Colonel Dighton Hay Abercromby Dick, 14th Highland Light
Infantry, who was a major in the 3rd Royal Scots Fusiliers, had served as adjutant
before retiring as a regular major in July 1910. He had campaigned on the North-
West Frontier (189798) with the Tochi Field Force against the Waziri revolt in
Tirah (189798), and in South Africa (18991900) as a captain, including at the
Battle of Colenso and the relief of Ladysmith, where he was severely wounded.
Like Sellar, with the caveat of lack of experience of the four-company system, he
was thus almost completely up-to-date. The battalions second CO, having already
commanded the 1st Royal Scots Fusiliers for two extended periods in 191415, he
served from November 1915 to May 1917. Dick went to live in France after the war
and finally succumbed to his old enemy, dying in a German prison camp in 1941.
Lieutenant-Colonel FitzRoy Edmund Penn Curzon, 6th Royal Irish Regiment,
the son of a colonel, had retired from battalion command in that regiment in 1907.
He had served two spells as an adjutant with the Scottish Rifles and Royal Irish
Rifles and had served twice as an aide-de-camp. He had been both a special service
officer with the Rhodesian Field Force and a deputy assistant adjutant general
during the Second Boer War and had seen service on the Nile (1898, Battle of
Khartoum), in the Hut Tax War in Sierra Leone (189899), and finally in South
Africa (18991902). The battalions first CO, this talented officer served until
killed in action on 9 September 1916, aged 57, at Ginchy.
There were therefore clearly many richly experienced and competent COs
amongst the dug-outs and others who were the first to take the service and second-
line TF battalions to war. Lieutenant-Colonel Percy Wilfrid Machell, 11th Border,
became his battalions factotum in the early days and demonstrated the required
power of organisation and initiative:

Every detail had to be taught by him, for the officers, with very few exceptions,
knew no more than the men, and had to be taught themselves before they could
teach. The simplest orderly room work, such as making out crimes, guard
44 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

reports, and details etc. were done by him. All attestations were made out,
and recruits personally approved by him. He organised the feeding of the
men. He arranged for the hutting, the clothing, the water supply, the lighting
and conservancy of the camp. These things alone would have occupied the
activities of six ordinary men, but in addition to all this the CO was constantly
on parade, training and smartening up both officers and men, drawing up the
programmes of work and seeing that they were carried out.51

Machell had retired as a regular captain from the Essex Regiment in 1896, when
he was 34. He had served in four campaigns in the Sudan and had been attached
to the Egyptian Army. Following his retirement he served both as inspector
general of the Egyptian coastguard and as advisor to the Egyptian Ministry of the
Interior until 1908, when he took up a post with the London County Council. It is
therefore not surprising that his organisational capabilities proved high. Machell
had corresponding high expectations of others, a non-commissioned officer
writing after his death: To some of the men he may have appeared in the light of
a martinet, as at time he was most severe in irony when dealing with defaulters.52
Machell was killed on 1 July 1916 with 10 of his officers and 100 other ranks
(390 being wounded), attempting to reach the Leipzig Salient, debouching from
Authuille Wood. He had written in his final instructions to his officers: If it goes
badly, I shall come up and see it through, and he died just as he had promised,
climbing onto the parapet to encourage the remnants of his battalion on.
Inevitably, empire characters are represented in this group, men who were
successful commanders under certain conditions. One such colourful individual
was Lieutenant-Colonel Daniel Patrick Driscoll, of the (somewhat atypical) 25th
Royal Fusiliers, who commanded his battalion throughout its career. Driscoll
was probably born in Burma and was 53 in August 1914. He had served in the
Indian merchant navy and was involved in the Third Anglo-Burmese War of 1886,
where he is thought to have served in the Upper Burma Rifles, becoming a crack
shot. On the outbreak of the Boer War he travelled to South Africa and joined
the Border Mounted Rifles, being asked in 1900 to form Driscolls Scouts. In
1907, he joined the Legion of Frontiersmen, a group of adventurers comprising a
patriotic paramilitary group, rising by 1914 to be its head. At the outbreak of the
war he offered the services of 100 of his Frontiersmen as commandos in France.
This was rejected, but his offer to form a unit to fight in East Africa was eventually
accepted, and, commanding a unit which included several ex-French Foreign
Legion members, Texan cowboys, a Palace footman, a lighthouse keeper, seal
poachers from the Arctic Circle, American soldiers, circus acrobats and clowns

51
P.G.W. Diggle, in V.M. (ed.) Record of the XIth (Service) Battalion Border Regiment
(Lonsdale) from September 1914 to July 1st 1916 (Whitehead: Appleby, n.d.), 78.
52
Letter to The Westmorland Gazette, cited in Peter Simkins, Kitcheners Army: The
Raising of the New Armies 19141916 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1988),
220.
Dug-Outs 45

who became known as the Boozaliers, he found no work too arduous and no
climate too unhealthy for his brave spirit during the colourful campaign. That
Driscoll would not have survived in the traditional military atmosphere of the
Western Front is indicated by his unusual request to be given permission to loot
the German naval station at Bukoba in June 1915, permission which was equally
unusually granted by Brigadier-General J.M. Stewart. Driscoll naturally could
not control subsequent events and order had to be restored by the Loyal North
Lancashire Regiment.53
Perhaps the most extraordinary career, of which the First World War was only
one fragment, was that of Lieutenant-Colonel Ivor Thord-Gray, who assumed
command of the 11th Northumberland Fusiliers in June 1915 and took them on
active service. Thord-Gray would have had an understanding of Driscolls military
development. A Swede, born Ivar Thord Hallstrm, he had joined the Cape
Mounted Rifles as a private in 1897, fighting in Bechuanaland and Pondoland
(1897) and the Second Boer War, following which he joined the South African
Constabulary in 1902. Here, his experiences, related years later, gave birth to the
Tarzan legend. Between 1903 and 1906 he served in various units including the
Lydenburg Militia, Roystons Horse, and the Nairobi Mounted Police and also
with German forces in south-west Africa, before serving with the Americans in the
Philippine Constabulary in 1906. He spent some time as a planter in Malaya and
served with the French Foreign Legion in Tonkin in 1909, with the Italians in the
ItalianTurkish war of 1911 in modern-day Libya, and with Sun Yat Sen in China
in 1912. In 191314, he fought in the Mexican Revolution with Pancho Villa as
commander of artillery and later served as chief of staff of the First Mexican Army
as a colonel.
Predictably, he joined the British army and was commissioned major in
October 1914. After a period as CO of the 11th Northumberland Fusiliers, allegedly
resigning after a row with his brigadier, he was appointed CO of the 25th London
Regiment, although the battalion was disbanded, after which he was suspected
of being a German agent, a case of mistaken identity. Resigning from the British
army, he joined the American army in 1917, being appointed brigade commander
in the aborted Theodore Roosevelt Division. He served as a lieutenant-colonel in
the Canadian Expeditionary Force to Russia, then as commander of the 1st Siberian
Assault Division, before being wounded and becoming a major-general and
representative of the provisional Siberian government. After a career in banking
in America based on stolen Russian gold, his last foreign military venture was as
lieutenant-general in the revolutionary army of Venezuela in 1928.54
***
As it faced the challenge of rapid expansion, the British army, needing to provide
battalion commanders, relied on a business-as-usual approach. It turned first

53
<www.nigeldriscoll.au>.
54
Stellan Bojerud, Ivor Thord-Gray: Soldat under 13 Fanor (Stockholm: Sivart
Frlag AB, 2008).
46 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

to the handful of remaining active regulars and professional soldiers but called
increasingly upon their retired counterparts, looking to the most senior officers
available, seeing experience in years. This was both undoubtedly logical,
considering the all-round skills of the professional, but also unavoidable: the crisis
of officership in France born of the attrition of 1914 meant that only the retired
were available.
Alan Rickman, a retired regular officer who was reasonably up-to-date and
able to develop a facility for senior command, probably beyond battalion level,
may not have exactly been the rule, but he was clearly not the exception. Whilst
about half of the first-appointed COs of the new armies and a larger proportion of
the new territorial battalion COs proved inadequate and were replaced, many of the
retired, like Rickman, proved more than adequate to the task. The stereotype of the
dug-out CO, at least on the battlefield, as inevitably old and out-of-touch, is clearly
unsound. Once the army had passed the initial need to have a full house of infantry
COs, an active process ensured that as far as possible, in terms of progression to
command abroad, ability was the key, those without fitness, stamina, or capacity
being identified and excluded in spite of seniority.
Chapter 3
Attrition and Change in Command

John Lucy, a non-commissioned officer of the 2nd Royal Irish Rifles, wrote after his
units fighting at Neuve Chapelle in October 1914: The roll of the battalion was
called over, and we found that only forty-six of us survived to answer our names. We
still had two officers [but] the battalion was wiped out as far as the authorities were
concerned.1 The units first commanding officer had already departed: Lieutenant-
Colonel W.D. Bird had been wounded by a shell on 19 September on the Aisne. The
second CO, Major R.A.C. Daunt was concussed during the Neuve Chapelle action,
and, on 26 October, one of the two officers remaining upright, Captain C.S. Dixon,
was left in command. Attrition in all its different forms would force many changes
in the command of the BEFs infantry battalions.

Attrition of Command in 1914

By the end of 1914, at which point there were 123 regular and 23 territorial
battalions on the Western Front, the BEF had passed through the battles of Mons,
Le Cateau, the Marne, and the Aisne and had faced its place of sacrifice at the
First Battle of Ypres. By the end of the latter battle, echoing Lucys experience,
it has been claimed that in most cases, there were barely one officer and 30 men
left from the battalions who had arrived in France in 1914.2 By the end of the
year, 4,041, or very nearly a third of all the regular officers of August 1914, were
casualties.3 The impact on individual units was shocking. In addition to the toll on
the 2nd Royal Irish Rifles, for instance, from the 1st Queens, 24 of 26 officers were
casualties, from the 1st Norfolk, 15 of 26, from the 3rd Worcestershire, 15 of 28, and
from the 1st Northamptonshire, 26 of 26.4
The toll on commanding officers was marked, too. By the end of 1914, 18 of
the regular COs of August 1914 were dead, 24 had been wounded, and 10 had

1
John F. Lucy, Theres a Devil in the Drum (Uckfield, Suss.: Naval and Military
Press, 1992 [1938]), 2545.
2
Ian F.W. Beckett, Ypres: The First Battle 1914 (Harlow: Pearson, 2004), 177.
3
Statistics of the Military Effort of the British Empire During the Great War 1914
1920 (London: HMSO, 1922), 353, 234.
4
James E. Edmonds, Military Operations France and Belgium 1914, vol. 2 (London:
Imperial War Museum, 1925), 467; Keith Simpson, The Officers, in Ian F.W. Beckett
and Keith Simpson (eds), A Nation in Arms: A Social Study of the British Army in the First
World War (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1986), 69.
48 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

been invalided. In addition, five were prisoners of war, two had been lost through
court martial, and six others replaced. In a different form of attrition, six had been
promoted to brigade command. On New Years Eve 1914, only 42 per cent of
the original regular lieutenant-colonels were still in command of their battalions.
Forty four per cent of units were commanded by men who were majors at the
outbreak of the war, 13 per cent by men who had been captains, and one by a 2nd
lieutenant (who was now a major). The high levels of dead and wounded amongst
commanding officers are a reflection of the ferocity of the fighting and a testimony
to the courage of men who led from the front. This snapshot, however, suggests that
notwithstanding the attrition of the original COs, the state of battalion command
in the BEF would not appear at first glance to have been fatally depleted given
the proportion of lieutenant-colonels and pre-war majors at the helm. At times,
however, the situation in terms of command had been desperate.
The 1st Coldstream Guards had landed in France on 13 August 1914 under
Lieutenant-Colonel J. Ponsonby. When he was wounded on 15 September 1914,
the second-in-command, Major the Honourable L.dH. Hamilton took over only to
be killed on 29 October 1914. The depletion of officers was such that Lieutenant
J. Boyd took over for two days, being replaced on 1 November by Captain E.G.
Christie-Miller, who had the misfortune to be taken prisoner the following day.
Command devolved on Lieutenant Boyd again for another two days before he
was replaced by Captain G.J. Edwards, who was superseded by the return of
Lieutenant-Colonel Ponsonby on 21 November.
The 1st Cheshire found themselves in similar straits. After Lieutenant-Colonel
D.C. Boger was taken prisoner on 24 August 1914 at Audregnies during the closing
stages of the Battle of Mons, there were no majors present to assume command of
the shattered battalion, which had sustained 770 casualties, and Captain J.L. Shore
became CO until 16 September. His replacement by Major F.B. Young, a retired
major, was part of a succession of seven COs during the month of October. Young
was replaced by Major C.B. Vandeleur, 1st Scottish Rifles, who was succeeded by
three captains of the 1st Cheshire and one of the 2nd Munster Fusiliers. Lieutenant
T.L. Frost of the 1st Cheshire was in command as October came to a close. He was
replaced after five days by another retired major, J.A. Busfeild, who gave way to
Major H.S. Hodgkin, a regular captain in August 1914, who was in command at the
years end.
The flavour of being in temporary command during this period is given by
Captain Hubert Conway Rees, 2nd Welsh. On 31 October 1914 at Gheluvelt, his CO
Lieutenant-Colonel C.B. Morland was killed: A shell burst in front mortally
wounding Colonel Morland on my right. It was a final blow. Colonel Morland was
a terrible loss. I never saw him the slightest degree upset by anything that happened.
He remained to the very end as cool and collected as if he was on parade at home.5
Rees was left in command with one other officer and 25 men. On 19 January

5
Brigadier-General H. C. Rees CMG DSO, private papers, 68 (IWM, Documents
7166).
Attrition and Change in Command 49

1915, he gave way to Captain W.M. Hore. Rees had been the sixth, and second-
most-junior, captain in the 2nd Battalion; Hore, who had been serving with the 3rd
Battalion on the outbreak of the war, was one notch above him as the third-most-
junior. Rees noted: Captain Hore arrived from England and being just senior to me,
I had to relinquish command of the battalion. I remained as second-in-command and
discussed on most questions connected with the battalion as it was very difficult for
him just out from home to at once grasp the tactics of the war. Rees was not a happy
man. In an encounter with Brigadier-General J. Gough, Sir Douglas Haigs Chief of
Staff, he asked him: Let me go home to England for a job, pointing out that [he]
had commanded the battalion through three strenuous months, and that having built
them up from the remnants remaining after the First Battle of Ypres, [he] found my
position somewhat difficult. Whilst these comments describe natural ambition, they
inform us firstly about the bond a commanding officer could develop with a battalion
he was rebuilding and, secondly, how the traditional principle of seniority, at least
at this stage in the war, could override hard-won experience and demotivate a keen
and able officer. Thirdly, and positively, it suggests that junior officers were quickly
learning new tactics and the skills of command.
Balancing the picture of those in command on New Years Eve 1914 against
the accounts of the decimated battalions, the most alarming reality for the BEF
was that attrition was taking place not just at senior level but also extensively at
the level of middle-ranking officers. With such a small officer corps, coping with
losses at the same time as the expansion of the army, a significant challenge in
terms of providing command had to be met.

Battalion Command in the Evolving Army

In order to grasp the way infantry battalion command changed we need to consider
what the patterns of turnover tell us about the demands placed on the army; how
the backbone of the infantry, the regimental system, was forced to bend to the
demands of expansion; and to what extent the infantrys fellows, the cavalry,
artillery, engineers, and so on were required to step in to assist.

Turnover

In peacetime, a regular battalion enjoyed stability of command for four years;


war would be a different matter. Lieutenant-Colonel G.S. Hutchison described
that peculiar disadvantage, sustained by most regular battalions, namely constant
change in its command and leadership. Overestimating the rate of turnover into
staff/brigade posts, he suggested that many of them cared little for the battalions
which they were privileged to lead, and expended themselves to the utmost in
wangling jobs away from the line.6 True perhaps for a minority, this was an overly

6
Graham Seton, Footslogger (London: Hutchinson, 1933), 1778.
50 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

harsh view. Hutchison, a dynamic Machine Gun Corps CO, was judging against
his own seemingly inexhaustible energy, and stability was a virtue only under
a competent CO. He singled out the 1st Scottish Rifles, describing only brief
periods when they were well led. This unit had ten COs, of whom three were
promoted to brigadier-general: Lieutenant-Colonels P.R. Robertson, J.G. Chaplin
(under whom, in fact there was stability for 30 months from May 1915), and J.L.
Jack (only 40 days in command). All were competent officers, and none could be
accused of wangling their way to safety. Of the rest, two were wounded and one
taken prisoner of war, neither being safe billets, but there were three replacements.
It was only really in the period from November 1917 after the long-serving Chaplin
was promoted that the battalion suffered instability. What, therefore, is the truth
about turnover in battalion command?
Looking at the picture for the war as a whole, there were three peaks in the
monthly number of appointments of commanding officers. The first, and naturally
most pronounced peak, was September to November 1914, marking the creation
of the new armies. The second peak was July to October 1916, corresponding
with the Battle of the Somme and the third was March to May 1918, marking
the German offensives. July 1916 and April 1918 saw the most rapid turnover of
active COs of the war, indicating that it was attrition through battle that caused
these peaks.
The number of monthly CO appointments provides other insights. Firstly,
although the average monthly total of 81 for 1917 is nearly identical to the 83
of 1916, what is remarkable is that the BEF on the Western Front was fighting
virtually continuously for 10 months during 1917, a period which included the
German retirement to the Hindenburg Line and the battles of Arras, Messines,
Third Ypres, and Cambrai. Compared with the five months fighting in 1916 on
the Somme, it might have been predicted that higher monthly turnover totals for
1917 might have been manifest. The conclusion can be drawn that in terms of
infantry battalion command, the BEF had its most settled year in 1917 despite
its overall activity, implying that by this time it had a group of quite competent
and experienced men, younger and more resistant to exhaustion. Further, in
comparison with the attrition of 191415, it was husbanding its resources more
effectively by alternating commanding officer and second-in-command on days
of offensive action, keeping one safe in the event of disaster. Secondly, it is also
notable that the turnover for the first half of 1916, when no major campaigns were
in progress, is much the same as 1917, indicating considerable honing of battalion
command in preparation for the Somme.
Was the 1st Scottish Rifles, as Hutchinson suggested, a particular victim of
repeated change with its ten commanding officers? Between August 1914 and
the armistice, regular units in fact had an average of seven COs at the rank of
lieutenant-colonel, with a range of two to fourteen, whilst the first-line territorial
units had an average of six (range two to twelve). Of the battalions which came
into existence during the war, service battalions had an average five COs, ranging
between two and twelve, and the second- and third-line active TF battalions had
Attrition and Change in Command 51

an average of four (range two to eight). It is of course not surprising that regular
battalions had the highest turnover. Firstly, they bore the brunt of the 1914 fighting,
secondly, they provided commanding officers for non-regular units, and, lastly,
they were more subject to loss of commanders through promotion.
If Hutchinson thought the 1st Scottish Rifles unfortunate, the 2nd Royal
Munster Fusiliers were more so, being one of two battalions having the highest
turnover of fourteen commanding officers, ten other officers standing in without
the rank of lieutenant-colonel. There was a high replacement rate with no loss
through promotion: six COs were replaced or transferred, one wounded, one
invalided, four killed, and one cashiered. The other unit, the 1st Dorsetshire, lost
one CO to promotion, one to death in action, three to wounding, and eight to
replacement or transfer, with seven other officers standing in without the rank
of lieutenant-colonel.

Erosion of Regimental Particularism

The regimental system has been described as exercising a stranglehold over


promotion,7 and the war changed this to a certain extent. David French notes that
regiments were culturally defined organizations that were bound together by
shared historical memories, customs and a myth of descent,8 and Paddy Griffith
claims that the cap-badge continued to exercise a powerful magnetism and
tribalism throughout the war, especially for officers in the tightly knit social
club that was their battalion headquarters mess.9 Whether this was true beyond
regular units, especially as the war progressed, is a different matter, and French
warns that it is too easy to exaggerate the extent to which regimental particularism
stood in the way of modernity.10 That we should temper our view of this was
confirmed in Chapter 1, where it was noted that 16 per cent of the regular COs
of August 1914 achieved their lieutenant-colonelcy in a different regiment from
that in which they became a major. The exigencies of war were only likely to
accelerate this cross-pollination.
The position at the time of the Battle of Loos in September 1915, just under
a year after the terrible attrition imposed on the army at Ypres in 1914, was not
radically different from that of the pre-war regulars, 22 per cent of COs being
external to the regiment in comparison with 16 per cent. From this point onwards,
however, there was an accelerating trend for COs on active service to be external
appointees. Nine months later, on the opening day of the Somme campaign in July
1916, the number of external appointees had doubled to 46 per cent. Although

7
David French, Military Identities: The Regimental System, the British Army, and the
British People, c.18702000 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 151.
8
Ibid. 98.
9
Paddy Griffith, The Extent of Tactical Reform in the British Army, in Paddy
Griffith (ed.), British Fighting Methods in the Great War (Abingdon: Frank Cass, 1998), 6.
10
French, Military Identities, 25960.
52 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

the figure dropped slightly at the opening of the Battle of Arras in April 1917,
from mid-1917 the split between internal and external hovered roughly around
50:50, giving the impression that, beginning in early 1916, appointment to
command based on perceived suitability partially trumped traditional regimental
particularism, just as increasingly random allocation of reinforcements of other
ranks eroded it at a lower level.
This is not the full story, however, as within these figures lie indications
that the erosion was very uneven. On 29 September 1918, in the evolved army,
the regular battalions maintained a high proportion of internal appointments
at 73 per cent. Of the other types of units, only half of the COs of the first-
line territorial battalions were internal appointments (in contrast with a pre-
war rate of 95 per cent), with appointments to service battalions being even
lower at 39 per cent internal. Lastly, there appears to have been no regimental
rush to own command in the second-line territorial units which had the lowest
internal appointment rate of 10 per cent. Thus, battalions with a pre-war identity
maintained a stronger regimental particularism, with the regulars perpetuating
the highest level of exclusivity.
An amusing note on the matter of external appointment can be found in the
war diary of the 1/7th Warwickshire for 22 May 1915.11 The adjutant, Captain
Bede Johnstone, wrote: Col. L. Hanbury joined for duty. There are several
Lt-Cols of 7 Warwicks yet a stranger has been appointed. Johnstone, perhaps
lucky that the COs of his unit were not in the habit of signing off the diary
at the end of the month, missed the irony of the fact that he was himself a
stranger from the West Kent Regiment (although he had served as adjutant since
26 March 1913), his own case indicating that a sense of belonging could develop
swiftly.

Sourcing Commanding Officers

Given the diminutive size of the regular officer corps of August 1914, which
numbered only 12,738, it is a striking fact that it provided 45 per cent of all
active infantry COs during the war. Given that only 18 per cent of infantry units
were regular, their disproportionate contribution is evident. In fact, if retired
regulars and active/retired Indian army officers are included, professional
soldiers provided 60 per cent of active battalion commands. Conversely, serving
territorials of 1914 provided only 18 per cent of active COs (rising to 24 per
cent when retired TF officers are taken into account), yet territorial battalions
comprised 35 per cent of active infantry battalions. Territorial officers were
therefore under-represented, and discrimination was the likely cause. Whilst the
Special Reserve provided 6 per cent and empire regiments 2 per cent of COs, it
was men who were citizens in 1914 with no previous military experience who
provided the next biggest contribution at 8 per cent.

11
1/7th Royal Warwickshire Regiment, War Diary (TNA, WO/95/2756).
Attrition and Change in Command 53

Table 3.1 Relative contribution of various bodies of the infantry to active


battalion command on 29 September 1918

Regular Indian Territorial Special Empire Citizens Totals


Army Army Force Reserve
Active 32% 0% 25% 2% 1% 22% 82%
Retired 8% >1% 6% 2% 2% n/a 18%
Totals 40% >1% 31% 4% 3% 22% 100%

The position on 29 September 1918 was somewhat different, as Table 3.1 shows.
Unsurprisingly, there were fewer retired officers fighting on this day when all five
armies of the BEF were in action together for the first time, yet the contribution
of the dug-outs at nearly a fifth of commands was still significant. Similarly, there
were less active regular officers of 1914 in action, a third of the total as against 45
per cent overall, reflecting both their attrition and the recognition of the skills of
officers from a different background. The contribution of the territorial officer of
August 1914 rose a little from 24 per cent overall to 31 per cent. The significant
change lies in the increasing number of citizen COs: 22 per cent commanding
battalions at this point in the Hundred Days campaign compared with 8 per cent
overall. 1918 was therefore a year of important change in the command of the
armys infantry battalions, with non-professionals nurtured on a diet of the new
warfare stepping up to the mark.
During the war the infantry provided 93 per cent of its own commanding
officers. But with the attrition of the first 12 months of the war, as Colonel W.N.
Nicholson noted, in 1915 our best reserve for commanding officers was in the
cavalry resting behind the lines.12 Horsemen became the only other significant
contributors to battalion command, providing 6 per cent of COs. Two hundred
and thirty nine cavalrymen commanded infantry units on active service, and in
this area the Territorial Force in the form of the yeomanry was well represented,
contributing nearly half of the COs. An example of a cavalryman turned infantry
CO was the Indian army officer Arthur Mordaunt Mills, a captain in the 18th King
Georges Own Lancers in August 1914 serving as adjutant and quartermaster at
the Quetta Staff College. His regiment joined the Indian Cavalry Corps in France
in late 1914, and, after serving as a staff captain with the Ambala Brigade from
June to November 1915, he was sent as major, second-in-command, to the 14th
Gloucestershire. He echoed Nicholson: The New Army battalions needed
senior officers. The British infantry of the line had been milked dry of officers, but
in the cavalry, and more especially the Indian cavalry, which had not so far been
seriously engaged, there was a suitable source of supply.13 He went on to serve
as CO of the 17th Lancashire Fusiliers from April 1916 to July 1917, at which

12
W.N. Nicholson, Behind the Lines (Stevenage: Tom Donovan, 1939), 149.
13
Major-General Sir Arthur Mordaunt Mills, papers (NAM, 1965-06-17).
54 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

point Indian officers were removed wholesale from the Western Front. In contrast,
D.W.C. Davies-Evans was a major in the Pembroke Yeomanry in August 1914,
the unit being dismounted and sent to Egypt in March 1916. Davies-Evans was
transferred to the Western Front, and after briefly commanding the 8th Lincolnshire
in early 1917, he commanded the 11th Rifle Brigade from April to May 1918;
the 2/5th Lincolnshire from May to August 1918; and the 2/8th Worcestershire
from August until the armistice, his lengthening commands demonstrating the
confidence developing in his abilities. On 29 September 1918, there were 37
cavalry officers commanding infantry battalions on the Western Front, making up
7 per cent of COs in post on that date: the contribution of the cavalry, although
small, remained constant.
Making a contribution only a third that of the cavalry, on 29 September 1918,
13 COs originated from the artillery. All were retired, apart from Thomas Astley
Cubitt psc, a regular major of the Royal Artillery. Aged 43 in 1914, he had served
as a brigade-major prior to the First World War and had seen active service in
five campaigns in West Africa between 1898 and 1903. He commanded the 8th
Lincolnshire from February to April 1917 before being promoted to command 57
Brigade. Twenty COs were from the Royal Engineers. One engineer of interest
was George Paton Pollitt, aged 36, a chemical engineer who enlisted as a despatch
rider in August 1914 and was commissioned 2nd lieutenant in October that year,
first in the Intelligence Corps and then the Royal Engineers, rising to the rank of
major commanding a battalion of the Special Brigade (conducting gas operations)
in January 1916. His two infantry battalion commands were relatively short,
commanding the 1/6th Lancashire Fusiliers from April to mid-May 1918 and the
11th Battalion during the rest of May. He, however, won a second bar to his DSO
whilst commanding the 11th Lancashire Fusiliers in the German attack of 27 May
1918 on the Aisne. The citation reads: He led his battalion in local counter-attacks
against overwhelming odds, holding up the enemy and inflicting severe casualties.
Thanks to his example and leadership his battalion put up a splendid defence.14 A
man for whom leadership skills would extend into the post-war period, he became
director of Brunner, Mond & Co, which was absorbed into ICI in 1926.
Another notable engineer was Arthur Richard Careless Sanders. Born in 1877,
the son of an Indian army doctor and educated at Haileybury, he was a Staff
College graduate. With active service against the Afridis and Mohmand on the
North-West Frontier in 1908, he was a captain in 1914 and served in successive
staff posts as a GSO3, GSO2, and GSO1. He commanded the 1st Essex from April
to September 1918, a length of time which was clearly not a token appointment,
as he was promoted brigadier-general of 50 Brigade. He had been awarded a bar
to his DSO during his period as commanding officer, the citation giving some
indication of his qualities. During the Hundred Days, he led his battalion with
great courage and determination in an attack, capturing and consolidating all his
objectives, in spite of heavy fire. It was due to his initiative that a battery of enemy

14
London Gazette (10 Dec. 1919).
Attrition and Change in Command 55

guns in front of the objective was captured. It was concluded that his personal
influence and good leadership were responsible for success that day.15 Having
proved both his organisational and his command and leadership skills, his brigade
command lasted only 11 days when he became one of at least 78 fatalities at the
rank of brigadier-general or above, killed at Gouzeaucourt on 20 September 1918
by machine-gun fire returning from a visit to the front line.
Six commanding officers originated from the Royal Marines, all retired
officers, and five originated outside the army, being retired Royal Navy personnel.
Of these the most senior was Lieutenant-Commander Sir Henry Archer Colt. Aged
33 in August 1914, he had become a midshipman in 1898, retiring in 1912. He
commanded the 12th Gloucestershire from October 1917 to October 1918 and was
twice wounded. During the Second World War, he was a Squadron Leader in the
Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, his career thus spanning all three services.16
One officer was serving with the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) in August 1914.
Charles James Burke was a major of the Royal Irish Regiment, and had served
with the Aeroplane and Balloon School before commanding II Squadron for two
years prior to the war. An intelligent man, he wrote the first ever article in the
Royal United Services Institute Journal concerning air power. He commanded
2nd Wing RFC on the Western Front then served as commandant of the Central
Flying School before being transferred to command the 2nd Lancashire Fusiliers
from October to December 1916 and the 1st East Lancashire from February to 9
April 1917 when he killed by a shell with his orderly in the night front post of B
Company, having crossed the Point du Jour Ridge on the opening day of the Battle
of Arras. Perhaps related to a spectacular crash testing heavier-than-air aircraft in
January 1911, in which he was badly injured, Burke was said to be (fortunately for
the infantry) a better leader of men than a pilot.17

The Evolving Commanding Officer

Length of Command

In contrast to peacetime stability, a lieutenant-colonel spent on average nearly


eight and a half months in command of a battalion (although this might cover
several periods). During the Second World War, Lieutenant-General G. Simonds,
commanding II Canadian Corps, sent a memo to Canadian Military Headquarters
in 1944 in which he stated: It has been amply demonstrated both in North Africa
and Italy that when active operations are continuous, the Commanding Officer of
an infantry battalion is good for about four to six months.18 He recommended that

15
London Gazette (2 Dec. 1918).
16
Obituary, The Times (13 Feb. 1951), 6.
17
<http://www.twosqnassoc.co.uk/pages/bosses/burke.htm>.
18
<http://www.battlefront.com/community/showthread.php?t=32644>.
56 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

rotating commanding officers out of their positions after a few months be made
standard practice. These First World War COs were therefore often operating
beyond the point where in later wars it was recognised that exhaustion would
render them less than useful.
Increasing time in post of course meant accumulated experience. Table 3.2
shows the average number of days in post previously served by commanding
officers commanding on the opening days of major battles. Although the high
average for 1 July 1916, the opening day of the Battle of Somme, is inflated by
the number of COs who had commanded new army battalions in the UK since
they were raised, the figures suggest officers who had considerable experience of
command in the field.

Table 3.2 Average days in post for COs prior to major battles

Battle Date Days in post


Neuve Chapelle 10 March 1915 138
Loos 25 September 1915 206
Somme 1 July 1916 277
Arras 9 April 1917 214
Third Ypres 31 July 1917 252
Cambrai 20 November 1917 223
Hundred Days 29 September 1918 185

Perhaps the most interesting figures are those of 1918. Apart from the Battle of
Neuve Chapelle in early 1915, when the BEF had been depleted by the campaigns
of 1914, 29 September 1918, the day the Hindenburg Line was broken, yields
the lowest average of days in post, reflecting the rapid turnover caused by death
and wounding during the German offensives from March to May 1918 and the
increasing number of civilians of August 1914 coming into post. The reality is that
the successful armies of the Hundred Days campaign were led by men who on
average had less experience of command, a reality that certainly did not hamper
the armys effectiveness.

Multiple Commands

Many officers had more than one battalion command. Counting a return to the same
unit as a single command, a fifth of active lieutenant-colonels had the arduous task
of multiple commands. Examining some of the individuals allows us to understand
why they were selected and in what circumstances they were called upon to do
this. The highest number of battalion commands held by an individual who saw
active service was six, and this was achieved by two COs, albeit both with mixed
Attrition and Change in Command 57

results. Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Ernest Walshe, a 48-year-old officer and the son
of an Irish landowner, had served in South Africa (18991902) and was second-
in-command of the 2nd South Staffordshire in August 1914. He commanded the
1st Dorsetshire from 12 December 1914 to 3 January 1915. An example of the
attrition of command in 1914, the first two COs, Lieutenant-Colonels L.J. Bols
and C. Saunders had both been wounded, and the battalion had subsequently
been commanded by a captain and a major. Local resources were so depleted that
Walshe was drafted in from another division. After 22 days, Bols returned, and
Walshe reverted to his own battalion, having missed his opportunity to command it,
Lieutenant-Colonel C.S. Davidson having been invalided three days earlier, being
replaced by Lieutenant-Colonel P.C.L. Routledge. Walshe missed his chance again
when Routledge was killed in action on 17 May 1915, having been transferred
to command the 1st South Staffordshire on 5 April, taking over from Captain
A.B. Beauman, who had commanded for a month after Lieutenant-Colonel A.C.
Buckle was invalided. He remained in command until 29 July before returning to
his regiment, but his perceived talent was now rewarded with promotion to the
command of 27 Brigade from 14 October 1915 to 14 March 1916, when he was
demoted. According to one source he was sick,19 but the divisional history states
that at this time Major-General W.T. Furse strove to foster the offensive spirit
throughout the Division. He exhorted all the battalions to make No Mans Land
Ninth Division Land.20 The notion that he was sick is undermined by the fact
that he returned to command his old battalion for five days from 25 March 1916,
whereupon he was transferred to command the 24th Royal Fusiliers until 18 June
1916. He had undoubtedly been sacked from brigade command, and seemingly
from battalion command as well, as he then had a period away from active
service during which he was placed on half-pay, from whence he was restored in
March 1917 to command the 3rd Royal Berkshire, moving the following month
to command another home service unit, the 8th Dorsetshire. Walshe had likely
burnt out, a condition which left him insufficiently aggressive as a brigadier for
General Furse. He is probably an example of a talented officer thrust into multiple
commands at a time which might be considered the harshest period of the war for
regimental officers (191415).
The second CO who commanded six battalions was Lieutenant-Colonel
Herbert Pearson Creagh-Osborne. Forty years old in August 1914 and the son of
a colonel, he had previously served as a staff captain and deputy assistant adjutant
general, seeing active service on the Nile in 1898. Clearly, he had showed promise.
The depot major of the Royal Lancaster Regiment in August 1914, he was given
command of the 6th Battalion on 19 August 1914, being transferred to France to
take command of the 1st Battalion after Lieutenant-Colonel A.McN. Dykes was

19
A.F. Becke, Order of Battle of Divisions, Part 3a: New Army Divisions (926)
(Uckfield, Suss.: Naval & Military Press, 2007), 4.
20
John Ewing, The History of the 9th (Scottish) Division 19141919 (London: John
Murray, 1921), 77.
58 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

killed at Le Cateau on 26 August 1914. However, in November 1914 he was


removed for inefficiency.21 He was given command a month later of the 7th Kings
Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, training in the UK, but, in March 1915, he was
transferred to command the 5th Middlesex, a Special Reserve unit. He returned to
active service, given command of the Hood Battalion, Royal Naval Division, in
France on 12 December 1916. Lieutenant-Commander A.M. Asquith had arrived
two days earlier to take command but was told by Major-General C. Shute that
he had insufficient knowledge of trench warfare in France.22 Asquith had spent
207 days at Gallipoli and 164 days on the Western Front, Creagh-Osborne had
only 46 days experience from two years earlier: that shit Shute23 simply wanted
regular officers in command.24 Creagh-Osborne went sick 22 days after taking
over, although attempts to rehabilitate him continued as he was sent to command
the 2/5th Royal Lancaster in April 1917. He did not, however, stay the course, for
in September 1917 he returned to the UK to a staff post, becoming commandant
of a school of instruction in April 1918. He bore out the observations of Colonel
W.N. Nicholson on how difficult it was to predict with certainty the war time
qualities of any officers. He observed that those whom we expect will succeed
as commanders are not always a success; while some seemingly indifferent peace
time soldiers do magnificently.25 Creagh-Osborne was certainly given every
chance to succeed and seemingly failed to take them all.
Nine lieutenant-colonels, all regulars, held five commands, and, unlike Creagh-
Osborne and Walshe, they all lasted in command well into 1918 and two were
promoted to brigade command: Lieutenant-Colonels R.I. Rawson, who served as
brigadier-general of 103 Brigade from August 1918 to the armistice, and P.W.
Brown, who served as brigadier-general of 71 Brigade from August 1917 to the
armistice. Both men had clearly won their spurs. Robert Ian Rawson was born in
Ireland in 1875 and educated at Haileybury. He had been commissioned in 1894
and seen action in South Africa (18991902) and the Sudan (1905, 1910) after
being posted to the Egyptian Army. He was a regular captain of the Gloucestershire
Regiment in August 1914 serving as adjutant to the 4th Battalion, and his first
command was the 8th Worcestershire for two weeks in October 1915, whence he was
transferred to command the 1/6th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders until March

21
War Office, letter (17 Jan. 1915), Lieutenant-Colonel Cecil Wanliss file (APC, D/
APC/HD/ABLW/187116). The page for the days in question is interestingly missing from
the units War Diary (TNA, WO/95/1506).
22
Christopher Page, Command in the Royal Naval Division (Staplehurst: Spellmount,
1999), 99.
23
Alan P. Herbert, After the Battle, in The Bomber Gypsy (London: Methuen, 1919).
24
This was a matter which sparked a clash between the Admiralty and the War Office
concerning awarding battalion command over the heads of those with long Royal Naval
Division service (TNA, ADM 1/8477-309; cited in Page, Command in the Royal Naval
Division, 112).
25
Nicholson, Behind the Lines, 146.
Attrition and Change in Command 59

1917 when he was again transferred to the 12th Gloucestershire, commanding


until August 1917. He was then rested, returning to the UK to command the
4th Welsh from November 1917 to April 1918, returning to the Western Front
to command the 1st Royal Fusiliers until August 1918, when he spent a further
week in command of the 12th Gloucestershire, at which point he was appointed
to command 103 Brigade. He had spent over 26 months in command of infantry
battalions. Percy Wilson Brown, a regular captain of the Gordon Highlanders,
spent the first eight months of the war as a brigade-major before commanding the
1st Gordon Highlanders, three of his five commands being regular battalions, one
a second-line TF unit, with one command of a reserve unit in the UK representing
a period of rest. Topping Rawsons achievement, he spent over 28 months as a CO
before taking over command of 71 Brigade.
Lieutenant-Colonel Bernard Cruddas similarly demonstrated extraordinary
endurance, spending 32 months in command of infantry battalions. Whether he
had potential beyond battalion command was untested, mainly because of serving
between October 1915 and June 1918 in Salonika where there was reduced
opportunity for advancement. Born in 1882 the son of a Northumberland landowner
and educated at Winchester College, Cruddas joined a volunteer battalion of the
North Staffordshire Regiment, but the following year was commissioned in the
Northumberland Fusiliers, where he was captain and adjutant of the 4th Battalion
in August 1914. He went with this unit to France in April 1915, thus, like Rawson,
missing the depredations visited on the regular army. He was transferred to the
1st Battalion, but his first command was of the 2nd Northumberland Fusiliers in
October 1915 at Loos after Lieutenant-Colonel C.A. Armstrong had been shot
through the head rising above the parapet to orient himself during an attack on
the Hohenzollern Redoubt. Superseded, Cruddas remained with the battalion and
proceeded to Salonika, where in February 1916 he was appointed to command
the 8th Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry until April 1917, when
he was transferred to command the 9th South Lancashire until May 1918. In June,
he was recalled to the Western Front, taking command of the 1/4th Royal Scots
Fusiliers until late September 1918, when he came full circle, assuming command
of the 1st Northumberland Fusiliers. Despite attacks of malaria, Cruddas served
until the armistice. The history of the 1st and 2nd Northumberland Fusiliers notes:
Throughout the War the Fifth were fortunate in never having to look outside
the Regiment for an officer to command either of their battalions. Cruddas had
varied and valuable experience.26 He retired in 1923 and served as a Conservative
member of parliament for nine years from 1931, resigning his seat in an act
probably typical of the man to do more useful work in the home guard.27
Thirty lieutenant-colonels, three quarters of whom were regulars, had four
commands. Lieutenant-Colonel Noel Mackintosh Stuart Irwin, born in 1892
in India, the son of a civil servant and educated at Marlborough College, was

26
Harold R. Sandilands, The Fifth in the Great War (Dover: Grigg & Son, 1938), 264.
27
The Milwaukee Journal (29 July 1940).
60 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

the most junior in August 1914 of those who held four commands, having been
commissioned 2nd lieutenant in the Essex Regiment in 1912. He took up his first
command in April 1917, when Lieutenant-Colonel S.G. Mullock of the 2nd Battalion
(whose widow he married in 1918) was killed returning from a COs conference at
Fampoux. He was replaced at the end of May by Major R.N. Thompson who had
already commanded the battalion, the issue of seniority probably rearing its head
even at this stage of the war. Irwins next command was of the 2nd Lincolnshire in
August 1917, a post he held until February 1918. He subsequently served as CO
of the 8th Leicestershire after Lieutenant-Colonel A.T.le M. Utterson was taken
prisoner, from April 1918 to June 1918, whence he was transferred to command the
1st Lincolnshire, a post he held until the armistice. Irwin had the chance to progress
his career even further in the Second World War, commanding a brigade in France
in 1940 and taking command of 2nd Division in the retreat to Dunkirk. In 1942,
he commanded IV Corps in Iraq and was thence promoted to command Eastern
Army in India. Relieved of command following the abortive 194243 Burmese
Arakan operation, after which he might have achieved significant notoriety if he
had been successful in his attempt to sack Lieutenant-General Bill Slim, he never
saw active service again.
Lieutenant-Colonel Edward Ivan de Sausmarez Thorpe, born in 1871 in India,
is another example of an officer of robust ability. A major of the 1st Bedfordshire
in August 1914, he commanded the 2nd Battalion between April and May 1915, at
which point he was transferred to command the 2nd Border, a post he held for two
years until May 1917. He was then shuttled about, commanding the 1/6th Lancashire
Fusiliers from September to December 1917 (returning briefly to command the 2nd
Bedfordshire at the end of December 1917 until mid-January 1918) and lastly
commanded his old battalion, the 1st Bedfordshire, from February to April 1918.
At this point he was briefly promoted brigadier-general with 152 Brigade until
the end of the month, moving to command 107 Brigade until September 1918, his
appointment being terminated by wounding.
One last CO who had four commands warrants individual attention. Lieutenant-
Colonel John Sherwood-Kelly was a mercurial South African born in 1880 who
had served in the Second Boer War as a lieutenant in the Imperial Light Horse and
later as a sergeant, demoted to private, in Somaliland. He was gazetted major in
the 10th Norfolk in November 1914, but requested transfer and in July 1915 joined
the 1st Kings Own Scottish Borderers at Gallipoli. When Lieutenant-Colonel G.B.
Stoney was killed by a shell on his battalion HQ dugout on 15 October 1915,
Bomb Kelly, whom the battalion history describes as having a quite remarkable
disregard for danger,28 does not appear to have been first choice as CO, Captain
C.S. Stirling-Cookson taking over the role for 13 days, with Sherwood-Kelly
assuming command on 28 October. What is remarkable is that there is no
reference to him in the unit war diary until the following January, whereas the
comings and goings of other officers were frequently mentioned. The reality is

28
Stair Gillon, The K.O.S.B in the Great War (London: Thomas Nelson, 1930), 166.
Attrition and Change in Command 61

that SherwoodKelly was undoubtedly unpopular: an outsider and empire ranker


commanding a regular unit. Leaving the KOSB in January 1916, he served briefly
as CO of the 1st Essex, until he was wounded in June by a bullet through the lung.
Recuperating, he was returned to the KOSB depot, where his unpopular past may
have caught up with him. In October, he wrote to his CO asking to be returned to
the 10th Norfolk as he found some officers and many of the men at present in camp
who served with the 1st Battalion during my command.29 In March 1917, he took
over command of the 1st Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, whom he led until invalided
in December 1917, winning the VC at Cambrai on 20 November, an award he had
vowed to obtain when joining up. The citation describes fearless leading:

When a party of men of another unit detailed to cover the passage of the canal by
his battalion were held up on the near side of the canal by heavy rifle fire directed
on the bridge. Lt.-Col. Sherwood-Kelly at once ordered covering fire, personally
led the leading company of his battalion across the canal and, after crossing,
reconnoitred under heavy rifle and machine gun fire the high ground held by the
enemy. The left flank of his battalion advancing to the assault of this objective
was held up by a thick belt of wire, whereupon he crossed to that flank, and with
a Lewis gun team, forced his way under heavy fire through obstacles, got the gun
into position on the far side, and covered the advance of his battalion through the
wire, thereby enabling them to capture the position. Later, he personally led a
charge against some pits from which a heavy fire was being directed on his men,
captured the pits, together with five machine guns and forty six prisoners, and
killed a large number of the enemy.30

Sherwood-Kellys great gallantry was described as inspiring the greatest


confidence in his men, and the capture and holding of the objective was attributed
mainly to his example. He finally commanded the 12th Norfolk in France from
September 1918. He was later to command a battalion of the Hampshire Regiment
in Russia in 1919, a venture which ended in his court martial after his outspoken
public criticism of the campaign.
Emphasising the considerable contribution of professional officers to battalion
command, two thirds of both the 146 COs who had three commands and the
626 who had two, were regulars in August 1914. It is in the group that had four
commands, however, that three promoted non-commissioned officers (NCOs) and
six citizens of 1914, a group whom we will meet in Chapter 7, appear. As we saw
in Chapter 1, it was not unknown for non-commissioned officers to reach battalion
command, but it was a rare event. Of the promoted NCOs, Lieutenant-Colonel
Frank Naden had served in the ranks of the Royal Marines, seeing service in the
Ashanti campaign, and also as a sergeant in the Cape Mounted Police. He joined the
4th Volunteer Battalion Cheshire Regiment, serving in South Africa (19001901),

29
John Sherwood-Kelly, Personal Service Record (TNA, WO 339/13469).
30
London Gazette (11 Jan. 1918).
62 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

and later the 6th Cheshire.31 He was a company sergeant major with the battalion
on the Western Front in 1914, and was commissioned 2nd lieutenant in February
1915. He served as adjutant in 1916, taking over temporary command after the
wounding of Lieutenant-Colonel W.H. Stanway in July 1917. Thereafter he was
CO of the 14th Hampshire from November 1917 to January 1918. He commanded
his old battalion for four days in April 1918 and lastly the 7th Royal Irish Regiment
from September 1918, having been awarded the DSO and two bars. A flavour of
his ability and command style is given by the citation for his second bar. In the
attack near Neuve Eglise on 1 September 1918, after an ordered change in axis of
attack, the leading companies lost direction.

Seeing this, he personally led the right company on to its proper objective in
the face of considerable machinegun and trench mortar fire. He was shortly
afterwards wounded. But on this and the previous day he showed an absolute
disregard of danger, and by his fine example and leadership inspired all ranks.32

The other two COs were Lieutenant-Colonel Albert Grover, who had spent nearly
13 years in the ranks of the Bedfordshire Regiment, who commanded three
units of the London Regiment from June 1918 to the armistice; and Lieutenant-
Colonel James Walsh, a regular warrant officer who was only commissioned 2nd
lieutenant in the Liverpool Regiment in January 1916, yet as we shall in the next
chapter, commanded the 13th Essex from November 1917 to February 1918, the
6th Northamptonshire in May 1918, and the 3/2nd London from August 1918 to the
armistice. These three individuals must have had truly exceptional abilities to have
achieved these multiple commands.

Age

James Edmonds, the official historian, observed wisely that age is biological and
should not be reckoned by the calendar. Each case should be judged for itself,
continuing: Activity is the criterion; in 1914 some lieutenant-colonels could be
seen running forward with the best of athletes; others collapsed because they were
worn out by marching a few miles; not being able to ride their horses in battle.
He specifically referred to the COs who surrendered St Quentin, Elklington and
Mainwaring, noting that they were tried by court martial for dereliction of duty,
when bodily fatigue with consequent mental break-down was their offence.
Indeed, in Chapter 2, it was evident that the matter of the age of dug-outs was
clearly taken case by case and linked with matters of fitness, stamina, and ability.
Edmonds asserted that in 1917 an order was issued that no one over the age of 35

31
Roots and Branches: The Naden/Nadin/Neden/Nedin Family Society Magazine,
10/2 (n.d.): n.p.
32
London Gazette (4 Oct. 1919).
Attrition and Change in Command 63

should be given command of a battalion.33 Whether this is true or not is unclear.


The War Office certainly concluded decades later that in the closing stages of
both World Wars the average age of unit commanders in the teeth of arms was
between 28 and 36 and regarded it as conclusively proved that this was the
most appropriate age.34 Finding a decline in the average ages of COs from August
1914 onwards, would not be a surprise, but it would be a drop which should not
be attributed simply to design. Succession by younger men was inevitable simply
due to attrition: there was no planned takeover by youth.
The ages of infantry COs (excluding the COs of pioneer battalions, who tended
to have longevity in command and to be older) are set out in Table 3.3. As can be
seen, the average age of lieutenant-colonels on the Western Front dropped nearly
13 years between August 1914 and 29 September 1918, from 47 years and 10
months to 34 years and 11 months.

Table 3.3 Average and range of ages of COs

Battle Date Average Age Youngest Oldest


Outbreak 4 Aug. 1914 47 years 10 mths 37 years 11 mths 52 years 7 mths
(regular) (regular)
31 years 3 mths 59 years 3 mths
(TF) (TF)
Loos 25 Sept. 1915 44 years 8 mths 30 years 62 years 2 mths
Somme 1 July 1916 42 years 1 mth 26 years 10 mths 57 years 5 mths
Arras 9 Apr. 1917 38 years 5 mths 25 years 1 mth 53 years 6 mths
Third Ypres 31 July 1917 36 years 7 mths 24 years 8 mths 52 years 2 mths
Hundred Days 29 Sept. 1918 34 years 11 mths 21 years 5 mths 48 years 8 mths

The widest spread of ages, 33 years, was demonstrated at the Battle of Loos. The
youngest CO during the battle was Lieutenant-Colonel Augustus Francis Andrew
Nicol Bulgy Thorne, 3rd Grenadier Guards, who had temporarily replaced the
sacked Colonel N.A.L Corry at the age of exactly 30, commanding for two and a
half months. An early example of rising talent, he returned as CO from September
1916 to August 1918, and was promoted brigadier-general 184 Brigade in October
1918. Lieutenant-Colonel Frederick Charles Romer, 8th Buffs, who was killed on
26 September 1915, was the oldest commanding officer during the battle and the
oldest CO fatality of the war at the age of 62. He was born on 15 February 1853
and had been commissioned lieutenant in the Essex Rifles at the age of 20. He

33
James E. Edmonds and R. Maxwell-Hyslop, Military Operations France and
Belgium 1918, vol. 5 (London: Imperial War Museum, 1993 [1947]), 613.
34
French, Military Identities, 275, citing Memo of Military Secretary (25 Nov. 1946)
(TNA, WO 32/13253).
64 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

had served in South Africa (19001901) and had retired as lieutenant-colonel of


the 6th Lancashire Fusiliers in 1908. In 1914, he raised and trained the 8th Buffs.
As Honourable Secretary of Boodles Club, which had included the Duke of
Wellington amongst former notable military members, he brought with him two
fellow members as majors, three as captains, and one as a lieutenant, as well as
two of the club waiters.35 Romer died leading his battalion against the German
second position. Wounded in the shoulder he insisted on staying with his men and
was then shot through the heart.
On the fateful day of 1 July 1916, the spread of ages was 29 years. The youngest
CO on that opening day of the Somme campaign was Lieutenant-Colonel John
Micklem, who was 26 years and 9 months old. A fine example of rising talent,
he was a captain of the 1st Rifle Brigade in August 1914 and commanded the
1/6th Gloucestershire from July 1915 to January 1917. He later served in various
staff posts, transferring to the Tank Corps where he rose to command the 4th Tank
Brigade in the last few days of the war. The oldest CO who went into action that
day was brevet Colonel William Wylie Norman, 21st Manchester, whose battalion
was one of those blessed with success, being involved in the capture of Mametz.
A retired Indian Army cavalry CO, he was 56. Clearly a thoughtful soldier, he
was the author of The Service Sketching Case and Note Book (1891) and Cavalry
Reconnaissance (1911) and, proving that simple age was no bar to extended
service, continued in post for a remarkable 903 days until 15 May 1917, before
commanding 91 Brigade for several months.
The celebrated Lieutenant-Colonel Roland Boys Bradford VC who was
destined to become the youngest brigadier-general in the BEF with 186 Brigade
in November 1917, was the youngest CO on the opening day of the Battle of
Arras, at which point the spread of ages was slightly narrower at 27 years. He
was commanding the 1/9th Durham Light Infantry at a month over 25. The oldest
was Lieutenant-Colonel John Edward Grimble Groves, 1/5th Cheshire, chairman
of Groves and Withnall brewery, who was just over 52 and who commanded from
the outbreak of the war until March 1918, an astonishing total of 1,316 days. The
youngest CO four months later on the first day of the Third Battle of Ypres was
Lieutenant-Colonel Eric Beresford Greer, 2nd Irish Guards, who was nearly 25,
only having left Eton four years before the outbreak of the war, and who had been
a lieutenant in August 1914. Greer did not survive the day, being killed outside the
advanced battalion HQ dugout on the first objective at Boezinghe. Again with a
spread of ages of 27 years, the oldest was Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Cattley Carr,
11th Royal Fusiliers, who was just over 52. Another Haileybury schoolboy who
was a retired major of that regiment, he had been at the reliefs of both Ladysmith
and Mafeking. Carr served from the formation of the battalion until September
1917, demonstrating his stamina and ability by commanding for a total of 1,102
days, a period ended only by wounding.

35
<http://www.kentfallen.com/pdf%20reports/sandwich.pdf>.
Attrition and Change in Command 65

In terms of the supposed key age of 35 in the last year of the war, of those in
post on 29 September 1918 a total of 41 per cent were over this threshold, and,
of these, rather surprisingly given the order claimed by Edmonds, 60 per cent had
been appointed in 1918. The oldest appointee to a regular battalion in 1918 was
Lieutenant-Colonel Albert Ernest Gallagher of the 2nd Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers,
a retired regular captain in August 1914, who was nearly 47 when promoted on 15
September, and he was also the oldest officer commanding a regular unit on the
Western Front. The oldest service battalion CO appointed in 1918 was Lieutenant-
Colonel Hugh Tunbridge Pomfret, who was 45 when given command of the 11th
Manchester on 28 September 1918, whilst Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Edward
Hudson, 2nd Sherwood Foresters, a tea planter in Ceylon in August 1914, was the
oldest service battalion CO on 29 September, being 47 and having been appointed
in November 1917. Ability trumping age, Hudson had won a DSO at Arras as a
major, reorganising his battalion and taking the objective, showing capacity of
the highest military value,36 and a bar to this award in the holding his line against
attack, displaying splendid leadership and great energy and courage.37
The oldest combat territorial CO on 29 September was 51-year-old
Lieutenant-Colonel William Oddie, 1/5th West Yorkshire, a major in the unit in
August 1914, who had been in post since November 1917. Again demonstrating
that stamina was not dependant on age, he had won a DSO in the German Spring
Offensive (March to July 1918) when the enemy had got between his front line
and his HQ and he had had to fight his way back, covering another units HQ
at the same time and holding the enemy off the next day with only his HQ staff
and stragglers.38 The oldest combat CO appointed in 1918 was also a territorial,
Lieutenant-Colonel Francis James Popham, 2/5th Royal Lancaster, who was nearly
48 when given command on 7 August 1918. He had retired as a lieutenant from
the London Yeomanry in 1912 and was a stockbroker in August 1914. His DSO
citation shows that the trust placed in him was well founded as 22 days later on 29
August in the capture of Rennecourt during the advance on Cambrai he showed
skill in attack. Advancing two miles though the German lines and capturing the
village, he showed great initiative and determination both in the attack and in a
withdrawal which later became necessary owing to his position being isolated.39
Both these men showed that for supposedly amateur soldiers, age itself was no bar
to very effective command in 1918.
In contrast, in the Dominion contingents, the average age of Australian Imperial
Force infantry COs in August 1918 was less than 33,40 and the average age of
their Canadian Expeditionary Force counterparts appointed in 1918, was 35 years

36
London Gazette (16 Aug. 1917).
37
London Gazette (6 Apr. 1918).
38
London Gazette (16 Sept. 1918).
39
London Gazette (2 Dec. 1918).
40
Garth Pratten, Australian Battalion Commanders in the Second World War
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 33.
66 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

and 8 months, 61 per cent of these being above the official historians 35-year
cut-off.41 It is clear that any order concerning the prohibition of new commands to
over-35s was notable by its breach; indeed, nearly 30 per cent of all combat COs
appointed in 1918 in post on 29 September were over 35.
What is remarkable is not that there were young commanding officers in 1918
but that, after four years of grinding trench warfare, there were so many older
COs. Clearly, there was a group of such men whose constitutions and abilities
outweighed any burden of their years. Brigadier-General Frank Percy Crozier, 119
Brigade, was sent Lieutenant-Colonel H.C. Metcalfe in January 1918 to command
the 21st Middlesex. He described Metcalfe as an old soldier of some fifty-odd
summers (he was in fact 54), and, as he had not been in France before, Crozier
doubted his ability. Yet, in the German Spring Offensive, Metcalfe [was] a stone
wall when necessary, a thrusting lance when required, Crozier listing the first
requirement in this fighting as physical fitness.42 Metcalfes command was
terminated on 11 April 1918 not by lack of fitness but by wounding. Crozier took
his successor to visit him in hospital: There we see the old warrior with leg tied
up to the roof, while on the foot flies a miniature Union Jack!43
Youth and high rank, however, bore a fascination and pride then as now. The
grave of Lieutenant-Colonel Eric Gordon Bowden, a civil engineers clerk in
1914, at Cabaret Rouge Cemetery, Souchez, in the shadow of Vimy Ridge, bears
the legend: Promoted on the field of action from 2nd Lieutenant, he was one of the
youngest Colonels in the British Army, being 24 years and 2 months old at his
death on 22 July 1918 commanding the 11th Royal West Surrey. Not all in the army
necessarily welcomed it, Frank Crozier, observing this is a war for youngsters,
took the 24-year-old baby-faced Lieutenant-Colonel G.F.P Worthington, 21st
Middlesex (a 2nd lieutenant of the West India Regiment in August 1914), into a
hotel whereupon a Blimpish major mistakenly assailed him: Well, why the devil
dont you salute, you damned young cub?44
At least 25 COs were younger than Bowden, who was not even the youngest
CO to be killed. This dubious honour befell 23-year-old Lieutenant-Colonel John
Hay Maitland Hardyman, 8th Somerset Light Infantry, killed on 24 August 1918 by
a shell whilst carrying out a personal reconnaissance near Bapaume. A graduate of
Fettes College and Edinburgh University and an intellectual and spiritual man as
expressed in a book of posthumously published poems,45 he had served in various
staff roles and as a brigade-major within 37th Division (191718). At the same time
as proving himself a highly effective soldier he had been appointed to the council

41
Calculations made from memoranda (Mar. 1941) (Directorate of History and
Heritage, Ottawa [ON 92/252, Series 7 Box 125 File 102]).
42
Frank P. Crozier, A Brass Hat in No Mans Land (London: Jonathan Cape, 1930),
194.
43
Ibid. 210.
44
Ibid. 21011.
45
Maitland Hardyman, A Challenge (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1919).
Attrition and Change in Command 67

of the Union of Democratic Control, a group which called for a public examination
of war aims and opposed conscription. He wished his own epitaph to end: He died
as he lived, fighting for abstract principles in a cause he did not believe in.46 The
youngest known CO on 29 September 1918 was Lieutenant-Colonel Arthur Leslie
Walter Newth, 16th Cheshire, the son of a Bristol furniture dealer who had been
commissioned 2nd lieutenant only in April 1914 in the 4th Gloucestershire and was
only 21 when appointed on 30 April 1918, and he was probably the youngest of the
war. Not only did he survive, he remained in the army and went on to command
135 Infantry Brigade during the Second World War.

Rank

Sir Douglas Haig noted in his diary on 25 June 1915 that progress, even if ample
guns etc. provided, would be achieved only when young capable commanders
are brought to the front. Captains to command Battalions; Majors Brigades etc.47
His words bear close scrutiny Haigs early view was that youth and ability were
the key to command, and would be the mainspring of success. Given the decrease
in average age of infantry COs, it could be safely predicted that the ranks of those
who had been active in August 1914 and who were commanding battalions on the
Western Front in 1918 would be comparatively junior at the outbreak of the war.
Haigs prophecy was fulfilled to the extent that nearly half (46 per cent) of infantry
COs on 29 September 1918 were captains in August 1914, 28 per cent having been
lieutenants, and 7 per cent 2nd lieutenants.
Although it was not necessarily related to youth, Haig may not have foreseen
that 7 per cent of COs on 29 September 1918 would have been from other ranks
(ORs) in August 1914. During the war, 69 ORs of August 1914 commanded
battalions on active service, 1 per cent of the total commissioned. Sixty eight per
cent were regulars and 23 per cent territorials, with, perhaps surprisingly, 8 per
cent from empire regiments. The 28 individuals in post on 29 September 1918
were equally distributed between service and territorial battalions, but three
regular ORs were commanding regular units. Lieutenant-Colonel William Daly,
1st East Lancashire, had served in the ranks for nearly nine years and had been
commissioned 2nd lieutenant from warrant officer class II in April 1916 and served
as CO from October 1917 to the armistice, the journey from 2nd lieutenant to
lieutenant-colonel having taken just over 18 months. Both 1st and 2nd battalions
of the Royal Irish Rifles were commanded in 1918 by NCOs of August 1914,
namely Lieutenant-Colonels John Patrick Hunt and John Henry Bridcutt. Hunt, a
retired colour sergeant of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, commanded the 9th Dublin
Fusiliers from June to October 1917 and the 1st Royal Irish Rifles from March
1918. Bridcutt, who had served in the Coldstream Guards for over 12 years was

46
N.H. Romanes, Foreword to Hardyman, A Challenge, 5.
47
Field-Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, manuscript diary (25 June 1915) (NLS, Acc.
3155).
68 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

commissioned 2nd lieutenant from warrant officer class I in the Somerset Light
Infantry in March 1915. He commanded the 12th Middlesex from September
to November 1917 and the 2nd Royal Irish Rifles from the end of August 1918
until his death on 1 October 1918 on the Menin Road, Ypres, when attempting
to reorganise his battalion in heavy mist he was cut down by machine-gun fire.48
Captain A.O. Pollard of the Honourable Artillery Company encountered him a
month prior to his appointment when he was CO of No. 2 Reinforcement Training
Camp at Abbeville. He was deeply impressed by Bridcutts organisational ability
in setting up the camp, noting: He was an ex-sergeant-major of the Coldstreams
which will amply explain why such an undertaking was not beyond him. Pollard
added: He was a great man and deserved better luck than he received.
***
Despite the attrition of 1914 eating into the officer corps and the growing new
armies in the field demanding leadership, the surviving regular officers of 1914 in
particular and professional soldiers in general both active and retired were forced
to contribute disproportionately to battalion command. It was logical that the army
would have first placed its confidence in the all-round skills of the professional
officer. In contrast, the Territorial Force made a contribution much smaller than
its size would have suggested, confirming the growing picture of discrimination
against the amateur soldier. Some pre-war prejudices therefore persisted, yet in
other ways changes were forced on the armys typical business-as-usual approach.
As the war progressed, the army was forced to rely increasingly on younger
officers, as the lieutenants and captains of August 1914 stepped up to command in
the climactic battles of the Hundred Days. Arthur Newth, who already had three
years fighting experience, commanded a territorial battalion in 1918 aged 21, an
age at which his country deemed him only just suitable to vote. Perhaps the biggest
change forced upon the army, however, was that by the Hundred Days campaign,
1918 having been a year of marked turnover in battalion command, those who
had been citizens without military experience in 1914 comprising just under a
quarter of COs. On one hand it is not surprising that the citizen should prove an
able commander, on the other, it speaks to the practical, malleable attitude of an
organisation supposedly so hidebound in the pre-war period.

48
Alfred O. Pollard, Fire-Eater (Uckfield, Suss.: Naval & Military Press, n.d.), 255.
Chapter 4
Evolution of Command in the
Integrated Army

Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Cuthbert Headlam, a GSO1 attached to the general staff,


wrote to his wife in November 1916: The value of a battalion depends very largely
on its Commanding Officer and adjutant. If they are keen and know their work,
they can get anything out of their men be they regulars, territorials, [Kitcheners]
Army, Derby recruits or conscripts. He added, however: The material is the same
to all intents and purposes the Regular Army does not exist any longer.1
The five armies that were still pursuing their enemy on the morning of 11
November 1918 were indeed very different beasts from the one that went to
war in August 1914. Regimental identity and many of the characteristics that
differentiated regulars, territorials, and the reserve had been eroded by firstly
the volunteering that created the new armies and later by conscription and the
indiscriminate reinforcement of units necessitated by casualties. Despite this trend
towards integration and homogeneity, however, evolution of command in the
regular, service and territorial battalions took somewhat different paths. In this
chapter we will explore the differential development within the 5th (regular), 9th
(new army), and 42nd (territorial) Divisions and review the precise circumstances
of evolution in three units, namely the 1st Hampshire, the 13th Essex and the 1/4th
Royal Berkshire.

Regular Battalions

Professional soldiers kept a firm grip on the command of regular battalions. Ninety
three per cent of the COs of such units were professionals, active or retired. Citizens
of August 1914 formed the largest other single group at 3 per cent, territorials and
the reserve making up 2 per cent each.

5th Division

5th Division was part of the original BEF and fought in most of the major actions
of the war with the exception of the battles of Loos and Cambrai, missing the
German Spring Offensive of 1918 due to being in Italy. Seventy two lieutenant-

1
Jim Beach, The Military Papers of Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Cuthbert Headlam 1910
1942 (Stroud: History Press for the Army Records Society, 2010), 148.
70 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

colonels commanded the 15 regular battalions attached to the division during the
war. Nearly all (96 per cent) were active or retired professional soldiers in August
1914, three of whom commanded two or more units within the division, and 90 per
cent were active regulars. One was a retired Special Reserve captain, Lieutenant-
Colonel P.H. Stevenson, who commanded the 2nd Kings Own Scottish Borderers
from July to November 1916, two were territorials, and one a citizen in August
1914, the extraordinary Lieutenant-Colonel C.F.G Humphries, a New Zealander,
who we will meet again in Chapter 7. He enlisted in August 1914 and rose from
Army Service Corps clerk to command the 1st Duke of Cornwalls Light Infantry
between April and May 1918 and the 1st Norfolk from June 1918 to 22 August
1918, when he was killed in action.
A territorial commanding a regular battalion was a rare event, and both
commanded the same battalion, the 1st Bedfordshire, and were from the same
unit, the 5th Bedfordshire. The first was Lieutenant-Colonel Francis Noel Butler.
Born in 1876, Butler was a solicitor. He joined the Huntingdonshire Volunteers in
1900 and, after the organisational changes of 1908, was promoted major in the 5th
Bedfordshire. He commanded the battalion from January 1912 to January 1915,
resigning his commission in May that year owing to a serious bout of influenza
before the unit went to Gallipoli in August 1915. Recovering, he was reappointed
lieutenant-colonel a year later and posted to the 1st East Surrey on the Western
Front as second-in-command in November 1916, commanding in the absence of
the CO on leave. He was then transferred to command the 1st Bedfordshire in mid-
December, following the accidental wounding by revolver of Lieutenant-Colonel
W. Allason, interestingly being preferred over the regular Major J.J. Moyse, who
had assumed command. He remained CO until May 1917, but this was his final
command, as he retired in October that year. The second, Lieutenant-Colonel
William Stuart Chirnside, an insurance clerk, whom we will meet again in Chapter
8, had only been commissioned 2nd lieutenant in the 5th Bedfordshire in March
1914 and commanded from August to October 1918.
Of the 67 regulars, 83 per cent of the wartime appointments were within the
same regiment, and, of this group, 65 per cent were within-battalion promotions.
Regimental particularism was therefore to a great extent maintained in these units.
For example, Lieutenant-Colonel Hugh Courtenay, 1st Bedfordshire, was both a
within-battalion appointment and an example of one of the group of regular COs
who had wartime staff posts prior to appointment as CO. The son of a home- and
foreign-produce agent, educated at Hurstleigh School, Tunbridge Wells and RMC,
he was commissioned in the 1st Bedfordshire in September 1908, aged 20. He
landed in France with the battalion in August 1914 and was wounded on the Aisne
by shellfire that September. He was evacuated to England and, after recuperation,
posted to the 5th Battalion as adjutant for 4 months and returned to France as a
captain in April 1915, taking over the duties of adjutant with the 1st Battalion at
Ypres. He remained with this unit until November 1915 whence he transferred to
staff posts within 5th Division, serving as a staff captain until June 1916 and as a
deputy assistant quarter master general until June 1918, when he was appointed to
Evolution of Command in the Integrated Army 71

command the unit in which he was first commissioned. He died of wounds during
the retaking of the old Somme battlefield when the 1st Bedfordshire were subject to
severe machine-gun fire assaulting Achiet-le-Petit on 23 August 1918.
Lieutenant-Colonel Rupert Henry Anderson-Morshead followed a different
and varied path. Born in 1886, the son of a barrister, and educated at Wellington
College and RMC, he was commissioned in the 2nd Devonshire in March 1907.
Advanced to company command as a captain in March 1915 he was transferred
firstly to the 1st Battalion and then to the 1/5th Royal Lancaster as second-in-
command in June 1916. He assumed command when Lieutenant-Colonel C.A.W.
Anderson was killed at Flers on 18 September 1916, a post he held until June
1917, when he returned to the 1st Devonshire. He continued the pattern of stepping
into a dead mans shoes, taking over when Lieutenant-Colonel D.H. Blunt was
killed at Sanctuary Wood on 3 October 1917. He left the unit in February 1918
in Italy, returning to the 2nd Battalion on the Western Front, commanding from
15 April to 27 May 1918 when the dead mans shoes were his own: he was
killed at Roucy on the opening day of the German Chemin des Dames offensive.
R.A. Colwill, who regarded Anderson-Morshead as something of a tartar on
parade,2 noted his sangfroid that day: The Commanding Officer himself was
calmly writing his notes with a perfect hail of high explosive falling round
him. His magnificent courage, dauntless bearing and determination to carry on
to the end moved ones emotion.3

Table 4.1 Reasons for turnover of COs in 5th Division

Killed 13%
Wounded 14%
Prisoner of War 3%
Invalided 3%
Promoted 31%
Staff 3%
Transferred as CO to another division 18%
Replaced and not used as CO again 15%

As Table 4.1 shows, the main reason for turnover of COs in 5th Division was
promotion to brigadier-general, the high rate of 31 per cent being an indication
both of the quality of the COs and that promotion of the most able did not dent the
divisions effectiveness. The impression of quality is reinforced by the fact that
the second most frequent reason was transfer to another active battalion command

2
R.A. Colwill, Through Hell to Victory (privately published, 1927), 134.
3
Ibid. 216.
72 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

outside 5th Division. A further indication of quality, the figure for replacement is
much lower than the wartime average across the BEF of 38 per cent which will be
discussed in Chapter 5.

1st Battalion Hampshire Regiment

The 1st Hampshire was a unit of 4th Division and had eight COs at the rank of
lieutenant-colonel during the war. In August 1914, the unit was commanded by
Brevet Colonel Sydney Charles Fishburn Jackson. Fifty one years old in August
1914, somewhat older than average because he had spent 11 years as a major,
Jackson had been commissioned in the Royal Irish Rifles in September 1882,
transferring to the Hampshire Regiment a month later. Without attending staff
college he had filled an impressive series of staff posts in both India and Ireland
and had served in the Burmese Expedition of 188589 and with the Zhob Field
Force in Baluchistan on the North West Frontier in 1890, where he received the
DSO, and in East Africa (19034), being awarded a brevet lieutenant-colonelcy in
1904. For seven of his eleven years as a regimental major, four of which were spent
as deputy assistant adjutant and quartermaster general to two divisions in Ireland,
he had therefore been a lieutenant-colonel in the army and, indeed, demonstrating
the vagaries of army rank versus regimental rank, he was a brevet colonel for
seven months whilst still a major before he took up command in March 1911.
Fishburn was clearly a very able officer, whose two brevet appointments were no
doubt acknowledgements of capable service in East Africa and on the staff. A man
whose career would no doubt have gone further, his potential for progression was
removed after four days on the Western Front.
The battalion arrived in France on 23 August 1914 and was in action from
26 August onwards, albeit in retreat. Jackson was shot in the left leg and ankle
at Nauroy the following day and was carried by a lance-corporal to the priests
house in Bellicourt, close to where 46th Division would cross the St Quentin canal
breaking the Hindenburg Line in 1918. Here he was taken prisoner but was later
repatriated, probably because of the extent of his injuries. The second-in-command,
Major Frederick Richard Hicks, took over, but the wound he had sustained the
previous day at Ligny, when the battalion was in action under heavy shellfire, led
to Captain L.C.W. Palk, commanding D Company, taking over on 1 September,
Major N.W. Barlow, commanding C Company, having become detached in the
Forest of Compigne and taken prisoner.4
Having commanded during the Battle of the Marne, on 7 September Palk
fell ill with fever, and Captain Francis Cecil Moore, commanding A Company,
took over, and being sick himself was almost immediately replaced by Captain
Peter Martin Connellan, second-in-command of C Company, who was CO during
the Battle of the Aisne. On 23 September, Lieutenant-Colonel George Hastings
Parker, a 1st Battalion officer who had been attached to the 3rd Battalion as depot

4
1st Battalion Hampshire Regiment, War Diary (TNA, WO/95/1495).
Evolution of Command in the Integrated Army 73

commander in August 1914 and who had been commanding the newly raised 10th
Hampshire, arrived from England. In a period of four weeks, the battalion had
been commanded by seven different officers, all from the 1st Battalion. One was a
prisoner of war, one was wounded, two were invalided, and two superseded by a
senior officer. On 22 November, the 42-year-old Hicks returned to the battalion as
lieutenant-colonel, and Parker, junior in seniority by 18 months, became second-
in-command. Parker was killed on 19 December in the attack on the Birdcage at
Le Gheer, near Ploegsteert Wood, the regimental history noting: The regiment
thus losing another valued officer of much experience, a born leader who had
commanded the battalion most successfully.5 The campaign of 1914 had ripped
much of the heart of experienced officering out of the battalion at this point, yet it
would recover.
On 25 April, the battalion was rushed to plug a gap in the line at the very tip
of the salient at St Julien during the Second Battle of Ypres, Hicks distinguishing
himself with imperturbable coolness.6 He was completely buried the following
day with his adjutant and three orderlies, but, in his own understated words,
luckily the soil was light and dry and [we] were dug out unharmed.7 On 8 May,
he was on his way to brigade HQ when he was hit by shellfire. His right leg had
to be amputated and he succumbed to enteric fever on 12 June. Hicks had been
another highly able officer. Having passed Staff College, he had been employed
in Uganda after the mutiny of Sudanese troops (18981900) and as a special
service officer for three months in South Africa during 1900. Promoted to major in
August 1908, he had served as a brigade-major and then a GSO2. He was another
eminently promotable officer lost to the army.
The Honourable Lawrence Charles Walter Palk, the second son of Baron
Haldon, assumed command. Nearly 44 and a captain in August 1914, he had
been commissioned from sergeant in the 8th Hussars in the Hampshire Regiment
in 1894 and had seen service in South Africa (19012), acting briefly as a station
commandant. He achieved the rank of captain in November 1900 but had already
spent two periods on half-pay and was unlikely to receive further promotion.
The war created new opportunities, and he was promoted major in November
1914 and lieutenant-colonel in June 1915. During a period of stability, Palk
commanded until the end of January 1916, when he was invalided. In that time
he had had two periods of leave and one of sickness during which Major George
Forder Perkins (who would go on to be GSO3, GSO2, and GSO1 and then
command the 2/5th Hampshire from October 1917 to August 1918) and, latterly,
Captain Robert Douglas Johnston (who would soon leave to spend the rest of the
war on the staff) commanded. They had been respectively the sixth and seventh
senior captains with the 1st Battalion in August 1914, although they had not gone

5
Christopher T. Atkinson, The Royal Hampshire Regiment, vol. 2: 19141918
(Glasgow: Maclehose, 1952), 37.
6
Ibid. 58.
7
Personal account (26 Apr.3 May), 1st Battalion Hampshire Regiment, War Diary.
74 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

on active service at that point. Thus, despite the attrition of very able officers, the
battalion had quality in depth. Lieutenant-Colonel William Henry Middleton,
who had been captain and adjutant of the 3rd Hampshire in August 1914 (but who
also originated from the 1st Battalion) took over in January until Palk returned
in mid-May 1916. An officer clearly well suited to battalion command but not
to progress beyond it, he went on to be CO of the 2nd Hampshire from May to
December 1916 and of the 10th Northumberland Fusiliers from July 1917 to
October 1918.
On 1 July 1916, the battalion attacked the Hawthorn Ridge. Casualties in
officers were 100 per cent. Palk, going forward carrying only a stick, was hit,
brought back, and died that morning.8 Brigadier H.C. Rees noted:

He dressed himself in his best clothes, put on white gloves and led the whole
of his battalion headquarters across No Mans Land, when he himself and most
of those with him became casualties. Whilst lying mortally wounded in a shell
hole, he turned to another man lying near him and said If you know of a better
ole, go to it.9

His chosen armament in battle gives credence to the statement of one of his
officers: He was a great character.10 An erudite man who used to read Gibbon
to his junior officers and spoke French and German fluently, he did not hold his
tongue: He was often a thorn in the side of the Division and the Senior Staff
officers did not like him. He was utterly outspoken and feared nobody.
Lieutenant-Colonel Francis Arthur William Armitage of the 1st West Yorkshire
took over command on 28 July. Armitage was a captain on the outbreak of the
war and at the age of nearly 33 was serving as adjutant in 1916. An outsider
in terms of regiment, brigade, and division, Armitage would lead the battalion
for nearly two years until his death in action on 22 April 1918 at Pacaut Wood
in the German offensive on the Lys, at which point it was said of him: He
had completely identified himself with the battalion from the moment of taking
over.11 His appointment as an outsider reflects both the destruction of the 1st
Hampshire officer cadre on 1 July and the retreat of regimental particularism and
illustrates the cross-division promotion of an officer seen as good CO material.
Armitage won the DSO on 9 April 1917 when the battalion was in action at
the Oppy-Mericourt Line just north of Fampoux, the citation reading: He
commanded his battalion with the utmost skill and determination. Subjected to
heavy shellfire throughout, he remained in close touch with the enemy, gaining

8
Atkinson, The Royal Hampshire Regiment, 171.
9
Brigadier-General H.C. Rees CMG DSO, A Personal Record of the First 7 Months
of the War, private papers, 96 (IWM, Documents 7166).
10
Ibid.
11
Atkinson, The Royal Hampshire Regiment, 343.
Evolution of Command in the Integrated Army 75

his objective the first day. He successfully beat off an enemy counter-attack, and
held on until relieved.12
The list of officers in the war diary dated 1 November 1916 includes two
majors. Frederick Henry Wickham Guard, a civilian in August 1914 who was
never to command a Hampshire battalion but who would serve as CO of the 15th
Royal Scots from July 1917 to April 1918, and Philip Herbert Hudson, who was
at that point attending Senior Officer School in Aldershot and hence earmarked
for possible command. Guard was replaced by Major Francis William Earle.
Earle was commanding in action at Roeux on 11 May 1917 when Armitage was
with the battle nucleus, the 10 per cent of the battalion left out of action for
purposes of reconstitution in the event of a disaster with which the CO or second-
in-command alternately remained at this point in the war. Following Earles
departure the following month to command the 1st East Lancashire, Hudson got
the chance to fulfil the role for which he had been prepared, from late August to
early September 1917, when Armitage assumed command of 11 Brigade, and in
November when Armitage had to visit a new sector. It was Hudson who took over
on Armitages death in April 1918, but he stood aside when Lieutenant-Colonel
John Francis Cumberlege Mordaunt of the 1st Somerset Light Infantry took over
on 12 May 1918. This second importation of an outsider suggests that despite his
training and experience, Hudson did not enjoy the full confidence of 11 Brigade to
command permanently. He acted-up again when Mordaunt was gassed in May and
succumbed to fever in mid-June, holding command until 29 July. Mordaunt may
well have been suffering combat fatigue, as he left suddenly on 14 October 1918
to go to England for a rest. Hudson took over again until mid-October, when
Lieutenant-Colonel Earle returned, commanding until the armistice. Hudson never
achieved even the acting rank of lieutenant-colonel.
The 1st Hampshire, despite its decimation on 1 July 1916, was clearly blessed
with an extraordinary group of senior officers with talent for command, even if
not always with the unit itself. It was particularly traditional in terms of command,
demonstrating the grip of the professional soldier on leadership of regular
battalions. Of eight COs at the rank of lieutenant-colonel, all were regulars. Two
were outsiders to the regiment, the 75 per cent of insiders being not only within
regiment, but, despite attrition, from the original 1st Battalion of August 1914. The
1st Hampshire had an unfortunately high death rate of COs, three being killed, and
none was promoted brigadier-general, matters undoubtedly linked.

Service Battalions

Command in the service battalions up to the point of their going on active service
has been explored in Chapter 2. The large number of such units meant that

12
London Gazette (18 July 1917).
76 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

command would pose a continuous demand in the field. Table 4.2 identifies the
origins of the commanding officers appointed on active service.

Table 4.2 Origins of COs of service battalions on active service

19141918 29 September 1918


Regular Army 55% 42% (34% active 1914)
Indian Army 5% 1.5%
Special Reserve 10% 8%
Territorial Force 10% 13%
Empire 2% 1.5%
Royal Navy >1% 0%
Royal Marines >1% 0%
Citizens 18% 34%

The contribution of the professional soldier to commanding service battalions is


clear: regular officers provided just over half of commands during the war, with
two thirds of all COs being active or retired professional soldiers. Reservists
and territorials made a bigger contribution (10 per cent each) than to the regular
battalions. The biggest group apart from the regulars was, however, men who were
citizens in August 1914 at 18 per cent. Further, when the position is considered at
the pivotal point of the Hundred Days the changing balance between regulars and
citizens becomes clear, for on 29 September 1918 it is remarkable that as many
citizens were commanding as active regular officers of 1914, a third of battalion
commands each.
It was inevitable that the regular army would be called upon to make a major
contribution to command, and, if only one regular officer of August 1914 was to be
taken to serve as an example of the aggressively effective new army CO, then that
individual might well be Lieutenant-Colonel William Robert Aufrre Dawson.
Born in 1891, Dawson was commissioned from Oxford University Officer Training
Corps (OTC) into the Special Reserve of the Royal Field Artillery. Both his parents
were solicitors, as was his brother Colin who served in the Royal Army Service
Corps, but Dawson was bound elsewhere than the family law firm and obtained a
commission in the 1st Royal West Kent in June 1914. He was transferred to the 6th
Royal West Kent as a 2nd lieutenant on 3 September 1914, when the battalion was
15 days old, and accompanied it to France at the start of June 1915 as a captain.
Wounded twice in 1916, Dawson was promoted to major in August that year,
taking over command when Lieutenant-Colonel C.S. Owen was given command
of 36 Brigade at the end of November 1916. He had risen from 2nd lieutenant to
lieutenant-colonel in the same battalion in a period of 26 months, commanding
until his fatal wounding on 23 October 1918: he had spotted celery in the garden
Evolution of Command in the Integrated Army 77

of an empty house and was picking it when a shell shattered his leg. He died on 3
December 1918 at the age of 27. One of his officers, Alan Thomas, was warned en
route to the battalion that Owen was known as the fire-eater, and Dawson was no
less.13 He has left a rare analytic description:

No man I have ever met was more suited by nature to be a commanding officer:
no man succeeded in his job more magnificently than he did (being) endowed
with peculiar qualities of leadership.14

A man secure in his authority, one whose stature was heightened by adversity
men would follow him to hell.15

Dawson was wounded six times and, having won the DSO as a captain, added
three bars as CO (being one of only seven officers to be awarded three bars, five
of whom served as battalion commanders), awards which demonstrate his courage
and aggression, his initiative, and his ability to inspire.
Extraordinary individuals came from outside the regular fold. An example of a
territorial officer who commanded a service battalion, and one who also led from
the front, was Lieutenant-Colonel Bernard Henry Leathes Prior, the Haileybury-
educated son of a solicitor who had entered his fathers profession. He had served
in South Africa (19001901) and was commanding the 6th Norfolk (Cyclist) at
the outbreak of the war, aged 37. The battalion remained in the UK, and Prior
was transferred in mid-1916 to the 7th Battalion on the Western Front, and again
at the end of September to command the 9th Norfolk, a post he held until August
1918. He was wounded on four occasions: in October and December 1916, the
latter occasion providing an insight into the nature of his leadership, as he was
shot through the right forearm by a sniper in no-mans-land whilst returning from
a reconnaissance for a raid; again in January 1918, when he was gassed; and
finally on 22 March during the German Spring Offensive. In August, shattered
by wounds and gas, he was finally invalided.16 He was seven times mentioned in
dispatches and awarded the DSO and bar as CO. The citation for his bar won in
the German Spring Offensive reads: Throughout two days of an enemy advance,
and until wounded, he set a splendid example of coolness and courage under the
most trying conditions, personally supervising the readjustments which had to be
made to meet the enemy attacks, and the gallant resistance offered by his battalion
was largely due to his magnificent example of fearless determination.17 Despite
his wounds, he only died in 1953, aged 76.

13
Alan Thomas, A Life Apart (London: Gollancz, 1968), 45.
14
Ibid. 578.
15
Ibid. 100.
16
Francis L. Petre, The History of the Norfolk Regiment 19141918 (Norwich:
Jarrold, 1919), 292.
17
London Gazette (26 July 1918).
78 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

Another example of a territorial who had further to rise to command a service


battalion was Lieutenant-Colonel Morgan Maddox Morgan-Owen, educated at
Shrewsbury and Oriel College, Oxford, and a Welsh football international. He
was a teacher at Repton and captain in the OTC there. Aged 37 in August 1914,
he was transferred immediately to the 4th Essex. After being invalided from
Gallipoli he joined the 11th Rifle Brigade as second-in-command. He commanded
for two months from the end of October 1917 during the Third Battle of Ypres
after Lieutenant-Colonel A.E. Cotton was gassed, moving at the start of December
to command the 10th Battalion until its disbandment in February 1918, when he
returned to the 11th, where he was wounded in the German Spring Offensive on 29
March. He won the DSO whilst commanding the 10th Battalion at Cambrai on 30
November on the occasion of the German counter-attack, the citation indicating
his qualities:

When his battalion was in reserve, he moved it up to resist the attack, and held
on to the position for two days. His steadfast determination to hold his ground
against repeated attacks and under heavy fire largely contributed to restoring and
keeping in hand the critical situation which had arisen.18

He returned to Repton after the war, but his sporting career was over. A bullet
ricocheting from his revolver handle had shattered the bone of one of his lower
arms, which was replaced with a silver rod, an injury which did not prevent him
from commanding 11th Battalion, Derbyshire Home Guard in World War Two.19
Lieutenant-Colonel Christopher Bushell of the Special Reserve was yet
another extraordinary individual who commanded a service battalion. Born in
1888 and educated at Rugby and Corpus Christi College, Oxford, he was called to
the bar in 1912 and in the same year was commissioned in the reserve of the West
Surrey Regiment.20 He was severely wounded with the 1st Battalion on the Aisne
on 14 September 1914. He returned in November 1915 as an aide-de-camp in 33rd
Division until June 1916 and then served as a staff captain with 100 Brigade on the
Somme from August to December 1916, when he was transferred to the 7th West
Surrey as CO. He served until April 1917, when he was superseded and became
second-in-command. He served as CO again from September 1917 to 23 March
1918, when he was wounded in the German Spring Offensive at St Quentin and
won the Victoria Cross. Finally he returned as CO from 23 May 1918 to 8 August
1918, the day of his death. His unit, on the flank of 18th Divisions attack on the
Bray-Corbie Ridge, was held up by machine guns, and Bushell came forward
to personally lead a successful attack on them but was mortally wounded in the
process. His VC citation for his acts on 23 March echoes the circumstances of his
death:

18
London Gazette (16 Aug. 19180.
19
<www.owen.cholerton.org>.
20
<http://www.queensroyalsurreys.org.uk/vc/vc14.html>.
Evolution of Command in the Integrated Army 79

Lieut-Colonel Bushell personally led C Company of his battalion in face


of very heavy machine-gun fire. In the course of this attack he was severely
wounded in the head, but continued to carry on, walking about in front of both
English and Allied troops, encouraging and reorganising them. He refused even
to have his wound attended to until he had placed the whole line in a sound
position, and formed a defensive flank to meet a turning movement by the
enemy. He then went to Brigade Headquarters and reported the situation, had his
wound dressed, and returned to the firing line. He visited every portion of the
line, both English and Allied, in the face of terrific machine-gun and rifle fire,
exhorting the troops to remain where they were and to kill the enemy. In spite of
the wounds, this gallant officer refused to go to the rear, and had eventually to be
removed to the dressing station in a fainting condition.21

Bushell died leading in the way he had always led. A pen-picture exists of the
youthful Lieutenant-Colonel four days before the events of 23 March, when he
dined with the artillery: Tall, properly handsome, with his crisp curling hair and
his chin that was firm but not markedly so; the eyes that were reflective rather than
compelling; earnest to the point of an absorbed seriousness. His fellow diners
considered that we did right to note him well a splendid young leader.22
Lastly, the extraordinary contribution that a family who produced a service
battalion CO could make to the war is exemplified by that of Edward and Emily
Stone. Edward, a solicitor, had ten children, all five of the males seeing service.
The eldest son, also Edward, joined the 2nd Dragoon Guards in 1902 and served
as a staff captain and brigade-major in 191718. The third eldest son, Reginald
Guy, joined the navy in 1896 and as a lieutenant-commander was awarded the
DSO for service in the Mediterranean in 1917.23 The fourth eldest son, Walter
Napleton, emigrated to Canada and became a land surveyor, returning to England
to be commissioned in the 3rd Royal Fusiliers. He was awarded a posthumous VC
for his actions on 30 November 1917 at Cambrai, serving with the 17th Battalion.24
The youngest son, Francis Le Strange, who had played a rugby union match for
England, was commissioned in the 3rd Hussars in August 1914, being awarded the
MC in 1917.25
Arthur Stone, the second eldest son, is an example of a citizen of August 1914,
retired from the ranks of the Territorial Force, who rose to command. He was born
in 1877 and graduated with a BA in law from Kings College Cambridge in 1899.
A well known rifle shot who played football both for Cambridge University and
Kent, he was articled to his fathers firm. He had served with the Gloucestershire

21
London Gazette (30 Apr. 1916).
22
Quex (George H.F. Nichols), Pushed and the Return Push (Edinburgh: William
Blackwood, 1919), 12.
23
London Gazette (17 May 1918).
24
London Gazette (13 Feb. 1918).
25
London Gazette (17 Sept. 1917).
80 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

Engineers Volunteer Battalion, Clifton College Contingent (189496), the


Cambridge University Rifle Volunteers (189699), and the Inns of Court Rifle
Volunteers (18991908). Attesting as a private in September 1914 in the School
of Musketry, he was immediately appointed instructor and company sergeant
major.26 Having applied for a commission, he was gazetted to the 15th Lancashire
Fusiliers, being promoted to major in December 1914. Proceeding to France with
the battalion in November 1915, he took over as CO when Lieutenant-Colonel
J.H. Lloyd was given command of 90 Brigade for two months from September
1916, reverting to second-in-command before being promoted to command the
16th Lancashire Fusiliers from April to 2 October 1918 when he died in the attempt
to capture Ramicourt on the Beaurevoir-Fonsomme Line. Stones unit became
isolated in the advance, and he was killed as they fell back.

9th (Scottish) Division

9th Division arrived on the Western Front in May 1915 and was involved in all
major actions of the war from the Battle of Loos onwards. Fifty lieutenant-colonels
commanded the 12 service battalions during their time on active service with the
division during the war. Three quarters were active/retired professionals, and one
was from the South African Defence Force: Lieutenant-Colonel Ambrose Robin
Innes-Browne, a captain in August 1914 (appropriately enough from the Transvaal
Scottish), who commanded the 6th Scottish Borderers from April to August 1917.
In terms of amateur soldiers, four were from the Special Reserve (although only
one was not previously a professional), three were territorials, and six were
civilians in August 1914. Although the division had a higher level of professional
soldiers commanding battalions, the quality of COs of whatever source during
the Hundred Days makes the notion that this was the key to its success unlikely.
On arrival in France in May 1915, 11 of the 12 battalions were commanded by
COs who had been with them from the start, and the other CO had been with
his battalion for all but six weeks since it was raised. These units had therefore
enjoyed a remarkable degree of consistency.
How typical was the case of Bob Dawson, rising from junior officership to
command within the same service battalion? A quarter of CO appointments in 9th
Division on active service were officers who had originally gone overseas with the
unit in question. Five of these nine individuals were officers who had been majors
in May 1915, and only one of these was appointed after mid-1916. They were,
therefore, established senior officers who moved up to command as a matter of
seniority relatively early in the battalions evolution. Suitability aside, the simple
matter of casualties amongst company and platoon commanders would have limited
the number of such officers who could have worked their way up to command. There
were, however, four such individuals within 9th Division. Sir G.W. Abercromby, a
retired lieutenant of the Scots Guards and Gordon Highlanders, went to the Western

26
Arthur Stone, Personal Service Record (TNA, WO 339/21909).
Evolution of Command in the Integrated Army 81

Front with the 8th Black Watch as a captain in May 1915 and commanded between
March 1916 and May 1917. P.C Anderson, a 2nd lieutenant of the 2nd Seaforth
Highlanders, was transferred to the 7th Battalion in September 1914, served as
adjutant between September 1915 and April 1917, and commanded between October
1918 and the armistice. Similarly, R.W. Campbell, a retired reservist of the Scottish
Rifles, went on active service with the 11th Royal Scots as a captain and commanded
between September and December 1915. Finally, A.G.M.M. Crichton, a civilian in
August 1914 who was commissioned in the 5th Cameron Highlanders, commanded
between September 1917 and March 1918.
As Table 4.3 shows, the main reason for turnover was replacement. At 40
per cent this rate is virtually identical to the overall 38 per cent average turnover
for the BEF during the war, but given the marked early stability in the division,
this indicates a higher rate of replacement on active service, again reflecting the
attention given to quality control.

Table 4.3 Reasons for turnover of COs of service battalions in 9th Division

Killed 12%
Wounded 17%
Prisoner of War 0%
Invalided 5%
Promoted 17%
Staff 2%
Transferred as CO to another division 7%
Replaced and not used as CO again 40%

13th Battalion (West Ham) Essex Regiment

The 13th Essex was raised locally by the mayor and borough recruiting at West
Ham from 27 December 1914 and spent most of its war in 2nd Division, having
five substantive, temporary, or acting lieutenant-colonels. The units first CO was
Lieutenant-Colonel Pelham Rawsthorn Papillon, a retired militia captain and
solicitor. Born in 1864, he grew up at Lexden Manor, Colchester, in a wealthy and
influential landowning family whose principal seat was Crowhurst Park, Sussex.
He was educated at Winchester and University College, Oxford, and was a keen
cricketer and amateur archaeologist, whose Lexden Gladiator find is displayed
in the British Museum. He was commissioned in the 3rd Sussex in 1889 and saw
service in South Africa. Having retired in 1904, Papillon was commissioned captain
in the 9th Sussex in September 1914 and lieutenant-colonel in the 13th Essex in
February 1915. The two regiments spanned both his county of residence and that
82 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

in which he grew up, and his circumstances reflect the convenient relationships
between the mayors who raised the battalions and local notables with military
connections in the appointment of COs.27
The battalion arrived on the Western Front in November 1915 and went into
action on the Somme at Delville Wood (2831 July 1916). Papillon was wounded
in the German counter-attack of 30 July but remained at duty: A shell burst in
front of him, knocked him down and cut his eye, but he carried on with the greatest
coolness. Next morning another shell severely bruised him and broke the drum
of his ear, but he refused to leave his post.28 On 8 August 1916, the unit was in
action again, ordered to attack Guillemont from Trones Wood, an attack that had
failed earlier in the day. Two companies were annihilated by machine-gun fire in
front of uncut wire. Papillon, taking the risk of the man on the spot, defied his
orders and held back his other companies, referring his dilemma to 6 Brigade. The
attack was cancelled. Twenty days later, on 28 August 1916, Papillon returned to
England on special leave. He returned on 5 September, but on 1 October 1916,
en route to trenches in the Hebuterne sector, returned to the transport lines sick.
The same war diary entry noted that Major W.H. Carter took over command of
the battalion and assumed the rank of Lieut. Colonel.29 Papillon was suffering
from a psychological breakdown. Brigade clearly recognised this and had granted
him special leave for rest. After several Medical Boards, opinion held that he was
clearly suffering Shell Shock. He was stone deaf in traffic, but could hear a
watch at two inches away. He had exaggerated knee jerks as well as suffering
great restlessness overall.30 His replacement had clearly been identified in
advance as he was in place within hours.
William Henry Carter was a marked contrast to Papillon. Born in 1879, Carters
father was a gas-tube maker. He had enlisted in 1899 in the 2nd South Staffordshire
and saw service in South Africa. A signals sergeant of the battalion at the outbreak
of war, he was commissioned in January 1915. His promotion demonstrates not
only the rapid rise of the talented regular non-commissioned officer the journey
from 2nd lieutenant to lieutenant-colonel taking 21 months (thereby moving faster
than Dawson) but also the talent spotting of a promising major, Carter having
already commanded the 17th Middlesex at that rank between July and September
1916.
Carter was to command the battalion in 6 Brigades unsuccessful attack on
the Quadrilateral Redoubt on 13 November 1916 during the Battle of the Ancre.
His report, copied into the war diary on 12/13 November 1916, shows a CO in
conflict with his company commanders, deferring to them but carefully covering
himself against come-back from brigade, from which direction he may have felt

27
Peter Simkins, Kitcheners Army: The Raising of the New Armies 19141916
(Barnsley: Pen & Sword, 2007), 219.
28
London Gazette (20 Oct. 1916).
29
13th Battalion Essex Regiment, War Diary (TNA, WO 95/1358).
30
Pelham Rawsthorn Papillon, Personal Service Record (TNA, WO 339/21480).
Evolution of Command in the Integrated Army 83

particularly vulnerable due to his origins in the ranks, and revealing doubts that
they would report events truthfully at a later date:

On the night of the 12th I sent for the Company Commanders who were in
command of the 1st wave and told them that I thought it was impossible to take
the Quadrilateral with a frontal attack, and gave orders that it should be taken
from the flanks. Both of the officers disagreed with this and on account of the
points they raised I decided to let my orders for the attack stand as before,
although I was still in doubt as to whether I had done right. This consultation
took place in the presence of the Adjutant, who heard everything that was said.31

In the event, no particular infantry tactics would have taken the Quadrilateral that
day, and Carters reputation did not suffer.
During two spells of absence, Major A.G. Hayward, second-in-command, took
over. Arthur Gracie Hayward was a 31-year-old citizen in August 1914, whose
clergyman father served churches on land own by the Papillon family. An Oxford
graduate and champion boxer, he had served in the colonial service in Fiji but at
the outbreak of the war was assistant secretary of a social-welfare association in
Stratford and had been commissioned in the battalion in May 1915. A man with
initiative, he and Papillon had invented a silent communication system for the
units first trench raid, the four in hand. The raiding party was divided into four
columns, the leader of which was connected through the darkness to the officer in
charge by a ball of twine. When each of the columns were required to move up the
leader simply tugged on the appropriate line.32 Hayward was earmarked for future
command being sent to Senior Officers School at Aldershot in April 1917, but he
would not command the unit in which he had been commissioned, being sent as
CO to the 4th Bedfordshire on active service from July to September 1918.
Carter himself was also sent to Senior Officers School in April 1917 and
was replaced by a regular officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Cuthbert Thomas Martin,
who was CO of the 2nd Highland Light Infantry. Martin commanded during the
battalions unsuccessful attack at Oppy (28 April 1917) during the Battle of Arras
but, on the following day, assumed temporary command of 6 Brigade, and Major
A.D. Derviche-Jones, a solicitor in August 1914 with no military background,
took over. Lieutenant-Colonel A.E.F Harris assumed command on 16 May and
Derviche-Jones proceeded to the temporary command of the 1st Liverpool, the first
of several such postings. The two majors who had acted up during these months
were both civilians with evident command skills.
Carter returned on 6 July 1917 and took up duties as second-in-command,
a short-lived post as he was transferred 12 days later and commanded the 7th
South Staffordshire until the armistice. He was awarded the DSO and bar and
MC and bar. His DSO was awarded for his actions in taking command of the

31
13th Battalion Essex Regiment, War Diary.
32
<http://gmic.co.uk/index.php/topic/202-an-alternative-1st-july-1916>.
84 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

17th Middlesex in 1916 after the CO was wounded, the bar being awarded for
skilful leading on 89 November 1918. He became a brigadier-general in
the army of occupation. His home town of Wolverhampton gave him a civic
reception on 21 March 1918 and named a street after him, but his post-war
career was unsuccessful: his poultry farm failed, as did a taxi business, and he
worked subsequently as a motorcycle mechanic and a steel erector. He died in
1951, his health having broken down during World War Two after his foot was
amputated due to a wound he received in 1915. Interviewed by a reporter from
the Birmingham Post in 1934 he stated: Some of the old chaps who used to
know me in the army chaps the same as myself, you know come and see me,
because even when I was an officer, I hadnt any bounce.33
Arthur Ellis Fowke Harris was a 39-year-old captain of the 1st Berkshire in
August 1914, having commanded the battalion for a year from May 1916. After
various brief periods commanding 6 Brigade, on 21 November 1917, Harris
proceeded to England. The reason for his removal is unclear, although he was
probably rested, and he subsequently served as a major with the 2/19th London,
commanding during June 1918, and lastly being appointed CO of a battalion of
the Manchester Regiment in October 1918. The second-in-command, Major J.
Walsh was then promoted. At the age of 33, James Walsh had been commissioned
from warrant officer class II into the Liverpool Regiment in January 1916. He
was promoted to lieutenant-colonel on 13 December 1917, his 22 month journey
from 2nd lieutenant to CO being a month longer than Carters. The battalion was in
action on 30 November, nine days after Walsh assumed command, in the German
counter-attack at Cambrai. Walsh distinguished himself: During continual and
heavy hostile attacks he visited all portions of his line, regardless of personal
danger, and it was owing to his courage and ability in dealing with critical and
constantly changing situations, that his line was held. The battalion was disbanded
in February 1918, but Walsh later served as lieutenant-colonel during May 1918
with the 6th Northamptonshire, being invalided, and again with the 2/2nd London
from August to the armistice.
In summary, the 13th Essex showcases the evolving merit-based promotion
in the BEF. It was commanded by five lieutenant-colonels (none of whom had
any connection with the Essex Regiment), and, of the last four, two had been
regular non-commissioned officers at the outbreak of the war and both were still
commanding battalions at the armistice. The other two were regular captains
in August 1914: one was promoted to brigade command, the other was still
commanding a battalion in November 1918. Amongst those who did not rise to
the rank of lieutenant-colonel in the 13th Essex, three majors were talent spotted
and sent to Senior Officers School, namely Hayward, Derviche-Jones, and A.A.
Macfarlane-Grieve, a territorial, and all were commanding battalions at the
armistice, two on active service.

33
<http://www.westernfrontassociation.com/great-war-people/brothers-arms/2721-
lieutenant-colonel-william-henry-carter-dso-and-bar-mc-and-bar.html>.
Evolution of Command in the Integrated Army 85

Territorial Battalions

The Territorial Force, as we have seen, made a contribution to battalion command


less than its size would have suggested. As Table 4.3 shows, the first-line TF
battalions on active service were, perhaps unsurprisingly, unable to produce
sufficient officers that the army was prepared to rely on for command. They
were therefore unable to maintain their monopoly, only just over half of the COs
appointed on active service having a territorial background. Even this level of
contribution still meant that there was less reliance on other sources. Thirty six
per cent of active COs were professional soldiers, just over half the percentage for
service battalions. Similarly, whilst the next largest group comprised those who
were citizens in August 1914, which made up 7 per cent of COs overall, this was
again only a little over a third of the contribution citizens made to the new army
battalions. The Territorial Force therefore managed to keep a significant influence
over its first-line units, and citizens were unlikely to progress to command in the
same way as they might in the new armies.
In the second-line territorial units, however, a smaller number of COs (41
per cent) had a territorial background and a higher number (47 per cent) were
professional soldiers. The TF therefore proved to have limited resources for
command of its second-line battalions, and there was clearly no strong impetus
to denude the first-line to command the second-line, the input of professionals
being more heavily relied upon. Citizens had no greater chance of command in the
second-line units than they did in the first.

Table 4.4 Origins of active COs of first- and second-line TF battalions

First-Line Second-Line
Territorial Force (active) 52% 27%
Territorial Force (retired) 4% 14%
Regular Army (active) 24% 33%
Regular Army (retired) 6% 10%
Indian Army 2% 1%
Special Reserve 4% 6%
Empire 1% 1%
Citizen 7% 8%

In Chapter 1, it was noted that over a third of first-line TF commanding officers


in post in August 1914 did not accompany their units on active service. It might
be thought that given the circumstances, a younger, militarily active individual
would have succeeded, in particular the senior major. In fact, although 56 per cent
86 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

of second commanding officers were indeed active territorial majors and captains,
a quarter were retired senior TF officers. The logic behind appointing dug-outs to
first-line battalions is difficult to fathom. The appointments, of course, echo the
retired senior officer principle in vogue for provision of command to the newly
raised battalions. It suggests, however, a lack of confidence in the senior officers of
many of these battalions, which may have had some justification given the clearly
mixed quality of the commanding officers in post at the outbreak of the war. The
fact that only 13 per cent of second appointments were active regulars may also
suggest that there was an added element of necessity, as this was just the point
in time when there were few potential commanding officers among the regular
officers. Lack of confidence was probably the major factor, as it clearly persisted,
and, as the dug-outs fell by the wayside, the number of active professional soldiers
increased. This stiffening of battalions with regular officers as CO increased from
13 to 32 per cent between the second and third appointments. This was, however,
the greatest percentage of regulars in first-line units, and it remained thereafter at
just under a third of appointees. On 29 September 1918, those with a pure territorial
background, including those who had been commissioned in the TF after August
1914, comprised just under half of appointees. The grip was, however, looser, for
at this point the number of active TF officers of 1914 commanding had dropped
to 36 per cent, largely in favour of individuals who were civilians in August 1914
who now made up 20 per cent of commands, a figure which, although clearly
rising, being three times the average, is still significantly lower than the number of
citizens commanding service battalions at this point.
The appointment of professionals naturally caused resentment amongst the
amateurs. Lieutenant-Colonel F.B. Follett, a regular captain of the Warwickshire
Regiment was given command of the 1/9th London in January 1917, and his
appointment drew bitter words from the battalions historian, Major C.A.C.
Keeson, who observed, somewhat inaccurately that: From about the end of
1916 commands given to members of that Force were very few and far between,
no matter how long they had served or how efficient they were in their duties.
He continued: In practically every case a Regular officer was appointed to
the command of a regiment directly a vacancy occurred, and in some instances
officers actually commanding a battalion in the field were on one pretext or another
posted to a reserve battalion at home or found a job elsewhere. Whilst undeniably
there was a continuing bias against territorials, sentiment was distorting Keesons
perceptions, and he noted:

The change caused considerable bitterness among those immediately concerned.


No matter how brilliant their fighting record the professional soldier was ignorant
of the traditions on which many Territorial regiments set great store, and never
felt in full sympathy with the amateur, while the latter naturally resented his
being passed over.34

34
C.A.C. Keeson, History and Records of Queen Victorias Rifles 17921922
(London: Constable, 1923), 219.
Evolution of Command in the Integrated Army 87

It is interesting that Keeson, writing in 1923 when the status quo had been restored,
focuses on matters of tradition, rather than considering whether there were some
quality problems with territorial officers, especially the pre-war ones.
Territorial units did of course have a regular officer within their ranks in August
1914 in the form of the adjutant, and half of these became COs. A romantic image
might be conjured of the CO falling, his senior officers with him, the faithful adjutant
taking control and being rewarded with permanent command. Whilst adjutants did
find them themselves left in command in battle, only 12 of 207 actually succeeded
to command (as lieutenant-colonel) of the TF battalion to which they were adjutant
in August 1914, the first to do so being Captain G.B.G. Wood, adjutant of the
1/5th Lancashire Fusiliers in August 1914, who commanded between August and
September 1915 at Gallipoli. The progression from adjutant to CO in the August
1914 territorial battalion of attachment was the least likely route to command.

42nd (East Lancashire) Division

42nd Division, a first-line territorial formation, first saw service at Gallipoli and
in Egypt, arriving on the Western Front in 1917 in time for the Third Battle of
Ypres and playing a major part in the battles of 1918. Seventy lieutenant-colonels
commanded the twelve TF units with the division during the war. Forty-six per
cent were territorials in August 1914; 47 per cent were professional soldiers, a
slightly higher proportion in comparison with the 36 per cent commanding first-
line TF battalions overall during the war; and 7 per cent were citizens.
Nine of the twelve commanding officers of these battalions in August 1914
landed at Gallipoli on 10 May 1915, a significant proportion of first COs therefore
keeping their job. Lieutenant-Colonel Doctor Herbert Wade was CO of the 1/9th
Manchester at the outbreak of the war, and his career will stand as illustration.
Born in 1865, he had left Oldham for a civil service appointment in Singapore,
where he served as a private in the volunteer artillery. Returning to the UK he
served as a non-commissioned officer in the Cheshire and Caernarvonshire
Artillery Volunteers, being commissioned in the Manchester Regiment in 1900.
He worked for the local authority as education secretary and had worked his way
up to the post of CO of the 9th Battalion by July 1913.35 Twelve days after arriving
at Gallipoli, Wade was shot by a sniper stepping across some men who were
sleeping in order not to disturb them.36 During his recuperation in Alexandria,
he learnt that his son John Wade, a lieutenant with the battalion, had been killed.
He returned in February 1916 to command the unit in Egypt, including the Sinai
fighting, a task he continued until 27 April 1917, just after the battalions return
to France. He was transferred to the TF reserve in June that year, undoubtedly no
longer up to the Western Front, although he had seen nearly two years of active
service.

35
Manchester Reporter (8 Aug. 1914), cited at <www.ashtonpals.webs.com>.
36
Manchester Reporter (7 Aug. 1915), cited ibid.
88 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

Of the other eight, Lieutenant-Colonel W.G. Heys, 1/8th Manchester, a


47-year-old chartered patent agent, was killed in the Third Battle of Krithia on
4 June 1915. He had been commanding 125 Brigade temporarily and returned to
his battalion to his fate as nearly all of his officers were casualties. Lieutenant-
Colonel H.E. Gresham, 1/7th Manchester, a 50-year-old mechanical engineer and
co-proprietor of the Craven Iron Works, Salford, was invalided 18 days after his
arrival. Lieutenant-Colonel J.A. Fallows, 1/8th Lancashire Fusiliers, a 50-year-
old India rubber company manager, was killed on 7 June in a Turkish counter-
attack following the Third Battle of Krithia, Lieutenant-Colonel A.F. Maclure,
1/7th Lancashire Fusiliers, a 40-year-old solicitor, having been wounded two days
earlier. Lieutenant-Colonel F.D Robinson, 1/4th East Lancashire, a 53-year-old
solicitor, was replaced on 15 July, two days after Viscount Hampden assumed
command of 126 Brigade; Lieutenant-Colonel J. Isherwood, 1/5th Lancashire
Fusiliers, a 52-year-old solicitor, being similarly replaced on 18 July. Lieutenant-
Colonel Lord Rochdale, 1/6th Lancashire Fusiliers, a flannel manufacturer who
had played first-class cricket for Lancashire and who had been MP for Heywood
and Manchester North-West, had a period in command of 126 Brigade in June but
was invalided on 29 September. Only Lieutenant-Colonel J.B. Rye, a 56-year-old
Oldham yarn merchant and CO of the 1/10th Manchester, had a command, like
Wades, that survived Gallipoli, serving until 14 May 1916. Gallipoli was surely a
harsh environment for these older men, and it certainly proved deadly.
The division was transferred to the Western Front in March 1917. In its first
major action in Belgium during the Third Battle of Ypres on 6 September 1917,
when it attacked Iberian, Borry, and Beck House Farms near Frezenberg, a dramatic
evolution of command from Gallipoli was evident, one that would have confirmed
C.A.C. Keesons worst fears. Seventy five per cent of the battalions were now
commanded by regulars, a figure twice the overall stiffening percentage. Two thirds
of these appointments dated from mid-1917, indicating an attempt to reinforce the
division with professional soldiers immediately after arrival on the Western Front.
All four Lancashire Fusilier battalions of 125 Brigade were commanded on
6 September by men who were regulars in August 1914. The CO of the 1/5th
Lancashire Fusiliers was Lieutenant-Colonel Phillip Vaughan Holberton, a captain
of the Manchester Regiment in August 1914 and clearly an immensely talented
officer, who had served as adjutant to the 1/6th Manchester (127 Brigade), brigade-
major with 126 Brigade, and as both GSO3 and GSO2 between December 1915
and 17 October 1916, at which point he took over the battalion at the age of 37,
having contributed to all three brigades of the division. Holberton commanded
until 25 March 1918, when he was killed near Gomiecourt during the German
Spring Offensive. The divisional history notes: With his habitual disregard of
personal safety [he] walked along the line encouraging and heartening his men and
was shot through the head.37

37
Frederick P. Gibbon, The 42nd (East Lancashire) Division 19141918 (London:
George Newnes, 1920), 134.
Evolution of Command in the Integrated Army 89

The 1/6th Lancashire Fusiliers were commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel


Macdonald Freer Hammond-Smith, a lieutenant of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers
in August 1914, who had been deputy assistant adjutant and quartermaster general
with the division from January 1916 until his appointment as CO on 25 July 1917
at the age of 33. He was wounded on 12 September 1917. The 1/7th Lancashire
Fusiliers were commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel William Edward Maskell, a non-
commissioned officer in August 1914 who was commissioned in the Devonshire
Regiment in December 1914 and who served with the 1/6th Manchester before
moving to the Lancashire Fusiliers, becoming CO on 29 August 1916, aged 43.
Maskell was also wounded on 12 September, and neither he nor Hammond-
Smith were able to return to command. Lastly, the 1/8th Lancashire Fusiliers
were commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel George Everard Hope, a lieutenant
of the Grenadier Guards in August 1914, another clearly talented officer who
had variously served as an aide-de-camp, staff-captain, DAAQMG, and GSO3
between April 1915 and 1 June 1917 when he took over command aged 31 (being
the only one of the quartet not to have a previous connection with 42nd Division).
Hope was killed on 10 October 1917, stumbling into an enemy post at Nieuport
in the dark. In 1919, sadly, Hopes mother would not believe that her only son is
dead. She is convinced in her own mind that he will appear.38 Front-line service
was hard indeed on these four officers.
In 126 Brigade, three battalions were commanded on 6 September by regulars
of August 1914. The 1/9th Manchester were commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel
Evan Colclough Lloyd, a captain of the Royal Irish Regiment in August 1914,
one of a pair of militarily talented siblings, whose brother, John Hardress Lloyd,
commanded the 1st Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and rose to be brigadier-general of
the 3rd Tank Brigade. A man of astonishing resilience, he was CO of four battalions
during the war, spending 762 days in command in total. His Manchester command,
the third of his four, was terminated by wounding on 6 April 1918. The 1/10th
Manchester were commanded from 27 May 1917 by Lieutenant-Colonel Richard
Percy Lewis, who was killed by shellfire on 8 September 1917 aged 40. A captain
of the Devonshire Regiment at the outbreak of the war, he had served as a brigade-
major during 1916. The 1/4th East Lancashire were commanded from 29 June 1917
by Lieutenant-Colonel Arthur Henry Seton Hart-Synnot psc, a major of the East
Surrey Regiment in August 1914. He had served as a GSO2 from February to
June 1917 and commanded until 19 September 1917, when he was transferred
to command the 1st Lancashire Fusiliers, aged 47. In contrast, the CO of the 1/5th
East Lancashire was Lieutenant-Colonel Ernest William Lennard, a 29-year-old
territorial officer and son of the founder of Lennards Ltd, a major British shoe
retailer, who was a lieutenant of the 1/6th Gloucestershire in August 1914 and who
commanded until 20 September 1917.
In 127 Brigade, two battalions were commanded by territorials on 6 September.
The CO of the 1/5th Manchester was Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Clayton Darlington,

38
The Sun (9 Mar. 1919), 6.
90 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

a 37-year-old solicitor, who was senior major of the battalion in August 1914.
Darlington showed considerable endurance, serving in Egypt, Gallipoli, Sinai,
and France before leaving command on 25 May 1918. The 1/7th Manchester
was commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Albert Edward Cronshaw, a 42-year-old
brass finisher and captain of the 1/5th Battalion in August 1914. He commanded
from April 1916 until 20 September 1917, at which point he was invalided. Of
the two regulars, the 1/6th Manchester was commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel
Gilbert Henry Wedgwood, the great-great-grandson of potter Josiah Wedgwood.
A 38-year-old captain of the York and Lancaster Regiment in August 1914 and
an officer of considerable promise, the 1/6th Manchester was his third battalion
command before being promoted to be brigadier-general of 126 Brigade on 25
May 1918. Lastly, the 1/8th Manchester was commanded from July 1917 until May
1918 by 33-year-old Lieutenant-Colonel Elward Guy Kynaston Cross, a captain in
the Special Reserve of the 7th Hussars in August 1914, who had served during the
war as an adjutant of yeomanry and as an aide-de-camp.
42nd Division had suffered at Gallipoli, and its activities in Egypt were hardly
adequate preparation for France and Flanders. The stiffening with regulars
experienced on the Western Front was a reasonable response to its arrival there.
Reviewing the regular officers given command, one is struck by their abilities and
the armys depth of talent apparent in their biographies. They appear resilient,
all-round soldiers, many being comfortable with both staff work and fighting. By
29 September 1918, however, the balance had shifted. In the reduced battalion
composition of the division of February 1918, when the number of units was
reduced from twelve to nine, four battalions were commanded by regulars, two
by territorials, and three by civilians, a position which reflected more regulars and
civilians and fewer territorials than the overall average.
The main reason for CO turnover in the division was replacement. At 50 per
cent this is above the 38 per cent overall average for the BEF during the war and
the highest of the three division types. This indicates a highly active approach to
assessment of CO suitability, largely related to the transition from the Middle East
to the Western Front. Death in action was the second highest cause of turnover at
15 per cent, and the account of the fate of the territorial COs at Gallipoli and their
regular successors of 1917 on the Western Front illustrates this sad fact.

1/4th Royal Berkshire

The 1/4th Royal Berkshire was a unit of 48th Division, serving on the Western Front
from March 1915, notably on the Somme and at the Third Battle of Ypres, before
transferring in November 1917 to Italy, where it remained. It had four substantive,
temporary, or acting lieutenant-colonels during the war.
At the outbreak of the war, the battalion was led by 49-year-old Lieutenant-
Colonel Oswald Pearce-Serocold. He represented the growing presence of the
mercantile class in the upper ranks of the TF. The son of a brewer, he became
director and chairman of Watney Combe & Reid. Educated at Eton and Trinity
Evolution of Command in the Integrated Army 91

College, Cambridge, he had been commissioned in the 1st Volunteer Battalion


Berkshire Regiment in 1885 and became lieutenant-colonel in 1900. He vacated
command in 1907 and became supply and transport officer of the South Midland
Volunteer Infantry Brigade, returning as CO in October 1909.
The 1/4th Royal Berkshire disembarked at Boulogne at the end of March
1915. In May Pearce-Serocold took command of 145 Brigade, and Major R.J.
Clarke, the second-in-command, took over, as he did in subsequent absences. On
14 February 1916, Pearce-Serocold was recalled to England, playing no further
part in the war, returning to beer production and dying in 1951. The war diary
recorded the great loss to the battalion for he had put in 32 years in the Regiment,
9 years as Commanding Officer.39 His departure may have simply reflected the
replacement of an older commander, but smacks of the new broom effect, as it
followed the appointment of Brigadier-General H.R. Done in December 1915,
when Lieutenant-Colonel F.W. Schofield, 1/4th Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire,
was also removed. Clarke assumed command.
Aged 40 at the outbreak of the war, Robert Joyce Clarke was a Charterhouse-
educated clothing manufacturer. He had been commissioned in the 1st Volunteer
Battalion Berkshire Regiment in 1896. He had served in South Africa (1900
1901), briefly as a railway staff officer, serving again in this staff post in August
1914. Clarke was to prove an able and resilient CO. He was awarded the DSO
in relation to his battalions various actions on the Somme, having handled his
battalion with great skill and determination. On three separate occasions his fine
leading has achieved important success.40 On 13 April 1918, he was transferred
to the command of the newly formed divisional (48th) Battalion Machine Gun
Corps. Captain C.R.M.F. Cruttwell wrote: His departure was deeply regretted.
He described how Clarke had gained the complete confidence of all. He had
kept a strict discipline without worrying the men about trifles; they could all
appreciate his administrative ability, his grasp of detail and practical concern for
their comfort.41
Clarke had 14 absences from the battalion during his two-year tenure, and
on all occasions the replacement was an original officer of the battalion, and
two individuals feature prominently. Grenville Arthur Battock, a solicitor, was a
captain at the outbreak of the war and ended it as a major. Although he was never
to command a unit during the war, he was to command the battalion between
1924 and 1928. John Newton Aldworth, the son of a farmer, was also a captain
in August 1914. Aldworth became the principal choice as replacement, and, in
October 1916, was sent to Senior Officers School. He was also, however, never
given a battalion command, Clarkes replacement being Arthur Barwick Lloyd-

39
1/4th Battalion Royal Berkshire Regiment, War Diary (TNA, WO 95/2762).
40
London Gazette (14 Nov. 1916).
41
Charles R.M.F. Cruttwell, The War Service of the 1/4th Royal Berkshire Regiment
(T.F.), Kindle edn (London: Blackwell, 1922), loc. 1514.
92 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

Baker, who had commanded the 1/4th Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light
Infantry between February 1918 and March 1918 within the same brigade.
Born in 1873, second-eldest son of a landowning family of Hardwicke Court,
Gloucestershire, Lloyd-Baker had been commissioned in the 1st Buckinghamshire
Volunteers in 1902 and was a captain in August 1914. Educated at Eton and New
College, Oxford, he had taken up a teaching post at Cheltenham College. He served
as a staff captain from August 1914 to February 1916 and had attended the Senior
Officer Course in January 1917. Cruttwell noted his characteristic kindness and
tact.42 He attended a further COs course in Padua in June 1918. On 16 August,
he noted in his diary: Brigadier round line: proposes 6 months at home for me.
Rather attractive but almost no hope of coming back to same Bn or even Division.
In four months, Lloyd-Baker, although weary, felt he had built a bond with his new
battalion. He recorded further on 30 August: GOC Div talked about my going &
said he couldnt spare me. Apparently Watt put me in without further consultation
after 16th. Brigadier-General D.M. Watt, 145 Brigade, had been replaced on 27
August. Lloyd-Bakers departure was therefore not a new broom replacement,
rather, perhaps, the result of a benign gesture from a brigade HQ that knew him
well. He was given his rest and transferred to the command of a cyclist battalion,
the 2/1st Essex Yeomanry, in Ireland.
Lieutenant-Colonel Hector Fraser Whitehead, a 40-year-old Scot, who arrived
on 29 August 1918 and served as CO until the armistice, was a different kettle of
fish. A retired ranker of the 1st Volunteer Battalion Cameron Highlanders, he had
risen to the rank of sergeant in the 2nd Motorcycle Section, Lovats Scouts. He
was an occasional writer (as secretary of the Cairn Terrier Club he had published
handbooks on both the Cairn and Yorkshire terriers) and was a national health
insurance commission assistant inspector in August 1914. He was commissioned
in the 23rd Northumberland Fusiliers in December 1914, and, transferring to the
2/5th East Lancashire, assumed command between April 1917 and the disbandment
of the battalion in August 1918. In the late stages of this battalions life he was
involved in the training of the 131st US Infantry Battalion where he was described
as a hard-headed fighting old Scotchman [who] believed in the extermination of
the Hun from the start.43 Captain Cruttwell described him as a brave man, but of
a narrow and unsympathetic school, staled by continuous service throughout the
war.44 These two contrasting assessments should, perhaps, be seen in the light
of the 1/4th Berkshire having been commanded until Whiteheads arrival by three
career territorials, two of whom were original officers of the battalion in 1914.
Whiteheads career, despite having an amateur background, suggests a competent
officer risen from the ranks who established his credentials as CO in the new

42
Ibid., loc. 1517.
43
Joseph B. Sanbourn and George N. Malstrom, The 131st U.S. Infantry in the World
War (Chicago: n.p., 1919), 36.
44
Cruttwell, The War Service of the 1/4th Royal Berkshire Regiment, loc. 1607.
Evolution of Command in the Integrated Army 93

armies and who, in his aggressive and business-like way, probably had no time for
the gentlemanly territorial ethos that had persisted in the 1/4th Berkshire.
The 1/4th Berkshire therefore went against the trend of the increasing influx of
regulars to command, a trend seen so clearly in 42nd Division. The senior major of
1914 proved a more than capable soldier, and the need for stiffening with a regular
never arose.
***
Despite the increasing integration of the army, different patterns of command arose
in regular, new army, and territorial units. The professional soldier kept a strong
grip on the command of regular battalions, and there are strong indications that
despite the opportunities opening up for more merit-based promotion, regimental
and, to a lesser extent, battalion particularity in relation to promotion continued to
a considerable degree in regular units. Patterns of turnover varied from division
to division and battalion to battalion: thus 5th Division had a rate of promotion to
brigadier-general three times the average rate, whilst 1st Hampshires CO fatality
rate scythed through possible promotion candidates for brigade command.
Professional soldiers similarly made up exactly two thirds of service battalion
commands, yet these units also showcased the developing merit-based promotion.
This is not only exemplified by the two non-commissioned officers who rose to
command the 13th Essex, but also the rising stars of the citizen CO group, who
on 29 September 1918 comprised a third of commands in service battalions.
Battalions with a pre-war identity kept a stronger grip on ownership of command.
Professional soldiers made their lowest contribution to command in first-line
territorial units, despite the noted inadequacy of a number of TF senior officers
of August 1914. There was a less than wholehearted commitment in the initial
months to the appointment of younger, internal replacements in first-line units.
Although the amateur officer would struggle to achieve senior command in the
first-line territorial units, half of commands were retained by the territorial officers
of August 1914, although this had dropped to under a third by late 1918. The
growing contribution of the citizens of August 1914, however, proceeded more
slowly and to a lesser extent in the TF, never matching the contribution to service
battalions.
What also proves interesting are those who took temporary command during
the absences of their commanding officers. These majors demonstrate evidence of
the grooming of promising individuals for command and the preparation of many
of them for this role by Senior Officers School, providing strong evidence of
the growing merit-based approach and the perceived importance of a skills-based
approach to battalion command.
This page has been left blank intentionally
Chapter 5
Hiring and Firing

On 13 November 1915, Major Herbert Edward Trevor, 2nd Kings Own Yorkshire
Light Infantry wrote home to his wife, complaining: I havent the slightest idea
why I was pitchforked into this job except that the last CO was booted and the
former second-in-command has gone home sick and I dont know how long Im
expected to remain.1 He had been ousted from his post as brigade-major with
142 Brigade and sent to command the 8th battalion of his regiment following
Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Tate Manleys removal. His language implies
suddenness, uncertainty, and little pleasure.

Hiring

The war created a radically different landscape of promotion for the regimental
officer. Since the abolition of the practice of purchasing commissions in 1871,
promotion beyond the rank of lieutenant in the regular army had been governed
by seniority within the regimental list balanced by the positive recommendation
of the commanding officer and confirmatory success in qualifying examinations.2
The seniority principle has been rightly criticised as not allowing officers of equal
ability the same opportunity to rise to battalion command. As the official historian
noted, military talent is rare and is not immediately evident. Seniority rules bar
its ascent.3 However, it must not be forgotten that seniority was a considerable
advance on purchase. The price of a lieutenant-colonelcy in a line regiment in
1871 was 4,500 (355,000 in 2012 values). If a majority was sold for its price
of 3,200 (252,000), a further 1,300 (103,000) therefore had to be found.
The only positive aspect of the purchase system was that the money served as a
bond which was non-returnable if the individual was cashiered for wrong-doing
or incompetence and, hence, served as a rough coercion against more extreme
uselessness. The obvious downside was that it kept senior rank within the grasp of
only those who could afford it, irrespective of quality.

1
Brigadier-General H.E. Trevor CMG DSO, private papers (IWM, Documents
11445).
2
HMSO, Report of the Royal Commission on Army Promotion and Retirement,
Parliamentary Paper C.1569 (1876).
3
James E. Edmonds and Robin Maxwell-Hyslop, Military Operations France and
Belgium 1918, vol. 5 (London: Imperial War Museum, 1947), 593.
96 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

Seniority was not an absolute principle. Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Osbert


Samuel Cadogan, 1st Royal Welsh Fusiliers, was able to write to his mother from
India in 1912: Lloyd, who is senior to me, [has] been passed over and I [have]
got command of this Battalion.4 Indeed, in the three years prior to August 1914,
15 per cent of CO appointments involved passing over a more senior major.
Cadogan added: I must say I shall be a very proud man indeed for I shall be one
of the youngest Colonels in the service, being only two days over 44. Being from
a background that could not have financed the purchase of a commission, money
was unashamedly important to him: I shall be entitled to my pension two days
after reaching my 48th year. 420 a year is a very different pension from 200
which is all I should have got if I had been passed over. Sadly, he did not live to
enjoy his pension, being killed at Zandvoorde on 30 December 1914.

Promotion to Battalion Command

The examination for promotion to lieutenant-colonel was the test of Tactical


Fitness for Command.5 The candidate would firstly be examined in a three-hour
theoretical paper. This consisted of a tactical problem involving the operations of a
force not exceeding a brigade of infantry with a brigade of artillery and a regiment
of cavalry, and a proportion of mounted infantry, RE [Royal Engineers], ASC
[Army Service Corps], and RAMC [Royal Army Medical Corps]. The candidate
then had to write a general appreciation of the situation, the action which he
propose[d] to take, and the orders necessary for the execution of his plan.
The second part of the examination took place in the field with troops, overseen
by a board of senior officers. The task was to command in any minor tactical
operations which may be ordered, a mixed force, of which the strength must not
be less than one battalion of infantry, a battery of artillery, and one squadron of
cavalry, to which may be added a proportion of mounted infantry and RE.
The exams, both written and practical, therefore, encompassed combined arms
operations. In the practical exam, which was against a real enemy, the candidate
was given the general idea the night before and a special idea on the ground, to
which he had half-an-hour to respond and issue his written orders. Credit was given
for intelligence, judgment, commonsense, and readiness of resource in making
the best of any situation. Success was not a formality: 38 per cent of candidates
failed the test in 1912.6 Adrian Nelson Carton de Wiart, taking his exam for
promotion to major failed gloriously, but noted: How lucky that wars wash out

4
Henry Cadogan, letter (7 Apr. 1912), in The Road to Armageddon (Wrexham:
Bridge Books, 2009), 157.
5
War Office, The Kings Regulations and Orders for the Army, 1912: Reprinted with
Amendments Published in Army Orders up to 1 August 1914 (London: HMSO, 1914),
Appendices XII, XIII, 4526.
6
Report on the Staff Conference held at the Staff College, Camberley (1720 Jan.
1927) (TNA, WO 279/57); cited in David French, Military Identities: The Regimental
Hiring and Firing 97

examinations.7 After commanding service battalions of both the Gloucestershire


and North Staffordshire regiments, he was promoted to two brigade commands.
War indeed washed out examinations, as H.E. Trevor suddenly discovered.
Opportunities rapidly opened up for promotion to battalion command and upwards
to brigade command. For a professional soldier like Trevor, who had been a major
for only 14 months at the outbreak of the war and had served in peacetime staff
posts, promotion to CO in the unit in which he progressed from 2nd lieutenant to
major would have been a natural goal. In December 1916, Lieutenant-Colonel
A.G. Horsfall, taking up post as CO of the 2nd Duke of Wellingtons West Riding
Regiment, wrote: Everyone who is worth their salt is ambitious. There are any
number of people waiting for commands.8 Major R.G.B. Jeffreys, who had spent
the war up to March 1916 with the 3rd Royal Dublin Fusiliers at home, wrote from
the officers club at Boulogne on the day he arrived in France: I am so pleased to be
going to the 2nd Battalion and I hope before long I may get the command.9 Roland
Boys Bradford envisaged the route to command through a staff posting, but either
felt or had been told that he looked too young. He acquired a monocle to add to
the air of years and dignity that were lacking. He intended to be Brigade-Major,
then a Battalion Commander, finally Brigade Commander. This he achieved on
talent rather than eyewear, however briefly.10
Promotion in the field could have informal origins. Captain Rowland Feilding,
a captain in the City of London Yeomanry in August 1914, but later of the 3rd
Coldstream Guards, was asked on 29 August 1916 by Brigadier-General J.
Ponsonby, to come round this morning to talk over whether he ought to get
command of one of the New Army battalions.11 By the following day, Major-
General G.P.T. Feilding (his cousin) had approved the proposal and thought
it would be much to [his] advantage.12 On 4 September came news of his
appointment to the 6th Connaught Rangers. Feilding wrote, however: I feel very
diffident as to whether I can command a battalion efficiently. It will be a strange
feeling, jumping up to find myself a Colonel. He continued humbly and loyally:
I have always said before that I would rather command a Coldstream Company

System, the British Army and the British People c.18702000 (Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 2005), 158.
7
Adrian Carton de Wiart, Happy Odyssey (London: Pan, 1950), 39.
8
Lieutenant-Colonel A. Horsfall, private papers (2 Dec. 1916) (IWM, Documents
14929).
9
R.G.B. Jeffreys, letter (13 June 1916), in Lieutenant-Colonel R.G.B. Jeffreys,
Collected Letters 19161918, ed. Conor Dodd and Liam Dodd (Dublin: Old Tough
Publications, 2007), 6.
10
Captain Welch, cited in Anon., Brigadier-General R.B. Bradford VC MC and His
Brothers (Newport: Ray Westlake, n.d.), 61.
11
Rowland Feilding, War Letters to a Wife, ed. Jonathan Walker (Staplehurst:
Spellmount, 2001), 63.
12
Ibid.
98 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

than a battalion elsewhere. But the difficulty is my age. I am double the age
of all or nearly all the other Company Commanders of the Division, and there is
practically no chance of promotion here. Age was not the only issue: he was also
aware that being only a Special Reserve officer and an amateur soldier at that,
[he could] never rise higher than a Company Commander here.13 He commanded
the Connaught Rangers until March 1918 and the 1/15th London from August to
the armistice. Feilding was not the only promotee troubled by diffidence about
command. Major A.F.A.N. Thorne similarly wrote to his wife in September 1916
following his appointment as CO of the 3rd Grenadier Guards: I am too excited
and proud to realise for the moment how much I shall have to be fit for its
responsibilities. I do pray that I may not let the battalion down.14
Lieutenant-Colonel Edward William Hermon was a major in King Edwards
Horse and bored of inaction, when in July 1916 he found himself with an
embarrassment of riches. First, Major-General Sir C.St L. Barter offered him
command of a battalion: I am to go and do a fortnight in the trenches first just
to get in touch with the work a bit and then, if I am a success, I am to get a
Battalion. This, he wrote to his wife, was an awful problem & [I] dont in the
least know what to do, as its not exactly what I wanted but its a start.15 He
added: The idea of going is not appealing but I do want a job of work.16
Three weeks later, he wrote: I met a pal who is a Brigadier. He was horrified
to find that I wasnt a Brigadier too. He at once offered me a Battalion in his
Brigade. Hermon found himself fairly up a gumtree. His Brigade is a New
Army one & his Div. Commander is in a very much better position than C.B.
I personally would far rather have this than the former one.17 In terms of his first
offer, Barter was commanding 47th Division, a first-line territorial formation.
Hermon, a Special Reserve officer demonstrating snobbery worthy of a regular,
had his eye clearly on the greater prestige and further promotion that he felt the
second offer of an appointment within 34th Division, the new army formation,
might bring. He tried to put Barter off, a ruse which had its reward as 13 days
later he wrote that he was to be CO of the 27th Northumberland Fusiliers: As
you will have already gathered I want this Battalion most.18 Hermon did not,
however, go without qualms, writing: I expect one will be alright everyone
has got to make a start.19

13
Ibid. 65.
14
Donald Lindsay, Forgotten General: A Life of Andrew Thorne (Salisbury: Michael
Russell, 1987), 59.
15
Edward W. Hermon, letter (4 July 1916), in For Love and Courage: The Letters
of Lieutenant-Colonel E.W. Hermon from the Western Front 19141917, ed. Anne Nason
(London: Preface, 2008), 236.
16
Hermon, letter (6 July 1916), ibid. 237.
17
Hermon, letter (26 July 1916), ibid. 250.
18
Hermon, letter (8 Aug. 1916), ibid. 258.
19
Ibid.
Hiring and Firing 99

Senior Officers School

Potential COs did not evolve solely though practical experience, nor did the army
continue to rely on the informality by which Hermon and Feilding acquired their
posts. As was seen in the battalions studied in Chapter 4, after the end of 1916,
suitable candidates were being talent-spotted and sent to Senior Officers School,
where an attempt was made to impart a coherent body of knowledge and assess
suitability. The origins of the school date from March 1916, when Lieutenant-
Colonel R.J. Kentish, who had been running Third Army School at Flixcourt,
initiated CO conferences for a week at a time, where 20 or 30 COs and senior
officers met for discussions.20 Lieutenant-Colonel A.C. Johnston, 10th Cheshire,
attended such a conference, albeit with a larger number of attendees (150 officers)
at Second Army Central School, Wisques, for six days in late December 1916.
It comprised a mixture of lectures including map reading, bayonet fighting, and
intelligence and an unspecified but good lecture by Tim Harrington from 2nd
Army Staff. He paid visits to such facilities as Second Army Sniping School at
Steenvoorde, the Trench Mortar School at Berthen, the Signal School at Zutpeyne,
and an engineering training ground. Although he enjoyed the war games,
Johnston placed his greatest positive emphasis on the conference dialogue at army
HQ: Where the authorities who are only too anxious to help were able to learn a
lot of our troubles and difficulties at first hand, with the result that a lot of useful
and helpful things are going to be done at once.21 Whether these materialised or
not is a topic on which the diary is silent.
Lieutenant-Colonel E.W. Hermon was similarly sent on a senior officers
course in France in February 1917, seven months after assuming command, and
had begun optimistically enough. Disappointment soon asserted itself: We have
had a poor day again today & I am afraid unless things brighten up a bit more the
course wont have done one much good. He seemed particularly disillusioned with
his fellow COs: I had hoped that I should have picked up a good deal from the
other members of the class in conversation but they dont seem to be overflowing
with ideas. The following day he gave up, writing: I pointed out to the powers
that be how very stupid it was to send me there just now and so got off it.22
In October 1916, Kentish, now a brigadier-general, was sent to Aldershot to
establish these conferences in an extended form as Senior Officers School. He
recorded that Sir Douglas Haig directly tasked him with this, allegedly stating: I
am sending you back to Aldershot to organise this new School because, judging
from reports from my Army Commanders, I learn that Majors and Senior Captains
have little knowledge of the duties of a Commanding Officer. Haig identified
not only a knowledge gap but a deficit in the skills of leadership, specifying

20
Basil Kentish, This Foul Thing Called War (Lewes: Book Guild, 1997), 63.
21
Alexander Johnston, The Great War Diaries of Brigadier General Alexander
Johnston 19141917, ed. Edwin Astill (Barnsley: Pen & Sword, 2007), 1945.
22
Hermon, letters (13, 14 Feb. 1917), in Love and Courage, 3267.
100 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

that he wanted Kentish to create potential commanding officers able to get their
men in the right mood to follow them. ... [concentrating] on leadership and
morale and leav[ing] the tactical side to [his] staff.23 Whether Kentish delivered
his leadership lecture or not is not clear, but his one published contribution
to the early 1917 course was the lecture On the Role and Responsibilities of
the Commanding Officer in a Battalion Mess. This interest may have served
Kentish, who was always something of a character, well. In 1932, when he fell
on financial hard times, he took on a rather curious job at the Dorchester Hotel,
London. Part of this fell under the heading of procuring affluent guests, but
Robert Graves, it is alleged, accused Kentish of being procurer to the Dorchester
Girls, the eight-strong teenage chorus line, a reputation not improved by his
clearly identifiable figure portrayed in a salacious novel, Vinegar and Brown
Paper, by J.P. Carstairs (1939).24
Charles Pritchard Clayton, a 29-year-old teacher who had joined the Special
Reserve of the Welsh Regiment on the outbreak of the war, attended the school in
late 1917. He had already commanded the 2nd Welsh from November to December
1916, as a lieutenant-colonel. He described the process of selection as follows:
The Colonel says that he has been asked whether he could spare me to go to the
senior officers course. The recommendation therefore came from brigade at least.
A friend was also offered a vacancy and finally we decide that we will both
accept,25 implying that there was no compulsion. Indeed, Lieutenant-Colonel J.L.
Jack, 2nd West Yorkshire, declined to attend in January 1917, viewing it as an
infernal nuisance and was never invited again.26
At Aldershot, Clayton found a merry company. In terms of the staff he found
that the tutors were for the most part colonels who have just recovered or are
recovering from wounds. He found his fellow pupils an odd mixture. Perhaps
revealing his own motives for attending he noted: there are a few colonels and
majors who, like ourselves, have had a long spell in France and are here really for
a rest, continuing, however, there are senior Territorial officers who have been on
home jobs and are here to get the hang of work on the Western Front, so that they
may take their rank out there despite their inexperience.27
Major Denys Reitz described how the teaching process began: We started as
privates, gradually working our way through the ranks, from section commander
to corporal, thence to sergeant, platoon and company commander, and ultimately
to O.C. Battalion, in order to acquaint ourselves in a tabloid form with the whole

23
Kentish, This Foul Thing Called War, 64.
24
Matthew Sweet, The West End Front: The Wartime Secrets of Londons Grand
Hotels (London: Faber & Faber, 2011), 1045.
25
Charles P. Clayton, The Hungry One (Llandysul, Ceredigion: Gomer Press, 1978),
199200.
26
John Terraine, General Jacks Diary (London: Cassell, 2000), 19.
27
Clayton, The Hungry One, 200.
Hiring and Firing 101

field of infantry work.28 Hugh Lloyd-Williams, a 25-year-old barrister in August


1914, who was commissioned 2nd lieutenant in the 9th Royal Welsh Fusiliers
in September 1914, the battalion he would command between April and July
1918, attended the school between October and December 1917. He described
the teaching format: The school was divided into three groups, each group
forming a mess, and in its turn divided into five or six syndicates, each syndicate
comprising about sixteen senior officers under a syndicate Commander.29 C.P.
Clayton scorned the subject matter: The exercise in drill is what I did in the
O.T.C. before this was thought of, and on the methods of attack and defence I
am afraid that Baxter and I frequently disagree with Kentish and his instructors.
We frequently challenge their principles from our experience and have hot
discussions.30 Lloyd-Williams, in contrast, found that the course was thorough
and comprehensive and although [they] were obliged to carry out the smallest
degree and detail of work, drill, and so on there was great liberty of action and
opinion. The days work usually commenced with a syndicate discussion and
ended with a lecture.
Lloyd-Williams, who described how everyone worked, everyone played
wholeheartedly, (the latter comment possibly referring to being out on exercise
when there were sumptuous lunches so sumptuous on occasions the instructors
themselves were unable to maintain an interest in the conferences), continued that
all participants had to pass riding school, drill, bayonet fighting, and climbing high
walls and participated in flagged attacks and extended order practice, and graduated
tactical schemes. These were carried out on the Hogs Back near Wellington
Memorial, around the Royal Pavilion, on Laffans Plain, the Basingstoke Canal,
Crondall Village, where we employed Canadian troops, Ivelety Farm Norris
Bridge, and Foresters Inn, Caesars Camp, Tweseldown, and Beacon Hill and
Longmoor. His description speaks to an active and practical training. Clayton and
his compatriot were not indiscreet and [they] both finished up with reports which
affirm that [they] were recommended for immediate command of a battalion in
the field.31 Kentish would travel to France at the end of each course to deliver
reports on candidate suitability.
The French army had a similar school system for COs. Lieutenant-Colonel
Rowland Feilding was attached for three weeks in February 1918 to the Court
Suprieure dInfanterie at Vadenay, near Chalons-sur-Marne. He described
lectures for three hours or more each morning and visits to different army schools
in the afternoons. Feilding had not attended Senior Officers School itself, but
had attended a five-day CO course at Wisques in February 1917. Whether or
not he was contrasting the two experiences, he wrote: I am much struck with

28
Denys Reitz, Trekking On (London: Faber & Faber, 1933), 123.
29
Lieutenant-Colonel H. Lloyd-Williams DSO MC, private papers, 97100 (IWM,
Documents 13838).
30
Clayton, The Hungry One, 200.
31
Ibid.
102 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

the thoroughness and efficiency of these Frenchmen, and the serious way in
contrast to ours that they go about the war. I wonder if they overdo it. But it is an
interesting and valuable experience.32
Whilst no records of Senior Officers School survive, it was the practice to
publish the lectures as Notes for Commanding Officers. The names of the tutors
and participants on the fourth course, held in the first half of 1917, are listed in the
dedication to the 1917 volume.33 There were six instructional staff (all except one
of whom had been COs), three group commanders (all of whom had commanded
battalions), and nineteen syndicate commanders (again all of whom had been
COs with a single exception), as well as one Royal Engineer instructor. They
were therefore rich in experience of both command and battle. There were 227
attendees, with ranks from lieutenant to lieutenant-colonel, a fifth being Dominion
officers. Nearly one in every ten already had experience of command, and clearly
part of the schools purpose was to enhance the knowledge and skills of those
already in post. All except four were infantry.
Of the British infantry regiments, 146 officers who had no previous experience
of command can be followed to see whether they subsequently commanded
battalions prior to the armistice, a year and a half after the end of the course,
probably long enough for them to achieve command if they were going to.
Removing those who were subsequently killed from the analysis, 40 per cent
achieved a CO post as lieutenant-colonel. Whilst we do not know how many of
these men were approved, as Clayton was, the evidence suggests that attendance at
the course did not guarantee a command, with less than half of attendees obtaining
one. The army at this point in the war evidently possessed clear notions as to who
should progress to CO status and was judicious as to who was appointed.

Wartime Staff Service and Command

The pitchforked Lieutenant-Colonel H.E Trevor had been a regular adjutant for
four years, the officer of a company of cadets at Sandhurst for another four, and
had then spent a year as a brigade-major with Northern Command and the 6th
London Infantry Brigade. From November 1914 he served as a brigade-major on
the Western Front. He was clearly administratively able. To what extent, however,
in the rapidly expanding army, was the link between administrative ability, as
demonstrated by staff posting, and battalion command maintained? Firstly, of
all active COs who had been below the rank of major in 1914, a fifth had been
battalion adjutants during the war prior to appointment, a third of the level of the
pre-war period. There was therefore only a weak association between adjutancy
and wartime battalion command. Secondly, only 14 per cent of all active COs
with the rank of lieutenant-colonel had experience of staff service during the war

32
Feilding, War Letters to a Wife, 1546.
33
Notes for Commanding Officers (Aldershot: Gale & Polden, 1917): the dedication
is dated 31 Aug. 1917.
Hiring and Firing 103

prior to appointment to command, an association even weaker than the link with
adjutancy.
Officers were encouraged to develop staff skills and demonstrate aptitude.
Probably from late 1915 and certainly by 1916, they were being sent on the
recommendations of their COs for a months staff attachment to brigade. If they
wished, they could have a further months attachment to a higher formation. This
was often unpopular, however, such officers wishing to return to front-line duty
where promotion was more likely. Captain A. Hanbury-Sparrow, a future CO, was
sent as staff learner to corps in 1916 as a GSO3. He felt out of place, observing that
the attitude of the staff was beyond question akin to that of the economic world,
continuing: You missed, in fact, the cult atmosphere of the trenches. You were
a peg in a round hole, and when you left, it was with a flea in your ear.34
The existence of only a small overlap between the combat and staff groups
indicates the shortage of skilled staff officers, men with the psc qualification,
experience, or clear administrative ability being hived off for the rapidly
expanding staff domain and, hence, bypassing battalion command. It may also
indicate that there was such a distinction between the skills of a good fighting
battalion commander, commanding men in the front line, and those required of a
more organisational role.

CO to Brigadier-General

The second aspect of hiring was promotion beyond the rank of lieutenant-colonel.
In terms of onwards promotion from battalion command, since 1881, regulations
had decreed that a Lieutenant-Colonel, after 5 years actual service, will become a
Colonel, and will be eligible for employment during 5 years or until the age of 55;
when, if he is not promoted to Major-General, retirement will be compulsory.35
He was limited to four years in command of a battalion. The narrow funnel of
opportunity for more senior command is reflected in the fate of the predecessors
of the COs of August 1914: for just over half, the end of battalion command had
effectively meant the end of career.
The expansion of the army during the war and, hence, the number of brigades,
coupled with the turnover of commanders at that level, created an ongoing demand
for brigadier-generals. Some COs had experience of brigade command during the
brief absence of the incumbent, just as their majors and captains had experience
of battalion command during their own absences. This acting-up, at least earlier in
the war, was organised on the seniority principle, and attitudes concerning it were
slow to die. In the New Zealand Division in December 1916, Lieutenant-Colonel
H. Hart, Wellington Battalion, noted:

34
Alan Hanbury-Sparrow, The Land-Locked Lake (London: Hazel, Watson & Viney,
1932), 18990.
35
HMSO, Revised Memorandum Showing Principal Changes in Army Organization
from July 1881, Parliamentary Paper C.2922 (1881).
104 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

On Tuesday last Brigadier-General Johnston went away on a months sick leave,


and Lieutenant-Colonel Brown was appointed to command the brigade with rank
of Temporary Colonel. He is junior to all four COs but it affected Lieutenant-
Colonel Plugge the most as he is the senior Lieutenant-Colonel in the Division.

Hart recognised that there was purpose behind this decision: It is in fact a
deliberate and intended turn-down for him. Apparently there was a general
view that Plugge would not achieve promotion and as he is the senior CO in
[the] Brigade, this matter has stood in the way of the other three COs. It is a relief
therefore to find that the situation is being cleared up. Plugge was likely worn out
as in early 1917 he was relieved of command and placed in charge of divisional
sporting activities.36
Just as officers aspired to battalion command, so battalion commanders clearly
aspired to be general officers. Lieutenant-Colonel George Archibald Stevens
wrote enthusiastically to his father (a Royal Artillery colonel) in April 1916: I
have been recommended for the command of a Brigade what HO,37 but after
his psychological breakdown following the attack on Monchy in April 1917 noted
forlornly: I suppose all my prospects in the Army are gone.38 He was soon much
relieved, however: I have heard from my general & they bear me no ill will & he
is going to keep my Battalion for me and wants me back.39 At the start of October
he wrote: I have just heard that the man in front of me has just got his Brigade
today,40 and finally on 14 November 1917, I am now a real live Brigadier.41 It
had taken 19 months to work his way up the list.
In contrast, Lieutenant-Colonel W.D. Croft of the 11th Royal Scots woke
up in September 1917, to find Frank Maxwell in the tent with the astounding
intelligence that [I] had got a brigade. He seems only to have been depressed
by the idea: So I was to leave the dear old division, and all my old friends in
the battalion; it didnt sound a very cheering prospect, especially as they were
just about to go into action.42 Similarly, even Lieutenant-Colonel H.P. Croft,
whose memoirs betray little personal reaction, stated: I was naturally pleased at
promotion, but it is with a heavy heart that you leave men with whom you have
lived in the palace of death for sixteen months.43

36
John Crawford (ed.), The Devils Own War: The First World War Diary of Brigadier-
General Herbert Hart (Titirangi, Auckland: Exisle, 2008), 154
37
Brigadier-General G.A. Stevens, letter (29 Apr. 1916), private papers (IWM,
Documents 12339).
38
Stevens, letter (25 Apr. 1917), private papers.
39
Stevens, letter (10 May 1917), private papers.
40
Stevens, letter (2 Oct. 1917), private papers.
41
Stevens, letter (14 Nov. 1917), private papers.
42
William D. Croft, Three Years with the Ninth (Scottish) Division,(London: John
Murray, 1917), 1501.
43
Henry Page Croft, Twenty Two Months Under Fire (London: John Murray, 1917), 165.
Hiring and Firing 105

Lieutenant-Colonel W. Fraser, 1/6th Gordon Highlanders, was sent to command


XVIII Corps Training School in January 1918, describing it as a safe job and
supposed to be a leg up towards a Brigade,44 but the school fell into abeyance
after the German Spring Offensive, and Fraser hung hopefully and fretfully about
corps HQ. When finally in September he was sent to command the 1st Gordon
Highlanders, something that would have been the pinnacle of his career before
the war, he was a bit disappointed at being sent back to a battalion at first. He
noted optimistically: Im still on the list for a brigade, calculating himself as
about 3 months off promotion, but concluding in consolation: What can one
want better then to command ones own battalion?45 The war ended before the
hoped-for elevation.
Lieutenant Siegfried Sassoon implied that promotion-seeking could be over-
aggressively pursued in battalion eyes, writing of Colonel Winchell (Lieutenant-
Colonel J.R. Minshull-Ford): Everyone knew that he was booked for a brigade,
and some said that hed bought the Brigadiers gold-peaked cap last time he was
on leave.46 On his elevation Sassoon noted: Hed had Brigadier on the brain ever
since he came back off a leave, and now hed never be satisfied till hed got a
division and another decoration to go with it.47
Attitudes to advancement were not simple. Lieutenant-Colonel Francis Aylmer
The Brat Maxwell, CO 12th Middlesex, the deliverer of news to Lieutenant-
Colonel Fraser, had less of the personal attachment to his unit demonstrated by
W.D. Croft. He wrote to General W.E. Peyton asking to be allowed to join 18th L.,
the 18th Lancers, his regiment of origin, command of which was vacant. Peyton
replied that he should remain with the 12th Middlesex: In your own interests in the
way of advancement I think it is better also. Maxwell noted that staying should
not affect his possibility of getting the command eventually, but observed a little
wistfully: The pay is about double what I draw as O.C. 12th Middlesex.48 He
appeared to be more concerned with regimental progression, with an eye towards,
perhaps, the post-war period, than brigade promotion, which he knew full well
would only be temporary. He was advanced to the command of 27 Brigade in
October 1916, promotion which indeed did him no long-lasting good as he was
shot by a sniper at Ypres on 21 September 1917.
Ten per cent (398) active infantry COs were promoted to brigade command.
Over 93 per cent of these were active or retired professional soldiers in August
1914. Forty were further promoted to divisional command. All of these were
regulars and all except one were serving in August 1914, 26 having been battalion

44
William Fraser, In Good Company: The First World War Letters and Diaries of the
Hon. William Fraser, Gordon Highlanders (Salisbury: Michael Russell, 1990), 208.
45
Ibid. 283.
46
Siegfried Sassoon, The Complete Memoirs of George Sherston (London: Faber &
Faber, 1972), 257.
47
Ibid. 268.
48
Frank Maxwell, I Am Ready, ed. C. Maxwell (London: Hazell Watson & Viney,
1955), 12930.
106 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

commanders at the outbreak of war, and three of these were promoted to corps
command. Only 4 percent of battalion commanders elevated to brigade command
were territorials. The way these individuals were promoted to brigade command
sheds light on the mechanisms of senior promotion. Eight per cent were elevated
within the same brigade as the battalion they commanded, and 9 per cent within
the same division but not the same brigade, giving a within-division appointment
rate of only 17 per cent. This figure is so low that it raises the question as to
whether there was a policy against local promotion to avoid favouritism, for
example. The Military Secretarys Office kept lists of those flagged for promotion
to brigade and division command, but little is known about the operation of this
branch, the records having been destroyed. However it appears that a senior
assistant military secretary was attached to each army, their brief being talent-
spotting from battalion level upwards.49
As we have seen, Herbert Edward Trevor was promoted CO of the 8th KOYLI,
70 Brigade, 8th Division, III Corps, First Army in November 1915, having
previously been a brigade-major with 142 Brigade, 47th Division, IV Corps, First
Army. He was more enthusiastic about the prospect of brigade command than he
had been about battalion command. On 7 May 1916, he wrote to his wife: I gather
I am one of the next on the list of promotion to Brig-Genl and that the orders might
come any day50 and on 9 June:

As regards the brigade it is largely a matter of how long a man has commanded
a Bn and how much fighting the Bn has seen. These things also go in Corps. As
a matter of fact I couldnt be in a better corps for this purpose probably, as my
Brigadier and Div Commander have backed me up nobly.

He was promoted brigadier-general, 103 Brigade, 34th Division, III Corps, First
Army, on 3 July 1916.
His promotion from staff officer to CO was across corps but within army, his
promotion to brigadier-general was across division but within corps. His observations
on promotion from CO to brigadier are valuable, as how long a man has commanded
a Bn and how much fighting the Bn has seen speaks to promotion according to
experience-based merit principles. His statement that these things also go in Corps
may, however, merely be a reflection of his own experience and not necessarily an
accurate reflection of the wider picture. A sample of 50 first promotions of COs
to brigadier command between 1914 and 1918 shows that only 28 per cent were
within corps appointments, with 66 per cent within army appointments. In a
separate sample of 50 first promotions covering the period 19171918, only 20 per
cent were within corps and 48 per cent within army. A picture therefore emerges
of a talent-spotting system on the Western Front for promotable officers and COs

49
John Bourne, Hiring and Firing on the Western Front, paper presented at Cheshire
Western Front Association (14 Jan. 2011), <www.youtube.com/watch?v=qSOHzMjobvs>.
50
Trevor, private papers.
Hiring and Firing 107

which was capable, presumably through the military secretary at GHQ, of swiftly
projecting those promoted across the five armies to whichever gap needed filling, a
process that became more supple as the war went on.
The speed of this system is demonstrated by the experience of Lieutenant-
Colonel Alexander Colin Johnston, 10th Cheshire, 7 Brigade, 25th Division,
II Corps, Fifth Army. He was told on 12 September 1917 he would be given
command of 33 Brigade, 11th Division, XVIII Corps, Fifth Army, but the next day
was told it would in fact be 126 Brigade, 42nd Division, XIII Corps, Fourth Army,
a swift and dramatic change, with which he was not happy. He wrote: I have had
wonderful luck indeed to run from subaltern to brigadier-general in under 3 years,
but the next day wrote of the change: A bad exchange I fear, as he now reckoned
on having to train a very inexperienced brigade rather than a pretty good one.51
Indeed, some found the change of command skill-set frustrating and looked
back wistfully on battalion command. Lieutenant-Colonel A.F.A.N. Thorne
immediately appreciated the quality of the men of 184 Brigade in October 1918,
but, he wrote to his wife: [I long] to command them as a Battalion Commander
instead of as a Brigadier-General. One cannot get at them except through their
COs and I feel I could run their show so much better than they could!52

Firing

It was clearly felt that battalion command was the top of a greasy pole. Lieutenant-
Colonel A.G. Horsfall noted in November 1916: COs have no very safe tenure
out here; the slightest thing may cause ones removal.53 His anxiety about this
was manifest: I suppose when one has commanded out here for some months
you get used to the strain of never knowing when you may not put your foot
in it with some General.54 Even the redoubtable Lieutenant-Colonel E.A. Wood,
6th Kings Shropshire Light Infantry, on losing contact with battalion HQ at the
Battle of Langemarck and falling asleep from tiredness, remarked to his battalion
Intelligence Officer: I shall probably get sent home for this.55
An officer promoted to battalion command temporarily could suddenly
be displaced. Lieutenant-Colonel G.M. Bullen-Smith had commanded the 2nd
Leinster since November 1914 when in June 1915 the wounded Lieutenant-
Colonel W.T.M. Reeve unexpectedly returned. Lieutenant F.C. Hitchcock
noted: B-S hastily departed to cut off his two stars from his cuffs. We were all

51
Alexander Johnston, The Great War Diaries, 227.
52
Lindsay, Forgotten General, 74.
53
Horsfall, letter (21 Nov. 1916), private papers.
54
Horsfall, letter (25 Nov. 1916), private papers.
55
Geoffrey Dugdale, Langemarck and Cambrai (Uckfield, Suss.: Naval & Military
Press, 2005), 75.
108 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

exceedingly sorry for him.56 Lieutenant-Colonel E.W. Hermon was displaced


from the 27th Northumberland Fusiliers by the return of the previous incumbent
in October 1916. He was, however, in contrast to others, confident that a descent
down the greasy pole was not to be his fate, writing: Theyre not going to lose
me. A Battalion Commander nowadays has a price above rubies & one can almost
dictate ones own terms.57
Not all were unhappy to be replaced. Lieutenant-Colonel H.C.L. Lloyd, a
captain in August 1914, commanded the 2nd Welsh from October to mid-November
1915, when he was displaced by Lieutenant-Colonel O.B. Pritchard, a major in
August 1914. Captain C.P. Clayton noted of Pritchard: He is much senior to
Lloyd, and Lloyd has fallen to second-in-command, but seems no less happy.58
Clayton himself would rise to be second-in-command, fall to adjutant, and rise
again to CO in November 1916 when Pritchard was invalided. He was only too
aware on the arrival of the Honourable W.F. Somerset that, being a civilian, he
would be displaced: He is a Captain in the Regular Army and will therefore, I take
it, take precedence. Several days after showing him around the trenches: When
it comes time for Commanding Officers Orderly Room I have pulled down my
badges and insist upon Somerset taking the duties of command. Clayton was
conscious of demotion: Partly, I suppose, to soften my fall I am given three
weeks leave to England.59 By August 1918, when he had been lieutenant-colonel
again for nearly four months, Clayton was actively pleased to hand over command
in exchange for leave.
Although firing in its broadest sense was the largest cause of change of
commanding officer, there were a range of reasons why COs lost their posts.

Killed in Action

Four hundred and fifty two infantry commanding officers are known to have been
killed in action or died of wounds whilst commanding their battalions, an 11 per
cent attrition rate.60 To compare this with the whole officer corps, 14.6 per cent
of officers who served with the British Army during the war died, at least 30.9 per
cent were wounded, and 2.5 per cent taken prisoners. There was a 12.5 per cent
fatality rate for Canadian COs, their historian Patrick Brennan noting the obvious:

56
Francis C. Hitchcock, Stand To: A Diary of the Trenches (Uckfield, Suss.: Naval &
Military Press, 1937), 31.
57
Hermon, letter (9 Oct. 1916), in Love and Courage, 295.
58
Clayton, The Hungry One, 133.
59
Ibid. 178.
60
Changboo Kang, The British Regimental Officer on the Western Front in the Great
War, with Special Reference to the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, PhD Thesis (University
of Birmingham, 2007), 19.
Hiring and Firing 109

It would seem that battalion commanders if they were going to command


effectively had to place themselves in harms way.61
Table 5.1 sets out the average number of CO deaths per month. 1914 produced
the lowest number of monthly deaths, but this was from only 146 battalions, in
comparison with the 507 of 29 September 1918. Multiplying the 1914 monthly
total by three and a half gives a projected figure of nearly 20, indicative of the
lethal nature of the fighting of that year.

Table 5.1 Infantry COs killed in action/died of wounds

1914 1915 1916 1917 1918

Deaths per month 5.6 9 8.1 8.2 11

The CO of 1914 typically led from the front, and, of the two commanding officers
who died when II Corps stood and fought at Le Cateau, both died in this position.
Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Arthur Hugh Brett of the 2nd Suffolk, found his
battalion in a poor position. He gathered his officers and told them that they were
committed to it, and everyone must do the best he could. There was to be
no retirement.62 Brett placed himself with his forward companies and was killed
early on by a shell. In the same battle, the 2nd Royal Lancaster, commanded by
Lieutenant-Colonel Alfred McNair Dykes, found themselves on top of a hill at
Haucourt under heavy shellfire. In the frontline, Dykes fell early on, shouting
instructions: Men, if you want your lives for Gods sake extend and, finally,
Good bye, boys.63 The immensely talented Adrian Grant-Duff, CO 1st Black
Watch, was similarly killed early in the war on 14 September 1914 on the Aisne,
fighting in the front line. One of his men described how Colonel Grant-Duff was
in the thickest of the fighting. I saw him distributing bandoliers of ammunition
along the firing line. His men tried to make him go to the rear, but we were having
a tough time to keep fire superiority. Suddenly Duff staggered and slouched
forward on his hands and knees several men rushed to him but he got to his
feet himself and ordered them back to their posts, and he staggered onward with
the ammunition. He had not gone a dozen steps when both his arms flew up into

61
Patrick H. Brennan, Good Men for a Hard Job: Infantry Battalion Commanders in
the Canadian Expeditionary Force, Canadian Army Journal 9/1 (2006), 928 (16).
62
C.C.R. Murphy, The History of the Suffolk Regiment 19141927 (London:
Hutchinson, 1928), 32.
63
<www.dnw.co.uk/medals/auctionarchive/viewspecialcollections/itemdetail.
lasso?itemid=3809>.
110 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

the air and he fell backward. This time he did not move. He had been shot straight
through the heart.64
1915 contained the second highest casualty rate of the four years, 191518,
reflecting perhaps the lack of tactical/operational sophistication of the fighting. Six
COs were killed at Neuve Chapelle, 29 at Loos (11 on the first day, 25 September
1915), and trench wastage was high. Not all of the fatalities of that year were
due to enemy action. Lieutenant-Colonel J.T.C Murray, 1st Black Watch and
three others were accidentally killed when a lance corporal, swinging a grenade,
accidentally struck the ground with it, causing it to explode in February 1915.65
Training was a potentially dangerous activity: Lieutenant-Colonel W. Keyworth,
9th South Lancashire, fell victim to his own men in a similar way whilst watching
instruction in bomb-throwing in Salonika in October 1915. He returned to active
duty, but his wounds got the better of him, and he lasted only six months.
The years 1916 and 1917 produced an almost identical number of CO deaths
per month, but given the greater amount of time spent in action in 1917, it is
obvious that the Somme exerted a brutal toll. Twenty eight COs with the rank
of lieutenant-colonel died on the opening day of the campaign, 20 during the
remainder of July. At the Battle of Flers-Courcelette (15 September 1916), a
further 10 COs died, of a total of 31 from 1 August to 14 November 1916, giving
a total of 79 during the whole battle. In contrast, only 3 COs were killed on the
opening day of the Battle of Arras (9 April 1917), 21 dying during the extended
campaign. Given that the daily casualty rates on the Somme and at Arras were
2,943 and 4,076 respectively, it is clear that more care was being taken of the
resource that the commanding officer represented.66 Eight died on the opening
day of the Third Battle of Ypres (31 July 1917), and 42 during the four months
of operations.
The two years, 1916 and 1917, are broadly comparable in terms of number of
battalions engaged, and, given the reduction in number of battalions in February
1918, it was 1918 that produced the disproportionately highest number of total
CO deaths. Twelve died on the opening day of the German Spring Offensive
(21 March 1918) and five the following day. During the period of the German
offensives from March to July 1918, 73 infantry COs with the rank of lieutenant-
colonel were killed, 36 before the end of March. The cost in dead commanding
officers rivalled the Somme. In contrast, during the Hundred Days from 8 August
1918 until the armistice, 43 were killed. Thus in roughly comparable periods of
time, almost twice as many were killed in the 1918 defensive actions as in the
offensive actions, indicating the sheer physical presence of the CO with his men in
resisting the German Spring Offensive.

64
<http://pw20c.mcmaster.ca/case-study/adrian-grant-duff-preparing-first-world-
war>.
65
Joe Cassells, The Black Watch: A Record in Action (New York: Doubleday, Page &
Co., 1918), 1712.
66
<www.battlefields1418.50megs.com>.
Hiring and Firing 111

Lieutenant-Colonel John Stanhope Collings-Wells was one such who died in


March 1918, winning the Victoria Cross. A captain in the Special Reserve of the
Bedfordshire Regiment in August 1914, he served with the 2nd Battalion on the
Western Front until promoted to commanding officer of the 4th Battalion in October
1916. He was awarded the DSO for his leadership of the unit at Gavrelle in April
1917. The days following 21 March 1918 found Collings-Wells and his battalion
conducting fighting withdrawals across the old Somme battlefield, Collings-Wells
himself leading small parties covering the rear of his unit. At High Wood on 25
March, nearly surrounded, Collings-Wells called for volunteers to help him hold up
the enemy whilst the remainder escaped, fighting for an hour and a half to the last
round. Ordered to attack the railway on the Bouzincourt Ridge near Albert on 27
March, wounded in both arms, he led his men to take their objective.67 His Victoria
Cross recognised these two actions of inspirational leadership. The bunker where
he was taken to have his wounds dressed was immediately destroyed by a mortar
round, and Collings-Wells perished. The Times reported in glowing terms on his
leadership: Endowed with untiring energy and activity, he stimulated a similar
keenness in his officers. He was wedded to his battalion and spared no efforts to
promote the welfare and comfort of his men. His most striking characteristic
was an extraordinary coolness and intrepidity under shellfire, which on many
critical occasions inspired his men with confidence and cheerfulness in the face
of danger.68

Wounding and Invalidity

Whilst Lieutenant-Colonel G. Scott Jackson, 7th Northumberland Fusiliers, always


looked a picture of robust strength, and never missed his cold bath even with
the temperature near zero,69 some COs were simply physically unfit for active
service. In 10 Brigade in August 1914, Lieutenant-Colonel A.E. Mainwaring, 2nd
Royal Dublin Fusiliers, who arrived exhausted at St Quentin on 27 August 1914
and became involved in the towns surrender, should probably never have gone on
active service.70 He was subject to bouts of debilitating illness. During manoeuvres
in September 1913, he suffered so severely from colitis that he was forced to return
to Gravesend ahead of his battalion.71 Similarly, Lieutenant-Colonel T.O. Lloyd,
CO 9th Black Watch, a sciatica sufferer, found the winter of 1915 too much for his
condition and was replaced in November 1915 after 133 days on active service. In
contrast, Lieutenant-Colonel C.R.C. Crawly de Crespigny, 2nd Grenadier Guards,

67
<http://www.bedfordregiment.org.uk/4thbn/collingswellsvc.html>.
68
The Times (16 Apr. 1918).
69
Francis Buckley, Q.6.a. and Other Places (London: Spottiswoode, Ballantyne &
Co, 1920), 100.
70
See Tim Travers, The Killing Ground: The British Army, the Western Front, and the
Emergence of Modern Warfare 19001918 (Barnsley: Pen & Sword, 2003), 336.
71
Peter T. Scott, Dishonoured (London: Tom Donovan, 1994), 9.
112 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

although suffering much pain from internal ulcers refused to go sick, thereby
winning the respect of his battalion.72
The conditions of trench warfare were conducive to sickness, and falling ill
in the front line could be both inconvenient and dangerous. Lieutenant-Colonel
G.S. Guyon, 2nd Royal Fusiliers, developed appendicitis at Gallipoli and lay in his
dugout for a week before he could be evacuated. He survived, but was killed on
1 July 1916 with the 16th West Yorkshire, a battalion he had commanded for only
a week. Others would not give in to illness in order to provide an example: the
60-year-old Lieutenant-Colonel G.S. Ormerod, 9th Royal Irish Rifles, went into the
front line with pneumonia in March 1916 and had to be evacuated. He refused to
be stretchered, declaiming: Me on a stretcher and the battalion walking out! If I
am wounded its different I walk back to my horse and ride the rest!73
Some injuries could seem quite trivial, yet prove handicapping in a trench
environment. Lieutenant-Colonel C.H.D. Lyon-Campbell, 4th Royal Fusiliers,
sprained his knee after 12 days active service and was invalided. He was one
of a number of COs replaced suffering knee problems. A less trivial injury was
suffered by Lieutenant-Colonel W.T.M. Reeve, 2nd Leinster, who had his hand
shot off by a sniper in November 1914, but re-joined his battalion in June 1915.
By 1 July he was remarking that his arm gave him hell and he could not sleep.74
He visibly deteriorated and finally left 19 days later, dying within two months.
Others, however, managed to continue in command despite significant handicap.
Lieutenant-Colonel G.F. Trotter had suffered a similar misfortune to Reeve, losing
an arm during the Boer War, but was promoted CO of the 1st Grenadier Guards
serving from July 1915 to March 1916 and subsequently as a brigade commander.
When J.E.B. Seeley encountered him in the trenches he noted: We were relieved
by a Guards battalion, commanded by the one-armed Colonel Trotter. I never saw
a man so cheerful under such distressing circumstances.75 Lieutenant-Colonel
V.V. Pope, 1st North Staffordshire, had his elbow shattered by a bullet on 21
March 1918 and similarly lost his arm but later served in the Tank Corps. The
precise nature of the injury was an issue. Lieutenant-Colonel A.A. Kennedy, 5/6th
Scottish Rifles, lost an eye in July 1916 at High Wood. He returned to command
18 months later but could not cope in the front-line with monocular vision and was
replaced, thereafter serving as lieutenant-colonel in the Labour Corps. Lieutenant-
Colonel Adrian Nelson Carton de Wiart, however, commanded both battalion
and brigade lacking an eye and a hand. Many others continued after multiple
wounds. Lieutenant-Colonel James Neville Marshall was known as Marshall of
the Ten Wounds, although he did not survive the eleventh, dying leading the 16th
Lancashire Fusiliers across the River Sambre seven days before the end of the war

72
Harold Macmillan, Winds of Change 19141939 (London: Macmillan, 1966), 79.
73
Frank P. Crozier, A Brass Hat in No Mans Land (London: Jonathan Cape, 1930),
78.
74
Hitchcock, Stand To, 44.
75
John E. B. Seeley, Adventure (London: Heinemann, 1930), 223.
Hiring and Firing 113

and winning the Victoria Cross in the process. Lieutenant-Colonel E.A. Wood, 6th
Kings Shropshire Light Infantry, was similarly redoubtable in the face of injury,
invalided from command after 705 days active service having been wounded five
times, gassed twice, and buried once.
The simple fact that the commanding officer rode a horse generated potential
harm. Lieutenant-Colonel R.A. Smyth, 10th Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, was one
of several COs injured in riding accidents. He fell from his horse in June 1916,
never to return to active service as a result of further ill-luck with transport, being
killed in a motor accident in the UK. Lieutenant-Colonel R. Mander, 7th Duke
of Cornwalls Light Infantry, similarly had to surrender command in June 1918,
breaking his thigh when his horse fell. The 1/1st Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire
no doubt regarded themselves as particularly unlucky losing two successive COs
to horse falls, Lieutenant-Colonel C.P. Doig in January 1916 and his successor
Lieutenant-Colonel L.C. Hawkins the following June, both of whom never returned
to active service. Equally uncomfortably, but not from a horse, Lieutenant-Colonel
E.S. Weldon, 6th Dorsetshire, fell on a screw picket in the dark in August 1918,
but was able to return to duty in October and served until the armistice without
further mishap. Lieutenant-Colonel E.A. Pope, 12th South Wales Borderers, was
less lucky. During the Battle of Arras he fell amidst rusty wire, puncturing his
face. Invalided, he later commanded the 3rd Welsh in the UK, but two years later a
military funeral [left] Millbank Hospital and on the gun-carriage [were] the mortal
remains of Pope. The dirty wire killed him.76
Sports behind the front-line also proved dangerous. Lieutenant-Colonel C.S.
Nairne, 10th Black Watch, fractured his collarbone running in a staff relay race,
and Lieutenant-Colonel A. Stone, 16th Lancashire Fusiliers, broke the same bone
playing left fullback for the battalion officers football team, a statement having to
be provided by Captain A.N. Watts, the goalkeeper, to the effect that this was not
a self-inflicted injury.77
Commanding officers were not immune from psychological injury. Lieutenant-
Colonel Osborn Brace Pritchard commanded the 2nd Welsh from November 1915
to September 1916, but suffered from serious wounds which he got during the
retreat in 1914.78 In July 1916, the battalion was involved in the fighting for
Munster Alley, near Pozieres, and Pritchard and his adjutant were buried in their
dugout by a shell. Soon after, in the fighting for High Wood, Major C.P. Clayton,
second-in-command noted: The recent fighting has affected his old wounds, and
one leg and foot are all swollen up so badly that I wonder he can walk at all.79
After the bloody fighting he was described as very deeply grieved by his losses.
His leg worsened, and he was invalided, Clayton noting: His going is pathetic.

76
Crozier, A Brass Hat in No Mans Land, 146.
77
Arthur Stone, Personal Service Record (TNA, WO 339/21909).
78
Clayton, The Hungry One, 133.
79
Ibid. 155.
114 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

It seems that he feels he will not return.80 On 27 November 1916, Pritchard


shot himself. Clayton, his replacement, wrote: He has done it in despair because
he cannot come out and join us, but I cannot help fearing that High Wood, and its
consequences, preyed upon his sensitive mind.81
In terms of other sensitive minds, Lieutenant-Colonel T.B. Shaw, a retired
captain of Royal Engineers who was the first CO of the 2/5th Warwickshire, was
removed due to ill-health long before they went overseas. Two months after his
removal he was found floating in the sea off Cornwall. The Birmingham Daily
Post noted on 11 September 1915: The peculiar circumstances in which his
battalion were placed in regard of senior officers threw a great strain upon him,
and overwork finally led to a nervous breakdown. He tried several resorts to effect
a recovery. The word suicide was not mentioned but could not be avoided in the
case of Lieutenant-Colonel Edwin Thomas Falkner Sandys, who took command
of the 2nd Middlesex in February 1916. Wounded five times, he was severely
injured for the final time in front of Ovillers on 1 July 1916. Whilst recuperating,
he committed suicide in the Cavendish Hotel, London on 13 September 1916. The
inquest noted: Very much distressed because in the attack on July 1 his battalion
had suffered severely he wished he had been killed with his men. Sandys
himself had stated before the tragedy: I have never had a moments peace since
July 1.82 Suicide could be long delayed. Lieutenant-Colonel G. Green, a civilian
schoolmaster in August 1914 who commanded the 9th Essex from April 1917 to
August 1918 when he was gassed, ended his own life in 1957 with a service
revolver as a result of his war service.83
Psychological injury did not of course always have a tragic denouement.
Lieutenant-Colonel H. Delme-Radcliffe was invalided from command of the 2nd
Royal Welsh Fusiliers in October 1914 with a nervous breakdown according to
Private Frank Richards, whose amateur diagnosis was confirmed by the medical
officer of the 19th Field Ambulance with the hardly more professional words: A bit
of a nervous wreck.84 Lieutenant-Colonel B.H.S. Romilly, 1st Scots Guards, was
invalided with shellshock in July 1917 after a shell hit his HQ dugout, and, like
Delme-Radcliffe, never saw active service again. Similarly, Lieutenant-Colonel
F.W. Parish, 8th North Staffordshire, commanded his battalion from July 1916 to
be invalided with shellshock in November. After rehabilitation in a brigade-major
post from April to July 1917, he served twice again as a CO, although it is possible
the affliction was later reactivated.

80
Ibid. 166.
81
Ibid. 177.
82
The Times (15 Sept. 1916), 3.
83
Ian Hook, Keeper Essex Regiment Museum, personal communication.
84
Frank Richards, Old Soldiers Never Die (London: Faber, 1965), 55; Travis
Hampson, A Medical Officers Diary and Narrative of the First World War,
<
http://myweb.tiscali.co.uk/philsnet/T%20Hampson%20WW1%20Diary%20100.
htm>.
Hiring and Firing 115

Of active infantry lieutenant-colonels, at least 389 commands are known to


have been terminated by invalidity, and, of these, 250 were permanent, in that the
individual never returned to active service command, totalling 6 per cent of active
infantry COs. Similarly, at least 635 commands are known to have been terminated
by wounding, 286 representing permanent disability, a figure which constitutes
7 per cent of active infantry COs. In both cases, these figures are probably
underestimates, due to simple lack of detailed recording. Patrick Brennan states
that just over a quarter of Canadian COs were wounded at least once, with 8 per
cent never resuming command.85 Five per cent were removed for psychological
reasons, nearly as much as the 7 per cent invalided for physical illness, with
accumulated stress clearly a contributing factor in most cases.86 One particular
element of stress unique to COs was that they endured a more solitary existence
than those in the lower ranks, and companionship was a critical bulwark against
stress, with exhausting workloads and an almost paralyzing responsibility being
layered on top of the stresses shared with other battalion officers. Overall the
figure of 20 per cent removal for wounding/invalidity for Canadian commanding
officers contrasts with 13 per cent known for British COs.

Replacement

John Bourne lists five reasons for replacement of senior commanders during the
war.87 Firstly, there was the matter of age, especially of dug-outs early in the war, an
issue which is not simple, as was discovered in Chapter 2. Secondly, scapegoating
dismissals took place, notably during the first two to two and a half years of
the war. Thirdly, there was the new broom phenomenon: when a new brigade,
division, or corps commander was appointed. Fourthly, replacements were made
as part of general reordering after specific campaigns. Fifthly, COs were given
periods of rest and recuperation. Submerged within these reasons is the issue of
what proportion commanders were removed because they were not up to the job.
To give examples of clear scapegoating, both Lieutenant-Colonels Heber
Martin Williams and William Herbert Ames of the 2/1st and 2/4th Oxfordshire
and Buckinghamshire, retired territorial lieutenant-colonels in August 1914, were
removed within days of their battalions performances in front of the Sugarloaf at
the Battle of Fromelles on 19 July 1916.88 Williams, his battalion already smashed,
struggled to persuade Brigadier-General C.H.P. Carter, 184 Brigade (also sacked)
that his unit could not attack a second time, and Ames, another plain speaker,89 had
found that he could not make the attack instead of Williams because of insufficient

85
Brennan, Good Men for a Hard Job.
86
Patrick H. Brennan, Completely Worn Out by Service in France, Canadian
Military History 18/2 (2009), 514.
87
Bourne, Hiring and Firing on the Western Front.
88
Colonel G.C. Miller, private papers (IWM, Documents 80/32/1).
89
Peter A. Pedersen, Fromelles (Barnsley: Leo Cooper, 2004), 114.
116 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

stores, destroyed trenches, and the volume of wounded from the previous attack.
Both were victimised for failures they could not have avoided.
Lieutenant-Colonel H.E. Tizard was in command of the 1st Munster Fusiliers
at the catastrophic landing from the River Clyde at V Beach, Gallipoli, on
25 April 1915. Two days later, Major-General A. Hunter-Weston, GOC 29th
Division relieved him of command for failure to achieve quicker success. His
replacement, Captain G.W. Geddes, noted on 1 May: The Colonel went off for
home stellenbosched,90 and he was clear it was unfair, as he couldnt have done
anything but what he did & its a case of someone being made the scape goat of
it all.91 On the day, however, Commander Edward Unwin of the River Clyde,
who had been intimately involved in attempting to get men ashore, recorded: I
soon saw he was not the man for the awful position he found himself in. He
was dismissive of Tizards behaviour: It does not inspire men who dont know
what is going to happen to see a little man running around with a papier-mch
megaphone in his hands all day doing nothing and he never landed till the
show was over. Relenting slightly in his assessment, he concluded: He was no
coward, but simply was not the man for the part.92 It was of course the redoubtable
Lieutenant-Colonel C.H.M. Doughty-Wylie, a 29th Division staff officer, who took
charge of the men ashore and personally led the uphill charge into Sedd-el-Bahr,
recklessly exposing himself contrary to warning and being shot dead. Doughty-
Wylie received a VC for taking what seem unnecessary risks, but he was of course
acting in the tradition of leading from the front. Tizard, performing the dull task of
simply trying to be a manager, was sent home. It must not be assumed, however,
that all generals were prone to scapegoating. Lieutenant-Colonel R. Feilding, 6th
Connaught Rangers, noted of Brigadier-General G.E. Pereira of 47 Brigade: You
know if he trusts you, that he will defend you, and that no one will be allowed to
belittle you except across his mangled corpse.93
Determining how many COs were replaced is not easy. Given that 18 per cent
of active COs were still in post either at the end of the war or at the end of their
battalions life, when the other causes for leaving command already considered in
this chapter (1 per cent prisoner of war, 11 per cent killed in action, 13 per cent
invalided through sickness or wounds, and 10 per cent promoted) are removed, the
figure of 47 per cent of COs leaving command through apparently being simply
replaced is arrived at. This seems very high, and the fates of those in this group
warrant close inspection. Five per cent retired and 61 per cent were never used
again as CO: hence, they had seemingly been purposefully removed from active
command. Nineteen per cent were transferred to a staff post, and 15 per cent were
used again as a CO in a non-active battalion. With respect to both staff posts and

90
Stellenbosch was a camp/remount depot in Cape Colony during the Second Boer
War where sacked officers were sent to await passage to the UK.
91
Colonel G.W. Geddes DSO, private papers (IWM, Documents 16976).
92
Captain E. Unwin, VC CB CMG, private papers (IWM, Documents 13473).
93
Feilding, War Letters to a Wife, 103.
Hiring and Firing 117

command of training units, such employment could either represent a competent


CO who had been invalided or rested or a less than competent CO being slotted
in. Patrick Brennan notes a pattern during 191718 in the Canadian Corps to
send able officers who were worn out to command training units in England.94
Some of these training commands were therefore clearly rest and recuperation.
No evidence has been found to date that the notion of six month rest periods was
ever promulgated in orders, yet after 1916 such a system was clearly operating.
Thus, Lieutenant-Colonel M.J.F. FitzGerald, wrote to the official historian Captain
C. Falls on 25 February 1938 that: I was sent home for a rest in July 1917 in
accordance with a War Office letter, which said that those officers who had been
out on the Western Front since August 1914 should be sent home to recuperate
for a few months if it was thought desirable. Major-General H.W. Newcombe,
21st Division, thought I looked very white & fagged out & that a rest would be
desirable to save my getting ill.95
The factors which undermine the accuracy of determining how many COs were
replaced because they were not up to the job are the twin issues of, firstly, knowing
which staff postings represent side-lining and, secondly, estimating unremarked
invalidity through sickness or wounding. We will assume firstly that that half of the
staff posts do not represent side-lining, as a significant proportion were substantial
appointments, Patrick Brennan agreeing that it is likely that some effective battalion
commanders were slotted into this work.96 Secondly, let us assume that the rate of
unknown invalidity is 7 per cent, correcting the total in line with that of Canadian
COs. Through this adjustment, a total of 38 per cent of COs either removed
completely or side-lined into insubstantial posts is arrived at. The comparable figure
for the Canadian Corps, when extrapolated from Brennans data, turns out to be
exactly the same, 38 per cent: it therefore seems a reliable figure.97
Examining the number of replacements in the three formations introduced in
the last chapter, 5th (regular), 9th (new army), and 42nd (territorial) Divisions, gives
an overall replacement rate of 39 per cent, indicating that these three divisions
taken together are probably representative. The number of replacements, however,
was double in the new army division and treble in the territorial division in
comparison with the regular division. The revelation that the overall 38 per cent
replacement rate hides variation, being lower in regular divisions, is unsurprising.
Simply being removed, however, does not indicate that a commander was
incompetent. Patrick Brennan observes of the Canadian Corps that it is simply
not possible to identify precise numbers of incompetents or exactly how they were
proved to be incompetent.98 Noting that the corps commander Arthur Currie

94
Brennan, Good Men for a Hard Job, 18.
95
C.A. Howard and Captain C. Falls, Official Historian, correspondence (TNA, CAB
45/116).
96
Brennan, Good Men for a Hard Job, 17.
97
Ibid.
98
Ibid. 18.
118 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

had a reputation for being ruthless in replacing commanding officers who made
mistakes, he examined the fate of the 102 officers who served as a CO for more
than a month under his command. Twelve per cent of replacements were identified
as possible incompetence sackings,99 and he concluded: One is struck that so few
were removed from their posts.100 It seems possible, therefore, that slightly above
a third of removals were of those demonstrating insufficient competence.
Court martials prove not to be a good indication of competence. Only four
lieutenant-colonels are listed as being subject to such between the outbreak of the
war and the end of 1917.101 The first two, J.F. Elkington and A.E. Mainwaring,
were encountered in Chapter 1. Drunkenness was the most common offence
for an officers court martial: Lieutenant-Colonel T.T. Stubbs, 2nd Royal Muster
Fusiliers, was cashiered by verdict of court martial for drunkenness in March
1916; Lieutenant-Colonel E.M. Griffin, 1st Garrison Battalion Northamptonshire
Regiment in Egypt, receiving an honourable acquittal for the same charge in
April 1916. In contrast (and not listed), Lieutenant-Colonel G.dE.H. Fullerton,
commanding the 9th Warwickshire in Mesopotamia was tried after 33 days in
post on two charges related to his command of his battalion when it had been
subject to a night attack by Arabs on 26/27 June 1916. He was found guilty and
sentenced to be reprimanded for conduct to the prejudice of good order and
military discipline when he did not reform his column properly in the aftermath,
but not guilty of failing to safeguard his unit through not posting protective
detachments.102
In terms of competence-based removals, Brigadier-General F.P. Crozier was
given command of 119 Brigade as the Somme offensive came to a close, from
the end of November 1916 to the armistice and wrote (apparently concerning
the first six months of 1917):103 Four obviously unsuitable, yet recommended
as suitable, colonels had to be sent away in four months on account of their
psychological unsuitability to take part in the great and ghastly struggle, and their
inability to lead men or to hold the line with confidence. Simon Robbins notes
that by 1917 and 1918 one of the main attributes of a commander, whether at
battalion, brigade, divisional or corps level was his ability to train his command
and to pick subordinates who were also able to train their formations.104 He refers
to Major-General Sir R.J. Pinney, 33rd Division, who was constantly looking
for better officers to fill posts in his units, particularly as battalion commanders,

99
Ibid. 20.
100
Italics in original.
101
Judge Advocate Generals Office, general courts martial registers, abroad (TNA,
WO 90/6).
102
Grey dEstoteville Herbert Fullerton, Personal Service Record (TNA, WO
374/26035).
103
Crozier, Brass Hat in No Mans Land, 149.
104
Simon Robbins, British Generalship on the Western Front 191418: Defeat into
Victory (Abingdon: Frank Cass, 2005), 60.
Hiring and Firing 119

where necessary removing battalion commanders where they proved incompetent,


and recommending those suitable to command brigades.105 The references to
removing COs are in diary entries from August 1917 and October and November
1918, concerning three COs in all, it being notable that Pinney was still making
replacements on the brink of victory.
A typical inefficiency replacement is that of Lieutenant-Colonel F.W. Turner,
CO 1/4th Suffolk. The regimental history notes: In view of an expected push in
June, the brigade commander decided to recommend Lieut.-Colonel Frederick
William Turner who owing to his wound had had little actual war experience
for the command of a training battalion at home.106 Turner was senior major of
the 4th Suffolk in August 1914 and had been wounded in April 1915 at the Second
Battle of Ypres. Reference to the unit war diary, however, shows that Turner
was removed within days of an unsuccessful trench raid on 13/14 May, having
only commanded for a matter of weeks, his departure unremarked in the diary.107
Lieutenant-Colonel G.A. Lewis, 1/5th Sherwood Foresters, was similarly sacked
after ten months in command on 26 March 1916, the day after the enemy sprung
a mine and successfully occupied the resulting crater. Major B.H. Checkland took
over, but the war diary implies that no-one in the unit was trusted to deal with the
aftermath: Lt.-Col Goodman 6th [Sherwood Foresters] brought up 2 companies
and took charge of subsequent operations.108 Performance in these events of day-
to-day trench warfare was clearly closely scrutinised for what it implied about
the efficiency of a CO or his battalion. Lieutenant-Colonel R.A.C. Daunt, 1st Irish
Rifles, was thus similarly removed from command four days after his battalion
was severely criticised for its response to a German trench raid at La Boisselle on
10 April 1916, although he later resumed command.
Possibly the most undignified dismissal was that of the clearly incompetent
Lieutenant-Colonel H.J. des Voeux, 13th Royal Fusiliers, on 6 August 1916. Guy
Chapman described his departure: With diarrhoea he was last seen running
down the road past Mametz Wood, his belt in one hand, his stick agitated in the
other, calling on his batman to follow him, while the battalion ensconced in the
angle of a quarry jeered, claiming: Our brigadier had declared in writing his
wish never to see the fugitives face again. 109 The unit war diary shows that on the
day of his flight, the battalion was heavily shelled in Mametz Wood. Des Voeux
was clearly not up to combat, and the effect of his incompetent leadership on his
battalion will be investigated in the following chapter.110
These examples reflect removal resulting from a lack of organisational and
leadership abilities. The new broom phenomenon, the replacement of a CO after

105
Ibid; citing diary, Pinney Papers (IWM [no ref.]).
106
Murphy, The History of the Suffolk Regiment, 145.
107
1/4th Suffolk Regiment, War Diary (TNA, WO 95/2427).
108
1/5th Sherwood Foresters, War Diary (TNA WO 95/2695).
109
Guy Chapman, A Passionate Prodigality (London: Mayflower-Dell, 1967), 83.
110
13th Royal Fusiliers, War Diary (TNA, WO 95/25320).
120 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

the arrival of a new brigade or division commander, could reflect either a fresh
view on ability or a face that no longer fitted. The face of Lieutenant-Colonel
Harman Joseph Mary Grisewood, 11th Sussex, certainly did not fit. A clearly
competent CO, he was described by 2nd Lieutenant E.C. Blunden as grave and
conscientious,111 and by Major the Hon. N.S. Lytton as having a positive genius
for soldiering. The latter mentioned two defects: first, him being, as his name
implies, a devout Catholic and favouring his own kind; second, a complete
intolerance of fools in high places.112 Under a new brigadier, M.L. Hornby, and
with a reputation as troublesome goods,113 Grisewood was asked to plan a raid
and after personal reconnaissance advised that three or four days preparation
would be required to ensure success. Instantly, as Grisewood recorded, an order
came from brigade that [he was] to clear off at once.114 Going over Hornbys
head, he confronted his divisional HQ with the ultimatum that if he were not
posted to another battalion within one week, he would demand a Court of Inquiry,
and he was duly transferred to a battalion of the Manchester Regiment.
Lieutenant-Colonel E. Monteagle-Browne, a 32-year-old retired lieutenant
of the Royal Irish Fusiliers in August 1914, was possibly something of an
eccentric. When Lieutenant-Colonel C.P. Clayton met him on the Somme in 1916,
he described him as somewhat out of place here, with his big beds and costly
coats.115 Monteagle-Browne commanded successively the 9th, the 8th, and the 2nd
Munster between February 1916 and June 1917, at which point he was sacked,
being removed from the army in November 1917.116 His sacking led to questions
in parliament between November 1917 and February 1918.
Discussion in the Commons revealed that on divisional transfer in February
1916, the notably loyal Brigadier-General G.E. Pereira wrote: I consider him
my best commanding officer and my right-hand man with great powers of
command and discipline. He was very popular with officers and men, who
always had absolute confidence in him. Brigadier-General G.S.G. Craufurd, in
recommending him for brigade command, wrote that he showed the greatest
energy and zeal, and worked up the smartness of the battalion to a great extent. He
has wide experience of men, and I think he will make a good brigadier. Yet in 1917,
Monteagle-Browne was removed for inefficiency (with reports that he was not
in fact popular with officers, a claim hotly denied) and when asked to resign from
the army refused and was removed. Monteagle-Browne claimed it was because of
a conflict he had with a superior officer, this being one General who only knew
[him] for six weeks. This was Brigadier-General R.A.C. McCalmont, who had
taken over 3 Brigade in March 1917. The Under-Secretary of State for War, Sir

111
Edmund Blunden, Undertones of War (London: Penguin, 2000), 10.
112
Neville Lytton, The Press and the General Staff (London: Collins, 1920), 8.
113
Ibid. 32.
114
Ibid. 41.
115
Clayton, The Hungry One, 168.
116
London Gazette (13 Nov. 1917).
Hiring and Firing 121

James MacPherson, described how the evidence against Monteagle-Browne had


been given imprimatur:

The Army Commander signed a report of inefficiency, and not only did he sign
it, but it was signed by the Field-Marshal Commanding-in-Chief. It was signed
by the brigadier-general, by the divisional general, and by the corps commander.

He continued:

When the Army Council get a report by those distinguished superior officers
they are bound to regard it as being a just and true estimate of character
and efficiency.117

MacPherson added the qualifier that all inefficiency questions are a matter of
opinion, but clearly the marshalled opinion was well stacked up. If Monteagle-
Browne had not gone from efficiency to inefficiency in a short space of time, he
had been well and truly stitched-up, swept out by a well-wielded new broom.
To what extent was the new broom really applied? To estimate the potential
effect, brigadier and major-generals in 5th, 9th, and 42nd Divisions who served for
over three months were identified, and the number of replacements per month (no
other reason for departure having been identified) for their first three months in
post were noted. In 5th Division, there was a possible new broom rate of 28 per
cent; in 9th Division, the possible rate was 29 per cent; and in 42nd Division, the
possible rate was 49 per cent. Overall the maximum likely new broom rate in
these three formations was 35 per cent.
***
The fact that one in ten COs were killed at the rank of lieutenant-colonel indicates
that battalion command was a far from safe billet. In the brutal environment of
trench warfare, wounding and invalidity may have accounted for a fifth of CO
changes. The most pervasive threat to a COs average eight and a half month
career was, however, simple replacement, nearly four in ten meeting such a fate.
This replacement rate does not necessarily indicate incompetence, as the reasons
for removal were multiple; however, the best estimate suggests that just over a
third of simple replacements reflected lack of competence for the job in hand.
Another third of replacements may have reflected the new broom phenomenon. It
is clear that the British army clearly suffered no complacency concerning battalion
command: it was an organisation committed to quality control, and its military
secretarys organisation kept a sharp eye on talent and was capable at very short
notice of projecting potential suitable officers and COs beyond local interests
across divisions, corps, and armies to fill gaps appropriately in either battalion or
brigade command.

117
Hansard, HC (series 5) vol. 99, cols 196776 (27 Nov. 1917).
This page has been left blank intentionally
Chapter 6
Men to be Followed, Feared and Loved 1

When Major-General T.D. The Sardine Pilcher was dismissed from the command
of 17th Division in July 1916, he began to write a range of military vade mecums.
His A Generals Letters to His Son on Obtaining His Commission (1917) was
poignant, as his eldest son had been killed serving as a lieutenant with the Rifle
Brigade at Neuve Chapelle in 1915. In this volume his advice to future officers
was: There is indeed a great art in knowing how to command.2 This was no
understatement.
The guidance proffered to the man volunteering into the new armies
concerning the art of being commanded was less philosophical: The Colonel
is IT, and must be treated accordingly. On parade, you will treat him as you
would the King (whose authority he represents), off parade as you would treat a
rich uncle from whom you have expectations. The advice concluded hopefully:
Honour and obey him; perhaps you may even learn to love him in time!3
The duties of a commanding officer were wide-ranging and were set out in
the Kings Regulations. He was responsible for the maintenance of discipline,
efficiency, and proper system and the health of his troops. He was accountable
for stores and arms, issue of supplies, promulgation of orders, and proper
application of regimental funds. He was to prevent disputes, was responsible
for the systematic and efficient instruction of officers under his command,
and was to bring to the attention of the inspecting general officer those officers
distinguished for proficiency as well as those who from incapacity or apathy
were unsupportive of him or deficient in knowledge of their duties. 4
Colonel W.A.B. Dennys, CO 31st Punjabis, noted: Till I took up my duties
I had no conception of the many difficulties, responsibilities, and power (for good
or bad) that the command of some 1,100 men carries with it.5 He described his
peacetime responsibilities:

1
Charles E. Montague, Disenchantment (London: Chatto & Windus, 1922), 219.
2
Thomas D. Pilcher, A Generals Letters to His Son on Obtaining His Commission
(London: Cassell, 1917), 55.
3
Anon., A Regimental Whos Who, 20; reproduced in Terry Carter, Birmingham
Pals (Barnsley: Pen & Sword, 1997), 65.
4
War Office, The Kings Regulations and Orders for the Army, 1912: Reprinted with
Amendments Published in Army Orders up to 1 August 1914 (London: HMSO, 1914), 201.
5
William A.B. Dennys, Some Reminiscences of my Life (privately printed, 1935), 22.
124 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

The system of training all the officers, N.C.O.s and men, the issue of all
orders to that end (often for a whole year in advance), the supervising of all
work undertaken for training in the field, and in the lines, the maintenance of
discipline, and a true esprit de corps, the responsibility of all the finance, the
payment of the men, their food and clothing, the annual confidential reports on
British and Indian Officers, in fact the proper organisation of the whole machine.
All orders have to issue from the CO; little can be done without them.

Dispelling any notion that command in war was glamorous, Lieutenant-Colonel


J.L. Jack, 2nd West Yorkshire, listed the administration-driven daily schedule for a
CO in the trenches of the Western Front. After being woken by his servant at dawn
with tea and biscuit:

6 a.m.: Breakfast; receive the companies written reports and send my battalion
report by orderly to Brigade Headquarters. 81 oc: Walk round the
companies trenches accompanied by the adjutant, medical officer, our three
orderlies and one bugler. 1 p.m.: Lunch and two hours rest. 3 oc: Write and
despatch to Brigade Headquarters the Situation Report for the day. 4 p.m.: Tea,
after which, except for dinner, there are papers, organisation and other matters to
be dealt with till midnight often later when I lie down on my bed.6

Lieutenant-Colonel A.G. Horsfall, 2nd Duke of Wellingtons, echoed the emphasis


on administration, writing: Curse all paper is the fervent cry of every CO out
here and again: the Bumf blizzard has commenced to blow in earnest. I have about
5 hours work in front of me answering papers.7 Lieutenant-Colonel W. Fraser,
1/6th Gordon Highlanders, found that battle increased such tasks, noting: The
worst part of battle is the amount of writing connected with it. Before, orders and
instructions by the thousand; afterwards account of the battle, recommendations,
etc.8 In respect of the competing demands, he wrote gloomily: Sometimes one
thinks the job is almost beyond one.9

Leadership and Command

Leadership and command are not the same thing. The relationship between the
two is in one direction: effective leadership makes for more effective command.
In his study of Second World War Australian battalion commanders, Garth Pratten

6
John Terraine, General Jacks Diary (London: Cassell, 2000 [1964]), 164.
7
Lieutenant-Colonel A. Horsfall CMG DSO, letters (26 Dec. 1916; 22 Feb. 1917),
private papers (IWM, Documents 14929).
8
David Fraser (ed.), In Good Company: The First World War Letters and Diaries
of the Hon. William Fraser, Gordon Highlanders (Salisbury: Michael Russell, 1990), 140.
9
Ibid. 188.
Men to be Followed, Feared and Loved 125

defines command as consisting of four basic functions: decision-making, control,


leadership, and resource management.10
The era lacked a science of leadership, yet it was a concept which the Army
was confident it understood, namely: Courage, Duty and Discipline.11 An ideal
was woven into literature and myth, perhaps best expressed by Rudyard Kipling
as stoicism, self-denial, obedience, loyalty to Regiment and to their men, and
adventurousness.12 Leadership skills were not taught: Before the war the leader
obtained leadership by the light of nature no help was given it was up to the
individual.13 It was assumed that such skills had been acquired by osmosis within
the shared ethos of the public schools the officers had attended. Even if the Battle
of Waterloo was not won on the playing fields of Eton (a remark attributed to the
Duke of Wellington, but probably apocryphal), it was assumed that team sports
played an important part in the development of leadership skills.14
It was therefore of note that on the evening of Friday 13 March 1891, attendees
at the Royal United Services Institute sat to listen to Colonel Matthew Gosset (who
had commanded the 1st Battalion, Dorsetshire Regiment, 188488) discourse on
Battalion Command. He viewed the topic as important because in an army where
so much more is demanded of all ranks than formerly, battalion command was
a much more difficult task than of old.15 Having much to say on discipline, he
observed that you cannot rule 800 men with rose-water.16 He, however, wisely
insisted that an effective CO must have the good will of the men. If he has not, he
has no right to be in the position he holds.17 He continued:

The commanding officer of a battalion is the life and soul of it he must have his
eye on everything, know everyones wants, and never imagine, because he has
established a good system, that it will keep going without a perpetual greasing
of the wheels.18

10
Garth Pratten, Australian Battalion Commanders in the Second World War
(Melbourne, Vic.: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 17.
11
John M. Bourne, British Generals in the First World War, in G.D. Sheffield (ed.),
Leadership and Command: The Anglo-American Military Experience Since 1861 (London:
Brasseys, 2002), 946.
12
Cited in Michael Edwardes, Oh to Meet an Army Man: Kipling and the Soldiers, in
John Gross (ed.), Rudyard Kipling: The Man, His Work and his World (London: Weidenfeld
& Nicolson, 1972), 40.
13
Notes for Commanding Officers (Aldershot: Gale & Polden, Nov. 1918).
14
For a discussion of these ideas and a review of criticism, see Gary Sheffield,
Leadership in the Trenches (Basingstoke: Macmillan 2000), 438.
15
Matthew Gossett, Battalion Command, RUSI Journal 35 (1891): 46986 (469).
16
Ibid. 470.
17
Ibid. 471.
18
Ibid. 475.
126 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

He reiterated the importance of the COs relationship with his officers, and
recommended the principle of decentralisation as one of the most important
questions relating to command,19 realising (although he did not express it in this
way) that giving enough responsibility to subordinates20 increased a sense of
ownership and enhanced the probability of responsibility being taken to ensure
things went right. He viewed education and training as highly important and
sought to ensure that each soldier had a grasp of his regiments heritage. At the end
of the discussion, the chairman, General A.J. Herbert, a Crimea veteran, concluded
that Gossets presentation was the most instructive and most interesting lecture
that I have heard for a long time.21 To modern eyes, Gossets observations may
seem somewhat banal, but this would be an unfair judgement given the climate of
the time: he was pre-empting material on leadership that Senior Officers School
would be expanding on and expounding a quarter of a century later.
Leadership is a process of influence to achieve coordination between
individuals for the pursuit of mutual goals.22 A search for the ideal personal
characteristics that maximise this influence is probably a fruitless quest. Modern
psychology rejects the heroic myth of the individual with special qualities,
noting: There is no evidence that any particular quality (or combination of
qualities) can guarantee success.23 It is patterns of relating that matter, rather than
personal characteristics, and, indeed, it was these patterns of relating that Senior
Officers School sought to influence.
Research into the relationship between the First World War officer and his men
has put much emphasis on the paternalismdeference exchange, the officers first
duty being to look after the needs of his men before his own. Paternalism was
the basis of the officers battle for the hearts of his men: a ranker who felt
looked-after being likely to follow him anywhere. Most COs would probably
have been pleased to earn the tribute paid by Private R. Blatchford of the Dublin
Fusiliers in his service in the early 1870s: We loved Old Paddy, as we called
the Colonel, like a father.24 Gary Sheffield notes that officers had to be both
militarily efficient and protective of their men, courageous under fire yet not
foolhardy, and that their men expected them to behave in a fitting, gentlemanly
manner when out of action. An anonymous rankers composite officer reflects the
contradictions of balancing something akin to a family atmosphere within platoon/
company/battalion with the necessity for discipline: Boyish and middle-aged,

19
Ibid. 474.
20
Ibid. 475.
21
Ibid. 486.
22
Mark Van Vugt, The Nature in Leadership, 142, <http://www.professormarkvanvugt.
com/files/Ch5_VanVugt.pdf>.
23
S. Alexander Haslam, Stephen D. Reicher, and Michael J. Platow, The New
Psychology of Leadership: Identity, Influence and Power (Hove: Psychology Press, 2011),
199: italics in original.
24
Robert P.G. Blatchford, My Life in the Army (London: Clarion Press, 1910), 90.
Men to be Followed, Feared and Loved 127

cool and reckless, grave and humorous, aloof and intimate; a martinet lapsing into
an indulgent father; a thwarter becoming an aider and abetter; an enemy melting
into a friend.25
In terms of the anatomy of command, a CO had legal authority granted to him
by the Kings Regulations. In terms of its physiology, it was the influence that
stemmed from his relationships with his subordinates that created the possibility
for the most effective outcomes. Psychologists John French and Bertram Raven
describe five bases of such social power.26 The first three are legitimate power,
the potential for influence derived from being the incumbent of an office;
reward power, influence from having the capacity to give or withhold reward;
and coercive power, influence derived from having the capacity to impose or
withhold punishment. This trio describe the legal authority bestowed by the Kings
Regulations. The remaining two encompass more nebulous aspects of influence,
namely expert power, the influence deriving from skill; and referent power,
influence deriving from being personally liked and respected.27
The army put much emphasis on identity, and the modern psychology of
identity leadership happily concurs, even if its view is more sophisticated than
that of the Edwardian era. Four matters can be distinguished within the leader
follower relationship which are critical to referent power, all concerning the
creation of a shared identity or sense of We-ness: firstly, being one of us, being
representative of the group; secondly, doing it for us, championing the interests
of the group; thirdly, crafting a sense of us, shaping group identity; and, fourthly,
making us matter, defining specific good things that the group stands for.28
Senior Officers School began to teach battalion leadership formally in late
1916.29 The key question to be addressed by the commanding officer of a unit,
participants were informed by Brigadier-General H.W.M. Watson in 1918, was
eminently practical: How am I going to make the most of them, and how are
they going to make the most of me?30 It was emphasised that men needed to
be commanded by a man, the italics in the original conveying the notion of
an individual with presence.31 Watson was fascinated by having found a private
who could not remember his COs name and was probably absolutely right to

25
Sheffield, Leadership in the Trenches, 109.
26
John R.P French and Bertram Raven, The Bases of Social Power, in D. Cartwright
and A. Zander, Group Dynamics (New York: Harper & Row, 1959).
27
Pratten, Australian Battalion Commanders, 234.
28
Haslam, Reicher, and Platow, The New Psychology of Leadership, chs 47.
29
A lecture on leadership is absent from Notes for Commanding Officers (Aldershot:
Gale & Polden, 1917): see ch. 4, 4.4), but one was delivered by Kentish on the October
December 1917 course (H. Lloyd-Williams [IWM, Documents 13838]), and the full
version of such delivered by Brigadier-General H.W.M. Watson is included in the Notes for
Commanding Officers (Nov. 1918).
30
Notes for Commanding Officers (Nov. 1918), 2.
31
Ibid.
128 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

be alarmed about this in terms of the importance of We-ness. He identified six


key factors in creating the presence of effective leadership: firstly, courage, which
he deemed essential (and particularly so, in identity-leadership terms, to the
sense of being one of us); secondly, knowledge, combined with imagination,
forethought, and common sense; thirdly, demeanour, particularly being even-
tempered throughout not rattled on a sudden situation Watson encouraged
his COs to think in response to a situation: This is a matter of course, which I
expect as a common occurrence. Ill just think about it, refrain from trying to
do everyones job apply my knowledge, and the whole thing will go well;32
fourthly, fairness and justice, so important in an army of volunteers and conscripts,
and crucially fostered on a bed of paternalism this was the cornerstone of doing
it for us; fifthly, the allied behaviour of civility; and sixthly, hard work combined
with imagination. Senior Officers School was therefore concentrating closely on
developing expert power in the second and sixth factors, and referent power in the
rest.
A CO could not know all the men in his battalion. The leaderfollower
relationship had therefore to be managed through others, and, concurring with
Gossetts views on decentralization, the school propounded the view that one
of the most important leadership tasks was to get a strong side of officers.33
The interactive nature of command in both transmitting knowledge and values
in crafting a sense of us was clearly acknowledged: It is a good plan to consult
your section commanders when you have any scheme on foot. Sometimes you get
valuable ideas from them, and when they know that they have, so to speak, a share
in the business, they will go all out to make your plans successful.34
Finally, it was emphasised that identity, the sense of us being a unit skilled
at the task of war, was best created through activity. Lieutenant-General Sir Ivor
Maxse, Inspector General of Training, lecturing at the school in 1918, was clear as
to what developing this unified purpose entailed: There is only one known method
of creating leaders of men and commanders whom men will follow. It consists
in giving the leader his own men to train. It was therefore not simply a matter
of the content of training but the leaders involvement in training. Lieutenant-
Colonel H.M.B. de Sales la Terrire, CO 9th Essex, claimed ownership of this and
the responsibility it entailed, expressing his pride and anxiety, anxiety for the
actual lives of the men whom you have personally trained for the sole purpose of
beating the enemy.35
Brigadier-General R.B. Bradford, who commanded the 1/9th Durham Light
Infantry for 14 months, did not see battalion command as a unique practice,
writing: Army same as any business concern. His definition of leadership would

32
Ibid. 4.
33
Ibid. 46.
34
The Battalion Commanders Conference, ibid. 419.
35
Lieutenant-Colonel H.M.B. de Sales la Terrire, private papers, 3678 (IWM,
Documents 14737).
Men to be Followed, Feared and Loved 129

sit happily in any modern textbook: Leadership ability to make comrades


follow you. Within power of everyone to become a Leader. He spelt out exactly
the components of expert and referent power:

Ability to appreciate requirements of human nature. Power & ability to set


example to subordinates. Knowledge. Determination & intensity of purpose.
Optimistic and enthusiastic. Look after mens comfort & welfare. Justice.
Friend as well as leader. Fitness & Endurance. Courage. Cheerfulness.36

Bradford understood leadership very well. He could not have demonstrated a


better grasp of the leaderfollower relationship than in his welcome speech to men
newly arrived from England. Firstly, he began expertly crafting a sense of us:

Most of you will have heard something of our Battalion. It has a great reputation.
That reputation is not built up by one or two flash-in-the-pan incidents. It has
been built up by the hard, honest and soldierly conduct of the men at all times,
and by their skill and pluck in action.

Secondly, he began to make us matter:

Our battalion is universally respected and envied, so you see a great responsibility
rests with you. You have got to help us maintain, and even increase, our present
efficiency. We are all working for the same purpose, the defeat of the enemy,
and we must work together, each for each, and all for each.

Bradford did not need to appeal to regimental history, having an intuitive sense
that binding men to the shared purpose of the unit in the present was all that was
necessary: note his use of the words our, us, and we. Lieutenant-Colonel
H.F.W. Bircham, 2nd Kings Royal Rifle Corps, also used the we word in his
address to new arrivals: We are a very happy crowd. Good soldierly qualities are
essential, however, and I shall expect all of you to help keep our reputation up.
Not only was he creating a sense of shared identity, he was making us matter,
defining the good things the battalion stood for.37
The Senior Officers School leadership lecture, however, specifically encouraged
COs to spin a tale of regimental history exactly at this point. Lieutenant-Colonel S.E.
Norris took over the severely depleted 1st Liverpool in August 1918 and was told
that a draft of 20 officers and 750 other ranks was on its way to bring the battalion
up to strength, and that [he] should be given four days to reconstruct and get ready
to go into the line. This group, which arrived a few hours after he had taken over
command, consisted of Manchester territorials, all thoroughly disconcerted at

36
Anon., Brigadier-General R.B. Bradford, V.C., M.C. and His Brothers (Newport:
Ray Westlake, n.d.), 956.
37
Giles E.M. Eyre, Somme Harvest (London: London Stamp Exchange, 1991), 17.
130 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

being sent to a strange unit instead of their own. He remembered his regimental
history and assembled the newcomers, telling them how the Kings Liverpool and
Manchester Regiments shared common origins in the 63rd Foot and that instead
of being drafted, as they imagined to a strange regiment, they were simply coming
back home again. He perceived the draftees as thoroughly interested and that
company commanders told me later that when censoring letters home they noticed
that nearly every man mentioned the incident. He concluded: The new officers and
men settled down quite contentedly, and in a very short time the 1st Kings was again
an effective fighting battalion.38 Although, no doubt, many other things contributed
to the development of this unit as an effective force, Norris had succeeded in
establishing We-ness.

Experience of Command: Other Ranks Perspectives

Other ranks wrote infrequently about their COs, predictably writing more about
their company and platoon commanders. Sergeant J. Lucy, 2nd Royal Irish Rifles,
the author of a well-regarded memoir, hardly mentions his COs, even though he
served with battalion HQ.39 A simple comment is sometimes proffered. Private
R.H. Sims, 1/4th Royal Sussex, wrote: I would do anything for our colonel as he is
a real gentleman & leader of men & is liked by all ranks.40 Private G.R. Husbands,
16th, 17th, and 1/8th Sherwood Foresters, in one of the most extensive OR memoirs,
again makes scant reference to his COs. He viewed, at least initially, battalion HQ
as comprising the Olympians, and, although this remark is undoubtedly ironic, it
effectively conveys distance.41 Even in September 1917, when he joined the 1/8th
Sherwood Foresters, he wrote of Lieutenant-Colonel J.E. Blackwall: So little did
I see of the CO that I am not even positive now that I have the name correctly
(he did); and although he described him as competent and well-liked, he thought
he was not a character.42
The distance between private and CO could indeed seem a long one. Private R.
Latham of the 1/5th London Regiment, noted of the Earl of Cairns that he knew
him vaguely as the old man, the omnipotent one, who lived quite comfortably
somewhere in the rear.43 Private F. Lindley, 14th York and Lancaster, described

38
Everard Wyrall, The History of the Kings Regiment (Liverpool) 191419 (London:
Arnold, 192835), 347.
39
John Lucy, Theres a Devil in the Drum (Uckfield, Suss.: Naval & Military Press,
1992 [1938]).
40
R.H. Sims, private papers (16 Aug. 1917) (IWM, Documents 7118).
41
Geoffrey R. Husbands, Joffreys War: A Sherwood Forester in the Great War, ed.
J.M. Bourne and B. Bushaway (Nottingham: Salient Books, 2011), 60.
42
Ibid. 463.
43
Cited in Keith W. Mitchinson, Gentlemen and Officers (London: Imperial War
Museum, 1995), 59.
Men to be Followed, Feared and Loved 131

Lieutenant-Colonel W.B. Hulke as a very unapproachable man. You couldnt get


near him.44 Private W.L. Andrews, 1/4th Black Watch, wrote of Lieutenant-Colonel
G.A.McL. Sceales: Our own Colonel, a regular, was stern and unbending, for it
was better so, but added he was also just, efficient, and proud of the battalion.45
Degree of distance was, however, up to the CO concerned. Lieutenant-Colonel
G.S. Hutchinson believed in getting to know key ORs individually, just for what
[they were] worth. I tested them a walk here, ten minutes and a cigarette there;
the lad by himself, not in the artificiality of the presence of a corporal, or their
comrades I heeded them to do my will: I needed them to do my will.46

Referent Power

Private Frank Richards, Royal Welsh Fusiliers, refers to three COs in his pre-
war memoirs. The issue of enforcement of discipline figures largely in his
accounts. Early in his career he fell foul of his CO, Lord Mostyn.47 He described
being dealt with coldly and feeling a sense of injustice.48 His second CO,
the Honourable R.H. Bertie, was too much of a martinet to be greatly beloved
by the rank and file, a CO who punished men to the extreme limits of Kings
Regulations.49 Of his third CO, Lieutenant-Colonel H.T. Lyle, he states in
contrast: Even the hard cases, who could not keep out of trouble if they tried,
admitted it was impossible to have a better commanding officer.50 A sense of
fair play was important: Private W.L. Andrews, noted of Lieutenant-Colonel
G.A.McL. Sceales: Above all, he was just.51 Back with his old battalion at the
outbreak of the war, Richards returned to the same themes. Our Colonel was
very strict but a good soldier,52 he noted of his first wartime CO, Lieutenant-
Colonel H. Delme-Radcliffe. Being a disciplinarian was not only accepted from a
well-respected CO, it was seen as important: it crafted identity. What constituted
a good soldier emerges in Richards discussion of Lieutenant-Colonel C.H.R.
Crawshay, his CO throughout the Battle of the Somme, who proved to be the
best we ever had. Crawshay was universally liked by everyone, for despite
being a stickler for discipline, he made his positive presence felt and, when
in the line, no matter what conditions were, was always visiting the front-line

44
Jon Cooksey, Barnsley Pals (London: Leo Cooper, 1986), 88.
45
William L. Andrews, Haunting Years (London: Hutchinson, 1930), 182.
46
Graham Seton, Footslogger (London: Hutchinson, 1933), 220.
47
Frank Richards, Old Soldier Sahib (Uckfield, Suss.: Naval & Military Press, 2003
[1936]), 50.
48
Ibid. 589.
49
Ibid. 149.
50
Ibid. 273.
51
Andrews, Haunting Years, 165.
52
Frank Richards, Old Soldiers Never Die (London: Faber, 1965 [1933]), 31.
132 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

trenches and seeing things for himself. He had a cheery word for everyone and
was as brave as they make them.53
Private G. Eyre, 2nd Kings Royal Rifle Corps, described Lieutenant-Colonel
H.F.W. Bircham as a great chap the ideal C.O., a man who was always
accessible. He valued his paternalism, describing him as ever careful of the
mens comforts, thoughtful for their well-being, and his courage, Bircham being
foremost in action. As a result he was able to call on his men for any effort
required of them, firing them with his example. Eyre linked these characteristics
directly to effectiveness: The Battalion under his command had become a first-
class fighting machine.54
Private H.S. Clapham, 1st Honourable Artillery Company, valued Lieutenant-
Colonel E. Treffrys ability to do it for us, demonstrated in his facility to protect
the unit from the demands of higher formations: The Old Man came round
the first evening to see how we were getting on. Hes a jolly good sort and quite
capable of keeping up our end, as well as his own, with the powers that be.55
A.O. Pollard, another ranker in the same battalion, also noted: I think we owe
more than we appreciate to Colonel Treffrey, describing the tactful way he
handled his command, and echoed Claphams recognition of his protectiveness:
He insisted on our being broken in by degrees.56 The protection of the soldier
from unfair demands was yet another demonstration of paternalism.
A CO might even put his career in jeopardy in the service of protecting his
battalion. On the Somme in September 1916, Lieutenant-Colonel H. Fargus, 1st
Duke of Cornwalls Light Infantry, reported his nominally Regular battalion as
unfit to go into action. Two hundred men were sick, largely because of the poor
conditions of their trenches and a logistic breakdown. Fargus was a substantive
lieutenant-colonel and may have feared the consequences less than a man of
acting or temporary rank, but to take such a stand was, as Lieutenant-Colonel
E.M. Woulfe-Flanagan, a fellow 5th Division CO noted, an act of great moral
courage.57 Similarly, Lieutenant-Colonel A.J.E. Sunderland, commanding the
2nd Devonshire on 24 October 1916, reported to brigade that he could not carry
out the attack, the men being utterly exhausted. Luckily for him, eventually it
was decided to abandon the attack.58 Lieutenant-Colonel J.H. Patterson, who had
commanded the Zion Mule Corps at Gallipoli, similarly demonstrated his We-ness
with his Jewish 38th Battalion London Regiment by offering his resignation in
the UK when the battalion was denied kosher food and then on active service in

53
Ibid. 180.
54
Eyre, Somme Harvest, 1201.
55
Henry S. Clapham, Mud and Khaki (London: Hutchinson, 1930), 46.
56
Alfred O. Pollard, Fire-Eater (Uckfield, Suss.: Naval & Military Press, n.d.), 39.
57
Sheffield, Leadership in the Trenches, 83, citing E.W. Flanagan, letter to J.H.
Edmonds (17 Nov. 1935) (TNA, CAB 45/133).
58
C.T. Atkinson, The Devonshire Regiment 19141918 (London: Simpkin, Marshall,
Hamilton, Kent & Co, 1926), 190.
Men to be Followed, Feared and Loved 133

Palestine when his Jewish soldiers were discriminated against in hospital.59 That
there could indeed be come-back was demonstrated by the case of Major A.G.M.
Sharpe, acting CO of the 1st Royal Berkshire in May 1917, who was brought to
court martial by Brigadier-General R.O. Kellett under section 40 of the Army Act:
conduct prejudicial to good order and military discipline. Sharpe had decided to
call off an attack because of the severity of the artillery bombardment which he
judged meant his troops had virtually no chance of gaining their objectives. Kellett
clearly took the view that an order was an order, but Sharpe was acquitted. Others
proved too fearful to stand up and be counted. Lieutenant-Colonel H.H.S. Morant,
10th Durham Light Infantry, admitted frankly after the war that he only renewed
the attack on Geudecourt in September 1916 to save my reputation and because
he was more frightened of my superiors than even of the Germans.60
Referent power was always going to rest on the bedrock of paternalism for the
other ranks. Regimental Sergeant-Major J.C. Pearce expressed this clearly when
he wrote to the parents of Lieutenant-Colonel J.S. Collings-Wells VC after his
death: He was our father, both at play and work, at fighting he was above all
our leader. The other ranks loved him because he was always just and fair in
his condemnation of fault, they loved him for his kindly thought in all things
appertaining to their welfare and best of all they loved him for leading and being
with them in action.61

Expert Power

Frank Richards regarded his last CO, Lieutenant-Colonel C.C. Norman, as a very
efficient man.62 Private W.L. Andrews, wrote similarly of Lieutenant-Colonel
G.A.McL. Sceales: We saw at once Colonel Sceales was a real soldier. He had
not been with the battalion a day before every man knew it. His quiet efficiency
was felt in every section. He made sure of things, and under his leadership our
poor battered old battalion was once more made fit to fight.63 He later commented:
We had seen much of Regular officers, and we believed in them.64
Sceales efficiency was achieved through being a master of method.65 Leading
Seaman J. Murray of the Hood Battalion also appreciated Lieutenant-Commander
A. Asquiths mastery of method in the attack on Gavrelle on 23 April 1917:

59
John H. Patterson, With the Judeans in the Palestine Campaign (London:
Hutchinson, 1922), 40, 169.
60
Simon Robbins, British Generalship on the Western Front 191418: Defeat into
Victory (Abingdon: Frank Cass, 2005), 9; citing Brigadier H.H.S. Morant, letter to Edmonds
(2 Apr. 1930) (TNA, CAB 45/136).
61
<http://www.bedfordregiment.org.uk/4thbn/collingswellsvc.html>.
62
Richards, Old Soldiers Never Die, 299.
63
Andrews, Haunting Years, 165.
64
Ibid. 182.
65
Ibid. 249.
134 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

The instruction was that we were not to move until the barrage had lifted off the
German front line. Anyone knows to wait until the barrage lifts and walk 400
yards would be murder. [Asquith] instead of waiting till the barrage lifted, took
us forward to about within 50 yards of the barrage, and we were on top of his
line before Jerry knew anything about it. We men of the Hood who survived the
battle owe our survival to Asquith.66

Private W.L. Andrews had been convinced early on by another of his COs,
Lieutenant-Colonel H. Walker that to run the battalion on strict military lines
would be first-class business efficiency, as indeed it would.67 He meant practical
efficiency, however, and some aspects of efficiency were viewed as entirely
unnecessary. Thus Private A. Lambert, 1st Honourable Artillery Company, noted
with disgust the martinet CO: Every conceivable kind of posh must happen,
and some battalion commanders would have ordered their mens memories to be
thoroughly scoured if it had been possible.68 Private G.R. Husbands similarly
noted of the formerly respected Lieutenant-Colonel N. Houghton that he had
fallen into the favourite notion of the military mandarins mind that spit and
polish was the prime military virtue.69

Experience of Command: The Battalion Officers Perspective

2nd Lieutenant Arthur Behrend defined the essence of the CO: The Colonel is of
course the mainspring of the battalion, the man who above all others has the power
to set its standards, mould it to his shape, and make or unmake its happiness.70

Referent Power

Paternalism was understood to be at the root of referent power. Lieutenant-Colonel


H.M.B de Sales la Terriere, 9th Essex, expressed this clearly: An officer must at
all times see to the comfort of the very least of his men before he looks after his
own.71 Lieutenant-Colonel W. Fraser, 1/6th Gordon Highlanders, viewed his men
as such children one feels a sort of personal responsibility for every one of
them.72 Lieutenant-Colonel J.H. Lloyd, 15th Lancashire Fusiliers, wrote after the

66
J. Murray, interview (IWM, Sound Archive 8201/45, reel 41); cited in Kyle Tallett
and Trevor Tasker, Gavrelle (Barnsley: Leo Cooper, 2000), 367.
67
Andrews, Haunting Years, 95.
68
Arthur Lambert, Over the Top: A P.B.I in the H.A.C. (London: John Long, n.d.),
69.
69
Husbands, Joffreys War, 400.
70
Arthur Behrend, Make Me A Soldier: A Platoon Commander in Gallipoli (London:
Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1961), 26.
71
H.M.B. de Sales la Terriere, private papers (IWM, Documents 14737).
72
Fraser, In Good Company, 133.
Men to be Followed, Feared and Loved 135

catastrophe of 1 July 1916: We were like a family and I used to feel just like a
father to all those boys, and I really think many of them felt like sons almost,
as I know they would have gone anywhere for me; in fact they did.73 Officers
recognised and valued this attitude in a CO. The 13th Royal Fusiliers, commanded
by Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Arthur Smith, found themselves struggling with
trench foot and a dearth of dry socks in the aftermath of the Third Battle of Ypres.
Lieutenant G. Chapman recorded:

Now, thanks to salvage, we acquired some thousands of pairs of unauthorized


socks. The colonel himself took the lead. Pipe in mouth he might be seen,
hopping carrion-crow-wise from body to body returning home towards lunch
time with his runner, their arms full of necessaries for the battalion.74

As his actions imply, Smith was a character. Major-General H. Bruce-Williams


described Smith as a bank clerk by profession, a born soldier (and heavy
drinker!), but he was clear about his leadership abilities: he led (not followed)
his men. They would follow him anywhere.75 Looking after others needs before
ones own could, however, be dangerous. Lieutenant-Colonel G.L.B. Du Maurier,
3rd Royal Fusiliers, was killed at the doorway of the house that was his battalion
HQ on 9 March 1915: He had just ordered everyone out and into dug-outs outside
and was waiting for his Sergeant-Major to report that everyone was in safety
before he took cover himself.76
Gary Sheffield reminds us that popular, paternal commanding officers were
not necessarily efficient soldiers.77 He cites the example of the retired territorial
Colonel Sir George McCrae, CO 16th Royal Scots (McCraes Own), who despite
being personally gallant and always efficient, and his men [being] devoted to
him (high referent power), showed poor leadership in action (low expert power)
and was sacked. Lieutenant-Colonel E.W. Hermon, 27th Northumberland Fusiliers,
noted that Lieutenant-Colonel J.M. Prior of the 24th (a haulage contractor in
August 1914) has a very strong hail-fellow-well-met sort of personality [and]
an unlimited capacity for whisky, which no doubt made for a certain popularity
but that this was not altogether an asset in a Battalion.78 Popularity itself clearly
did not equate with referent power.
Some officers, notably youthful subalterns, experienced the same sort of
remoteness from their CO as did the other ranks. In the 1/4th East Lancashire,

73
Manchester Evening News (6 Nov. 2013).
74
Guy Chapman, A Passionate Prodigality (London: Mayflower-Dell, 1967), 169.
75
H. Bruce-Williams, letter to Edmonds (10 Nov. 1937) (TNA, CAB 45/187).
76
Gerald A. Burgoyne, The Burgoyne Diaries, ed. Claudia Davison (London: Thomas
Harmsworth, 1985), 139.
77
Sheffield, Leadership in the Trenches, 95.
78
Edward W. Hermon, letter (4 Nov. 1916), in For Love and Courage: The Letters
of Lieutenant Colonel E.W. Hermon from the Western Front 19141917, ed. Anne Nason
(London: Preface, 2008), 303.
136 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

2nd Lieutenant A. Behrend observed of Lieutenant-Colonel F.D. Robinson, a


notable peacetime solicitor: To most of us subalterns he seemed remote and
unbending.79 Similarly 2nd Lieutenant E.C. Blunden noted of Lieutenant-Colonel
H.J.M. Grisewood, 11th Sussex: I seldom rose to the eminence of conversation
with him.80 Conversely, Captain G.A. Burgoyne, serving with the 2nd Royal
Irish Rifles in Flanders in 1914 and 1915, found Lieutenant-Colonel J.W. Alston
more approachable. He described him as a charming gentleman,81 but it was
Major Arthur Hoskyns Festing, the second-in-command, whom he identified as
possessing referent power: Festing all the men love; hes so cheery and hearty,
but he can damn em too, as they know; but they all understand hed never leave
them in the lurch, and thats the sort of officer men like to follow, and will always
follow.82 Alston was killed on 15 April 1915 by a snipers bullet aimed at his
trench periscope which deflected off a sandbag and hit him, but Festing, tragically,
never had the chance to prove his powers of leadership. He was transferred to the
1st Battalion and died himself on 9 May 1915: He was lying wounded in a German
trench and refusing to be taken prisoner he blew his brains out. A brave officer and
fine soldier.83
Charm, like popularity, was also insufficient to guarantee referent power.
Reflecting on the rough-tongued efficiency of Lieutenant-Colonel C.I. Stockwell,
Siegfried Sassoon began to realise that, in a commanding officer, amiability is not
enough.84 Similarly, he noted one of Stockwells successors, Lieutenant-Colonel
W.B. Garnett, was indulgent and conciliatory and greater aggressiveness would
have been preferred.85 Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Bingley Benson, who took
over the 1/6th London in January 1918, had charm in spades. He disguised his
badges of rank and visited his new battalion and without disclosing his identity,
chatted and joked freely with officers and men, in such a manner that when, later, it
was learned that he was to command them all felt instinctively that [the battalion]
had a friend. In post, he demonstrated a comprehensive range of leadership skills:
Every day by some act or decision it became clearer that the new Commanding
Officer was someone who was watching their every interest, their comfort, their
leisure, and their training. He was also perceived as just and expected and
received immediate and implicit obedience to his commands, not because of the
military discipline that required it, but because he knew, and his officers learned,
that he never gave an unnecessary order. It was a whole range of personal skills
that ensured that in a short time he became unquestionably the most popular man

79
Behrend, Make Me A Soldier, 26.
80
Edmund Blunden, Undertones of War (London: Penguin, 2000 [1928]), 10.
81
Burgoyne, The Burgoyne Diaries, 179.
82
Ibid. 25.
83
Ibid. 18.
84
Siegfried Sassoon, The Complete Memoirs of George Sherston (London: Faber &
Faber, 1972), 2678.
85
Ibid. 409.
Men to be Followed, Feared and Loved 137

in the battalion, and his closest companions soon came to love him. He was gay,
but never irresponsible, strict, but rarely stern, he led as much as commanded, and
by his human sympathy won a place in everybodys heart.86
A CO had to be able to balance seriousness of purpose with lightness of touch.
Lieutenant Sydney Rogerson described how Lieutenant-Colonel James Lochead
Jack, 2nd West Yorkshire, was able to set an example both of relaxation in play
and of concentration in battle.87 2nd Lieutenant E.C. Vaughan valued the same
in Lieutenant-Colonel H.T. Dobbin, 1/8th Warwickshire, who, when the battalion
was having a cheery time sliding and playing the fool by the Ypres canal in
January 1917, was one of the cheeriest of the crowd, and dubbed him a thorough
sport.88 At a battalion sports meeting held on in July 1917, Lieutenant-Colonel
R.H. Husey, 1/5th London, participated to the full:In the mounted events Lieut.-
Col. Husey was second in musical chairs, which Lynch (his horse) thoroughly
enjoyed.89 Lieutenant-Colonel W.D. Croft was game enough to take the stage in a
concert party in Pierrot kit and noted: I think the unusual exhibition of a battalion
commander making an ass of himself had something to do with some of the full
houses.90 Patrick Macgill admired the democratic nature of the New Army, where
a Colonel sings the songs written in the ranks of his own battalion.91 Lieutenant-
Colonel C.R.C. de Crespigny, 2nd Grenadier Guards, maintained a strict discipline
on duty but had a subversive spirit that gave great pleasure to all his battalion.
When asked for a return of rats in his trenches, Crawly organised a rat shoot
and left sandbags full of rotting rodents piled up outside brigade HQ at night to
the joy of all.92
Sydney Rogerson described James Jack as a real friend to his officers.93 Captain
F.C. Hitchcock described being on the receiving end of his COs sharp tongue,
a misfortune universally referred to as strafing,94 an ordeal soon followed by
convivial lunches and dinners at battalion HQ.95 Something approaching friendship
between officer and CO could indeed form. Captain G. Greenwell, 1/4th Oxfordshire

86
E.G. Godfrey, The Cast Iron Sixth (Uckfield, Suss.: Naval & Military Press, 2001),
152.
87
Terraine, General Jacks Diary, 14.
88
Edmund C. Vaughan, Some Desperate Glory (London: Macmillan, 1985), 17.
89
Frederick Maurice, The History of the London Rifle Brigade 18591919 (London:
Constable, 1921), 137.
90
William D. Croft, Three Years with the Ninth (Scottish) Division (Leigh-on-Sea:
Partizan, 2007), 142.
91
Patrick MacGill, The Amateur Army (London: Herbert Jenkins, 1916), 76.
92
Harold Macmillan, Winds of Change 19141939 (London: Macmillan, 1966), 79.
93
Sidney Rogerson, Twelve Days on the Somme (London: Greenhill Books, 2006
[1933]), 22.
94
e.g. Lieutenant R.L. Mackay MC, private papers, 7 (IWM, Documents 11144).
95
Francis C. Hitchcock, Stand To: A Diary of the Trenches (Uckfield, Suss.: Naval &
Military Press, 1937), 212.
138 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, wrote in June 1918 whilst in Italy of dining
with his CO, Lieutenant-Colonel A.J.N. Bartlett, and playing bridge till midnight.96
He even went on leave with him to Venice. When Lieutenant-Colonel E.A. Wood
was promoted to command 55 Brigade in October 1916, Captain G. Dugdale, his
intelligence officer, noted: It suddenly dawned on me what a wonderful friend
he had been, and how I should miss him.97 Lieutenant E.C. Blunden described
Lieutenant-Colonel George Hyde Harrison, 11th Sussex, as having a gift of being
friend and commander alike.98 In what must have been one of the more curious CO
subordinate relationships, Harrison called Blunden Rabbit, and the heterosexual
Blunden, to put no finer point on it, loved him in return, writing: His likeness cannot
come again in this life, nor can man be more beloved.99 In On the Portrait of a
Colonel (dedicated to G.H.H.), Blunden constructed what may be the only paean
to a CO, describing Harrisons honoured face and the eyes shrewd humour, the
lips generous grace, the stirring zest, the power to make and give, with Harrison
held as a beacon in lifes turmoil: This mans commanding trust will be my sight.100
Posed friendliness was easily detected. P.J. Campbell (an artillery officer) wrote: At
the days end the Colonel would sometimes come into our mess and laugh and make
jokes, calling each of us his laddie and asking some pointless questions. We disliked
him even more when he was pretending to be friendly than when he was abusive.101
It could hit hard when a CO was killed. Major J.M. Findlay of the 8th Scottish
Rifles wrote of the death of Lieutenant-Colonel H.M. Hannan at Gallipoli, shot
in the neck by a Turkish sniper at a range of 1,100 yards: The awful feeling of
loss of a real friend.102 Loss could affect the whole battalion. Captain F.C.
Hitchcock, 2nd Leinster, noted that on 6 November 1918, it was the anniversary of
Colonel Murphys death, killed in the battalion HQ mess by a shell, and the men
had not forgotten him; all day long on the march, and later in billets, I heard them
talking about him.103 Even when Lieutenant-Colonel C.H.R. Crawshay, 2nd Royal
Welsh Fusiliers, was wounded in January 1917, never to return to command, the
Battalion was in low spirits because the Colonel had been so popular that everyone
regarded him as irreplaceable.104

96
Graham Greenwell, An Infant in Arms (London, Lovat Dickson & Thompson,
1935), 266, 289.
97
Geoffrey Dugdale, Langemarck and Cambrai (Uckfield, Suss.: Naval & Military
Press, 2005), 92.
98
Blunden, Undertones of War, 130.
99
Ibid. 110.
100
Edmund Blunden, On the Portrait of a Colonel, in Poems of Many Years (London:
Collins, 1957), 132.
101
Patrick J. Campbell, In the Cannons Mouth (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1979), 7.
Dugdale, Langemarck and Cambrai, 92.
102
James M. Findlay, With the 8th Scottish Rifles (London: Blackie, 1926), 30.
103
Hitchcock, Stand To, 306.
104
Sassoon, The Complete Memoirs of George Sherston, 409.
Men to be Followed, Feared and Loved 139

Senior Officers School emphasised the importance of courage. Captain


A.O. Pollard depicted the well-respected Lieutenant-Colonel E.C.P. Boyle, 1/1st
Honourable Artillery Company, as a man who never knew fear and who inspired
all with whom he came into contact with his own enthusiasm.105 He was mortally
wounded on 7 February 1917 returning from a conference at brigade HQ, hit by a
shell splinter two yards from his dugout at Beaumont Hamel. The unit war diary
noted: He welcomed death in the field and died like a gallant gentleman regretted
beyond all words by all who loved him.106 How much of a COs courageous
behaviour was deliberate modelling is unclear. Captain F.C. Hitchcock observed
Lieutenant-Colonel A.D. Murphy modelling endurance, soaked through and going
into action: The C.O. was in great form. He always showed his 100 per cent
soldiering qualities under discomfiture, and would appear to revel in it, which I
well knew was not the case.107
2nd Lieutenant A. Thomas viewed Lieutenant-Colonel W.R.A. Dawson, 6th
Royal West Kent, as a natural commanding officer. He described him as a man
of moods and uncertain temper but was clear his positives far outweighed his
negatives. Firstly, his referent power was seemingly immense: His personality
overpowered me. Secondly, he understood the power of hands on leadership,
which maintained the sense of We-ness. Thomas noted his undoubted courage: A
Colonel has no business to go out on patrol in no-mans land, thinking Dawson
sometimes reckless and foolhardy. The all tasks shared style of leadership was,
however, the keystone of Thomas statement: He expected as much as he gave,
which was everything. He demonstrated, however, that possessing courage did
not mean the absence of fear. When Thomas found him clinging to the side of a
trench, Dawson acknowledged his fear of the shelling, but stated: I dont show
the fear I feel. He clearly comprehended the importance of modelling coping.108
Leadership from the front, where so many of the COs of 1914 who died
were killed, was a respected characteristic. Captain C.P. Clayton noted that
Lieutenant-Colonel A.W. Pagan, 1st Gloucestershire, was always with his first
line in battle.109 Lieutenant C.E. Carrington, 1/5th Royal Warwickshire, whose CO,
Lieutenant-Colonel G.C. Sladen, was [his] hero, was isolated and under counter-
attack beyond Ovillers in late July 1916, when suddenly Sladen dropped into his
trench: I feel ten times more confident that the Colonel should merely be in the
trench with us where Colonels have no business to be.110 When the adjutant
of the 2nd Kings Royal Rifle Corps attempted to prevent Lieutenant-Colonel
H.F.W. Bircham from being right up with the attack, Bircham responded: You

105
Pollard, Fire-Eater, 178.
106
1/1st Honourable Artillery Company, War Diary (TNA WO 95/3118).
107
Hitchcock, Stand To, 161.
108
Alan Thomas, A Life Apart (London: Gollancz, 1968), 99100.
109
Charles P. Clayton, The Hungry One (Llandysul, Ceredigion: Gomer Press, 1978),
144.
110
Charles Edmonds, A Subalterns War (London: Anthony Mott, 1984), 75.
140 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

know very well where a Colonel of the Rifles should be on such occasions.111
The adjutant was tragically blessed with foresight as Bircham was killed at the
junction of the Switch Line and Munster Alley, Pozieres, that day (23 July 1916).
Lieutenant-Colonel J.G. Mignon, 8th Leicestershire also demonstrated the cost of
this attitude, dying eight days prior to Bircham on the Bazentin Ridge, leading a
bombing party like a subaltern.112
Captain D.V. Kelly, in describing Mignons death, noted: In the later stages
of the War commanders of battalions were constantly being enjoined to stay at
their headquarters while a battle was in progress. An example of the way this was
enacted is indicated in the operational orders of 2 Canadian Infantry Brigade for
the battles of Vimy, 9 April 1917:

(a) Two Battalions commanders will be left out of the attack. These will be:
Lieutenant-Colonel H M Dyer DSO 5th CI Battalion, Lieutenant-Colonel W F
Gilson 7th CI Battalion. Not more than 4 Officers per Company and 5 Officers
per Battalion Headquarters will take part in the attack. (b) The following
Officers must be left behind: (i) Either the CO or the Second-in-Command; (ii)
Either the Company Commander or the Second-in-Command. Not more than
two Company Commanders are to go in with their Companies.113

Lieutenant-Colonel F.P. Crozier thought this whole idea of remaining in the


rear repulsive. It cut right across the foundations of mutual trust, emphasized
in training, between private soldier and officer.114 Crozier, who commanded the
9th Royal Irish Rifles between March and November 1916, described how he and
Lieutenant-Colonel H.C. Bernard, 10th Royal Irish Rifles, decided to disobey this
edict on 1 July 1916 at Thiepval. Bernard paid with his life. Croziers point was
that one could only command with knowledge, which could only be gained by
being in the fight. Bernards point, in retrospect, might have been that command
is impossible from beyond the grave. Lieutenant-Colonel A. Carton de Wiart
similarly believed an invisible commander in a dug-out cannot be a great source
of inspiration, but also paid a price, being wounded twice during his 133 days in
command of the 8th Gloucestershire.115 The experience of Lieutenant-Colonel G.H.
Brush, 11th Royal Irish Fusiliers, who had been ordered not to lead his men in the
attack on 1 July 1916, highlighted the dilemma. He was to command and control
the attack from Bn. H.Q. in the trenches with telephone, signal flags, runners and

111
Eyre, Somme Harvest, 225.
112
D.V. Kelly, 39 Months with the Tigers 19151918 (London: Ernest Benn, 1930),
32.
113
2 Canadian Infantry Brigade, War Diary, Appendix 2, Operation Order 185
(O.O. 185) (5 Apr. 1917), 25 (LAC, RG9, Militia and Defence, Series III-D-3, Volume
4871, Reel T-10669, File: 206).
114
Frank P. Cozier, The Men I Killed (London: Michael Joseph, 1937), 81.
115
Adrian Carton de Wiart, Happy Odyssey (London: Pan, 1950), 58.
Men to be Followed, Feared and Loved 141

scouts. Unfortunately the sheer volume of the German fire made this system of
communication almost impossible. The result of having the Commanding Officer
at Battalion Headquarters meant the troops on the battlefield lacked specific
direction.116
Others held different views. Lieutenant-Colonel E.W. Hermon, 27th
Northumberland Fusiliers, wrote: If a C.O. goes messing about up in front he
is quite out of touch with his command & the result is chaos.117 On 26 September
1918, on the Flesquires ridge, Lieutenant-Colonel W. Fraser, 1/6th Gordon
Highlanders, who had gone with his battalion to the Red Line, where they passed
through the leading battalion, returned to battalion HQ and noted: Its no good
being too far away one can do nothing. The balance had to be struck between
inspiration and communication.118
The model of battalion command present in the British army prior to and
during the First World War was one of leadership integrated within the unit,
leading, particularly in the mobile warfare of 1914 and 1918, from the front. In a
war fought without the benefit of effective voice control, this served the battalion
commander and his unit well, whatever the risks, fulfilling the two key functions
of getting the best possible information in the shortest time possible to make the
best possible tactical decisions; and providing an inspiring personal example.119

Expert Power

A balance clearly existed between referent and expert power: a less popular
CO with high expert power was not necessarily viewed as a bad CO.120 Officers
recognised that the intelligence, knowledge, and conscientious application that
signified expert power were central attributes in a CO. W.R.A. Dawsons expert
power was evident in his ultimate competence on the battlefield: He knew his
job an instinctive grasp of soldiering.121 When Lieutenant C.P. Clayton met
Lieutenant-Colonel T.O. Marden, 1st Welsh, he noted: His face is an arresting
one. It is of an intellectual type, and his eyes, incisive yet quick to twinkle, give
the impression that they miss nothing.122 Claytons instinct was right: Thomas
Owen Marden was indeed an intelligent soldier. A psc, he had already served as a
special service officer in South Africa, deputy assistant adjutant general in India;
staff captain, GSO3 and GSO2 at army HQ, and deputy assistant adjutant and

116
William J. Canning, Ballyshannon, Beloo, Bertincourt (Enniskillen: Trimble,
1996), 66
117
Hermon, letter (19 Sept. 1916), in Love and Courage, 286.
118
Canning, Ballyshannon, Beloo, Bertincourt, 66.
119
Doron Almog, Positioning the Battalion Commander: The Advance and Pursuit
from Awali to Beirut, 613 June 1982, Military Operations 1 (2012), 1316.
120
Pratten, Australian Battalion Commanders, 116.
121
Thomas, A Life Apart, 5761.
122
Clayton, The Hungry One, 14.
142 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

quarter master general in Orange River Colony. But the risk for a battalion was
that a CO with evident and wide-ranging expert power would be promoted, and
the 1st Welsh lost Marden relatively early in the war, as he was promoted to serve
as brigadier-general of 114 Brigade from November 1915 to August 1917 and
then major-general of 6th Division from August 1918 to the armistice. Lieutenant
J.B. Hoyle, 7th South Lancashire, wrote of Lieutenant-Colonel C.R.P. Winser: If
there was ever a conscientious and knowledgeable Colonel he is the man.123 The
unit had the benefit of Winser for longer. It was only after serving as CO for over
two years that he was transferred in January 1918 as a lieutenant-colonel to the
Machine Gun Corps and then promoted to brigadier-general with 41 Brigade from
April to September 1918.
When Captain F.C. Hitchcock was tasked with a day-time raid on the
Triangle, Loos, on 10 January 1917, his CO watched the training, made personal
reconnaissance of the objective, and superintended jumping-off. Hitchcock
recognised that nothing had been left to chance by the CO and concluded the
Triangle was deemed an impregnable position, and I doubt if its prestige would
have been lowered but for the skill of Lieut.-Colonel A.D. Murphy.124 Lieutenant
Siegfried Sassoon, writing of Lieutenant-Colonel J.R. Minshull-Fords successor
Kinjack (Lieutenant-Colonel C.I. Stockwell), described him as a man who
exceeded all our expectations. He was the personification of military efficiency.
Personal charm was not his strong point, and he made no pretension to it. He
was aggressive and blatant, but he knew his job, and for that we respected him
and were grateful.125 They were grateful because knowing ones job reduced the
possibility of errors and saved lives.
The wise CO would ensure that expert power was shared. Lieutenant Max
Plowman, 10th West Yorkshire, approved of the consultative style that Senior
Officers School came to recommend in Lieutenant-Colonel P.R.O.A. Simner, a
civilian barrister in August 1914, noting: He has instituted weekly round-table talks
with officers at which old indiscriminate cursing is omitted. Plowman described
other virtues: He is keen and takes an intelligent interest in the battalion. He
has wit and good humour, the consequence being that he at present is the object
of much hero worship.126 Captain R.B. Ross, 1/7th Gordon Highlanders, similarly
described the issuing of final orders on 12 November 1916 before the Battle of
the Ancre, noting that suggestions were invited by Lieutenant-Colonel R. Bruce
to provide for a more complete victory by the assurance of individual initiative
if it would be required. He continued: The Colonel gave each suggestion its
just consideration, amplifying here, rejecting there, applying that sound and

123
John B. Hoyle, letter (19 June 1916), in Some Letters from a Subaltern on the
Western Front (Uckfield: Naval & Military Press, 2009 [1917]), 226.
124
Hitchcock, Stand To, 244.
125
Sassoon, The Complete Memoirs of George Sherston, 2678.
126
Mark VII (Max Plowman), A Subaltern on the Somme (London: Imperial War
Museum, 1996), 230.
Men to be Followed, Feared and Loved 143

sympathetic judgement of his which endeared him no less than it commanded


admiration.127

Unpopular COs

In 1915, a crisis occurred in the 1/4th Norfolk concerning the command of


Lieutenant-Colonel J.R. Harvey, who was subject to a revolt by his senior
officers. Majors H.R. Fletcher and C.P. Hines sought to withdraw their Imperial
Service Obligation on account of his behaviour. Their complaints were brought
to Brigadier-General C.M. Brunker, GOC 163 Brigade, and this led to a court of
inquiry on 9 July 1915.128 Brunker noted a very serious feeling of discontent,
which had reached the rank and file. He noted that Harvey had a different
concept of discipline to his officers and was aloof and so is not in sympathy with
them. Whilst viewing Harvey as a useful officer in the field, he recommended
his removal. Major-General F.S. Inglefield, GOC 54th Division, noted that he
had been aware that Colonel Harvey was unpopular and out of sympathy with
his officers and on one occasion that the officers were aggrieved at the way he
spoke to the btn. Seemingly unaware that he might be reporting biased views, he
added: but the late Brigadier who was a great personal friend of Colonel Harvey
assured me that there was no real disagreement in the Regiment. Inglefield
summed up Harveys pros and cons, admitting that he was brusque in manner,
quick of temper and unsympathetic in his bearing towards subordinates. He [had]
however, determination, possesses power of command and [Inglefield had] always
considered him a good fighting officer. He recommended, however, that Harvey
should not take his battalion on active service.
At the court of inquiry, Major Fletcher stated that the officers have lost
confidence in the ability of Colonel Harvey to efficiently lead or direct the
Battalion in the field, that he had failed to acquire knowledge with a view to
imparting it to his juniors, and that he appeared to have lost interest in the doings
of the Regiment. Major Hines referred to the COs lack of control over the
Battalion in field operations and his failure to issue written orders. For his part,
Harvey denied knowledge of everything, proclaiming a pre-arranged conspiracy,
suggesting that the battalion was merely fed up on account of not going overseas.
He asserted Fletcher to be a truculent character and produced importuning letters
from Hines asking for command of the 2/4th Battalion. The court found in his
favour, ignoring the evidence and recommendations of the brigade and division
commanders, on the basis that his officers had contravened the Kings Regulations,
paragraph 443 of which states: Deliberations or discussions by officers or soldiers
with the object of conveying praise, censure, or any mark of approbation towards

127
Robert B. Ross, The Fifty-First in France (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1918),
3078.
128
1/4th Norfolk, inquiry into discontent among officers and men concerning
commanding officer (TNA, WO 32/18563).
144 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

their superiors are prohibited.129 Two weeks after the inquiry Harvey was found
medically unfit for a period of one month. The battalion embarked for Gallipoli
on 29 July under the command of the adjutant, Captain E.W. Montgomerie, with no
majors. What could not be achieved by junior officers was achieved by infection:
Harvey joined the battalion on 9 September but fell a victim to dysentery almost
immediately.130 He never commanded on the battlefield again.
Simply replacing a popular CO could render his successor unpopular. In May
1917, Lieutenant-Colonel C.F. Osmond of the 1/1st Honourable Artillery Company
was invalided and replaced by Lieutenant-Colonel P.C. Cooper. His appointment
was described by Captain A.O. Pollard as a cloud settling on the battalion and a
most unfortunate happening, but he did not see how any blame can be attached to
P.C. He was merely a very senior officer, who was invalided and was kept at
home. Pollard took the view that even in this comparatively late stage of the war
that seniority was at the root of the issue: That he was senior to our beloved Ossy
was a matter of chance and the fault of the system which insists on promotion in
time of war by seniority instead of merit. Pollard hastily qualified his remarks:
Not that I am questioning P.C.s merit. He was very capable in some directions.
His fault was that he arrived to supersede Ossy. Had he been any other man
the result would have been the same.131
When the 1/8th Sherwood Foresters were mauled in the 46th Divisions disastrous
assault on the Hohenzollern Redoubt in October 1915, Lieutenant-Colonel G.H.
Fowler, the popular CO who had been senior major in August 1914, stated that
that night had added ten years to his life. His life was shorter than he imagined:
attempting personally to recover Major J.P. Bechers body the next day, he was
shot by a sniper. Lieutenant W.C.C. Weetman, the adjutant, wrote to the pre-war
CO, Colonel Foljambe, describing Fowler as an irreparable loss. The battalion
was taken over by Lieutenant-Colonel J.E. Blackwall of the 6th Battalion, towards
whom Private Geoffrey Husbands, as we have seen, bore only lukewarm affection.
Weetman wrote: He is all right but doesnt quite lay hold of the battalion as I
would wish, and ten days later: Our new CO, Im afraid, I dont love exactly
its such a change from my last dear colonel. He is not the worker that Im used to
so it makes rather a difference.132 Blackwall was in fact to command successfully
for two and a half years.
The unpopular CO generally failed to radiate referent power. Simple personal
ineptitude could rapidly alienate such an individual. 2nd Lieutenant D.W.J.
Cuddeford, 12th Highland Light Infantry, noted than when the Earl of Rothes was
wounded in October 1916, an officer, whom he tactfully did not name (Lieutenant-

129
War Office, The Kings Regulations.
130
Francis L. Petre, The History of the Norfolk Regiment 4th August 1914 to 31st
December 1918 (Norwich: Jarrold, 1925), 134.
131
Pollard, Fire-Eater, 231.
132
Jolyon Jackson, A Family at War: The Foljambe Family and the Great War
(Yeovil: Haynes, 2010), 199201.
Men to be Followed, Feared and Loved 145

Colonel W.E. St. John), was appointed who [he was] afraid was never very
popular with officers or men.133 St John, a man who never seemed to get on
with anyone, was one of those people who seem to have the unfortunate knack
of always doing the wrong thing and of getting up against everyone they come
into contact with. Cuddeford, his adjutant, noted that he had some insight: Once
in private he somewhat regretfully remarked to me that whenever he tried to do
anyone a good turn his action always seemed to have the opposite result. He was
fully aware of his unpopularity and no one regretted it more than himself, but
he was deficient in ordinary tact and he would impatiently resent any advice,
however respectfully offered. Cuddeford was in no doubt that there was an
adverse influence on the battalion.134 Whilst personal charm was not essential,
there was a fine balance. Major-General T.D. Pilcher identified this exact issue:
Some Commanding Officers obtain cheerful obedience to their commands,
whereas others find it difficult to get any orders carried out, and are generally
unpopular into the bargain. An unwelcome order, he suggested, will be rendered
less unpalatable if it be tactfully conveyed.135
The 9th Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry suffered from an unpopular
CO. Lieutenant-Colonel C.W.D. Lynch was a pedantic disciplinarian and rapidly
became disliked by all. On the eve of the 1 July 1916 attack on the Somme, Lynchs
officers were gathered together, and the adjutant suggested to Captain G. Haswell,
the senior officer present, that he propose a toast to the COs health. The degree
of Lynchs alienation was such that Haswell replied: Im damned if I will, I dont
wish him good health and am not prepared to be insincere. Pressed, his proposed
toast was to the battalion: When the barrage lifts.136 Further unpleasantness was
avoided as Lynch was killed the following day at Fricourt, as was Haswell.
Captain R.L. Mackay, 11th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, had two spells
under Lieutenant-Colonel H.A. Duncan, who he referred to as the Conscientious
Obstructor.137 He had no doubt as to his courage, but it was his inability to
identify, thereby alienating his officers, that was fatal. When the officers enjoyed
a hearty meal in an estaminet, Duncan sat aside and watched [them].138 Mackay
later noting: He lacks that most necessary of all things common sense, savoir
faire.139 When Major G.L. Wilson took over on Duncans going sick, Mackay
noted: Hurrah! What a difference.140 Wilson was replaced by Major J. Mitchell,
13th Royal Scots, and Mackay celebrated We-ness: He was an original sub of

133
D.W.J. Cuddeford, And All For What? (London: Heath Cranton, 1933), 71.
134
Ibid. 801.
135
Pilcher, A Generals Letters to His Son, 567.
136
Derek Clayton, From Pontefract to Picardy: The 9th Kings Own Yorkshire Light
Infantry in the First World War (Stroud: Tempus, 2004), 61.
137
R.L. Mackay, private papers, 13 (IWM, Documents 11144).
138
Ibid.
139
Mackay, private papers, 34.
140
Mackay, private papers, 46.
146 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

ours, and is tremendously popular, and is acting as a general tonic. They became
a new lot of men for the late CO undoubtedly lowered our spirits.141
Lieutenant T.H. Floyd described Lieutenant-Colonel Bertram Best-Dunkley
after the war as a brilliant young man, endowed with a remarkable personality142
but, at the time, Floyds assessment was that he suffers from a badly swelled
head; fancies himself a budding Napoleon. Worse, however, Best-Dunkley
possessed a very bad temper and a most vile tongue and was inconsiderate of
his inferiors wherever his personal whims and ambitions are concerned; and
is engrossed with an inordinate desire to be in the good graces of the Brigadier-
General.143 These were all behaviours unlikely to generate We-ness, yet the expert
power demonstrated on 31 July 1917 at Wieltje being the last officer standing,
beating off a German counter-attack, and winning the VC only to be fatally
wounded by the British counter-barrage that he had called up undoubtedly
screwed his mens courage to the sticking-place when it counted. When Major-
General H.S Jeudwine, 55th Division, visited the dying man, Best-Dunkley said
that he hoped the General was satisfied. At Best-Dunkleys graveside, Jeudwine
remarked: We are burying one of Britains bravest soldiers.144
Guy Chapman described the humiliating diarrhoea-stricken departure on 6
August 1916 of Lieutenant-Colonel H.J. des Voeux, 13th Royal Fusiliers, a man
who clearly lacked both referent and expert power.145 Chapman blamed not only
his lack of robustness: He had been a wash-out from the first; he had succumbed
without any effort to the first strain, but also his arrogant stupidity which
had alienated the sympathy of every person who might have brought him to a
counselled leadership. Des Voeux had become so alienated, however, that his
failure had resulted in a curiously democratic control, which had effected a
more complete harmony, confidence, and loyalty than was often to be found in
units more capably led. This was probably down to the character of the second-
in-command, Major G.H. Ardagh, who succeeded as CO. A popular, charming
man, always to be found in the front line at night or wandering round the
bays guided by friendly privates:146 his referent power created the necessary
We-ness. Ardaghs femur was smashed by a shell in November 1916, yet he
returned to France six months later: Chapman recorded the quartermasters
comment: What a tiger, eh?147

141
Mackay, private papers, 48.
142
Thomas H. Floyd, Foreword, in At Ypres with Best-Dunkley (Boston, MA:
Indypublish, n.d.), n.p.
143
Floyd, At Ypres with Best-Dunkley, 31.
144
Ibid. 1156.
145
Chapman, A Passionate Prodigality, 83.
146
Ibid. 58.
147
Ibid. 131.
Men to be Followed, Feared and Loved 147

Experience of Command: The COs Perspective

Alternatively, far from making him unpopular, the arrival of a new CO to replace
even a perfectly adequate CO could actually raise morale further. The advent of
Lieutenant-Colonel E.P.A. Riddell to the 1/1st Cambridgeshire was such an event
for Captain A.I. Adam, who noted: We are living in really interesting times; the
outstanding feature is the extraordinary power and competence of the CO.148

Making a Mark

Lieutenant-Colonel W. Fraser, taking over the 1/6th Gordon Highlanders, wrote: It


is a difficult job, this taking over of a strange battalion and my predecessor seems
to have been a splendid fellow, which does not make it easier they must not be
let down.149 Lieutenant-Colonel J.L. Jack left the 2nd Scottish Rifles reluctantly
to command the 2nd West Yorkshire. As no regiment likes being commanded by a
stranger, he realised that his first business is to gain their confidence.150 Major
A.C. Johnston, aware of the necessity of having a strong side of officers, noted
on 14 August 1916: Am possibly going to command a battalion, a magnificent
job but one of a great difficulty and responsibility in these days of few and
inexperienced officers, semi-trained N.C.O.s, and raw recruits sometimes of not
too good material. On taking command of the 10th Cheshire, he felt that [he]
could not have received a greater compliment or a bigger task; it is a Mans Job
and a magnificent one.151
A CO would wish to stamp his own type of We-ness on his unit. Lieutenant-
Colonel W.D Croft noted: Brigadiers are an infernal nuisance at times, for in
order to get a battalion right the battalion commander must have a free hand.152
Lieutenant-Colonel E.W. Hermon temporarily replaced Lieutenant-Colonel G.R.V.
Steward as CO of the 27th Northumberland Fusiliers in August 1916. Initially,
despite describing the unit as having the reputation as the best in the brigade
and himself as having to follow a man whom they all worshipped,153 Hermon
believed it required improvement, remarking: I expect in a week or so that things
will have assumed an entirely different aspect.154 He soon reported: There begins
to show some sign of organization & tho things are still very far from being what I

148
Cited in Adela M. Adam, Arthur Innes Adam 18941916: A Record Founded on
His Letters (Cambridge: Bowes and Bowes, 1920), 2189.
149
Fraser, In Good Company, 92.
150
Terraine, General Jacks Diary, 1612.
151
Alexander Johnston, The Great War Diaries of Brigadier General Alexander
Johnston 19141917, ed. Edwin Astill (Barnsley: Pen & Sword, 2007), 179.
152
Croft, Three Years with the Ninth Division, 15.
153
Hermon, letter (29 Aug. 1916), in For Love and Courage, 270.
154
Hermon, letter (20 Aug. 1916), ibid. 265.
148 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

want you can simply see them growing every day.155 He was delighted when after
a matter of two weeks his adjutant came & said that he thought it would make
[his] work easier if [he] was to know that all the officers were absolutely satisfied
& ready to back one to the last drop of blood.156 Hermon took the remark at face
value rather than considering that his officers might simply have been looking
for a less hectic life! He took the same attitude to his second command with the
24th Northumberland Fusiliers two months later, noting: there is a good deal that
wants altering and I shall not want for a job. Its apparently never had a regular
C.O. in its life.157 Brigadier-General F.P. Crozier would have approved, as he had
written: When objectives are not taken; usually the fault is with the Colonel,
who is not prepared to push on because he has not taught his men or come to an
understanding with them.158
Starting training 18 days after taking command, Lieutenant-Colonel
A.C. Johnston took the task personally, noting: Lectured once to the officers
and twice to the N.C.O.s in one day.159 Similarly, to make his mark, Lieutenant-
Colonel A.F.A.N. Thorne was with his men in every training task, writing to his
wife in July 1918: I had an excellent forty minutes physical and bayonet fighting
from 6.30 until 7.10. I dug between 3.40 and 4.30 p.m. and from 5.30 to 7.30
p.m.160 Lieutenant-Colonel W. Fraser, 1/6th Gordon Highlanders, met his company
commanders first on taking over, dined with two of them one evening, two the
next, and like Johnston, began training immediately, setting up a rifle range.161 F.P.
Crozier, commanding the 9th Royal Irish Rifles, came out of the line to rest, train
and renovate his unit prior to the Somme campaign and to create We-ness decided
to have a battalion mess once more to regain the grip which is inevitably lost in
the system of decentralized messing of the line, and without which war cannot be
successfully waged.162 Similarly, Lieutenant-Colonel A.C.H. Kearsey took over
the 5th Dorset in December 1915 and determined to get it thoroughly efficient
again he started by at once having men detailed for training as specialists. He was
very successful in making us matter as before long the Battalions specialists
had carried off several brigade contests.163

155
Hermon, letter (21 Aug. 1916), ibid. 266.
156
Hermon, letter (29 Aug. 1916), ibid. 270.
157
Hermon, letter (31 Oct. 1916), ibid. 302.
158
Frank P. Crozier, The Men I Killed (London: Michael Joseph, 1937), 93.
159
Johnston, The Great War Diaries, 185.
160
Donald Lindsay, Forgotten General: A Life of Andrew Thorne (Salisbury: Michael
Russell, 1987), 71.
161
Fraser, In Good Company, 100.
162
Frank P. Crozier, A Brass Hat in No Mans Land (London: Jonathan Cape, 1930),
923.
163
H.C. Lock and O.C. Vidler, The History of the Dorsetshire Regiment 19141919,
Part 3 (Dorchester: Henry Ling, 1933), 53.
Men to be Followed, Feared and Loved 149

Lieutenant-Colonel R.G.B. Jeffreys took over command of the 2nd Royal


Dublin Fusiliers in July 1916, but it was April 1917 before he got three weeks
of training with his battalion. He entered it with vigour: I am very busy training
all day and in the evenings till late at night. I am making up schemes etc. The
schedule was rigorous: We start work here at 6.30 am and dont finish till 7 pm.
My earliest start is 8.30 am till 1 pm, 2.30 pm 4.30 pm and then a lecture to all
officers from 5.30 pm 7 pm to 7.30 pm training programmes etc. and again after
dinner I am kept fairly busy.164 The training created a specific bond, for when
he was hospitalised four months later with the sciatica which would end his career
in 1918, he wrote: I want to get back to my battalion. It is just the time I want
to be with them and it will be hard luck if I miss it now at the last moment when I
have been doing all the training.165
Like Jeffreys, many COs felt a strong need to be with their battalions when they
faced the test of action. Lieutenant-Colonel W.D. Croft was absent, sick, when his
battalion took heavy casualties at Fampoux on 12 April 1917 and wrote: How
shamed I felt to meet those who had gone into action without me; it was indeed the
bitterest day of my life. I was ill and depressed, and for days I had the feeling
that everybody was pointing the finger of scorn for ratting.166 Lieutenant-Colonel
A.C. Johnston, 10th Cheshire, preparing for the Battle of Messines in June 1917,
was told that I am not to go into the show, which is an awful disappointment.
He wanted to see the fruits of his training in action and, as he wrote, one feels an
awful shirker staying out behind.167 Lieutenant-Colonel John William Lindredge
Elgee, who commanded the 1st Middlesex for 21 months, had six months off sick
in 1917, returning to displace Lieutenant-Colonel H.A.O. Hanley. He clearly
understood his stand-ins bond with the unit for Hanley described how: as I had
had the Battalion for the last six months or so, and had had all the trouble of
training it, etc., I should have the honour of commanding it in the Battle of the
Menin Road and that he would go in with us and serve under me. Divisional
headquarters, however, decided that it would not be practicable. 168
Taking over command of the 1/6th Durham Light Infantry in December
1915, Lieutenant-Colonel G.A. Stevens took a robust approach to achieving
a strong side of officers: I believe half the battle has been I have been very
very particular with my officers & I have a splendid set, I have fired four to
England & persuaded two to go sick.169 Similarly, Lieutenant-Colonel E.C.,
who had served with one of the service battalions of the Lincolnshire Regiment for

164
Richard G.B. Jeffreys, letter (5 Apr. 1917), in Lieutenant-Colonel R.G.B. Jeffreys,
Collected Letters 19161918, ed. Conor Dodd and Liam Dodd (Dublin: Old Tough
Publications, 2007), 39.
165
Jeffreys, letter (6 Aug. 1917), ibid.
166
Croft, Three Years with the Ninth Division, 1212.
167
Johnston, The Great War Diaries, 212.
168
<http://freespace.virgin.net/howard.anderson/battleofthemeninroadridge.htm>.
169
Brigadier-General G.A. Stevens, letter (23 Mar. 1916) (IWM, Documents 12339).
150 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

a year and a half before taking over command, also took the sword to his brother
officers. He wrote some two and a half weeks on: I have to make one or two rather
sweeping changes [in that] I have had to recommend that one of my majors be
removed from the battalion a very unpleasant task. I shall have to weed out
some other officers. 170
Making a mark created a reciprocal sense of ownership. Captain A.I. Adam
noted how the C.O. becomes more and more a delightful man as the battalion
grows more to his liking.171 Major F.A. Maxwell took over the 12th Middlesex
unwillingly in May 1916 as the battalion had not been doing well, owing, it is
said, to C.O. who has mishandled them. However, I fancy the battalion is not
too good has had two failures at least its morale therefore not too good.
I loathe the whole business.172 Yet when he left it five months later he wrote
publicly to the battalion: I have spent nearly six months in this happy family, &
these have been amongst the happiest, saddest & proudest of my life.173
Lieutenant-Colonel G.S. Hutchison was missing for three days in Spring 1918
and reported dead. His resurrection revealed that already a new Commanding
Officer had arrived to take over command of [his] beloved battalion. [The new
CO] did not wait long after he had seen [Hutchison] in person.174 In September
1918, Hutchison was shot in the face and, after eight days in hospital and protesting
my battalion was more than a wife, he got a friend to fly him back to the front
line where the new Commanding Officer was returned to store.175 As a brigadier-
general, W.D. Croft recorded a CO imploring him to let him stay with his lads,
with whom he had only been a few days. He continued: Such is the way of British
officers, who, whatever they may be commanding, consider that they stand in loco
parentis when they have had charge of their men for five minutes!176 He had already
demonstrated this paternalism himself, as when he was briefly sent from the 11th
Royal Scots to command the divisional tactical school in early 1917 he noted: It is
perfectly beastly leaving ones own family and we were a very happy family.177

Stress and Strain

Sir Douglas Haig remarked on the strain of commanding a battalion in this kind
of warfare, continuing, only young and strong men can stand it.178 Specific

170
Colonel E.C., private papers (IWM): family name withheld at request of
copyright holder.
171
Cited in Adam, Arthur Innes Adam, 242.
172
Charlotte Maxwell, I Am Ready (London: Hazell Watson and Viney, 1955), 127.
173
12th Battalion Middlesex Regiment, War Diary (TNA, WO 95/2044).
174
Seton, Footslogger, 216.
175
Ibid. 233.
176
Croft, Three Years with the Ninth Division, 217.
177
Ibid. 95.
178
Field-Marshall Sir D. Haig, diary (3 Mar. 1916), Haig Papers (TNA, WO 256/31).
Men to be Followed, Feared and Loved 151

incidents, not particularly objectively traumatic, could induce stress in the


ablest commander. Lieutenant E.C. Blunden described Lieutenant-Colonel G.H.
Harrison, 6th Sussex, lost during a relief near Thiepval in 1916, trembling with
overstrain.179 The summation of a series of such incidents over a long period
in command could generate terminal exhaustion. Lieutenant-Colonel A.F.A.N.
Thorne wrote to his wife in July 1918, when he had been in command of the 3rd
Grenadier Guards virtually without a break for 22 months: My head is fed up
and stale!, and some days later: I am afraid that I am always doing things wrong
and only take precautions when boldness should be the policy. He was clearly
suffering from a low mood, largely from simple war-weariness, and this caused
him to think negatively about his abilities. He continued: Evidently other people
think the same, otherwise I should have been promoted some time ago. Feeling
that he had now ceased to be considered any good, he wrote: everyone else goes
by me.180 Others clearly did see him as exhausted, as he was transferred to be the
commandant of IX Corps School for what was clearly a three-month rest before
being promoted to brigadier-general of 184 Brigade in October 1918. However,
before he left, he led his battalion in the fighting on the old Somme battlefield of
2123 August 1918, action which reinvigorated him as he wrote: I have never
enjoyed battle fighting so much.181
Lieutenant-Colonel H.P.F. Bicknell, who commanded the 4th Middlesex
from 27 October 1915 to 12 March 1917, wrote: My Divisional General has
recommended that I should be sent home for two or three months for training
duty on account of war weariness due to prolonged service in the field. He was
disappointed even if he recognised the truth in the recommendation, continuing: I
am very sick about it although the report of course contains no reflection on me in
it and I admit that I am not capable of the energy that I possessed two years ago.182
As 1918 ground on, Lieutenant-Colonel H.M.B. de Sales la Terriere, 9th Essex,
recorded how the strain began to tell and he started to drink: I was so utterly worn
out both physically and nervously that without some form of dope I could not
possibly have carried on.183 He complained: I was getting absolutely exhausted.
Most divisions had arranged for their COs to have an official rest of six months
commanding a home battalion: ours apparently had not. His exhaustion was
visible to others: My MO told me as forcibly as possible to go sick or I should
break down completely.184
Lieutenant-Colonel G.A. Stevens, 2nd Royal Fusiliers, also thought that rest
would have saved him from collapse, writing on 25 April 1917:

179
Blunden, Undertones of War, 85.
180
Lindsay, Forgotten General, 71.
181
Ibid. 72.
182
H.P.F. Bicknell DSO, letter (9 Feb. 1917), private papers (IWM, Documents
16133).
183
H.M.B. de Sales la Terriere, private papers, 419 (IWM, Documents 14737).
184
De Sales la Terriere, private papers, 425.
152 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

My dear father, I am deeply sorry to say I have had a nervous breakdown and am
now in the VI Corps Rest Station (officers). I never thought this would happen to
me but I cracked up all of a sudden. I have had more service in the field than
all the COs in the Division, but just because I wasnt an original 29th Division
officer I couldnt get the months leave that they all got. I got finished up at
Monchy after going through four days heavy bombardment in which we twice
had to change dugouts and had two blown in on top of us. On top of the strain
was the horror of walking out through the village on the bodies of dead men and
horses. I know you will know that I have done my best.185

After action, when a battalion had suffered significant casualties, a CO could


grieve. W.L. Andrews wrote of Lieutenant-Colonel G.A.McL. Sceales: I, who
was much with him, knew that he suffered intensely when he lost men, though
he would have scorned to show it.186 After the attack at Roeux on 3 May 1917,
Lieutenant-Colonel A.G. Horsfall wrote of his battalion casualties: I simply cant
bear to think about it.187 When the 7th Northumberland Fusiliers were smashed at
Ypres on 26 October 1917, Lieutenant-Colonel G.S. Jackson came out of action
and the tears trickled down his weather-beaten face as he said this has fairly
done me.188 He spoke true, for, having commanded the battalion since 18 April
1915, he was sent at the end of December to command a base hospital.
Lieutenant-Colonel E.C. had only been in command for just over a month
when on 1 July 1916 his unit suffered casualties to the tune of 15 officers and
487 other ranks. Twelve days later the battalion was up to strength again, but,
clearly suffering post-traumatic symptoms, he wrote: I think my brain & mind
need a rest. I dont seem to be able to concentrate on any one thing for more than
a few moments.189 He continued: To form a new battalion with all the best of
our officers & NCOs gone is I feel beyond my powers. I feel so lost at times.
He added: I have never sought my present position & would very gladly take
one of less responsibility & more within my capacity. With the decimation of
his battalion, the heart had temporarily gone of him he doubted his own expert
power. By January 1917, he was referring to himself as a rather stiff weary sort
of old thing and noted: I asked my general if he thought I was the man for it.
At this point he was told he could have command of a battalion at home, but
several days later he was transferred to command a labour battalion. He was not
alone. Lieutenant-Colonel W.A. Eaton, who had commanded the 6th Buffs from
the outset, was so affected by the Battle of Loos that he wrote to his brigade-major
asking to be relieved of command, stating: I feel that there is no course open to

185
Stevens, letter (25 Apr. 1917), private papers.
186
Andrews, Haunting Years, 182.
187
Horsfall, private papers, 24.
188
Francis Buckley, Q.6.a and Other Places (London: Spottiswoode, Ballantyne &
Co, 1920), 148.
189
Colonel E.C., private papers.
Men to be Followed, Feared and Loved 153

me than to report that I do not personally feel physically capable of reorganizing


and reforming the battalion.190 Eaton clearly recovered his poise as he attempted
throughout 1916 to be reinstated to active command, which he only achieved
briefly in 1917, commanding the 9th Leicestershire for less than two months.
Others seemed oblivious of the strain. After five months in France commanding
the 9th Rifle Brigade, Lieutenant-Colonel W.D. Villiers-Stuart was surprised to be
told in October 1915 that his brigadier thought he was tired and must have a rest,
so he had decided to replace [him] by a much younger officer of the Rifle Brigade
and that [he] must go home on a medical certificate for a rest.191

Institutional Appreciation of Ability in Command: Decorations

The awarding of decorations gives insight into institutional appreciation of a


commanding officers abilities. List A awards of the Distinguished Service Order
or Bar that is, awards for service in action for which citations were recorded
in the London Gazette can be analysed for the reasons for which they were
made. Between 1 January 1918 and 31 December 1918, 703 such awards were
made to officers of infantry battalions of regiments of the line, and a remarkable
42 per cent of these were made to battalion commanders. (Indeed, 18 per cent of
VCs won by officers during the war were by those with the rank of lieutenant-
colonel).192 This reflects the focus in the mobile warfare of 1918 on effective
battalion command, a focus probably sharpened by the increased presence of the
brigade commander at the forefront of action. Given that citations were nearly
always prefaced with the statement: For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to
duty, the five key additional features of the actions of the CO recognised were,
in order of importance: provision of example (50 per cent), ability (48 per cent),
organisational skill (33 per cent), quality of leadership (26 per cent), and initiative
(14 per cent). It was demonstrations of both referent and expert power that were
being rewarded.
The fact that example is the most frequently recorded category reflects the
importance placed on the modelling function of the CO. Words and phrases used
most often include disregard of danger, courage, coolness, cheerfulness,
energy, enthusiasm, determination, tenacity, and confidence. This is
clearly expressed in the citation to Lieutenant-Colonel J.H. Levey, 13th Royal
Sussex, a commissioned warrant officer, for actions during the Third Battle of
Ypres: He displayed coolness, courage and determination, and by his cheerfulness

190
William Arnold Eaton, Personal Service Record (TNA, WO 374/21808).
191
Robert M. Maxwell, Villiers-Stuart Goes to War (Kippilaw: Pentland Press, 1990),
161.
192
Changboo Kang, The British Regimental Officer on the Western Front in the
Great War, with Special Reference to the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, PhD Thesis
(University of Birmingham, 2007).
154 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

he kept those under him in good heart. His personal example was an incentive
to all.193 A close second was the issue of ability, in essence, skilful handling
of the battalion. Thus, Lieutenant-Colonel A.E. Blackwood, 2nd Cheshire,
having conducted a successful raid on a village in enemy lines, was rewarded
for forethought and skilful handling of his command.194 Third most frequently
mentioned was organisational skill, a sub-division of ability. Much of this
stemmed from personal intervention, often following personal reconnaissance
leading to some specific direction or reorganisation. Thus Lieutenant-Colonel
G.B. Wauhope, 13th York and Lancaster, was awarded the DSO for a surprise night
attack, the successful result of which was due to the skill and resource with which
this officer supervised every detail of preparation.195 Fourthly, leadership was
cited specifically, described variously as fine, able, or skilful. Lieutenant-
Colonel G.E. King, 7th East Yorkshire, was awarded the DSO following a two-
battalion raid on enemy trenches when his utter disregard of personal danger,
skill and cheerfulness throughout, inspired all under his command and proved him
to be a leader of a high order.196 Last was initiative. Thus, Lieutenant-Colonel
D.E. Prideaux-Brune, 8th Rifle Brigade, commanded his battalion and elements of
other units with consummate skill. He stubbornly defended positions one after
another, then skilfully extricated his men and organised fresh ones. He showed
great presence of mind, initiative, and resource at all times.197
***
On 16 December 1917, Lieutenant-Commander A. Asquith was promoted from
his post as CO of the Hood Battalion to command of 189 Brigade. Brigadier-
General J.F.S.D Coleridges recommendation probably encapsulates what
constituted the best CO: He has developed military qualities of a high order.
Possessed of great personal courage, he inspires confidence in his men, and leads
them successfully in action: he possesses decision, driving power, and energy, &
has a good capacity for organisation.198 The judgements made by Coleridge map
almost exactly onto the five DSO award factors of example, ability, organisational
skill, leadership, and initiative. That these correspond well to the principles taught
at Senior Officers School indicates the development of a broadly shared view
of effective command and leadership. The army moved between 1914 and 1917
from having an unspoken concept of battalion leadership to having a taught vision.
The principles taught are broadly contained within modern concepts of identity
leadership and the development of referent and expert power.

193
London Gazette (9 Jan. 1918).
194
London Gazette (16 Aug. 1918).
195
London Gazette (15 Oct. 1918).
196
London Gazette (24 Sept. 1918).
197
London Gazette (26 July 1918).
198
Christopher Page, Command in the Royal Naval Division (Staplehurst: Spellmount,
1999), 167.
Men to be Followed, Feared and Loved 155

Officers and other ranks appear to have a shared view of what they valued
in a CO, which happily fell in line with what was being taught: namely courage,
intelligence, knowledge, hard work, diligence, and skill, all of which protected
lives. Other ranks in particular valued fairness, paternalistic care, and discipline
fairly applied. Officers, being that much closer, valued cheerfulness, humour,
and tact in a CO, as well as something approaching friendship where possible.
Consequently, a consensual management style was valued. Where these features
were lacking, the morale and efficiency of the unit was invariably affected. The
most able COs followed the tenets of identity leadership, stamping their mark
through training and shaping their officer cadre. Physical exhaustion and war-
weariness, however, were never far away.
This page has been left blank intentionally
Chapter 7
Professional Men of War

Brigadier-General Hanway Cumming wrote of the citizen of August 1914 who


reached the highest rank of all the volunteers and conscripts: General Gater was
a product of the new army; he had never seen or thought of soldiering before the
war. He was a first-class Brigade Commander, very able and quick; indeed it
was difficult to imagine him in any other capacity.1 He was in line for divisional
command when the end of the war intervened, Major-General D.G.M. Campbells
recommendation reading:

A Brigadier of the highest class and thoroughly qualified to command a division.


Has proved himself to be an excellent organizer, trainer and fighter. A very
remarkable man as with only four years service he has proved himself well
fitted for a higher command. He is most popular and has the absolute confidence
of all serving under him. A very good disciplinarian. Very active and energetic.2

His rise had been nothing short of astonishing.


George Henry Gater was Assistant Director of Education for Nottinghamshire
at the outbreak of the war. Born in 1886, the son of a solicitor, he was educated at
Winchester College, where he had spent five years in the cadet corps reaching the
rank of corporal, and obtained a BA in Modern History and a Diploma in Education
at New College, Oxford, where he seemingly avoided the Officer Training Corps.
He attested on 14 August 1914 and was commissioned 2nd Lieutenant on 29
October in the 9th Sherwood Foresters. Arriving at Cape Helles on 19 July 1915
as a captain, he was hospitalised two weeks later with enteritis and only rejoined
his battalion on 20 October, yet he found himself in command on 1 December
as a major for nearly a month. Awarded the DSO for his efforts at Gallipoli, he
arrived on the Western Front on 4 July 1916 and was appointed to command the
6th Lincolnshire on 10 August. His rise from 2nd lieutenant to lieutenant-colonel
had taken 20 months. He earned a bar to his DSO for his leadership at the Battle
of Messines on 7 June 1917. The citation reads:

He led his battalion with brilliant skill and resolution during an attack, minimising
their casualties during three days intense shelling by his able dispositions and
good eye for ground. He directed the consolidation, and remained in command
for three days, although severely wounded in the face early in the action.3

1
Hanway R. Cumming, A Brigadier in France (London: Jonathan Cape, 1922), 96.
2
<http://www.21stdivision1914-18.org/ghgater.htm>.
3
London Gazette (17 Sept. 1917).
158 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

Ordered with only an hours notice to form up on the Wytschaete Ridge two miles
away and attack the third objective, Gater had found himself with only battalion
HQ and D Company in line and pushed on with this limited body of men to avoid
losing the barrage, receiving a shell splinter in the mouth and ear. Reaching the
objective, over the next two days he sustained three heavy counter attacks. He took
over the command of 62 Brigade, a new army formation, on 1 November 1917
and commanded it through the pounding it took in the German Spring Offensive
during which he was again wounded in the back on 24 May 1918 and in the
Hundred Days.
Campbells eulogy put the activities of organising and training first in
anticipation of divisional command. Gaters pre-war job implied considerable
organisational ability, and, after the war, he was appointed Director of Education
for Lancashire in 1919, moving in 1924 to be Director of Education for the London
County Council, becoming its Clerk in 1933, in which role he was knighted. He
then joined the civil service as Permanent Secretary, head of the Colonial Office
from 1942 to 1947. He died in 1963, aged 77. His whole life was a testimony to
his power of leadership.
Another citizen CO, from a very different background, who demonstrated
dynamic leadership at every stage of his military career was Edgar Robert
Mobbs. Born in Northampton in 1882, the son of the managing director of an
engineering works, Mobbs attended a grammar school, Bedford Modern. He
played rugby there aged 8, but a knee injury kept him out of the game until
after he left. He joined Northampton Rugby Football Club in 1904, captaining the
following year. After playing for East Midlands, the Barbarians, and Toulouse,
he played for England on seven occasions, captaining his country against the
Australians in 1910. His leadership skills may have been nurtured on the playing
field, but had no debt to the public-school ethos. He retired from rugby in 1913,
Boys Own magazine declaring him a sporting hero, and at the outbreak of the
war his organisational skills were engaged as director of the Pytchley Motor
Car Company. He enlisted in the Northamptonshire Regiment on 14 September
1914, stories conflicting as to the circumstances. Some suggest that, at the age of
32, he was viewed as too old for a commission.4 However, after his death Lord
Downe described him as the most modest man [he] ever knew in [his] life,
noting: When I started the campaign for Kitcheners army he was asked if he
could help. He at once produced 400 men and was offered a commission; but
he said No thank you, I am not a trained soldier. I know nothing about it. I will
begin as private and if I am any good I will work my way up.5
In terms of working his way up, Mobbs began Monday 14 September as a
private and finished it as sergeant of D Company. Eighteen days later he was a
lieutenant. His charisma indeed allowed him to raise his own company of 264

4
<http://www.westernfrontassociation.com/great-war-people/remember-on-this-
day/2556-29-july-1917-lt-col-edgar-robert-mobbs-dso.html>.
5
Edgar Robert Mobbs, Personal Service Record (TNA, WO 339/15240).
Professional Men of War 159

men as D Company, 7th Battalion, Northamptonshire Regiment (400 serving in


it in all). This included many rugby players, including E.R. Butcher, captain of
Devon, and H. Willett, captain of Bedford, and inevitably became known as
Mobbs Own or Mobbs Sportsmen. The Northampton Saints scrum-half,
G.H. Percival, turned up at the recruiting office and when told he was too short,
retorted My Captain said to come and join up, so here I am6 he clearly viewed
Mobbs as a higher authority than the War Office. Arriving on the Western Front
in September 1915 in time for the Battle of Loos, Mobbs had his first brief taste
of command when Lieutenant-Colonel A. Parkin was killed. He was promoted
to lieutenant-colonel on 23 April 1916, the journey from lieutenant to lieutenant-
colonel being two months shorter than George Gaters. Wounded twice, Mobbs
received the DSO for his performance as CO in 1916. He was killed on 29
July 1917, in Shrewsbury Forest, Ypres, his death demonstrating his character.
Hearing that most of his officers were casualties, he left his headquarters to lead
the battalion and, finding it held up by a machine gun, ordered a lieutenant and
a party of men to work round one flank, whilst he worked round the other with
his runner. He was shot in the neck and fell into a shell hole, where he wrote
a note describing the situation for his runner to take back. He died there alone.
Earl Spencer described him on the day of the notification of his death as a most
admirable organiser, a patriotic man, a born soldier.7
These two men were both leaders of stature in their own different ways,
men with a clear flair for war, applying to senior command the organisational
skills they brought with them from their roles in civilian life. Whilst the exact
number of pure citizens of August 1914 (that is, men with no previous military
experience in the regular army, Special Reserve, or Territorial Force) who
served as officers will never be known, the figures for commissions granted
during the war indicate the massive contribution of citizens to officering: the
details provided in Statistics of the Military Effort of the British Empire allow
us to extrapolate that 124,022 new army commissions were granted during the
war, in addition to 30,376 Special Reserve and 60,044 territorial commissions.8
This chapter examines the citizens who rose to command infantry battalions of
regiments of the line during the war.

Citizen COs

Two hundred and sixty citizens of August 1914 have been identified as being
appointed lieutenant-colonels to infantry units. Their ages tell us something about
the maturity of men who were chosen. Table 7.1 contrasts the range of their ages

6
<http://www.mkheritage.co.uk/odhs/level3/edgarmobbs.html>.
7
Mobbs, Personal Service Record.
8
War Office, Statistics of the Military Effort of the British Empire During the Great
War 19141920 (London: HMSO, 1922), 2345.
160 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

with those of 1,009 officers of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment.9 The citizen
CO group had an average age of 29 years and 2 months in August 1914 and were
thus skewed towards the older end of the age distribution, containing a third of the
under-20s and double the over-30s in comparison with the Warwickshire officers.
Those in post on 29 September 1918 were nearly four years above the BEF average
on that day, being 39 years and 4 months old. There was therefore a tendency for
citizen COs to have had more life experience by the point they became officers. It
would be convenient to think that this was an influence on their appointment, but
this cannot be assumed.

Table 7.1 Ages of citizen COs compared with all officers, Warwickshire
Regiment

Age Citizen COs Warwickshire officers


<20 6% 19%
2024 23% 40%
2529 32% 23%
>30 39% 18%

OTC Experience

There was, however, one source of military experience for the citizen. As Peter
Simkins notes, once war was declared there was no shortage of applicants
for temporary commissions at a more junior level. The main source of supply
was the Officers Training Corps.10 Gary Sheffield describes the practice in
early recruitment of the usual insistence that potential officers possess OTC
certificates.11 The Officers Training Corps had a senior division, established in 24
universities, and a junior division, established in 166 public and grammar schools,
and, between August 1914 and March 1915, 20,577 cadets or former cadets of
both were commissioned, 9 per cent of all new officers.12 Whilst George Gaters
school cadet experience was long distant and Edgar Mobbs had none, some citizen

9
Changboo Kang, The British Regimental Officer on the Western Front in the Great
War, with Special Reference to the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, PhD Thesis (University
of Birmingham, 2007), 4950.
10
Peter Simkins, Kitcheners Army: The Raising of the New Armies 19141916
(Barnsley: Pen & Sword, 2007), 221.
11
Gary D. Sheffield, Leadership in the Trenches (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 2000), 30.
12
Alan R. Haig-Brown, The O.T.C. and the Great War (London: George Newnes,
1915), 99106.
Professional Men of War 161

COs thus potentially possessed experience which made them familiar with the
groundwork of military training and accustomed to lead.13
In a series of officer files of citizen COs in the National Archives, 45 per
cent proved to have had experience with university or school OTCs or their
predecessors, half from university OTCs and half from school corps. Given the
average age, however, over half of the citizen COs had enjoyed this military
experience, like Gater, in the more distant past. In total, however, five times the
number of citizen COs had OTC experience than the overall figure of 9 per cent
would suggest. It is interesting to speculate whether this choice of voluntary
activity reflected personal characteristics which would manifest themselves in
war as aptitude for command.

Pre-War Occupation and Social Status

The pre-war army was an institution dominated at officer level by the upper and
upper-middle classes. Gary Sheffield hints at social engineering in the OTC-
biased recruiting practices which suggest that it was hoped that officers could
be provided for the enlarged wartime army with the minimum disturbance to
the social status quo. Despite this he considers that a revolutionary change
occurred in the social composition of the wartime British army.14 What is
the evidence for this? Did senior command open up to a wider range of class
backgrounds, or did battalion command remain a monopoly of a social elite?
Statistics of the Military Effort of the British Empire provides data on the
occupations of officers demobilised between the armistice and May 1920,15
to which the occupations of the citizen COs can be compared. Using the
demob figures Sheffield describes just under 60 per cent of officers as coming
from broadly middle-class occupations,16 namely students and teachers,
professional men, and commercial and clerical. The remaining 40 per cent of
commissions represented, he suggests, upwards social mobility from the artisan
class,17 notably engineering, men who would previously have been excluded
on educational and social grounds18 from officership in the regular army and the
Territorial Force.

13
Ibid. 84.
14
Sheffield, Leadership in the Trenches, 31.
15
War Office, Statistics of the Military Effort of the British Empire, 707: some
categories have been collapsed.
16
Sheffield, Leadership in the Trenches, 31.
17
Ibid. 32.
18
Ibid.
162 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

Table 7.2 Occupations of demobilised officers and pre-war occupations of


citizen COs

Occupation Demobilised officers Citizen COs


Agriculture 5% 4%
Seamen/fishermen/dock workers 0.5% 0.5%
Mining/quarrying 1% 1%
Food/drink/tobacco 1% 1%
India rubber >1% 1%
Textile 1.5% 1%
Shoe/clothing/leather 1% 0.5%
Engineering 8% 11%
Building trades 6% 0.5%
Railways 1% 0.5%
Public employees 4% 6%
Commercial/clerical 28% 17%
Professional 15% 24%
Students/teachers 18% 23%
Other 10% 8.5%

On the face of it, Table 7.2 contains no surprises, as it shows two thirds of citizen
COs coming from Sheffields broadly middle class group, seemingly an overall
similarity with the picture for all officers. There are key differences, however. The
commercial and clerical group comprised 28 per cent of the total officer group but
only 17 per cent of the CO group, whilst conversely the professional group rises
from 15 per cent of all officers to 24 per cent of COs, and students and teachers
from 18 per cent to 23 per cent. Whilst hardly a social elite, citizens with enhanced
educational and professional status therefore had a greater likelihood of achieving
battalion command. The only area in which this trend appears reversed is the increase
in engineering and public employees in the CO group, but in both these areas it is
often well-educated men in senior positions who appear to cause this reversal.
The use of the War Office demobilisation statistics, however, can be criticised
on the grounds that, being based only on survivors, they can only be usefully
employed in tracking down the changes in the social composition of officers
between pre-war time and the last part of the war.19 Changboo Kangs analysis
of occupations of Warwickshire Regiment officers suggests that while the middle

19
Kang, The British Regimental Officer on the Western Front, 45.
Professional Men of War 163

class dominated the officer corps, the true picture is one of variation rather than
standardization,20 finding that some 10 per cent of Warwickshire officers were
lower middle-class or working class. Table 7.3 contrasts the occupations of the
Warwickshire officers and the citizen COs. This only reinforces the conclusion
reached above concerning the middle class professional bias evident in COs,
where teachers and solicitors/barristers made a major contribution, 26 per cent of
all known occupations.

Table 7.3 Civilian occupations of Warwickshire Regiment officers and


citizen COs

Occupation Royal Warwickshire officers Citizen COs

Clerk 14.3% 14.5%


Student 10.7% 10%
Teacher 7.6% 13.5%
Merchant/salesman 6.5% 2%
Military 6.1% 0%
Engineer 5.8% 11%
Bank clerk 4.7% 1.5%
Manager/proprietor 3.8% 2.5%
Solicitor/barrister 3.3% 12.5%
Civil servant 3.1% 6%
Actuary/surveyor/valuer/broker 3.1% 4.5%
Manufacturer 3% 1%
Accountant 2.8% 5%
Independent/gentleman 2.4% 3%
Architect/builder 2.2% 2%
Agricultural 2.2% 4%
Chemist 1.6% 1.5%
Textile trades 1.3% 2%
Policeman 0.9% >1%
Other 6% 3.5%

20
Ibid. 73.
164 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

Amongst the teachers were two extraordinary men, both VC winners. Wilfrith
Elstob, CO of the 16th Manchester from October 1916 to March 1918, had
attended Christs Hospital, where he had achieved the rank of lance-corporal in
the school OTC. A graduate of Manchester University and language master at
Merchiston College, Edinburgh, he was commissioned in the 16th Manchester in
October 1914.21 Promoted to captain commanding a company in March 1915 and
to major, second-in-command, in August 1916, he took over command almost
exactly two years after his commission. Here he demonstrated the same leadership
skills as Edgar Mobbs, achieving fame defending Manchester Hill, a redoubt in
the Fifth Army defensive positions facing St Quentin, on 21 March 1918, when he
famously declared to his men in a fine demonstration of We-ness: There is only
one degree of resistance and that is to the last round and to the last man. Here we
fight and here we die. Utterly identified with his unit, he had written to a friend on
the eve of the battle: If I die, do not grieve for me, for it is with the Sixteenth that I
would gladly lay down my life. Fighting with revolver, rifle, bayonet, and bombs,
Elstob encouraged his 168 men: You are doing magnificently boys! Carry on
keep up a steady fire and theyll think theres a Battalion here. Wounded twice, he
said to his signalling sergeant, Arrundale, they cant damn well kill me,22 but a
direct hit with a bomb tragically proved him wrong. His VC citation reflects what
was seen as important in his behaviour that day: that he showed the most fearless
disregard of his own safety, and by his encouragement and noble example inspired
his command to the fullest degree and that he set throughout the highest example
of valour, determination, endurance and fine soldierly bearing.23 A man who
showed exactly the same qualities, and the second VC, was Bernard Vann, CO
1/6th Sherwood Foresters, September 1917 to October 1918, who was both teacher
and chaplain at Wellingborough Grammar School and who will be considered later
in this chapter.
Another teacher, Albert Edward Scothern, CO 6th Border, July 1917 to
February 1918, and 9th Sherwood Foresters, April 1918 to the armistice, was a
graduate of St Johns, Oxford, and played football for his university, for Oxford
City from 1903 to 1911, and for England on four occasions between 1908 and
1910. A science teacher at the outbreak of the war, during which he was mentioned
in despatches six times and awarded both DSO and CMG, he returned to teaching
to become headmaster of Redditch County High School. He also became president
of Redditch British Legion and a Home Guard battalion commander during World
War Two.24
A man who shared Vanns faith and commitment to teaching, Alexander
Graham Scougal was born in 1888 and schooled at George Watsons College,
Edinburgh, and Glasgow Academy. A classics graduate of Edinburgh University,

21
Wilfrith Elstob, Personal Service Record (TNA, WO339/56791).
22
<http://www.themanchesters.org/Manchester%20Hill.htm>.
23
London Gazette (6 June 1919).
24
Albert Edward Scothern, Personal Service Record (TNA, WO 339/3483).
Professional Men of War 165

he studied theology at New College for two years but diverted from potential life
as a minister to teaching and, at the outbreak of the war, was a classics master at
the Edinburgh Institution. A man with a deep social conscience, he was keenly
interested in the New College Settlement in one of the poorest parts of Edinburgh,
which offered practical experience for missionary or social work, where he ran a
Boys Brigade. Enlisting in the 4th Royal Scots, he was soon commissioned in the
17th Battalion which he commanded for 13 months before being killed by a shell
near Ypres on 18 September 1918, the day before the death of his brother, Major
F.W. Scougal, in Salonika.
Of the solicitors, Noel Frederick Barwell, a Cambridge graduate who
commanded the 5th Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry for two
months from April 1918 and transferred to the 18th Gloucestershire until September
1918, went on to be the last British barrister of the Calcutta High Court. Author of
a number of law books, he became the mentor of the Indian author Mani Shankar
Mukherjee, his clerk, who wrote the novel Kato Anjare (The Great Unknown)
based on Barwell. Mukherjee defined Barwells key characteristic as encouraging
others and described him as a remarkable man.25 Another solicitor, Maurice
Rhynd Dickson, was the son of a colonel but chose to follow his uncle into the
legal firm of J. & W. Macdonald of Arbroath. Educated at Marlborough and
Merton College, Oxford, he commanded a remarkable three new army battalions:
the 8th Royal Scots Fusiliers from January 1917 to October 1917, the 8th Duke
of Cornwalls Light Infantry from May to October 1918, and the 12th Argyll and
Sutherland Highlanders from October 1918 to the armistice. A fine sportsman, he
represented Scotland at both cricket and rugby union. Like Scothern, he became
a British Legion chairman in Arbroath, but made no contribution to the Second
World War home front as he died in 1940 aged only 58.26
George Stanley Brighten, another Haileybury pupil and a solicitor at Brighten
& Lemon, enlisted at the age of 24 in the 20th Royal Fusiliers in September 1914
and was commissioned two months later into a territorial battalion of the Liverpool
Regiment where he served as adjutant. He succeeded Bertram Best-Dunkley VC
as commanding officer of the 2/5th Lancashire Fusiliers. T.H. Floyd described
him as loveable and brilliant,27 a man with eternal optimism,28 who was most
capable,29 and who showed still more brilliant leadership than his illustrious, if
flawed, predecessor.30 Brighten commanded from August 1917 to the armistice
and was awarded the DSO and bar as CO. He clearly demonstrated military
perceptiveness, initiative, personal example, and organisational ability. Firstly, on
the Menin Road, during the Third Battle of Ypres, when his battalion was held up

25
The Telegraph, India (26 Apr. 2011).
26
Glasgow Herald (11 Jan. 1940), 9.
27
Thomas H. Floyd, At Ypres with Best-Dunkley (Boston, MA: Indypublish, n.d.), 17.
28
Ibid. 20.
29
Ibid. 43.
30
Foreword, ibid., n.p.
166 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

by intense machine-gun fire, he went forward and personally reorganised it and


established a strong defensive line. Later, when this hostile fire slackened, he at
once initiated an advance which gained a considerable amount of ground. It was
considered that his ability, coolness, and grasp of the situation had a marked effect
on all ranks.31 Secondly, in April 1918 during the German Spring Offensive near
Givenchy he employed his unit with such advantage that the attack was held up
and the enemy repulsed with heavy loss, many prisoners being taken. His clever
disposal of his forces and his fine example of coolness did much to restore the
position.32 This was all the more remarkable as Brighten had suffered a personal
tragedy immediately prior to this action: his wife whom he had only married in
October 1916 had died. His post-war career did not follow the same glowing
trajectory as Barwells. His legal practice was dissolved and he was struck off the
roll of solicitors in April 1932. In October that year, he was convicted of fraud and
sentenced to three years penal servitude. Bankrupt, he had embezzled a cheque
for 202 2s 5d. from La Socit Anonyme des Htels et Casino de Deauville.
He had also presented a number of dud cheques at Les tablissements Gastn
Duperay in Brussels, passing himself off as an active serving officer. He wrote
from Wormwood Scrubs: To lose the rank I have had the honour to bear adds
heavily to the existing punishment for my offence.33 There was a happier end to
his tale, however, as the Second World War saw him a colonel of the Home Guard,
and he began to practise as a solicitor again. He died in 1954.
Another fine solicitor and sportsman, this time in athletics, was Arnold
Nugent Strode-Jackson, CO 13th Kings Royal Rifle Corps, October 1917 to
August 1918. Jackers had been head of athletics at Malvern and rowed, played
football, and captained at hockey for Brasenose College, winning the mile race
for Oxford against Cambridge three times as president of the Oxford University
Athletic Club. A private entry, he was the gold medallist at 1,500 metres at the
1912 Stockholm Olympics and was given the opportunity to relive this glory
on the Western Front during his time serving with 13th KRRC, when a Grand
Athletic Meeting was organised. Strode-Jackson ran in the mile handicap, and
according to the record, did not appear to take the race seriously until the bell
sounded for the last lap, when he got into a raking stride and gave us an idea
of his record performance in the Olympic Games. Jackers won, but like the
good sport he was, he allowed the first prize to go to a small Welshman with
plenty of pluck, but much shorter legs.34 He was awarded the DSO with three
bars, the second award as CO for powers of command during the German
Spring Offensive. When cut off under heavy bombardment he re-established his
line, making skilful dispositions, and held off the enemy with a counter-attack,

31
London Gazette (6 Apr. 1918).
32
London Gazette (16 Sept. 1918).
33
George Stanley Brighten, Personal Service Record (TNA, WO 374/9054).
34
The Times (31 May 2012), 27.
Professional Men of War 167

showing initiative and a splendid spirit with which he inspired his men.35 The
third bar earned as CO was awarded for brilliant leadership in the Hundred
Days campaign, leading an attack against a railway embankment in the face of
intense machine-gun fire.36 Emigrating to the United States in 1921, lame from
wounds and his athletics career over, he served during the Second World War as
a colonel on the staff of the governor of Kentucky, dying in 1972.
Two dental students chose to fight rather than pull teeth, and there were at
least three medical students. A further four were students of divinity or were
to occupy senior positions in the church, demonstrating that as with Vann and
Scougal, contemplation of a career in the church was no bar to the direction of
men in war. Walter Hubert Baddeley, CO of the 8th East Surrey for a period of
4 months in 1918, commanded his battalion at the Battle of Albert in August
1918 and at Bouzies in October 1918, proving himself a capable and energetic
commander in action and when out of the line.37 The bar to his MC notes
fine powers of command,38 and he was awarded the DSO as a commanding
officer.39 He was later bishop in the diverse locations of Melanesia, Whitby,
and Blackburn. A graduate of Keble College, Oxford, on a Grocers Company
Scholarship from Brighton Grammar School, Baddeley was ordained in 1921.
He was known as the Fighting Bishop, continuing his work during the Second
World War hiding in the bush in Melanesia under Japanese occupation.40 Equally
remarkable was Noel Baring Hudson, CO of the 8th Berkshire for a total of five
months from April 1918, who was also ordained in 1921 and was the bishop
in the equally exotic locations of Labuan and Sarawak, Newcastle, St Albans,
and Ely. A first-class rugby player, he was Tancred Student at Christs College,
Cambridge. He was wounded an extraordinary 15 times during the war, winning
the DSO as a commanding officer. On 8 August 1918, at Morlancourt, he
personally led his battalion forward to the attack through heavy fog and intense
shell and machine-gun fire, pushing forward alone and knocking out three of
the machine guns, despite having been wounded in the right shoulder, knee, and
lower thigh.41 Returning to duty in October, in an attack at Mount Carmel on
26 October, he went forward and organised his battalion personally in street-
fighting in Moorseele and personally shot a machine gunner who was holding
up the advance. Again wounded in three places by shellfire, his ability to

35
London Gazette (13 May 1918).
36
London Gazette (2 Dec. 1918).
37
Walter Hubert Baddeley, Personal Service Record (TNA, WO 374/3013).
38
London Gazette (16 Sept. 1918).
39
London Gazette (3 June 1919).
40
Tom Scherb, Daredevils, Dog Collars, and Dioceses: What Did You Do in the
Great War Bishop?, Stand To! The Journal of the Western Front Association 99 (2014),
2934.
41
London Gazette (4 Oct. 1919).
168 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

command was rewarded with a bar to his DSO.42 A man, curiously, of profound
shyness, he died in 1970.43
Two notables are found amongst the architects. Thomas Cecil Howitt, CO
initially of the 9th Leicestershire from November 1917, then the 7th Leicestershire
from February to July 1918, showed conspicuous ability and coolness
commanding his battalion against an enemy counter-attack.44 He was responsible
for a range of municipal architecture, particular in his home town of Nottingham,
as well as a range of 1930s Odeon cinemas. Secondly, Gerald Unsworth, CO
of the 1/4th York and Lancaster in the last eight days of the war, was responsible
for a range of art deco London flats, Cottesmore Court, Kensington and Chelsea
being a notable example, as well as country houses, such as Sparsholt Manor in
Hampshire.
It is clear that amongst these citizen commanding officers there were many
whose rich talents encompassed success in both civilian life and on the battlefield.
The straitjacket which Statistics of the Military Effort of the British Empire forces
on occupational classification, however, disguises much of the varied nature of
these individuals. Of those who fall outside its classification parameters, one was
titled, namely the Honourable Arthur Michael Bertie, son of the seventh Earl of
Abingdon, honorary attach at Petrograd 19067, who commanded the 11th Rifle
Brigade between March and April 1918. A further five did not need to work, being
reliant on their own means, which gives an indication of their social position.
Thirty five men comprised Sheffields broadly middle-class commercial
and clerical group. Of these, two stand out as the only other individuals joining
George Gater as brigadier-generals. The first, Spencer Percy Vaughan Weston was
a stock-exchange clerk. He joined the Public Schools Special Corps as a private
and was commissioned lieutenant in December 1914 in the Royal Berkshire
Regiment. Transferred to the 1st Battalion he was promoted to captain, company
commander, in January and to major in September 1916. He commanded the
17th Royal Fusiliers from April 1917 until June 1918 when he became brigadier-
general 122 Brigade, a post he held until the armistice. The first bar to his DSO
was awarded as commanding officer for tactical skill, coolness and example in
handling his battalion in a six-hour attack during the German Spring Offensive;45
the second for fine powers of leadership in retreat during the same period.46 The
second individual was William Colsey Millward. Born in 1886, Millward had
played cricket for the Worcestershire second XI but was also a keen footballer.
He was a clerk in August 1914, working on the Argentine railways, and enlisted
in the 11th Sussex in September 1914, being commissioned two months later. He
was promoted to captain commanding a company in August 1915 and to major,

42
Ibid.
43
Scherb, Daredevils, Dog Collars, and Dioceses, 30.
44
London Gazette (22 Mar. 1918).
45
London Gazette (18 July 1918).
46
London Gazette (26 July 1918).
Professional Men of War 169

second-in-command, in July 1916, taking command of the battalion he had joined


as a private two and a half years earlier in March 1917. He was awarded the DSO
as commanding officer, showing splendid leadership and ability in launching an
attack and holding the captured position for two days, displaying great coolness,
courage and determination.47 He was promoted brigadier-general in March 1918
with 116 Brigade but 11 days later whilst shaving outside his tent suffered wounds
to his leg from a shell which resulted in amputation.48 It says something of the
reality of merit-based promotion in the BEF that two clerks could rise to the rank
of brigadier-general.
Sheffield did not judge public employees as broadly middle class, but,
again, the categorisation of Statistics of the Military Effort of the British Empire
hides the social status of many of this group. Ronald Seymour Semphill Howard
Stafford, CO 1st Kings Royal Rifle Corps, April to July 1917 and February to June
1918, as well as the 2/7th Liverpool during September 1917 and the 17th Middlesex
from September 1917 to February 1918, was an Exhibitioner at Jesus College,
Cambridge, whence he joined the Egyptian Civil Service. Stafford was awarded
the DSO as commanding officer for courage and quickness of decision during a
five-day rear-guard action during the German Spring Offensive.49 Eerily relevant
to events 80 years later, in 1935 he published The Tragedy of the Assyrians
detailing the persecution of the Syrian minority in Iraq. Similarly, Harold Samuel
Eaton Stevens, CO 13th Royal Scots, July 1918 until the armistice, was an Indian
civil servant who became secretary to the Agriculture and Industries Department
of Bengal in the post-war period. More grandly, Basil Frederic Bishop, CO 9th
South Lancashire, May to September 1918, was Assistant District Commissioner
and magistrate in Rhodesia. More humbly, but no less worthy, Albert Arthur
Aldworth, CO of the 7th Leicestershire for various periods between September
1916 and February 1918, was the secretary to the Divorce Law Reform Union.
Arthur Gracie Hayward, CO of the 4th Bedfordshire for two months from July
1918, was similarly assistant secretary to a social-welfare association.
In the creative sphere, Robert Bingham Harkness, CO 19th Welsh, October
1918 to the armistice, was a musician and Arthur Driver, CO 9th West Riding,
September 1918 to the armistice, was a textile designer, whose able leadership
as commanding officer on 12 October 1918, in the attack on Neuvilly when he
reorganised his battalion under heavy shell and machine gun fire at a critical stage
of the battle, was reflected in his DSO award.50 John Jackson Cameron, CO of
the 2/5th Royal Lancaster from September 1917 to May 1918, an illustrator, was
also awarded the DSO as commanding officer for the greatest ability and skill
in reconnaissance and assembling his battalion in attack.51 Two were journalists:

47
London Gazette (18 Mar. 1918).
48
William Colsey Millward, Personal Service Record (TNA, WO 339/54848).
49
London Gazette (26 July 1918).
50
London Gazette (10 Dec. 1919).
51
London Gazette (25 Apr. 1918).
170 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

Thomas Joseph Kelly, CO 1/7th Lancashire Fusiliers, October 1918 to the armistice,
and Louis Henry Dawson, CO 13th Middlesex, May to July 1917. Douglas Ainslie
Foulis, CO 10th Scottish Rifles, September and October 1918, was a publisher.
Several had been working abroad. Herbert Cooper Cannon, CO 3/4th West
Surrey, October and November 1917, was a rubber planter. He returned to Malaya
after the war and was working in oil distribution when the Second World War broke
out. He served again as a lieutenant-colonel of the Australian Pioneer Corps and
rests in Kandy War Cemetery. Another rubber planter was Francis John Fielding
Crook, who commanded the 17th Lancashire Fusiliers from July 1916 to August
1918 and the 4/5th Lancashire Fusiliers from October 1918 to the armistice. He was
awarded the DSO for demonstrating conspicuous ability commanding his unit
at Falfemont Farm in August 1916, covering the left flank of the French army.52
Similarly, John Ryrie Webster, CO 16th Sherwood Foresters, September 1917 to
March 1918, was a timber merchant in Ceylon. Lastly, from a different continent,
Henry Abrahall Robinson, CO 26th Royal Fusiliers, March to August 1918, was
a farmer in Canada, having joined the 6th Canadian Battalion as a private before
applying for a British commission.
Of the groups whose status was deemed lower than broadly middle class,
twenty three engineers rose to command battalions. Where this was specified
further, five were mining engineers, three electrical, two marine, two railway and
one each chemical, civil, and mechanical. Their demotion to artisan status is
clearly not entirely warranted as they were well-qualified individuals. Richard
Parry Burnett, a 23-year-old civil engineer, was commissioned in the 8th South
Staffordshire and was appointed the units commanding officer in November 1916
for a period of two months. Wounded in 1917 and sent as quartermaster to the
Army Infantry School, he returned as CO of the 7th Royal Fusiliers in April 1918,
commanding to the armistice. He was granted a permanent commission in the
York and Lancaster Regiment in 1921, reaching his final wartime rank in 1938, the
peacetime journey of 17 years from commission to lieutenant-colonel having long
outrun the First World War period of just over two years. He commanded the 11th
York and Lancaster in 194142.
A number of the civilians of 1914 decided, like Parry, that their post-war destiny
lay in the army. One who would progress to high command and catastrophe in the
Second World War was Arthur Ernest Percival. Born in 1887, he went to Rugby
School, where he became colour sergeant in the schools Volunteer Rifle Corps,
and was working as a clerk for the iron-ore merchants Naylor Benzon in London in
August 1914. He was commissioned in the 7th Bedfordshire and wounded in four
places by shrapnel in the assault on the Schwaben Redoubt in September 1916.
Whilst recuperating he was given a regular commission in the Essex Regiment
although he remained with the 7th Bedfordshire, commanding from December 1917
to May 1918. He was awarded the DSO during this period, for having handled

52
London Gazette (20 Oct. 1916).
Professional Men of War 171

his battalion cleverly, showing power of command and knowledge of tactics.53


He was then given a regular command, the 2nd Bedfordshire, from July 1918 to the
armistice, and was awarded a bar to his DSO in Russia in 1919 whilst second-in-
command of the 45th Royal Fusiliers. Described in 1918 as a slim, soft spoken man
with a proven reputation for bravery and organisational powers,54 he earned a
reputation for brutality operating against the IRA in Ireland, although the truth of
this is uncertain.55 The Second World War saw him appointed lieutenant-general,
commanding in Malaya, and February 1942 found him surrendering Singapore to
the Japanese.
Of the two commanding officers classified under coal mining, Charles
Bertram Charlesworth, CO 12th Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, August
1918 to the armistice, was in fact a colliery owner, and Charles Godfrey Jones, CO
9th Border, December 1917 to the armistice, was a colliery manager. In the areas
of manufacturing and retail, James Charles Burdett, CO 6th Leicestershire, August
1918 to the armistice, a hosiery manufacturer and former rugby international, may
have found fighting more engaging than socks. John Clayton Beadle, CO 11th West
Kent, September 1917 to January 1918, was in the motor trade, as was Julius
Guthlac Birch, CO 7th Kings Royal Rifle Corps, October 1917 to March 1918,
when he was taken prisoner.
Perhaps the most humble occupation was that of Sydney Douglas Rumbold,
who commanded the 9th York and Lancaster from 18 July 1917 to the armistice,
who was a drapers assistant. His courage and skill were not in doubt, reflected
in the citation for his DSO, which notes his able organisation in taking over
a captured position, preparing a defence and repelling a counter-attack,56 and
in the subsequent bar demonstrating ability to command in the October 1918
River Piave battle in Italy, when on his own initiative, determined to attack,
he led his men over the bridge and gained the objective, taking many prisoners
and machine guns.57 Sadly, he was cashiered in 1920 for acts of indecency and
stripped of his awards. The seemingly humble profession of railwayman hides
an interesting character in Frederick Henry Wickham Guard. Born in 1889 and
having travelled in Canada where he worked variously as a fruit grower and
branch manager of a refrigeration company, he returned to the UK in 1910, finding
employment in London on The Times. Here he fell in with bad company and was
in very poor shape indeed by the time his father bailed him out. Sent abroad he
found employment on the West African Railways in Sierra Leone and obtained
a commission in the West African Frontier Force in August 1914. Invalided, he
joined the Hampshire Regiment in February 1915 and was promoted to command

53
London Gazette (16 Sept. 1918).
54
Alan Warren, Singapore 1942: Britains Greatest Defeat (Hambledon: Continuum,
2001), 265.
55
Peter Thompson, The Battle for Singapore, (London: Pitakus, 2005), 69.
56
London Gazette (18 Mar. 1918).
57
Edinburgh Gazette (5 Feb. 1919).
172 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

of the 15th Royal Scots from July 1917 to April 1918. In the summer of 1918,
Guard went to North Russia, where he served as CO of Force A on the Vologda
railway, where he was described as a born guerrilla leader.58 He was a clear
example of a man for whom the lack of structure of civilian life led to failure, the
structure of the military life channelling his energies.
These snapshots create the picture of a largely middle-class and well-educated,
varied, and richly talented body of men, who demonstrated a flair for fighting and
the command of men in war. Senior command did indeed open up in terms of
social class to encompass a wider range of professionals whose careers lay outside
the higher professions of the church and the law, with a smattering of individuals
who were not professionals at all.

Paths of Promotion

Inequalities in advancement to command have been noted throughout this book,


and it would be unsurprising if the original commission routes of the citizen COs,
which are set out in Table 7.4, did not reveal further biases. Just over three quarters
proved to have been commissioned into service battalions, the rest into the Special
Reserve and Territorial Force. When compared with the distribution of officers
during the war, however, it becomes clear that all did not have an equal chance
of rising to command. Special Reserve and territorial citizen officers were just
over half as likely to rise to battalion command as their overall numbers might
suggest, and new army officers were over one and a half times more likely. There
is no objective reason to suppose that these men differed in quality simply by
virtue of their commission route: it is an inescapable conclusion that territorial
officers were always at a disadvantage in terms of senior command. Nearly half
of those commissioned into the Special Reserve who rose to command did so,
as was the purpose of their force, into regular units. Eighty six per cent of the
battalion commands of those who were commissioned in new army units were
achieved in service battalions, and 81 per cent of the commands of those who
were commissioned in territorial battalions were in TF units. Type of commission
therefore exerted a strong influence over location of later command.

Table 7.4 Entry routes of citizen COs versus distribution of officers

Regular Army New Army Special Territorial


Reserve Force
First commission n/a 78% 8% 14%
Distribution of officers, 13% 48% 13% 26%
19141918

58
<http://www.dnw.co.uk/medals/auctionarchive/viewspecialcollections/itemdetail.
lasso?itemid=67027>.
Professional Men of War 173

The speed of promotion to CO was, however, fairly uniform. A new army and
a territorial officer with a wartime commission took on average three years and
one month; a Special Reserve officer three years and two months. Citizen CO
appointments began to escalate during the Somme offensive (August to November
1916), and escalated further from the Battle of Messines through to the Third Battle
of Ypres (June to November 1917), and reached a peak during the German Spring
Offensive of March to April 1918. In the run-up to and during the Hundred Days
(August to November 1918), there was again a steadily rising rate of elevation of
citizens to command.
Three quarters of citizen CO appointments lasted less than 200 days, and a
quarter less than 50 days. These figures, which on the face of it suggest some short
appointments, have, however, the potential to mislead. The most telling statistic
is that 43 per cent of all citizens who rose to command battalions were in post on
11 November 1918: an unstoppable trend was in motion. Removal from command
or side-lining occurred in 25 per cent of cases, compared with the overall wartime
figure of 38 per cent. The latter figure, of course, contains older active officers
and dug-outs who were replaced earlier in the war. When the replacement rate
for regular officers who were lieutenants in August 1914 is used for comparison
purposes on the basis that they had similarities with the citizen group, namely that
they were being promoted roughly during the same period later in the war and
were younger and probably more physically robust, their removal/side-lining rate
proved to be 19 per cent. This reinforces the contention that during the latter part
of the war, although CO removals were still a regular occurrence, the younger
and more rugged and adapted men of 1918 were giving less cause for removal.
Further, whilst the removal rate for citizens was higher than for regular lieutenants,
it was not markedly so, and it is likely that a number of such removals were not
competence-based but occasioned by the return of a more senior officer.

Military Geniuses?

It has been suggested that the appointment of citizen officers to command


battalions does not indicate that they were, or were ever considered, military
geniuses of a calibre superior to what might be found in the regular army: there
were career officers of a comparable ability but obviously not enough of them
for the hugely expanded army.59 Undoubtedly there were young regular officers of
ability, as we have seen, able to step up to command. But the reality is that some
of the citizens were indeed of superior calibre to some of regular officers: if they
had not been, they would never have leapfrogged over them to command. So,
were George Gater and Edgar Mobbs exceptions, or are they beacons drawing our
attention to the talent for leadership and command within the citizen CO group?

59
Arnold D. Harvey, A Good War: Wartime Officers Who Rose to Command Level
in the First World War, RUSI Journal 153/2 (2008): 6680 (80).
174 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

Very few appraisals of citizen COs exist in the weeded officer files in the
National Archives: only one in a series of 75 files yielded a confidential report. The
hosiery manufacturer James Charles Burdett was 30 years old when he enlisted in
the 21st Royal Fusiliers in August 1914, rising to corporal by December at which
point Lieutenant-Colonel E.L. Challenor, the CO of the 6th Leicestershire, in whose
battalion Burdetts brother was an officer, wrote to the War Office recommending
him for a commission. Burdett was gazetted lieutenant on 19 January 1915. He
went to France in July that year and was wounded on 14 July 1916 on the Bazentin
Ridge, a bullet entering his right cheekbone and exiting by his left eye. (He was
also by this time suffering from sciatica in the right leg with muscle wasting,
which left him walking with a limp). He returned to the Western Front a captain
in January 1917, was promoted to major in April 1917, and was made second-in-
command four months later. He took over command on 25 August 1918, when his
CO Lieutenant-Colonel M.C. Martyn was captured at Le Sars, blundering into an
enemy outpost in the dark.
The confidential report made on him by Brigadier-General, H.R. Cumming
reads:

A born soldier and leader of men. Has great capacity of command; a good
disciplinarian, and a reliable trainer with knowledge and tact, and great
determination. He has kept his Battalion in a high state of efficiency in difficult
circumstances. Powerfully built and very active; a fair rider with great powers of
endurance; cool and resourceful in action, he has proved himself a very efficient
Commander.

Major-General D.G.M. Campbell added: I entirely agree. A very fine officer


who has done excellent work. Thoroughly fit for command of a Battn.60 Coming
from such luminaries as these two general officers, the same pair who reported
so positively on George Gater, it must be assumed that Burdett was at the top of
his game in 1918. Cumming also demonstrates what was being sought in a CO in
1918, namely leadership and command ability, physical fitness, knowledge and
resourcefulness, and ability to train effectively.
In the absence of other confidential reports, we must rely on what the individuals
achieved rather than what was formally noted about them. Lieutenant-Colonel
C.F.G. Humphries provides a fine example of a citizen with no military experience
of any sort who showed extraordinary qualities, becoming one of the select band
of citizens who commanded a regular unit. Cecil Frederick George Humphries
was born in Mataura, New Zealand, but he was on holiday in England with his
widowed mother in August 1914, aged just under 27. She remained in England for
the duration of the war, and Humphries wrote in his diary just before going into
action: If the fates are against me I hope I will die an honourable death with my

60
James Charles Burdett, Personal Service Record (TNA, WO 374/10838).
Professional Men of War 175

heart full of love for my darling mother.61 The fates were indeed finally against
him and, given their closeness, no doubt he did. A keen footballer and golfer and a
clerk by occupation, he enlisted on 7 August 1914 and was posted as a clerk to the
Army Service Corps at Le Havre,62 being promoted corporal 18 days later. It is a
measure of the man that he chose to exchange rank for action, obtaining a transfer
as a private in the 1st Manchester on 15 October. Promoted from lance-corporal
to acting sergeant between 30 October and 21 December, he was shot in the left
forearm at Givenchy on 20 December, where he was awarded the Distinguished
Conduct Medal for endeavouring to recover the body of his company commander.63
He was wounded again on 12 March 1915, shot in the left buttock, in the failed
attack on the Bois du Biez, during the Battle of Neuve Chapelle. Convalescing, he
applied for a commission and was gazetted 2nd lieutenant on 11 June 1915 in the 12th
Highland Light Infantry, which proceeded to France the following month. He was
promoted captain in September 1915. Wounded again, he was being rehabilitated
through the Labour Corps in February 1917 where he was awarded the Military
Cross when at great personal risk he directed operations at a fire, which resulted
in saving eight trucks of ammunition from a burning train. Assisted by a serjt.-
major, he uncoupled the eighth truck himself, whilst the ninth was burning fiercely
and heavy shells exploding freely around them.64
He returned to active service with the 1st Duke of Cornwalls Light Infantry in
October 1917 and won a bar to his MC for his handling of his company in action.
Taking command of the battalion on 17 April 1918, Humphries was gassed four
days later in the Forest of Nieppe but returned to duty to be awarded the DSO for
fine leadership. During the Hundred Days campaign, having taken his objective,
he reorganised his battalion, and, on hearing that the attack on the final objective
was held up, he went forward under heavy fire and reconnoitred the whole
position, after which he returned and led the battalion forward. This was not his
only personal contribution to the action, as later, he personally controlled his men
during a very determined counter-attack by the enemy under the heaviest machine-
gun fire. His courage inspired great confidence throughout the operations.65 On 30
May 1918, he was posted to take command of the 1st Norfolk. Seriously wounded
by shellfire at Achiet-le-Petit, retaking the old Somme battlefield, he died of his
wounds on 22 August 1918.
Richard Owen Wynne commanded both a regular and a new army battalion.
He was born at Moss Vale, New South Wales, in 1892, but left Australia ten years
later, attending Marlborough College, and at the outbreak of the war was at Clare
College, Cambridge. At Marlborough he played rugby for the school and was

61
Soldiers Deeds Recalled, <http:digital.theensign.co.nz>.
62
Cecil Frederick George Humphries, Personal Service Record (TNA, WO
339/4177).
63
<http://themanchesters.org/forum/index.php?topic=3388.0;wap2>.
64
London Gazette (16, 17 Sept. 1918).
65
London Gazette (2 Dec. 1918).
176 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

a member of the school shooting eight, competing for the Ashburton Shield at
Bisley between 1907 and 1910. He rowed for his college in 1913 and 1914. He
was commissioned 2nd lieutenant in the 3rd Bedfordshire on 15 August 1914 and
arrived on the Western Front in March 1915, joining the 2nd Bedfordshire as a
lieutenant in June 1915, in which battalion he served until May 1918. It was whilst
commanding both B and C companies on 31 July 1916 that he won the DSO,
consolidating a trench on the Maltzhorn Ridge.66 He first commanded the battalion
from 8 to 17 November 1916, and from 25 November to 5 December he was
in temporary command of the 17th Liverpool. All his commands were within 89
Brigade, where it is clear that he had established a reputation for sound leadership.
In January 1917, he was sent to Senior Officers School, returning on 6 April. He
did not have to wait long, for on 8 April, Lieutenant-Colonel H.S. Poyntz went
sick, and Wynne took over until 15 June, thus commanding the battalion during
its operations at Arras. On 10 July, he was sent to command the 19th Liverpool for
six days. He assumed command of his battalion again for brief periods in August
and November 1917. On 22 February 1918, he took command again, this time
as lieutenant-colonel, commanding virtually continuously until 22 May, when he
went to train American units.67 He was awarded a bar for his DSO as commanding
officer for great skill and bravery, when he personally led an attack against
machine guns that had been worked up close to his front line, himself killing the
German officer in charge of them.68 He was given command of the 18th Liverpool
in August 1918 and remained in this role at the armistice, being wounded in
October 1918 in the offensive around Le Cateau, but remaining at duty. After the
war, Wynne returned to his home town in Australia, where he described himself
as a worker among workers.69 The nature of the award of the bar to his DSO
suggests this was not an empty claim.
John Ryrie Webster was one of the few COs to leave a diary. Born in 1886, he
had an unusual start to his career long before commanding a new army battalion.70
A Liverpool football player, Webster had worked in timber in India for five
years, and his firm was asked to raise eight motor cyclists, Webster being made
corporal. He thus became part of 32nd Signalling Company, Jullundur Brigade, and
arrived on the Western Front on 25 September 1914. His diary suggests he had the
most extraordinary freedom, roaming on his motorcycle behind the front. On 10
January 1915, he applied to be sent to the Training School at Bailleul and was
offered a commission a week later. On 20 January, he recorded: [I] met Colonel
Marshall of the Sherwood Foresters [who] asked me why I did not apply

66
London Gazette (1 Jan. 1917).
67
2nd Bedfordshire Regiment, War Diary (TNA WO 95/1658).
68
London Gazette (16 Sept. 1918).
69
<http://www.mtwilson.com.au/mt-wilsonmt-irvine-historical-society/
miscellaneous-articles/215-2005-remembrance-day-transcript.html>.
70
Lieutenant-Colonel J.R. Webster, private papers (IWM, Documents 13948).
Professional Men of War 177

for a commission and when I told him that I had he promptly asked me to come to
his Regiment. He there and then applied for me. Most awfully pleased about this.
He joined the 1st Battalion on 10 March as 2nd lieutenant, being wounded at
Neuve Chapelle the following day. He was only able to return to duty in September
1915. He was promoted to captain commanding a company and wounded in June
1916 and again on 5 July during the attack on the Tara Line on the Somme. Awarded
an MC and now a major, he was posted to the 17th Sherwood Foresters in May 1917
and was transferred to command the 16th Battalion on 14 September 1917, noting:
Poor Houghton of the 16th Bn was killed by a shell and later in the evening I was
sent to take command of them. Six days later he was leading his new battalion
in action, albeit suitably fortified: After a cup of tea with a stiff tot of rum in it, I
went out and joined my men. He wrote of his battalions participation in the Battle
of the Menin Road Ridge: I shall never forget Sept 20th it was the greatest day
of my life. The dash of the men was simply amazing. He was awarded the DSO
for splendid example and leadership that day in personally leading an assault
on blockhouses in Bulgar Wood manned by four machine guns, taking all his
objectives and beating off three counter-attacks.71 From 22 to 25 November 1917
he commanded 117 Brigade. On Christmas Eve 1917, all the COs of the Brigade
dined with the Brigadier and ... had a very cheery evening, a situation which did
not last as he was removed to hospital with a poisoned toe, writing: I am awfully
sick about it, for I have been so much away from the Battalion lately & I want to
get back to them. This bond with his battalion was soon put to the test.
On 20 January, he was told that either the 16th or 17th Battalions, and most
probably the 16th, would be disbanded. He wrote: as I am only an acting Lt.-
Colonel I am frightfully worried about it, for although I am feeling the strain a
bit I do not want to give up the command of the Battalion and it would just about
break Col. Stepneys heart. After being told it would be the 16th, he wrote: I took
my courage in my hands and went to the Brigadier and told him he was making a
mistake. I told him that I knew both Battalions intimately and that I believed the
spirit de corps in the 16th was deeper than in the 17th. His unit was reprieved, but
his command was not to last long. On 22 March 1918, during the German Spring
Offensive, according to 2nd Lieutenant F.E. Allen, 1st Hertfordshire:

Amid a murderous machine gun fire on the right of Solcourt Wood, near Villers
Faucon, Lt-Col Webster bravely re-organised remnants of scattered units into
a line of resistance and held up the enemy on all sides for two or three hours.
He set a fine example to subordinate ranks by his dauntless courage in running
to and fro across a front swept by machine gun fire, and others were not slow to
follow him.72

71
London Gazette (6 Apr. 1918).
72
Webster, private papers.
178 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

He was shot dead. Colonel Herbert-Stepney, the units first CO, remarked: I
suppose no more gallant soldier ever lived.73
Arthur Daniel Derviche-Jones is another prime, yet unknown, example of the
highly successful citizen CO. Educated at Winchester College, he was a 42-year-
old Liverpool solicitor at the outbreak of the war. He enlisted in September 1914
in the 10th Liverpool and was commissioned lieutenant in the 3rd Liverpool in
November 1914. He was posted to the Western Front in April 1915 and given
command of a company in the 1st Battalion a month later. In May 1915, at the Battle
of Festubert, a bullet grazed his head, and he was wounded again in September
that year at Loos. During 1916, he spent two months as 6 Brigade Intelligence
Officer and was attached for 10 days to 2nd Division as GSO3 Intelligence, finally
serving as brigade-major of 142 Brigade from June to August 1916.
In January 1917, he attended Senior Officers School where he was
recommended for immediate command. He was sent to the 13th Essex in April
1917 as second-in-command and commanded the battalion from 4 to 16 May when
he returned to command the 1st Liverpool, both commands being held as a major.
He had three periods of command as a lieutenant-colonel. On 27 May 1917, he
took command of the 2/8th London which post he held until its amalgamation with
the 1/8th London, commanding between 31 July and 17 August 1918, when he was
invalided with neurasthenia since he had lost his memory and could not sleep.
He returned to action at his own request, Major-General A.C. Daly, 24th Division,
stating: He is a very fine, experienced and exceptionally brave officer indeed,
Derviche-Jones had been recommended for brigade command in November 1917.
He commanded the 1/12th London from 11 to 14 October and the 1/8th London
again from then until the armistice. His experience of battle included Festubert,
Loos, Vimy Ridge (May 1916), Beaumont Hamel, Arras, Bullecourt, Third Ypres
(St Julien [September] and Passchendaele [October]), St Quentin, Crozat Canal,
Tergnier, Viry Noreuil, Chauny (German Spring Offensive); the Somme (Malard
Wood) in August 1918, and Annay-Waudgnies (October to November 1918). At
the end of the war he went to India as a GSO2 where a grateful army pursued him
for an 11 bootmakers bill.74
Last, but by no means least, the extraordinary Bernard William Vann was a
teacher and ordained clergyman who won the VC whilst commanding the 1/6th
Sherwood Foresters. Born in 1887, Vann attended Chichele College and Jesus
College, Cambridge, where he served for two years in the OTC achieving the rank
of sergeant. He was a notable sportsman: captain at football, hockey, and cricket
at Chichele, and, on leaving school, he played football for Northampton, Burton
United, and Derby County. In 1906, whilst teaching at Ashby-de-la-Zouche, he
qualified for Leicestershire hockey colours. Going up to Cambridge in 1907, he
obtained college colours at football and hockey and represented the university

73
Webster, private papers.
74
Arthur Daniel Derviche-Jones, Personal Service Record (TNA, WO 339/999).
Professional Men of War 179

at football on several occasions.75 He was ordained deacon in 1910, serving as


curate of St Barnabas, New Humberstone, until he took up a post as chaplain
and assistant master at Wellingborough School in 1912. Frustrated by the delay
in his application for an army chaplaincy, with his bishops permission he joined
the ranks of the Artists Rifles from 31 August to 1 September 1914, when he was
gazetted 2nd lieutenant in the 8th Sherwood Foresters. He arrived in France at the
end of February 1915, achieving the rank of captain in June, already a veteran of the
liquid-fire attack at Hooge. He was transferred to the 1/7th Battalion and promoted
to major in June 1916, and must have been on the first Senior Officers Course at
Aldershot where he went in September 1916 whilst invalided. Estimates of the
number of times Vann was wounded vary between seven and thirteen. He was
first buried by a trench mortar in April 1915, when, according to his MC citation
wounded and half buried, he showed the greatest determination in organising the
defence and rescuing buried men under heavy fire, although wounded and severely
bruised he refused to leave his post until directly ordered to do so.76 There was
a further consequence to this as he was hospitalised briefly with shellshock,77 yet
within days of his return was patrolling no-mans-land again. He was also shot in
the left forearm in a vicious bombing fight during the assault on the Hohenzollern
Redoubt in October 1915, undaunted by the death of his brother Alfred Vann, a
captain in the West Yorkshire Regiment, 19 days earlier. Further wounded in June
1916 on the Somme and again in September leading a highly successful raid on
Vimy Ridge in which he won a bar to his MC, he was not very well78 when he
went to Senior Officers School and finally succumbed to wound-related neuritis
in his neck, receiving electrical treatment in February 1917.79
He was promoted lieutenant-colonel of the 1/6th Battalion on 6 October 1917.
His supreme achievement was in 46th Divisions crossing of the St Quentin
Canal on 29 September 1918. On reaching the high ground above Bellenglise
the whole attack was held up by fire. Realising that everything depended on
the advance going forward with the barrage, Col. Vann rushed up to the firing
line and with the greatest gallantry led the line forward. His personal example
had the desired result as by his prompt action and absolute contempt for danger
the whole situation was changed, the men were encouraged and the line swept
forward.80 Subsequently, attacking the German guns at Lehaucourt, he led his
men straight for the guns, shot down the German gunners as they fired, and
having emptied his revolver, he gave one man a kick which sent him down a

75
The Chanticlere (Lent Term, 1910): 1415.
76
London Gazette (15 Sept. 1915).
77
W.C.C. Weetman, The Sherwood Foresters in the Great War 19141919: 1/8th
Battalion (Nottingham: Thomas Forman, 1920), 54.
78
Ibid. 156.
79
Bernard William Vann, Personal Service Record (TNA, WO 374/70397).
80
London Gazette (14 Dec. 1918).
180 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

dugout and maimed the last two men who showed fight with his riding crop.81
His VC was awarded posthumously as he was killed five days later on 3 October
1918 at Ramicourt, shot in the head by a sniper whilst encouraging his men. In
his obituary,82 a brother officer described him as a fighter, not merely against
the enemy in the field, but a fighter against everything and everybody that was
not an influence for good to his men. Vann had no use for slackers but
slackers in his platoon, his company or his battalion were few, for he inspired
all by his wonderful example of courage and energy. Another officer remarked:
So died a man than whom no braver lived, a leader who really led, a fighter who
fought to the last ounce, an enthusiast who stirred the very soul of his men.83 It
must not be forgotten that Vann was ordained, and carried a small communion
altar and cup in his pack: He never forgot that he was a priest of God, for it was
his greatest joy to be able to do the double duty of commanding his battalion and
giving Communion to the sick and wounded.84 Yet there was no contradiction
between the communion cup and the revolver: Vann was a testament to muscular
Christianity, demonstrating the view that a mans body is given him to be
trained and brought into subjection, and then used for the protection of the weak
[and] the advancement of all righteous causes.85 Like many citizens, Vann had
no doubt the war was a righteous cause.
Many citizen COs thus showed the highest military worth. Humphries and
Wynne would have had to have shown the greatest professionalism to have been
given command of regular battalions, when, as we have seen, regular officers
held a virtual monopoly on such positions. Derviche-Jones showed that citizens
could become rounded soldiers and not just combat leaders in his staff work and
post-war role as GSO2. Vann and Webster showed both extraordinary courage
and leadership, Vann demonstrating that essential balance between discipline and
paternal care, qualities ingrained in the army for the maintenance of morale. These
skills were honed on the anvil of experience, Derviche-Jones career in battle
being quite extraordinary.
***
The citizen COs were older than the average in 1918: they had life experience.
For half, military interest in the shape of the OTC had featured in their youth,
and perhaps, as John (later Lord) Reith claimed for himself, they had war in
[their] bones.86 They were well educated and mostly professional, and it took
them only a fraction over three years to learn and practise the craft of command.

81
W.D. Jamieson, Men of the High Peak: A History of the 1/6th Battalion the Sherwood
Foresters 19141918, ed. C. Housey (Long Eaton: Millquest, n.d.), 118.
82
The Times (19 Dec. 1918), 12.
83
Jamieson, Men of the High Peak, 122.
84
The Wellingburian, cited in Cheltenham and Gloucester WFA, Newsletter 83 (Sept.
2013).
85
Thomas Hughes, Tom Brown at Oxford (New York: John W. Lovell, n.d.), 12930.
86
John Reith, Wearing Spurs (London: Hutchinson, 1966), 15.
Professional Men of War 181

On 29 September 1918, 22 pent of active infantry battalions were commanded


by civilians, and, at the armistice, 43 per cent of all the citizens who ever held
commands were in post.
A.D. Harvey suggests that the rapid promotion of civilians in uniform
demonstrates the unusual flexibility of British institutions in this period.87 He is
undoubtedly referring largely to flexibility of expectation of social status. Analysis
of personal accounts confirms that temporarily, in the trenches, social class had
ceased to be the measure of an officer and that an efficient officer was highly
valued, whatever his social background.88 Whilst this flexibility was creditable
it was, however, simply a reflection of sheer pragmatism and did not outlast
the war. As we have seen, Harvey doubts whether these citizen commanding
officers were military geniuses. He states that it was perfectly understood
that brilliant performance in the specialised conditions of trench warfare did
not mean that one had acquired a perfect all-round knowledge of soldiering
in all conditions.89 Obviously, citizen officers had none of the experience of
the range of warfare many regulars had and had little or no experience of staff
work. Hanway Cummings appreciation of Burdett acknowledged this aspect of
the rounded soldier when he added: He would require training and experience
for the staff. As a senior officer in the Australian army in the Second World
War remarked to citizen soldiers: You are not professional soldiers but you are
professional men of war.90
There have been few military geniuses in history. Nor would their genius
have tipped the balance in the attrition of the positional warfare of the First World
War. Harvey is, however, setting up a straw man. The typical experience of warfare
of the British officer had outlived its usefulness by 31 December 1914. By 1918,
he faced a truly modern war, with weapon systems unknown four years earlier,
and the citizen officer came to know this war as well as the regular: the citizen
soldiers were modern men who were quick learners. As Guy Chapman noted:
The New Army cared nothing for soldiering as a trade; thought of it only as a job
to be done, and the more expeditiously the better.91 Nor after March 1918 were
the experienced citizen soldiers fighting solely in the specialised conditions of
trench warfare, and the fact that they had cut their teeth in such circumstances did
not hold them back: indeed, in the Hundred Days, they were being promoted to
battalion command in ever increasing numbers. As Cyril Falls noted of this final

87
Harvey, A Good War, 80.
88
Laura Root, Temporary Gentlemen on the Western Front: Class Consciousness
and the British Army Officer, 19141918, paper presented at the National Council on
Undergraduate Research Conference Virginia Military Institute, Lexington, April 2005.
89
Harvey, A Good War, 80.
90
Garth Pratten, Australian Battalion Commanders in the Second World War
(Melbourne, Vic.: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 235.
91
Guy Chapman, A Passionate Prodigality (London: Mayflower-Dell, 1967), 1412.
182 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

stage of the war, a couple of days of this open fighting and manoeuvre taught
them more than a series of trench-to-trench attacks.92
Sergeant J.F. Lucy, a regular of the 2nd Royal Irish Rifles, suggested that the
particular style of thinking of the civilian brought new and enviable qualities to
soldiering when he wrote: The New Army leaders, a large number of whom
were practical business men with no time for obsolete customs showing an
unexpected flair for fighting, brought critical and well-trained minds to bear on
every aspect of the war, and won not only our respect, but out admiration.93
Lieutenant-Colonel E.W. Hermon, 27th Northumberland Fusiliers, an ex-regular,
wrote disparagingly of the superficial differences that marked out Lieutenant-
Colonel J.M. Prior of the 24th, a haulage contractor, as different from a pre-war
officer: He wears a diamond ring on the first finger & another huge one on his
little finger & I asked my adjutant who & what he was in civil life & he told me
A commercial traveller & very well known in the North. Hermon had genuine
reservations about Priors leadership, but backed Lucys appreciation of civilian
COs in general: Sounds so awfully odd after the old soldiering life, but these
fellows are doing grand work, and after all they cant be bettered these times &
to tell you the truth I dont believe that some of them could have been equalled in
earlier days.94 Hanway Cummings appreciation of George Gater and his report on
James Burdett leave no doubt that a senior regular officer with the psc qualification
and a wealth of experience believed that certain citizens could make extraordinary
commanders.
The remarkable thing about Edgar Mobbs and George Gater is that they
achieved battalion command in 1916. They were certainly being preferred over
young regular officers. What we are therefore probably seeing is two groups
of citizen commanding officers. The first was a group of truly exceptional men
who rose to command from mid-1916 to 1917, whose abilities were immediately
evident, and who, contrary to Harveys view, were indeed preferred over their
regular counterparts. Then, in the Hundred Days, there were a growing number
of citizen COs, on a par with their regular counterparts, who assumed command
in the aftermath of the attrition of the German Spring Offensive. Undoubtedly,
by mid-1918, the era of the civilian infantry battalion commander had well and
truly arrived.

92
Cyril Falls, The Life of a Regiment, vol. 4 (Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press,
1958), 2458.
93
John F. Lucy, Theres a Devil in the Drum (Eastbourne: Naval & Military Press,
1993 [1938]), 343.
94
Edward W. Hermon, letter (23 Aug. 1916), in For Love and Courage: The Letters
of Lieutenant Colonel E.W. Hermon from the Western Front 19141917, ed. Anne Nason
(London: Preface, 2008), 267.
Chapter 8
The Hundred Days: Meritocracy in Command?

In 1919, Field-Marshal Sir Douglas Haig asserted:

Promotion has been entirely by merit, and the highest appointments were open
to the humblest, provided he had the necessary qualifications of character,
skill, and knowledge. A mess sergeant, a railway signalman, a coal miner, a
market gardener, an assistant secretary to a haberdashers company have risen
to command battalions.1

Some historians agree that indeed by 1918 a meritocracy based on promotion


for able and experienced officers was established within the army leadership.2
Others have been more cautious suggesting that only a limited meritocracy
emerged.3 In the previous chapters we have reviewed both the core views held
from private to GHQ on what was valued in a CO and the qualities of the rising
military stars of the citizens of August 1914. Did the COs of the victorious armies
of the Hundred Days therefore reflect a distillation of these values? Did they
truly comprise a meritocracy, a group selected entirely for their excellence?4 If
there were limitations on merit-based promotion, what were they?

Rat-Catchers and Fire-Eaters

The men of the army of the Hundred Days have been described as lions led by
tigers.5 Describing his battalion as they fought their way across the old Somme

1
Final Despatch, London Gazette (8 Apr. 1919).
2
Simon Robbins, British Generalship on the Western Front 191418: Defeat into
Victory (Abingdon: Frank Cass, 2005), 134.
3
Gary D. Sheffield, Leadership in the Trenches: OfficerMan Relations, Morale and
Discipline in the British Army in the Era of the First World War (Basingstoke: Macmillan,
2000), 33.
4
The concept of meritocracy is a modern one, coined in 1958 by the sociologist
Michael Young (The Rise of the Meritocracy, 18702033: An Essay on Education and
Inequality [London: Thames and Hudson, 1958]). The Oxford Reference Dictionary
defines merit as 1. The quality of deserving well. 2. Excellence, worth and meritocracy as
government by persons selected competitively according to merit. Young, whose thrust
was critical, defined merit as intelligence-plus-effort.
5
This phrase of John Bournes parodies the supposed 1914 description of the BEF as
lions led by donkeys, a phrase impossible to attribute clearly to any German, if indeed it
was ever used. The original epithet possibly dates from the Crimean War, when Russians
184 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

battlefield, Lieutenant-Colonel Rowland Feilding, CO 1/15th London, agreed,


writing to his wife on 26 August 1918: They are like little lions these London
men.6 Lions they may have been, but were their leaders tigers, men driven by an
appetite for the destruction of the enemy? Fieldings letter to his wife some three
weeks later hints at his own tiger qualities: It is a cursed war yet I love it: it has
been the breath of life to me.7
Jonathan Boff suggests that by 1918, most field commanders were probably,
to use Andrew Gordons phrase, rat-catchers, aggressive and self-sure, who
had literally fought their way to the top, rather than the more institutionally
comfortable regulators who tend to populate the higher ranks of a peacetime
force.8 Jim Storr equates the rat-catcher with the autocrat,9 who exercises tight
control, but only when the situation demands it and who is forceful and driving
but also thoughtful and reflective, even if only because they realise that the
welfare of the people under them is vital to their effectiveness. He associates
the regulator with the authoritarian, who is controlling, highly conformist,
status-conscious, anti-intellectual and punitive.10 Storr emphasises how tactical
decision-making should be very quick and naturalistic,11 rather than relying on
the over-analysis of information. It is clear, therefore, why the rat-catcher might
have thrived in the warfare of the Hundred Days. Boff, however, is indicating
more than an organisational type, he is referring to the commander who knew
that the war would only be won with an appetite for killing the enemy. This tiger
officer, in contemporary terms, was the fire-eater.
The creed of the fire-eater is best expressed in Lieutenant-Colonel F.A.
Maxwells departing message to the 12th Middlesex on 21 October 1916:

No failure has spoiled our record since real business began nearly four months
ago, and none is going to. In that period we have begun to learn that the only

supposedly used it to describe the British at Sebastopol; the Franco-Prussian War, when
the British may have used it to describe the French; or even the Boxer Rebellion, when Sir
James Grierson (the original commander of II Corps in August 1914), may have used it to
describe the Russians.
6
Rowland Fielding, War Letters to a Wife, ed. J. Walker (Staplehurst: Spellmount,
2001), 173.
7
Ibid. 186.
8
Jonathan Boff, Winning and Losing on the Western Front: The British Third Army
and the Defeat of Germany in 1918, Kindle edn (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
2012), loc. 4646. Boff is referring to Andrew Gordon, The Rules of the Game: Jutland and
British Naval Command (London: John Murray, 1996).
9
Norman Dixon, On the Psychology of Military Incompetence (London: Jonathan
Cape, 1977).
10
Jim Storr, The Human Face of War, Kindle edn (London: Continuum, 2009 ), loc.
3674.
11
Ibid. loc. 2800.
The Hundred Days: Meritocracy in Command? 185

way to treat the German is to kill him, but that lesson is only half-learned, for we
either do not want to kill him enough, or we forget to use that best of weapons,
our rifles, to down him. We shout for bombs, instead of shooting with our guns.
Remember that the 12th Die Hards do kill, dont get taken prisoner unless
wounded, and dont retire.12

Brigadier-General F.P. Crozier once damned a lieutenant-colonel, a charming


fellow, a staff college graduate and a one-time instructor, sent for a month to
qualify for a brigade, because he [was] unable to kick the Germans out of his
line quickly on his own initiative, and prefer[red] to write orders instead of doing
things. Whilst Croziers views on the intelligentsia of the regular army from
which he had been previously forced to resign due to bankruptcy were undoubtedly
jaundiced, he definitely had an eye for a tiger, identifying aggression and initiative
as key features in a successful CO. He concluded concerning the unfortunate: We
all have our mtiers and his is neither the command of men nor the slaughtering
of the enemy.13
It is impossible to calculate the prevalence of tigers, but Crozier left a rich bank
of comments on those who served within his brigade. The 12th North Staffordshire
were under his command in 1918, and he noted that they were in trouble; the
same old cause colonels.14 Crozier allegedly found his tiger to command
them in a shell-hole: Lieutenant-Colonel Ernest Robert OConnor was 32 years
old and had been in the ranks for 14 years, rising to company sergeant-major in
the 2nd Grenadier Guards. He had been on the Western Front since August 1914.
Commissioned into the Manchester Regiment in January 1915, he had served as
adjutant with the 11th Battalion from January 1916 to September 1917 and then
briefly as second-in-command with a battalion of the Munster Fusiliers. On being
appointed CO in October 1918, he transform[ed] the battalion and electrifie[d]
the men in under a week.15 Follow me, shouted OConnor, in the vanguard of
his unit crossing the Scheldt in November 1918.16
Crozier refers to three further tigers, two in particular being first-class colonels.17
The first, Lieutenant-Colonel James Frederick Plunkett, commanded the 19th Royal
Welsh Fusiliers from August 1917 until he was invalided during the Battle of Cambrai
in November 1917, the strain of thirty hours continued and sustained valour having
upset his heart.18 Forty years old, he had served in the ranks for 19 years and was

12
12th Battalion Middlesex Regiment, War Diary (21 Oct. 1916) (TNA, WO
95/2044).
13
Frank P. Crozier, A Brass Hat in No Mans Land (London: Jonathan Cape, 1930),
148.
14
Ibid. 228.
15
Ibid. 2289.
16
Ibid. 231.
17
Ibid. 149.
18
Ibid. 191.
186 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

a warrant officer in the 2nd Royal Irish Regiment in August 1914. Commissioned in
the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers in May 1915, he served as a captain in the Middlesex
and a major in the Sussex regiments. He finally served as CO of the 13th Inniskilling
Fusiliers from June 1918 to the armistice. Crozier noted: If every man behaved as
does Plunkett in action, every objective would be taken, every point held, provided
the wire is cut, or all would die.19
The second, Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Benzie, commanded the 12th South
Wales Borderers. A merchant and lieutenant in the Ceylon Planters Rifle Corps,
he had arrived in Egypt in November 1914 and landed with the ANZAC Corps
at Gallipoli. On the Western Front, Benzie was commissioned captain in the 2nd
Scottish Rifles in June 1916. Promoted to major he was attached to the 12th South
Wales Borderers, commanding from April 1917 to February 1918. Transferred
on the disbandment of his battalion to command the 14th Argyll and Sutherland
Highlanders, he was wounded in the German Spring Offensive on 25 March
1918 at Gomiecourt,20 thus losing his brigade-promotion.21 Whether this is
true is unknown, but it makes clear that Crozier, who would have been part of
the recommendation process, thought highly of his organisational abilities. The
citation for the bar to his DSO gives a flavour of his tiger qualities during the
German Spring Offensive. These included, firstly, organisational abilities: During
lengthy operations he constantly forced back the enemy and readjusted his line
under heavy fire and, secondly, courage: After nearly all the officers of the brigade
had become casualties, he organised the remnants into a unit, which he personally
led, with the greatest courage, in a counter-attack, remaining in command of the
advanced elements until relieved by another division.22
The last of the trio was Lieutenant-Colonel Richard John Andrews. Aged 38
at the outbreak of the war, Andrews had served in South Africa with the Imperial
Yeomanry, and then allegedly as a captain with the Chilean army.23 (He was certainly
an engineer working on the Antofagasta and Bolivia Railway). He returned to
the UK in January 1915 and enlisted in the 14th London five days later, reverting
from sergeant to private on transfer to the 1st Battalion on the Western Front in
July 1915. He was commissioned in the Devonshire Regiment in March 1916,
posted to the 2nd Battalion, and was commanding a company within four months.
Obviously the object of talent-spotting, he was one of the first attendees at Senior
Officers School in late 1916 and was sent to the 17th Welsh as second-in-command
in April 1917, leading the battalion at the capture of Welsh Ridge, Cambrai, six
days later. Crozier noted: There is no holding these intrepid men.24 He took over
full command of the battalion on 1 July 1917, but was wounded at Bourlon Wood,

19
Ibid.
20
Robert Benzie, Personal Service Record (TNA, WO 339/79058).
21
Crozier, A Brass Hat in No Mans Land, 196.
22
London Gazette (16 July 1918).
23
Obituary, The Times (19 Jan. 1923).
24
Crozier, A Brass Hat in No Mans Land, 146.
The Hundred Days: Meritocracy in Command? 187

24 November 1917, shot through the sciatic nerve. Again complaining of his COs,
Crozier rejoiced in September 1918: I am saved, for Andrews, limping, yet still
the old fire-eating Andrews, has put his foot in France.25 He finished the war
commanding the 13th East Lancashire and, thruster, fighter and man of action,26
was in the vanguard of his battalion on 8 November 1918 crossing the Scheldt
crying Allez, Allez!27 Being a tiger did not necessarily make one easy to live
with, and Andrews became mentally deranged for a time, in France after the war
finished he snapped.28 He was sent to Russia in April 1919, but, after the mutiny
of the 5th North Russian Rifles in July 1920, he was arrested and detained. After
a brief period whilst MI5 bizarrely debated as to whether he was a spy, he was
posted to the Auxiliary Division of the Royal Irish Constabulary from October
1920 to February 1921. When he resigned, his file noted good riddance. He was
killed two years later in the garage he ran, using equipment he had little knowledge
of how to operate.29
Another tiger was William Ernest Brown, a 32-year-old land surveyor in 1914,
who was commissioned in the 12th South Wales Borderers in May 1915. Crozier
described him as a product of Pope and Benzie, indicating how the promising
officer learned from the skilled CO.30 He took over command of the 18th Welsh
on 13 March 1918, earning Croziers admiration in the German Spring Offensive
eight days later, and remained CO until the armistice, although he commanded
47 Brigade from 10 to 29 October 1918. His DSO citation reflects his abilities:
While commanding his battalion he held a position successfully with very few
men. His fine example of courage and cheerfulness under heavy fire was mainly
responsible for the retention of the ground.31
What model of leadership is Crozier setting out for us in his descriptions of
these five COs? Given that three were from other ranks, one a civilian, and one a
colonial volunteer, it might be thought that he was biased against regular officers,
but it will be remembered how highly he rated the performance of the somewhat
elderly Lieutenant-Colonel H.C. Metcalfe, 21st Middlesex, a retired regular
captain in March 1918. Croziers template for successful battalion command in
the Hundred Days clearly included stamina (all of his nominees had fought their
ways through the entire war), experience, initiative, vanguard leadership, courage,
example, and aggression. Frank Maxwell, had he lived, would likely have agreed.
How many COs of 1918 lived up to these standards is impossible to know. In
1917, Crozier described having seven lieutenant-colonels of the right type in his
brigade, and, to extrapolate from his memoirs, he had five in the period following

25
Ibid. 228.
26
Ibid. 235.
27
Ibid. 231.
28
Ibid. 245.
29
Richard John Andrews, Personal Service Record (TNA WO 374/1827).
30
Crozier, A Brass Hat in No Mans Land, 196.
31
London Gazette (16 Sept. 1918).
188 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

the German Spring Offensive. He was, however, complaining in mid-1918: My


troubles over colonels have been fierce.32 It was noted in Chapter 5 that Major-
General Sir R. Pinney, 33rd Division, was still removing COs as late as October
1918, and Rowland Feilding echoed this, writing the previous month: A good
many Battalion Commanders have been un-gummed during the last few weeks.33
The army of 1918 clearly still had quality-control issues with battalion command
but remained active in dealing with them.
Whilst the German Spring Offensive of March 1918 was attritional of COs,
there was no shortage of possible replacements due to the battalion disbandments
of February and the summer of 1918. However, numbers did not necessarily
equate with quality, Brigadier-General W.H.E. Seagrave, 152 Brigade, remarking
in September 1918: Good Battalion Commanders are very hard to get.34 Rowland
Fielding returned to France following recuperation from injury in August 1918
and, the 6th Connaught Rangers having been disbanded, found himself in the
Commanding Officers pool (a group Crozier with his customary sarcasm called
the pot-luck pool),35 at taples. After four days he was ordered to proceed to
command the 1/15th London writing: This, to say the least of it, was unexpected,
since [COs] are usually kept waiting for weeks, and sometimes months.36

COs of the Hundred Days

What was the command experience of the COs who were in post at the opening
of the Hundred Days campaign? They had been in post an average 185 days,
in comparison with 252 days at the opening of the Third Battle of Ypres a year
earlier, the fact that 71 per cent were 1918 appointees reflecting the attrition of
commanding officers during the German Spring Offensive. Whilst on average they
had the least experience of command, they, of course, had the longest experience
of battle of any First World War COs embarking on a major campaign. In terms
of their fate during the campaign, the killed-in-action total of 5 per cent is half the
average for the war as a whole, indicating the greater care being taken of COs as a
resource in a costly period when there were 3,685 casualties per day.37 By far the
most frequent cause of turnover was replacement, which at 17 per cent is still less
than half the overall replacement rate for the war. This, coupled with a wounding/
invalidity rate half the average for the war at 9 per cent, again implies a fitter and
more competent group of COs. To examine more closely the nature and attributes
of these men, we will return to 5th, 9th, and 42nd Divisions, who were amongst

32
Crozier, A Brass Hat in No Mans Land, 228.
33
Feilding, War Letters to a Wife, 186.
34
Ibid. 187: my italics.
35
Crozier, A Brass Hat in No Mans Land, 228.
36
Feilding, War Letters to a Wife, 172.
37
<http://ww1cemeteries.com/ww1cemeteries/battle_of_the_somme.htm>.
The Hundred Days: Meritocracy in Command? 189

the most successful divisions in attack during the campaign, and look at their
commanding officers in detail.

5th Division

5th Division was a regular Third Army formation in 1918, although it contained
four new army and one territorial units. During the Hundred Days it took part in
the retaking of the old Somme battlefield, including the Battle of Albert (213
August) and the Second Battle of Bapaume (31 August to 3 September); the attack
on the outposts of the Hindenburg Line, the Battle of Ephy (18 September);
and then the breaking of the Hindenburg Line itself, the Battle of the Canal du
Nord (2730 September). Finally it was involved in the Pursuit to the Selle (912
October) and the Battle of the Selle (1723 October).
Twelve of the eighteen COs were active regulars in August 1914 and their
average age of 34 years and 3 months was close to the 29 September 1918 average
of 34 years and 11 months. The one ex-regular, William Wilberforce, a retired
2nd lieutenant of the Royal West Kent Regiment in August 1914, commanded the
14th Royal Warwickshire. Assessments of his abilities remain in his personal file
and are worth considering.38 He had resigned in November 1908, having had a
70 cheque dishonoured, whereupon he had subsequently lost his temper and
been insubordinate to a captain using language of a very offensive kind and
had proceeded to work in Russia as court correspondent for the Daily Mail. Re-
enlisted, and described as quick, clever and capable, certainly above the average
of his rank, he was posted to the Collingwood Battalion, Royal Naval Division.
He served as a company commander during the Antwerp Expedition of October
1914 and subsequently as a staff captain to the 1st Royal Naval Brigade until April
1916, showing ability, tact and zeal in the Gallipoli campaign. Transferred as
adjutant to the 3rd Royal West Kent in August 1916, he was recommended for a
more senior staff appointment in January 1917, when it was noted: This officer
has done well as adjutant under difficult conditions. Is a good disciplinarian and
capable organiser. He was, however, given an active posting as major with the
1st Royal West Kent, from whence he was transferred to command the 14th Royal
Warwickshire in May 1918, being awarded a DSO for his skills as CO, when on
27 September 1918 near Gouzeaucourt he successfully controlled a very difficult
advance diagonally across three parallel lines of trenches.39
The four COs of the other three new army infantry battalions represent an
interesting spread. One was a regular, Willoughby George Chapman, a 2nd lieutenant
of the 2nd Gloucestershire in August 1914, commanding the 12th Gloucestershire.
First of two representatives of the TF in the division, Grahame Deakin commanded
the 16th Warwickshire. He had served with the 8th Worcestershire from 1909 to
1912, resigning as a lieutenant, and was an estate agent in Birmingham in August

38
William Wilberforce, Personal Service Record (TNA WO 339/6297).
39
London Gazette (1 Feb. 1919).
190 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

1914. He is an example of progression within a single unit, being commissioned


captain in the 16th Warwickshire at the end of November 1914, rising to major,
second-in-command, in June 1916, and taking over command in July 1917. Deakin
was awarded the DSO for his good leadership as CO, when during operations
near Achiet-le-Petit on 21 August 1918 crossing the old Somme battlefield he
personally went forward and under heavy machine-gun fire, organised one of his
companies and some other scattered units which had become mixed owing to the
dense fog. He led them forward and captured his final objective.40 His courage
was also evident that day: A battery of 5.9 howitzers was found firing into the
advancing line of the 95th Brigade; Lieut.-Col. Deakin, accompanied by a few
men, himself shot down the gunners.41
George Swiney Miller, CO 15th Warwickshire, had been commissioned
in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment in 1904 and promoted captain in the 4th
Battalion on the day the war broke out. He was the only representative of the
Special Reserve. His first active service was in March 1916 with the 1st Royal
Warwickshire, being transferred to the 15th Royal Warwickshire in August,
promoted to major, second-in-command, the following month, and taking over
command in October. He commanded until 29 September 1918, at which point he
was wounded. His admirable leadership in the successful attack around Irles on
23 August, particularly the skill with which he made his plans, and his untiring
devotion to duty in reconnoitring the position and training his men preparatory to
an attack which largely contributed to the success of the operation, led to the
award of a bar to his DSO.42
The remaining new army CO was Henry Archer Colt, who had become a
midshipman in 1898, retiring from the navy as a lieutenant-commander in 1912.
He is another example of progression within a single unit. He was appointed
captain in the 12th Gloucestershire in October 1914, becoming major, second-in-
command, in March 1917, and had taken over command in October. His tenure
was terminated by wounding in the assault on Irles village at the same time as
George Miller won his DSO. The attack on the village itself, organised on his own
initiative43 and which he personally led, securing a safe flank for the attack on
Miraumont. His DSO citation notes his very great ability and courage as a CO.44
With respect to the regular units, one citizen commanded, namely C.F.G.
Humphries, 1st Norfolk, whose extraordinary career was reviewed in the last
chapter. William Stuart Chirnside was the second territorial CO in the division,
and his skills must have been considerable to be given command of a regular
battalion. A 29-year-old insurance clerk and 2nd lieutenant of the 5th Bedfordshire

40
London Gazette (2 Dec. 1918).
41
Arthur H. Hussey and D.S. Inman, The Fifth Division in the Great War (London:
Nibet & Co. Ltd, 1921), 231.
42
London Gazette (15 Oct. 1918).
43
Hussey and Inman, The Fifth Division, 233.
44
London Gazette (7 Nov. 1918).
The Hundred Days: Meritocracy in Command? 191

at the outbreak of the war, he was wounded at Gallipoli in November 1915 during
bomb-throwing training.45 After convalescence he was sent to the 1st Battalion on
the Western Front, commanding from August to October 1918, and achieved a
reputation as a superb combat leader.46
Eleven active regular officers of August 1914 commanded the regular
battalions. In August 1914, reflecting the pattern noted in Chapter 3, four were
lieutenants and seven captains. Four had landed in France with the original BEF
in August 1914 and one in November 1914 in Mesopotamia; three had arrived on
the Western Front and one in Mesopotamia in early 1915; and another arrived on
the Western Front in June 1915. They therefore possessed considerable depth of
experience. Only one could be viewed as having been protected from the toll of
active service by not having been in a theatre of war. Cecil Tidswell Furber, CO
2nd Kings Own Scottish Borderers, had served in India as a brigade-major until
December 1916, arriving on the Western Front only in January 1917. Three more
could be considered as having been protected by periods of staff employment
whilst on active service. Hugh Courtenay, CO 1st Bedfordshire (who died of
wounds on 23 August 1918), served as a staff captain from November 1915 to
June 1916 and as deputy assistant quartermaster general from June 1916 to June
1918; Charles Edward Gowran Shearman, Courtenays replacement, served as a
GSO3 from February to May 1917 and brigade-major from May 1917 to October
1918; and Bede Johnstone, CO 1st Royal West Kent, served as brigade-major from
February 1916 to September 1917. Conversely, reflecting a complete absence of
protection, four of these COs were the survivors of multiple commands.
The absence of formal evaluations of these men forces reliance on DSO citations
to obtain a flavour of their abilities. Eight of the eleven received such an award as
CO. Hugh Courtenay was awarded a DSO for his initiative in the attack on Achiet-
le-Petit on 21 August 1918 in which he was fatally wounded, the citation reflecting
courage and personal leadership: While directing the advance of his battalion one
company became slightly disorganized owing to heavy fire. He rushed forward
and led the men on. Courtenay also demonstrated a clear recognition of the right
tactics for the situation as he then went to the left of the attack, where it was held
up by wire, and encouraged short rushes, himself setting the example. Finally, he
led the first wave himself until the last objective was reached.47
The circumstances of Cecil Furbers DSO similarly reflect initiative and
courage: on 18 September at Gouzeaucourt, when his right attacking company
was driven back, this officer left his battalion headquarters, rallied the company,
and he himself led the counter-attack, regaining the ground that had been lost. His
dash and personal example undoubtedly saved a critical situation.48 In addition,
Furber was rewarded for his organisational ability as the citation for the bar to

45
5th Battalion Bedfordshire Regiment, War Diary (TNA WO 95/4325).
46
<http://bedfordregiment.org.uk/5thbn/5thbtnmedalwinners.html>.
47
London Gazette (2 Dec. 1918).
48
London Gazette (6 Apr. 1918).
192 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

his DSO shows in the Selle operations: The untiring efforts and great ability
with which this officer made his preparations for an attack largely contributed
to the success of the operation.49 Jack Kilbourne Kay, who commanded both the
2nd Scottish Borderers and the 1st Royal West Kent, similarly demonstrated both
courage and skill: He was commanding the battalion previous to and during an
important attack and the skill and ability with which he made the preparatory
arrangements were no less marked than his gallantry and soldierly bearing during
the engagement.50
Whilst the regular units of 5th Division showed, with interesting exceptions, the
typical adherence to regular COs, the non-regular units demonstrated an eclectic
mix in command. Whatever their origins, these commanding officers clearly
possessed both great depth of experience and skills, which in some had been
identified relatively early in the war: two had been appointed CO in 1915, one in
1916, and three in 1917. Where we are allowed glimpses of their qualities, they
demonstrated organisational ability, initiative, and courage.

9th (Scottish) Division

9th Division was a new army formation in Second Army. Having taken part in the
highly successful capture of Meteren (19 July), during the Hundred Days it took
part in the capture of the Hoegnacker Ridge just beyond Meteren (18 August), the
Fifth Battle of Ypres (28 September to 2 October), the Battle of Courtrai (1419
October), and the capture of the Ooteghem-Ingoyghem Ridge (25 October). All its
units were new army except for one regular battalion. With an average of exactly
33 years old, its COs were nearly two years younger than the 29 September 1918
average.
Three of the 16 COs were citizens in August 1914, and all were appointed for
the first time during the Hundred Days, emphasising the increasing elevation of
citizens to battalion command as 1918 progressed. One had been commissioned
into the Special Reserve, one the TF, and one a service battalion. Edward Robert
Hugh Boyd, born in 1892, had been a lance-corporal in Charterhouse School OTC
(where his general efficiency was only rated fair). He was commissioned in
the 3rd Royal Scots in August 1914 and was sent to the 1st Battalion in 1915. He
served at Fifth Army School as an instructor in late 1917 and was promoted to
major, second-in-command, of the 11th Royal Scots in April 1918. He took over
command on 15 October 1918. Boyd was something of a character, with possible
rat-catcher qualities. He had been court-martialled for possessing a camera and
posting photographs (date uncertain, sentence remitted). His lack of respect for
authority included libelling an Englishman as a German solicitor and failing to
return a 45 army pay overpayment, for which he was pursued to India after the

49
London Gazette (11 Oct. 1918).
50
Ibid.
The Hundred Days: Meritocracy in Command? 193

war, where he worked for the Imperial Tobacco Company.51 Robert Fordyce Ker, an
Edinburgh banker born in 1893, attested in the 9th Royal Scots in September 1914
and was commissioned in the 9th Kings Own Scottish Borderers that December.52
He went to the Western Front in 1915 with the 6th Scottish Borderers and was
promoted captain commanding a company in October 1916, in whose handling
he displayed the greatest coolness and courage in most difficult circumstances.53
He assumed command on 3 October 1918, his rise being within the same unit on
active service. Lastly, William French was commissioned in September 1914 in the
10th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, and arrived on the Western Front in May
1915. He was made adjutant whilst captain in January 1917, but was transferred
to be major, second-in-command, with the 8th Black Watch that September, taking
over command on 19 August 1918. His organisational and leadership abilities are
evident from his two DSO citations, which state that he displayed great courage
and ability54 and the greatest courage and ability in rallying and commanding a
part of the battalion,55 although neither was awarded as CO.
The only active TF officer of August 1914 to command a battalion in the division
was Captain John Murray of the Scottish Horse. Born in 1884 and educated at Eton
and Magdalen College, Oxford, he was the son of the head of the John Murray
publishing house. He served with his unit as infantry at Gallipoli and in Egypt, and,
after the Scottish Horse became the 13th Black Watch, his organisational ability
was recognised with service as a GSO3 from December 1916 to September 1917
and again from March 1918 until taking over command of the 12th Royal Scots in
June. His DSO was won on 1 October 1918 during the attack on Ledeghem, when
the flanks of the battalion under his command became exposed and very heavy
casualties were suffered by enfilade machine gun fire. Murray showed courage
and attention to detail: Realising that the dispositions of his battalion needed
immediate alteration, [he] went forward and carried this out under close range-
rifle and machine-gun fire. His award also demonstrated the perceived importance
of personal example, as his fearless disregard for danger which was evident to
all ranks and the splendid example which he showed undoubtedly renewed the
confidence of his men during a very critical period.56 Similarly, on 15 October at
Laaga Cappelle Wood, Murray showed initiative when after passing the wood,
[he] swung south and ejected the enemy from Steenbeek village and Hill 40.57
The one active representative of the Special Reserve of August 1914 was Herbert
George Sotheby. Born in 1871 and of independent means, he was posted as captain

51
Edward Robert Hugh Boyd, Personal Service Record (TNA WO 339/17095).
52
Robert Fordyce Ker, Personal Service Record (TNA WO 339/5186).
53
London Gazette (18 Mar. 1918).
54
London Gazette (10 Jan. 1917).
55
London Gazette (26 July 1918).
56
London Gazette (30 July 1919).
57
John Ewing, The History of the Ninth (Scottish) Division 19141919 (London:
John Murray, 1921), 364.
194 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

from the 4th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders to the 2nd Battalion in October
1914 (where he served as adjutant) and the 10th Battalion in 1916, serving as CO
from December 1916 until the armistice.
The one retired regular, Ronald Walter Hadow, who had retired as captain of
the Black Watch only in 1914, served as a deputy assistant adjutant general from
September 1914 until 1917 and then commanded the 8th Black Watch from June
1917 to August 1918. He was awarded the DSO as commanding officer for his
skilful handling of his unit in attack on the Passchendaele Ridge on 12 October 1917
in horrendous conditions, personally reconnoitring the ground and forming up his
battalion in the correct alignment after the taping party and guides had become
casualties.58 Another with a military past, Sir John Bruce Stuart Campbell, who
had been working in mining in Malaya, had served with the Australian forces in
the Second Boer War. Commissioned in the 14th Royal Scots, he was posted to the
11th Battalion, where he became CO in September 1917. He was awarded the DSO
with two bars, all as CO. Firstly, on 12 April 1917 at Roeux, when in temporary
command, he brought his battalion into action under very difficult circumstances
and commanded it with conspicuous courage.59 His second bar was awarded for
actions on 28 September 1918 at Becelaere, when, while reconnoitring the line
he was fired at from 200 yards by an enemy field gun. Demonstrating both
courage and initiative, he immediately got a machine gun into action, and with a
few men, under machine gun fire and the direct fire of the gun, surrounded the field
gun, the battery teams running away. It was entirely due to his gallantry and quick
action that the battery was captured, thus saving many casualties.60
Lastly, Alexander William Angus, a chartered accountant and an Australian by
birth, who came to Scotland aged 11 and was a double international for his adopted
country at rugby and cricket, may possibly, judging from his swift promotion,
have had pre-war service, being commissioned 2nd lieutenant in the 10th Gordon
Highlanders in September 1914 and promoted major 14 months later. Detached
from his regiment in mid-1916 he served as commandant of a musketry and
reinforcement camp from July 1917, but was sent to command the 5th Cameron
Highlanders on 15 September 1918. He was awarded the DSO during his period
of command for initiative, prompt action, excellent work, and skilful
leading, all during a 16-day period of action in September and October 1918 but
particularly near Rolleghem Capelle when he took one of his own companies and
led it through troops who had been held up. His prompt action enabled the whole
line to advance.61
Fifty per cent of the infantry COs of the division were regulars. Two had
arrived in France in August 1914, one in October, and two that December. The
remaining three had arrived in 1915, two in May, and the last in July. They

58
London Gazette (23 Apr. 1918).
59
London Gazette (26 July 1917).
60
London Gazette (30 July 1919).
61
London Gazette (15 Feb. 1919).
The Hundred Days: Meritocracy in Command? 195

were thus highly experienced in warfare on the Western Front. In terms of being
sheltered in a staff post, as will be seen below, R. Campbell, CO 1/8th Argyll and
Sutherland Highlanders, had a three-month training school stint in 1918 and C.S.
Nairne, CO 2nd Royal Scots Fusiliers, spent the first seven months of 1917 as the
commandant of a school of instruction. Similarly, W.V. Lumsden, CO 9th Scottish
Rifles, spent five weeks as a staff captain from September to November 1915.
The only officer who was truly sheltered for a lengthy period was J. Inglis, CO 5th
Cameron Highlanders, who spent the period from July 1915 to April 1917 training
officer cadets at the Royal Military College.
Two had assumed command in 1916 and four in 1917, three having commanded
two battalions. Robert Campbell was one of these stalwarts. A captain of the 2nd
Cameron Highlanders in August 1914, he commanded for the longest period.
After service on the Western Front, Campbell did not transfer to Salonika with his
battalion in December 1915 but took over as CO of the 1/8th Argyll and Sutherland
Highlanders from July 1916 to July 1918. After a period as commandant of the
School of Musketry from July to October, which must have represented rest,
he finally served as CO of the 2nd Royal Scots Fusiliers from 23 October to 7
November 1918. The divisional history gives us a glimpse of him in the attack on
the Ooteghem-Ingoyghem ridge, the Last Ridge, two days after taking command:
Lieut.-Colonel Campbell was ubiquitous; clad in his jerkin, since the day was
warm though the night had been cold, he was perspiring profusely from the kit he
carried, his rapid pace, the distance he had covered, and the discomfort of one or
two nasty crawls, but he seemed to be absolutely tireless.62
Six of the eight regulars received the DSO as commanding officer. The bar
to Robert Campbells DSO reflects his skill and understanding of battle at Roeux
in April 1917: At a critical moment, when the enemy had pierced our line and
were consolidating a position to our rear, he skilfully and energetically counter-
attacked, forcing the enemy to surrender with heavy loss. With an eye not only
to his own unit, he subsequently rendered valuable assistance to another unit by
bringing enfilade fire to bear upon the enemy. His promptness and energy saved a
very awkward situation.63
The DSO awarded to the commanding officer of the 2nd Royal Scots Fusiliers,
John Edward Utterson-Kelso, reflected leadership, example, and sheer tiger
qualities during the German Spring Offensive when he organised counter-attacks,
leading his men with great skill and daring throughout prolonged fighting. Though
twice buried by shell bursts and badly concussed, he remained at duty, setting a
fine example, until his battalion was relieved.64 The bar to his DSO was awarded
for similar example and initiative between 28 September and 5 October in the final
advance on the Passchendaele Ridge:

62
Ewing, History of the Ninth Division, 379.
63
London Gazette (24 July 1917).
64
London Gazette (23 July 1918).
196 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

Although he was knocked down by a shell and severely shaken, he continued


in command, refusing to leave. The battalion captured several guns and 200
prisoners. The next day, at a critical period when the front line was held up,
he pushed forward his battalion, which was then in support, and relieved the
situation.65

William Vernon Lumsden was awarded the DSO and two bars as commanding
officer of the 9th Scottish Rifles. According to the citation for the original award,
during the German Spring Offensive he handled his battalion with great skill.
His personal example and coolness under heavy fire contributed largely to the
stout defence put up by his battalion.66 The second was awarded for leadership
and courage on the Passchendaele Ridge in late 1918 when, suffering from
malaria with a very high temperature on the eve of the battle, Lumsden,
who had never missed an action since he crossed to France with the division
in 1915, refused to go sick67 and was in the thick of the fighting. Later, he
demonstrated initiative when he found that Dadizeele could not be reached by
troops on his right, he deflected his advance and captured it.68 Lumsden was
also able to show a different sort of moral courage, however, being unafraid to
decline to attack when necessary: on 12 October 1917, during the First Battle of
Passchendaele, of battalion commanders Lieut.-Colonel Lumsden alone, seeing
that the attack of the 26th Brigade had been checked, kept his men back, and the
net result of over-zealous leading was that General Lukin, instead of a brigade,
had one battalion intact.69
The DSO awarded to Patrick Campbell Anderson, CO 7th Seaforth Highlanders,
reflects initiative during the German Spring Offensive when, [for] seven critical
days of a withdrawal he commanded his battalion with the greatest courage and
skill under most trying conditions. Again and again he rallied his men, and, on his
own initiative, held on to vital points, keeping his men steady by his magnificent
example. He also demonstrated personal example: When relieved, noticing that
some of the troops then in the line were slightly unsteady, he remained with them
for several hours, helping to keep the situation in hand. The skill and contribution
of the individual battalion commander in resisting the enemy advance was reflected
in the comment: His able leadership and constant courage were of inestimable
value during these critical days.70 The award of the DSO to John Inglis, CO 5th
Cameron Highlanders, reflects identical abilities and contribution to resistance in
the German Spring Offensive:

65
London Gazette (1 Feb. 1919).
66
London Gazette (26 July 1918).
67
Ewing, History of the Ninth Division, 337.
68
London Gazette (1 Feb. 1919).
69
Ewing, History of the Ninth Division, 244.
70
London Gazette (26 July 1918).
The Hundred Days: Meritocracy in Command? 197

He ably handled his battalion at a very critical moment. Under heavy fire he
made many personal reconnaissances, and was always thoroughly in touch with
the situation, sending back most valuable information. His leadership enabled
difficult rearguard actions to be fought successfully for seven days.71

Lastly, Gerald Brice Ferguson Smyth, CO 6th Scottish Borderers, was awarded
a bar to his DSO as commanding officer at Arras on 3 May 1917. The citation
gives some flavour of the man: Although seriously wounded, he remained at the
telephone in an ill-protected trench for many hours during a critical time to report
the course of events to Brigade Headquarters. His sense of responsibility for the
situation was clear, having realised that there was no officer of experience to
replace him, and this sense of responsibility was assumed in the face of personal
jeopardy as his sense of duty may cost him his remaining arm, the other having
been amputated as the result of a previous wound.72 Wounded five times by this
point, he, happily, retained the limb. Smyths career is interesting. He was born
in 1885, son of the British High Commissioner of the Punjab. Commissioned
in the Royal Engineers in 1905, he was offered a professorship of mathematics
at Chatham in 1914 but opted to stay with his unit, the 17th Field Company RE,
where he was a lieutenant at the outbreak of the war. Losing an arm in October
1914, he returned to active duty with the 90th Field Company but was injured
in an explosion at the bomb factory, Nieppe Station, where despite the injury,
he was able to take over from the CO who had also been wounded. Transferred
to the infantry, he was shot through the neck at Trones Wood on the Somme in
July 1916. On recovery he was sent in November 1916 to the 6th Kings Own
Scottish Borderers as a company commander, taking over as CO the following
month. After his wounding at Arras, he returned to command in October 1917
but was wounded yet again in his remaining arm in the German Spring Offensive
on 23 March 1918, returning to command on 1 June 1918. The one armed Irish
warrior of dauntless courage was promoted to the command of 93 Brigade on
3 October 1918. His end was inglorious. Posted to the Royal Irish Constabulary,
he was murdered by Sinn Fein activists in the smoking room of the Cork and
County Club on 21 July 1920, after making controversial comments.73
At first glance, the commanding officers of 9th Division present an even more
stellar cast than 5th Division, but this may simply be a vagary of the information
available. Again, they had great depth of experience built up since 1914/15 and
clearly shared the command and leadership skills evident in the COs of the
regular division.

71
Ibid.
72
London Gazette (18 July 1917).
73
<http://www.countydown.x10.mx/html/banbridge_g.1.htm>.
198 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

42nd (East Lancashire) Division

42nd Division was a territorial formation of Third Army in 1918. During the
Hundred Days it took part in the retaking of the Somme battlefield, the Battle
of Albert (2123 August) and the Second Battle of Bapaume (31 August to 3
September); the breaking of the Hindenburg Line, the Battle of the Canal du Nord
(2729 September); and finally the Pursuit to the Selle (912 October) and the
Battle of the Selle (1723 October).
Of the twelve infantry COs in 1918, only three were active regulars in August
1914, in contrast to the stiffening the division received with regulars in 1917
on arrival on the Western Front. Firstly, Walter Forbes Panton was a regular
captain of the Leicestershire Regiment in August 1914, serving as adjutant to
the 1/4th Dorsetshire. He arrived on the Western Front in July 1917 via India
and Mesopotamia and was promoted to major, second-in-command, of the 1/5th
Manchester in January 1918, assuming command in May. Secondly, Geoffrey
Sydney Brewis was a lieutenant of the 1st Welsh in August 1914 and had arrived
in France in January 1915. He spent a period with the 3rd Battalion in the UK
during 1916 before being posted as major, second-in-command, to the 13th Welsh
in July 1916. He was transferred to command the 1/7th Lancashire Fusiliers in
September 1917. He won a bar to his DSO during the German Spring Offensive
when commanding a battalion during a withdrawal he inspired great confidence
by his skilfulness and contempt for personal danger.74 Finally, Edward Vincent
Manger, promoted to captain in the 2nd Durham Light Infantry on the day the
war broke out and to major in August 1916, commanded the 11th Essex during
November and December 1916 and the 2/9th Liverpool from August 1917 to April
1918, whence he was transferred to command the 1/7th Manchester.
Territorials comprised 42 per cent of COs. Gilbert Stacey Castle, a lead-shot
maker, was a lieutenant of the 4th Gloucestershire in August 1914 and arrived on
the Western Front in March 1915. He was awarded a DSO at the Somme for taking
command of another company as well as his own and resisting a bombing attack
on a captured trench.75 In February 1918, he was transferred to the 1/5th Lancashire
Fusiliers as second-in-command, assuming command in April 1918. Another
external appointment, Francis Eric Tetley, a tanner and scion of the Tetley brewing
family, was a captain of the 4th Lincolnshire in August 1914. Landing in France
in March 1915 he was promoted to major in June. He commanded his battalion
between November and December 1916 and in April 1917 went to command the
1/4th Leicestershire until the end of July. There followed a period as second-in-
command of the 1/5th Manchester until on 26 May 1918 he assumed command
of the 1/8th Manchester. His successor, when he left command on 1 September
1918 was Arthur Hodge. Hodge had been a territorial company sergeant-major
in the Liverpool Regiment, commissioned in the 7th Manchester in December

74
London Gazette (26 July 1918).
75
London Gazette (22 Sept. 1916).
The Hundred Days: Meritocracy in Command? 199

1915. He had won an MC as a platoon commander, showing the most skilful


and determined leadership against an enemy working party,76 and the DSO as a
company commander, showing gallantry and example holding the line for some
12 hours when all companies about his withdrew.77 He was promoted to major,
second-in-command, of one of the Lancashire Fusilier battalions in the division
in July 1918, assuming command of the 1/8th Manchester on 1 September 1918.
Lastly, another outsider, James Strachan MacLeod had served in the Imperial
Yeomanry during the Boer War. He was commissioned in the 10th Black Watch as
a captain in October 1914 and promoted to major in July 1915 in the 8th Durham
Light Infantry. He took command of the 1/8th Lancashire Fusiliers on 10 April
1918.
Thomas Blatherwick is an example of steady progression within a single
unit. A cotton worker, he was a lieutenant of the 6th Manchester in August 1914.
Promoted to company commander just prior to his arrival on the Western Front
in May 1915, he was appointed adjutant in mid-1916 and major, second-in-
command, in October 1917, taking command on 26 May 1918. He won a DSO
crossing the Selle in October 1918, displaying the greatest courage and skill when
personally supervising the crossing in face of a position strongly held by the
enemy, leading his battalion on after personal reconnaissance, amidst heavy
shell bursts and machine-gun fire.78
Of those who had had previous military experience, Oliver Cecil Clare,
a foreign banker, had served as a sergeant in the Border Horse and the South
African Light Horse during the Boer War. He attested in the 10th Royal Fusiliers
in August 1914 and was commissioned in the 8th East Surrey in March 1915. The
battalion landed in France in May, Clare, now a captain, serving as adjutant. He
was appointed major in June 1916 and, wounded at Trones Wood the following
month, returned as second-in-command in September. From November 1916 to
April 1917 he was invalided to England suffering from influenza, returning to
command the 7th West Kent on 24 May 1917 until the armistice.79 He won a bar to
his DSO as commanding officer when, during an enemy attack he promptly
counter-attacked with his battalion and caused a position to be held. Throughout
he showed fine leadership and coolness under heavy machine-gun and shell fire.80
Finally, there were three COs who had been citizens in August 1914, none
commissioned into the TF. Thomas Joseph Kelly, a journalist, was commissioned
in the 18th Manchester and rose to the rank of major in November 1916, serving
with one of the regular units of his regiment before commanding the 1/7th
Lancashire Fusiliers from 26 October 1918 to the armistice. Secondly, William
Marshall Tickler, a commercial traveller in fruit preserves, attested in the 10th

76
London Gazette (14 Sept. 1917).
77
London Gazette (26 July 1918).
78
London Gazette (11 Jan. 1919).
79
Oliver Cecil Clare, Personal Service Record (TNA WO 339/37181).
80
London Gazette (16 Sept. 1918).
200 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

Royal Fusiliers in August 1914 and was commissioned in October in the Cheshire
Regiment, serving for some period with the Garrison Guard Battalion to whom
he was adjutant in 1916, later commanding the 1/5th Manchester from 27 October
1918 to the armistice. Lastly, William Ralph Peel, a land agent, was commissioned
in the 9th East Yorkshire in September 1914 and promoted to major in October
1916. He commanded the 1/10th Manchester from September 1917 to the armistice.
Peel won two bars to his DSO in quick succession in 1918 as CO, the citations
for which demonstrate his qualities. The first outlines his ability and initiative
demonstrated in the Hundred Days:

Throughout two days very hard fighting he displayed great courage and marked
ability in dealing with situations of considerable difficulty. His cheerful
disregard of all considerations of personal safety was an example to his men,
which inspired them with confidence and resolution.81

In operations in the Forest of Mormal, between 6 and 8 November 1918, he led


his battalion for four days in continuous rain without shelter, and captured the
town of Hautmont. To accomplish, this he had to supervise the construction of a
hasty bridge over the Sambre river and cross it while the enemy troops were still
in the town.82
The COs of the 42nd Division were broadly similar to those of most first-line TF
units during the Hundred Days. They were youthful, having an average age nearly
three years below the BEF average on 29 September 1918. They were slightly
less experienced in command than their counterparts in 5th and 9th Divisions, their
promotions to CO having been made later. They had not, however, been sheltered
by any staff positions, having earned their considerable experience from the early
months of 1915 by constant exposure to warfare. Where we are allowed glimpses
of their qualities, there is no reason to believe their abilities to be less marked or
diverse than their regular or new army division counterparts.

Initiative and Devolved Command in the Hundred Days

Did the Hundred Days present a canvas on which these men were free to paint
with their talents? The campaign was not a period of manoeuvre warfare, rather
a form of mobile attrition.83 It was a period of set-piece attacks, semi-open
warfare, and pursuit: the latter two allowing increasing degrees of improvisation.
To the competent CO, the first should have been meat and drink; to the skilled
CO, the latter were opportunities to show initiative. Having four years experience

81
Ibid.
82
London Gazette (10 Dec. 1919).
83
Boff, Winning and Losing on the Western Front, loc. 1178.
The Hundred Days: Meritocracy in Command? 201

of the tactics of positional warfare, the Hundred Days tested both what COs had
learnt and their ability to go beyond it.
Organisationally, however, how far was a COs initiative allowed to show
itself? Jonathan Boff notes that, in Third Army during this period, decentralisation
was not consistently achieved. It is not possible to establish a coherent pattern
of either top-down devolution, or bottom-up assumption, of responsibility.84
The reasons for this were manifold, including a combination of circumstance,
subordinates skill and published guidance.85 Peter Simkins, whilst accepting that
decentralisation and devolution of command to brigade and battalion level was not
uniform, argues that because of the higher operational tempo of the Hundred Days,
with some battalions at the sharp end every three days or so and with little time
to issue detailed written orders, decentralisation inevitably happened, formally
recognised or not. He further suggests that whilst examples of sticky or inefficient
battalion COs can be found, average standards of leadership and initiative at this
level were generally at their highest. This, he suggests, was a necessity given the
great variety of tactical challenges that many battalions faced during this period
and the lack of time that COs had to refer to higher authorities when conducting
attacks and responding to counter-attacks.86 Simon Robbins agrees that in 1918,
the emphasis was on flexibility and elasticity and much depended on the initiative
of junior officers and battalion commanders.87
Whilst the November 1918 edition of The Training and Employment of
Divisions,88 which presumably reflected thinking current during the Hundred
Days, stated that nothing should be done to hamper the initiative and freedom of
manoeuvre of subordinate commanders, hampering occasionally occurred. The
degree of mutual trust based on perceived skill, both in brigadierCO relationships
and COCO relationships, was probably the key issue. A brigadier had firstly to
be confident in himself and his relationship with his divisional commander and
secondly had to be able to trust the skill of his battalion commanders to allow the
decision threshold to sink down the chain of command.89
Peer attitudes to using initiative differed, Lieutenant-Colonel C.A. Howard,
CO 1st Kings Royal Rifle Corps, for example, lost the opportunity for exploitation
at one point during the campaign as the neighbouring battalions CO would not
move beyond the objective without orders. Howard viewed this as the habit of
acquiring limited objectives having been laid down in a period when exploitation
was not encouraged.90 Conversely, a good example of two COs using their

84
Ibid., loc. 6773.
85
Ibid., loc. 6211.
86
Peter Simkins, personal communication.
87
Robbins, British Generalship on the Western Front, 113.
88
General Staff, The Training and Employment of Divisions, SS135 (Nov. 1918).
89
Boff, Winning and Losing on the Western Front, loc. 6476.
90
Charles Howard, letter (23 June 1938), correspondence with Captain C. Falls,
Official Historian (TNA, CAB 45/185).
202 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

initiative and jointly furthering progress is given by 9th Division on 29 September


1918 in front of the Flanders I Stellung position at Ypres, when, finding that the
leading troops had been brought to a standstill, Lieut.-Colonel Smyth, who had
been reconnoitring well ahead of the brigade, consulted with Lieut-Colonel Sir
J.B.S. Campbell, and they sent forward two companies each of the K.O.S.B and
the 11th Royal Scots. The result was that the additional momentum thus thrown
into the onset carried the whole line forward.91 Similarly, Brigadier-General H.R.
Cumming gave an example of his approval of a CO in whom he had confidence
using his initiative in the advance across the old Somme battlefield on 24 August
1918. Approaching Battery Valley, the 6th Leicestershire, the leading battalion,
found that the Southern end, and the trench line south of it, was still held by the
enemy in some force. Lieutenant-Colonel Martyn at once realised the situation,
and without hesitation or waste of time attacked at once and drove them out.92
Cumming gave further indication that in his brigade the spirit of initiative
was delegated downwards from COs, describing how, in the 7th Leicestershire,
commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel G.H. Sawyer, two companies under Captains
Horne and Vanner in the final advance across the old Somme battlefield deviated
to the left due to enfilade fire and found themselves on the outskirts of Courcelette
which they proceeded to occupy and made a considerable number of prisoners,
including a battalion commander, then handing their prize over to the 17th
Division, in whose area it was.93 Such confident relationships between CO and
junior officers were not universal. The importance of the skill of the CO is evident
in the views of 115 Brigade expressed 11 days before the armistice that in these
days of untrained soldiers, a commanding officers presence in the immediate
attack is necessary.94
In his study of the East Kent Regiment,95 Mark Connelly refers frequently
to two highly regarded new army COs. The first is Arthur Sidney Smeltzer, a
sergeant of the 12th Lancers in August 1914, who had served with the 6th Buffs
since his commission, becoming commanding officer in 1917. His rise from
commission to battalion command took 20 months. Smeltzer demonstrated verve
and initiative to a high degree in the Hundred Days. On 23 October, the 6th Buffs
took Cubray and realising that only a thin screen was in front of him, Smeltzer
organised a rapid night movement, and smashed through to the village of Haute
Rive. Keeping momentum, he sent Lewis gun teams forward early next morning,
capturing Buridon and refusing to rest on his laurels, he dashed on and snatched
Bruille taking the enemy by surprise, the majority of whom were captured

91
Ewing, History of the Ninth Division, 345.
92
Hanway R. Cumming, A Brigadier in France (London: Jonathan Cape, 1922), 214.
93
Ibid. 211.
94
115 Brigade, War Diary (31 Oct. 1918) (TNA WO 95/2560).
95
Mark Connelly, Steady the Buffs: A Regiment, a Region, and the Great War, Kindle
edn (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006).
The Hundred Days: Meritocracy in Command? 203

while still eating their breakfasts. Major-General A.B. Scott described his actions
as a masterly stroke.96
Connellys second exceptional CO is Algernon Lee Ransome, 7th Buffs, a pre-
war regular officer of the Dorsetshire Regiment, who commanded from February
1916 until September 1918 when he was promoted to the command of 170
Brigade. Ransome had acquitted himself well in the German Spring Offensive
on 23 March 1918 at Frires Wood, Brigadier-General E.A. Wood, writing: The
stand made by Lt-Col Ransomes force was of the greatest value not only to the
rest of the brigade, but to the whole line in this vicinity. Wood admired the skill
and foresight of Lt-Col Ransome in establishing a line outside the wood on which
the withdrawing troops could be rallied and reorganized.97 Ransome acquired
more and more autonomy as the retreat went on, and Connelly suggests that
this appears to be a precursor of the devolved command systems of the summer
and autumn advances.98 Other historians support this view, Chris McCarthy
suggesting that the process of devolution in tactical command in the BEF gained
extra momentum during the defensive battles of the spring of 1918,99 breakdown
in command and control in the new mobile defensive warfare necessitating and
vindicating initiative. Whether these opinions on the spring 1918 origins of
devolution are correct as an organisational point is a matter of conjecture. In
the Hundred Days there was obviously no policy or even clear pattern, and, in
practice, as we have seen, it may have simply reflected local opportunity and the
quality of local relationships.
It is certainly the case that Ransome and Wood had a close co-operative
relationship. Wood was at Ransomes battalion headquarters on 22 August when
the 7th Buffs advance across the old Somme battlefield was stalled by the artillery
not having bombarded Tara Hill outside Albert as it had been falsely reported
to have been captured. Ransome broke off his attack, and the pair were able to
reassess the situation on the spot. Wood stayed forward to reconnoitre the ground
with Ransome in order to prepare for the evening assault, supported by tanks.100
Connelly describes this modulation of command style as a hugely experienced
battalion commander and his brigadier unilaterally (deciding) to revise the plans
in the light of the situation.101 Wood and Ransome appear to have had the chance
to exercise their own initiative and authority far more effectively. They improvised

96
Ibid., loc. 3406.
97
Cited in R.S.H. Moody, Historical Records of the Buffs (East Kent Regiment) 3rd
Foot 19141919 (London: Medici Society, 1922), 346.
98
Connelly, Steady the Buffs, loc. 2979.
99
Chris McCarthy, Queen of the Battlefield: The Development of Command,
Organisation and Tactics in the British Infantry Battalion during the Great War, in Gary
Sheffield and Dan Todman (ed.), Command and Control on the Western Front: The British
Armys Experience 191418 (Staplehurst: Spellmount, 2004), 162.
100
Connelly, Steady the Buffs, loc. 3201.
101
Ibid., loc. 3144.
204 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

new plans, countermanded redundant or inoperable orders, and maintained


command and control.102 They were able to do this because their superior officers
trusted them and rarely interfered in local decision-making.103 A similar example
lies in the short flash to bang planning time of an operation where the CO of
the 1st Welsh Guards, R.E. Luxmoore-Ball was ordered to take a position around
Buvignies village on 5 November 1918, suggesting that the fact that the brigade
commander felt able to issue verbal orders, to be confirmed in writing later, is a
sign of the trust that had been built up between commanders at different levels,
not to mention Luxmoore-Balls trust expressed in the willingness to accept a
verbal order without the insurance of having it in writing.104
Tactical diversity remained within the COs direct control, in both set-piece
and semi-open warfare attacks during the Hundred Days. Jonathan Boff concludes
that, at least within Third Army, there was an impressive level of flexibility at the
small unit tactical level with a diverse repertoire of methods.105 This diversity was
partly due to improvised bottom-up innovation:106 that is, the inventiveness of
COs was the main contributory factor. Patrick Brennan, in his study of Canadian
COs, claims that battalion commanders were central107 to the process of tactical
learning that brought battlefield success. He states, quoting the views of Major-
General W.A. Griesbach, 1st Canadian Brigade: Successful battalion commanders
shared a few characteristics. They were interested in new tactical developments,
and in fact were responsible for encouraging innovation from below. The after-
battle reports of commanding officers went upwards, and distilled wisdom returned
downwards in the form of codified learning. Battalion commanders were thus the
first as well as the last link in the process of universalizing learning, for the
implementation of learning was training, the great bulk of which occurred at the
battalion level and under the battalion commanders supervision.108 Peter Simkins
says of the BEFs after-battle reports that this process of rigorous, and sometimes
brutal, self-examination not only fertilised but also nourished and propagated the
shoots of tactical and technical improvement which subsequently enabled the BEF
to win a succession of impressive victories in the second half of 1918.109
This was an ongoing process even in the last month of the war. In October
1918, for instance, the 13th Liverpool were in action twice: on 8 October near

102
Ibid., loc. 3454.
103
Ibid., loc. 3458.
104
McCarthy, Queen of the Battlefield, 191.
105
Boff, Winning and Losing on the Western Front, loc. 4212.
106
Ibid., loc. 4622.
107
Italics in original.
108
Patrick H. Brennan, Good Men for a Hard Job: Infantry Battalion Commanders in
the Canadian Expeditionary Force, Canadian Army Journal 9/1 (2006), 928.
109
Peter Simkins, Building Blocks: Aspects of Command and Control at Brigade
Level in the BEFs Offensive Operations, 19161918, in Sheffield and Todman (eds),
Command and Control on the Western Front, 148.
The Hundred Days: Meritocracy in Command? 205

Cambrai and between 23 and 26 October in the approach to the River Selle.
Three- and four-page after-battle reports were produced.110 The first was
completed by Lieutenant-Colonel William James Holdsworth Howard and lists
six lessons. These include the importance of supporting battalions hugging
the leading battalions in attack to avoid enemy artillery barrages, the issue of
slow communications, the usefulness of advanced anti-tank guns when counter-
attack involved tanks, the importance of advanced machine-gun companies, the
need for more practice in fire-and-movement tactics as thin artillery fire could not
adequately suppress enemy machine guns, and the facility to withdraw without
fear of censure to prevent needless sacrifice. Interestingly, the report gives good
examples of de facto devolved command in terms of inter-battalion co-operation
between COs in the absence of brigade orders and the successes and failures
thereof. Howards report describes how an officer of the M.G. Corps reported
himself to the OC 13th Kings in the Red Line asking if his guns could assist. His
offer was gladly accepted. Howard then approached the nearest officer of the
Royal Berks to find out if he had received orders to attack in conjunction.
He said he had not, but on the request of OC Kings he promised to attack
Foreville. The machine-gun barrage occurred, but the Berks did not cooperate,
leaving the two attacking battalions isolated. This description supports the view that
devolved command operated frequently and unnoticed, simply because situations
demanded. The second report was made by Major R.P. Heywood, the acting CO,
Howard, having been wounded by a machine-gun bullet, which lists three topics
for future consideration. The BEF was clearly still keen to process learning points
put forward by its commanding officers even on the brink of victory.
***
On 29 September 1918, the pivotal moment of the Hundred Days, the infantry
COs of the British army comprised 40 per cent professional soldiers, 31 per cent
territorials, 4 per cent Special Reserve officers, 22 per cent citizens of August
1914, and 3 per cent empire soldiers. In 5th, 9th, and 42nd Divisions, professional
soldiers made a higher contribution at 54 per cent and pre-war amateur soldiers
and citizens a lower contribution at 25 and 15 per cent respectively. Given the
exploration in this chapter of the non-regular COs and their very evident skills,
it seems unlikely that the higher proportion of regulars was a significant factor in
divisional success. What these divisions possessed was a store of talented officers
of varied backgrounds with a depth of war experience built up over a period of
three or four years.
A number of the COs of these three divisions had lengthy or multiple commands.
Their talents had been recognised at the mid-point of the war, but, in terms of
further promotion, only one, G.B.F. Smyth, was promoted to brigade command
during this period. In fact, only 3 per cent of the whole Hundred Days CO cohort,
19 individuals, were promoted. Of the 98 British brigade commanders in post on
the Western Front at the armistice, there had been a turnover of 40 individuals

110
13th Battalion Kings Liverpool Regiment, War Diary (TNA WO 95/1429).
206 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

during the Hundred Days.111 Active infantry COs during this period therefore only
provided half of this. This raises the question as to how many of them would be
ranked amongst Patrick Brennans men who obviously performed well, clearly
possessing the requirements for the job, and yet were never promoted:112 that is,
good fighting battalion commanders rather than men suitable for commanding
larger formations. Whilst the question is impossible to answer, it is certain that
both types are represented in the cohort. Some simply never got the chance for
promotion due to their position on the list; others, who had served for a lengthy
period as CO, had probably been considered and discounted.
Whether the COs of the Hundred Days were rat-catchers is a question to
which the available evidence does not allow a clear answer. Many were clearly
self-assured, as was Smeltzer in his triumph of 23 October, but they probably
worked within the limits of the confidence they enjoyed of their commanding
brigadiers. Undoubtedly they possessed personal courage, their DSO citations
bearing testimony to this. No doubt many were tigers and aggressive fighters,
but few demonstrated the flamboyant characteristics of a Maxwell or a Crozier.
Undoubtedly, as their DSO citations again indicate, they had command and
leadership skills in terms of planning, care in execution of plans, and the facility
to inspire others with their example. Many were also evidently quick, naturalistic
thinkers, who had the initiative and knew what to do when operations went awry.
Some, given the evidence of replacement during this period, were found wanting.
The reduced frequency of removal, however, indicates that the BEF had achieved
a more settled level of ability.
Do they represent a meritocracy? Undoubtedly the promotion of a jam salesman,
William Tickler, from private in 1914 to lieutenant-colonel in 1918, was based on
merit. The community of COs do not, however, represent a meritocracy in terms
of a modern definition as a group selected competitively according to merit.113
Selection was not made against explicitly stated and mutually agreed criteria, even
if there was a commonly held, if unwritten (outside Senior Officers School, at
least), view of what characteristics constituted the best sort of commanding officer.
Selection was also always at the mercy of personal recommendation, which could
be influenced by a variety of factors. Not least of all, the bias towards the regular
soldier and away from the pre-war amateur meant that promotion to CO was
always a weighted process, but one in in which the unstructured assessment of
merit always and increasingly played a part, and, in a temporary sea-change for
the British army, seniority did not.

111
Dr John Bourne, personal communication.
112
Brennan, Good Men for a Hard Job, 28.
113
Oxford English Reference Dictionary.
Conclusion

In facing the challenges of the First World War, the British army needed to evolve
in every respect. In terms of personnel, at one end of the scale millions of citizens
had to evolve into soldiers; at the other, a relatively small group of men had to
evolve into senior officers capable of commanding not just thousands of men, but
many thousands of men in large numbers of formations. That it met the challenge
is evident. This book has concerned itself with one small part of that evolution,
that of the infantry battalion commander.
In the Introduction, four questions were posed respecting this evolution. The
first concerned the nature of the men who stepped up to command and where
they were found. What becomes evident is the extraordinary contribution of
the professional soldier of 1914. It is worth reiterating the figures: the small
body of active regular officers, who numbered just 12,738 at the outbreak of
hostilities, contributed 45 per cent of infantry battalion commands in the field,
with professional soldiers overall providing 60 per cent. It is unsurprising that the
British army should have sought COs from this stock both out of the pressure of
institutional business-as-usual and the simple drive of necessity, there being no
other place to look for candidates, particularly during the first two years of the war.
In doing so, the army fished deep in the pool of retired professionals and young
regular officers. That clearly competent COs continued to be found despite both
the attrition of officers and the armys clear willingness to remove the less than
capable, is an indication that the quality of the pre-war regular was higher than
critics have assumed. Whatever the limitations of the professional development of
the pre-war officer, the learning environment of the battlefield produced graduates
who at the level of battalion command met the only criteria that mattered in 1918:
beating the enemy.
Business-as-usual is reflected in the grip of professional soldiers on the
commands of over 90 per cent of regular units. Necessity is indicated by their
contribution to the command of 66 per cent of new army units and 47 per cent
of second-line territorial units. In these newly created battalions they were an
absolute necessity. Answering this first question concerning origins, however,
segues naturally into the second question concerning the quality of commanding
officers, for the professional soldier also provided 36 per cent of commands of
first-line territorial units, where there was already a stock of potential COs. Here,
the contribution of the professional was a matter of perceived necessity related to
the abilities of the existing amateur officers. This infusion of regular COs in first-
line TF units rose then fell away somewhat as younger officers of quality rose on
the back of experience, men who were citizens in August 1914 forming 20 per cent
208 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

of territorial commands on 29 September 1918. The same principle operated in the


new armies, citizens holding the same number of commands as regulars of August
1914, a third each, on that key date in the Hundred Days. Professional soldiers of
1914 therefore held the structure of the command of the infantry battalion whilst
the surviving talent that the army had garnered in 191415 matured.
Investigating the senior officers of the Territorial Force puts further flesh
on the bones of the story of the struggle faced by pre-war amateur soldiers in
ascending to senior positions: in terms of battalion command, the TF continually
made a contribution less than its size would have predicted if all things had been
equal. As Ian Beckett notes, at the outset, regulars had little confidence in the
auxiliaries.1 This lack of confidence was based on two matters, prejudice and
reality, and the analysis of the viability of the TF commanding officers of August
1914 demonstrates that there were initially good grounds for the suspicion shown
towards the quality of the pre-war senior auxiliary officer. It must, however, be
remembered that this was not the fault of the individual officers: the necessary
thinking through of the probable role of the TF in a European war, and staffing it
accordingly, had been avoided in the face of the traditional vested interests of the
county associations.
The distrust, however, persisted. Lieutenant-Colonel S.C. Peel described a
divisional conference at which battalion command appointments were discussed.
The only territorial present joked that no one in his battalion could be a candidate,
as they were all Territorials. No jest ever fell flatter, for no one in the room regarded
the statement as other than a perfectly natural statement of fact.2 Even as the
war progressed, it became the pattern that territorials might hold an increasing
number of appointments, but rarely on a long-term basis, and rarely those that
mattered. Indeed, Lord Derby was required to defend the War Office in a speech
at the Aldwych Club in January 1918 in which he was compelled to announce
that sixty-one Territorials below the rank of Lieutenant in 1914 had achieved
[the rank] of Lieutenant-Colonel.3 Yet despite his protestations, on 29 September
1918, when 20 per cent of first-line TF units were commanded by citizens of
August 1914, citizens commissioned into the TF were still less likely to achieve
command than those commissioned into service battalions. That this was based on
prejudice is difficult to dispute.
In the absence of data, some have found it easy to ridicule the pre-war officer
corps and have done so unfairly. Quality is, of course, very difficult to assess,
there being no quantified assessment of officers abilities to mine in retrospect for
analysis. There is no doubt that there were some COs in post in August 1914 who

1
Ian Beckett, The Territorial Force, in Ian Beckett and Keith Simpson (eds), A
Nation in Arms: A Social Study of the British Army in the First World War (London: Tom
Donovan, 1985), 129.
2
S. Peel, The Territorial Force, Army Quarterly 1/1 (1920): 2654; cited in Beckett,
The Territorial Force, 142.
3
Beckett, The Territorial Force, 141.
Conclusion 209

lacked ability and no doubt that a number of those appointed during the war also
proved to lack the required skills. Failure to stand the rigours of this war should
not, however, be taken to indicate lack of ability, as even competent officers could
be undermined by their health in the harsh conditions of trench warfare or burn-
out in response to stress. Many served in post for periods well beyond the point
when it was recommended in the Second World War that commanding officers
should be rested.
Given that the British army showed no reluctance during the war to remove
COs, viability based on simple endurance in post and further promotion is as good
an indication of quality as is likely to be achieved. Using these criteria, Tim Travers
conclusion that in 1914 the 3:1 ratio of incompetent (commanding) officers in
the 10th Infantry Brigade was probably not unique is shown to be incorrect.4 In
fact, in terms of the regular COs of August 1914, the ratio is reversed. Analysis
of the experience of these officers shows a rich texture of staff and active service
that other armies, held up by critics as supposedly more professional, might
have envied. Those who took the service battalions to war, amongst them many
professional dug-outs unearthed to command the battalions of the new armies, had
an even higher viability rate.
The matter of quality can be thought of as presenting different issues in the
period 191416 compared to 191718. In the years up to and including the Somme
offensive, the army was in the most part relying on the quality of the senior
officers it already had. In the latter period it was relying on the quality of the senior
officers it could create. The army demonstrated responsibility for the process of
their creation by establishing the Senior Officers School, itself an example of the
fact that whatever the pre-war inattention to professional development, a growing
commitment to this had evolved. The 38 per cent rate of removal of COs during
the war, whether based on incompetence, rest and recuperation, or permanent
exhaustion, shows that the army had become an organisation committed to quality
control. This figure, however, reflects a disproportionate turnover earlier in the
war. In the group who earned command in the last two years of the war by learning
on the job, demonstrating their qualities, and finally being trained to lead and
command, the replacement rate was lower: during the Hundred Days it was 17
per cent. Whilst removal of COs continued up until the armistice, the number
requiring replacement dropped even though the tempo of the war increased.
During the first two years of the war, it has been observed that the British
army suffered a process of deskilling. Ian Beckett notes that this was partly due
to attrition and the rapid expansion of the army, which had the effect of diluting
experience at all levels, and partly related to the slow pace of the learning process
due to simple inexperience. One of the most telling statistics is that by 1918,
there were an estimated 12,000 officers in staff appointments, or almost as many

4
Tim Travers, The Killing Ground: The British Army, the Western Front, and the
Emergence of Modern Warfare 19001918 (Barnsley: Pen & Sword, 2003), 14.
210 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

as in the entire Regular officer corps four years previously.5 Officers with the
psc qualification or a perceived ability for staff work were combed out of regular
battalions, a process which may be causally related to the observation that towards
the end of the war there were many battalion commanders who had been in
post for an extended period but who were never likely to be promoted further.
The advancement of particular officers may have removed many who had the
organisational and management abilities for staff work, and/or commanding larger
formations, from potential unit command. The process was, however, less likely
to remove men who were able and suitable for command solely at the battalion
level, thus potentially allowing them to develop into the CO role. Both processes
again reflect positively on the quality of the junior regular officers of August
1914 and raise the question as to whether deskilling is an entirely appropriate
description in this respect. Whilst the processes noted by Beckett certainly created
developmental lag, because it took time for experience and practice to demonstrate
skill, it did allow many officers to rise to a level of appropriate ability.
The third question concerned exactly what qualities were perceived as making
an effective CO. This would have been a question that the pre-war army would
have thought it did not have to answer, given the belief that leadership ability
was assured by social status and education and that the ability to command
was generated simply by experience. The process of skilling, coupled with the
emphasis on quality and merit, gave rise to what was a new development for the
British army, the recognition that the practice of battalion command needed to be
actively fostered. The massive influx of citizens lacking a military background
and the expanding emphasis on a range of specific training activities in response
to an increasingly technical war legitimised professional development, and the
army was encouraged to codify and communicate what it meant by command and
leadership. It was thereby becoming increasingly professional and modern. Senior
Officers School was one of the developments that long outlasted the war, and the
principles it taught in terms of leadership have essentially stood the test of time.
The fourth question posed concerned whether the battalion commanders of the
final stages of the war had, in a system dominated largely by seniority in 1914, risen
to battalion command by the virtue of the development of a meritocracy. Measured
against a strict definition in terms of competitive selection against set criteria,
there was no true meritocracy. In an organisation where personal recommendation
had ruled, formalised assessment of such characteristics was a project for the
distant future. Yet perception of necessary abilities clearly sharpened, and the
concept of merit became a growing consideration in selection, dominating in
the last two years of the war when most of the arguments against selection by
merit disappeared.6 The process of promotion to CO was, however, weighted and

5
Ian F. W. Beckett, The Great War 19141918 (Harlow: Pearson Longman, 2007),
219.
6
David French, Military Identities: The Regimental System, the British Army, and the
British People c.18702000 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 275.
Conclusion 211

filtered weighted, as we have seen, in favour of the regular soldier; and filtered,
to some degree, to exclude the territorial. Whilst this filtering allowed the able
citizen to rise, particularly in the last year or two of the war, the army should
not be seen as opening itself to all-comers in terms of senior command. That the
social status of the officer group as whole was very different in 1918 to 1914 is
undeniable, and even at the level of battalion command men were promoted who
had no professional standing in civilian life, yet by and large what happened was
an upward movement into command of a much wider range of professionals and
their associated middle-class status. In the aftermath of the war, however, much
of the previous social class status quo of the army returned. Whilst after 1918
the overrepresentation of the social elite in the ranks of the senior officer corps
was significantly reduced,7 the post-war army remained dominated by the upper
middle class, with an increase in the range and number of major boarding schools
having special admission procedures for the sons of officers, and thus held off
the service middle class,8 many of whose members had served it so well during
the war.
If the army showed no long-lasting major alteration in its social composition,
pragmatism became the wartime watchword: no mean change. Yet it is important
not to confuse trends in appointment that arose out of necessity and see them as
evidence of merit-based promotion. That the average age of COs had dropped
from 48 in 1914 to 35 years on the Western Front in 1918 is not evidence of a
meritocracy of youth, it is a reflection of the winnowing of the officer group of
older members through retirement, death, the exhaustion of warfare, or promotion.
Indeed, the citizen COs themselves bucked the trend of youth, tending to be a
somewhat older group than the average. Yet it is, of course, the group of citizen
COs, those survivors from a group whittled down by death on the Somme and
subsequent actions, that provide the real indicants of merit-based promotion.
The fact that a third of service battalions were commanded by citizens on 29
September 1918 is undoubtedly a reflection of the attitude change being forced
upon the army not only by attrition but also from sheer evidence of suitability. It
became clear that the citizens brought an appetite and aptitude both for fighting
and the organisation of men for war. The progressive rise in the number of citizen
CO appointments during the Hundred Days invites speculation as to how the army
would have looked at battalion command level if the war had persisted into 1919.
The hypothesis that the rise of the citizen CO would have continued unabated is
probably correct, if untestable.
How many citizens would eventually have risen beyond the level of battalion
command is a different matter. The weighting and filtering process became even
more apparent in the issue of promotion to brigade command, a stage which
contained a significant bottleneck. The waiting list represented a preponderance

7
Ibid. 169.
8
Ross McKibbin, Classes and Cultures: England 19181951 (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 1998), 35.
212 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

of potential supply over demand. Whilst 10 per cent of COs were promoted to
brigadier-general, the vast bulk of them were professional soldiers. Only 3.5 per
cent were territorials and less than 1 per cent citizens. Simple ingrained prejudice
in favour of the professional and against the amateur may have played a sizeable
part in this pattern of promotion. The leap from commanding men to commanding
a formation may, however, have been one in which the more rounded skills of the
professional soldier rather than simply being a professional man of war really
counted. Brigadier-General W.H.E. Segrave remarked: Commanding a battalion
is four times more difficult and ten times more interesting than commanding a
brigade.9 Whatever the comparative difficulties, the distinction between a good
fighting battalion commander and an officer suitable for commanding larger
formations may have been based on different skills. The brigadier not only had to
have the authority to command commanders, he also had to have a broader base
of organisational skills, with a more developed facility for planning, as well as
the ability to manage both COs and a range of staff officers. He also had to have a
wider tactical grasp of integrating combined arms.10 George Gaters organisational
abilities as a senior educational administrator must, however, have been truly
outstanding to have trumped the absence of all-round military experience.
What beast had the infantry COs of 1918 evolved into? They were largely
young, fit, and mentally agile. They possessed both training in and accumulated
experience of the conditions of combined-arms set-piece warfare and were ready
and able to learn swiftly the new variant of mobile attrition, in which so many
demonstrated their tactical competence. Garth Prattens account of the development
of infantry battalion command in the expanding Australian army during the
Second World War indicates that it went through a similar process of evolution.
His observations on the Australian COs of 1945 are equally pertinent to the BEF
COs of 1918, namely that they possessed a common doctrinal understanding and
were fit, determined and earnest in their application to their commands.11 The
Australians began by using older officers with experience of the First World War
as COs and, as a result of learning on the battlefield, developed a body of new
COs with up-to-date military experience, men with personal experience of this
new war, proven in battle, younger, fitter and more thoroughly trained than any
before them.12 There thus seems to be an inevitability to the evolutionary process
that as each war in the twentieth century threw up a different series of challenges
to the last, the Queen of the Battlefield13 would have to go through a learning

9
Rowland Feilding, War Letters to a Wife: France and Flanders, 19151919
(London: Medici Society, 1929), 187.
10
These points were developed in discussion with Trevor Harvey in connection with
his study of brigade command at the Battle of Arras.
11
Garth Pratten, Australian Battalion Commanders in the Second World War
(Melbourne, Vic.: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 1289.
12
Ibid. 235
13
A soubriquet for the infantry attributed to Joseph Stalin.
Conclusion 213

process. This would involve tactical development coupled with a revolution in


equipment and weaponry, and a new generation of COs would evolve to act upon
that learning and develop common doctrinal understanding.
The evolution of the infantry CO went hand-in-hand with the evolution of the
command system of the BEF. At the fighting end of the organisation, at battalion,
brigade and, to a great extent, at divisional level a group of men had emerged who
understood the relationship between leadership and command.14 The evolution
of the army was therefore largely bottom-up and towards more flexible models of
command. It was the commanders at the sharp end in the victorious Hundred Days,
the BEFs evolved battalion and brigade commanders, working so often hand-in-
hand with mutual trust, who frequently, as Peter Simkins observes, required, and
got, effective local control of the battle.15 In the post-war era, the rat-catcher ethos
dissipated as the army reverted to its customary role as policeman of the empire,
and the commanders of the BEF beaten by the Wehrmacht in 1940 were different
men to those of the Hundred Days.

14
John M. Bourne, British Generals in the First World War, in Gary D. Sheffield
(ed.), Leadership and Command: The Anglo-American Military Experience Since 1861
(London: Brassey, 2002).
15
Peter Simkins, Building Blocks: Aspects of Command and Control at Brigade
level in the BEFs Offensive Operations, 19161918, in Gary Sheffield and Dan Todman
(eds), Command and Control on the Western Front: The British Armys Experience 1914
18 (Staplehurst: Spellmount, 2004), 165.
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General Index

adjutant German Spring Offensives (1918) 50,


promotion to command of TF 54, 56, 65, 66, 69, 74, 77, 78, 88,
battalions 87 105, 110, 158, 166, 168, 169, 173,
role 1617 177, 178 182, 186, 187, 188, 195,
aeroplane and balloon school 55 196, 197, 198, 203
age of COs 6, 12, 19, 20, 23, 24, 31, 37, Hundred Days campaign 7, 8, 53, 54,
38, 41, 627, 68, 98, 115, 15960, 56, 63, 68, 76, 80, 110, 158, 167,
161, 189, 192, 200, 211 173, 175, 181, 182, 183206, 208,
Army Council 21 209, 211, 213
army reforms (1907) 4, 14, 19 Italy 67, 71, 90, 138, 171
attrition of COs in 1914 campaign 479 Krithia 88
Langemarck 39
Boodles Club 64 Le Cateau 3, 21, 47, 58, 109, 176
British Army campaigns/battles Loos 41, 51, 56, 59, 63, 69, 80, 110,
Aisne 17, 47, 54, 70, 72, 78, 109 142, 152, 159, 178
Ancre 82 Marne 14, 47, 72
Antwerp 189 Mesopotamia 22, 118, 191, 198
Arakan 60 Messines 23, 50, 149, 157, 173
Arras 50, 52, 55, 56, 63, 64, 65, 83, Mons 3, 17, 18, 21, 47, 48, 220, 224
110, 113, 176, 178, 197 Neuve Chapelle 9, 47, 56, 110, 123,
Ashanti 61 175, 177, 221
Bechuanaland 45 Nigeria 13
Bullecourt 178 Nile 13, 43, 57
Burma 13, 44 North West Frontier 13, 17, 43, 54, 72
Cambrai 50, 56, 61, 65, 69, 78, 79, 84, Palestine 13, 133
185, 186, 205 Pondoland 45
Cenal du Nord 189 Rhodesia 43
China 13, 14, 45 River Sambre 112
Chitral 13, 43 Russia 45, 61, 171, 172, 187, 189
Courtrai 192 Salonika 59, 110, 165, 195
Crimea 126 Second Boer War 4, 5, 14, 15, 18, 25,
Dongola 13 39, 40, 43, 44, 45, 60, 64, 73, 112,
East Africa 445, 72 116, 141, 194, 199, 219, 220, 227
Egypt 27 Second Ypres 17
Ephy 189 Selle, River 189, 192, 198, 199, 205
Festubert 178 Sierra Leone 43
Flers-Courcellete 110 Sinai 87, 90
Gallipoli 20, 41, 58, 60, 70, 78, 8790, Somaliland 13, 17, 60
112, 116, 132, 138, 144, 157, 186, Somme 21, 32, 41, 50, 51, 56, 63, 64,
189, 191, 193 71, 78, 82, 90, 91, 110, 111, 118,
230 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

120, 131, 132, 145, 148, 151, 173, depot majors 2931, 41, 57, 723
175, 17, 178, 179, 183, 189, 190, devolved command 200206
197, 198, 202, 203, 209, 211 discrimination against TF officers 52, 68,
Sudan 13, 44, 58 867, 206, 208
Tirah 13, 17, 43 Distinguished Service Order awards to
Uganda 73 COs 1534
Vimy Ridge 21, 66, 140, 178, 179 dug-out officers 2746
West Africa 54 duties of CO 1234
Western Front 1, 6, 11, 17, 21, 27, 31, daily routine 124
32, 33, 35, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 45,
47, 50, 54, 55, 58, 59, 62, 63, 65, Egyptian Army 44
67, 70, 71, 72, 7, 80, 82, 87, 88, 90, Elgin Commission 14, 16
100, 102, 106, 111, 117, 124, 157, entry route of COs to army 12
159, 166, 174, 176, 178, 185, 186,
191, 194, 195, 198, 199, 205, 211 fatalities amongst COs 6, 11, 14, 17, 22,
Ypres 24, 68, 137, 165 24, 32, 412, 43, 44, 48, 51, 55, 57,
First Battle 47, 49, 51 58, 60, 63, 64, 66, 70, 71, 73, 75,
Second Battle 11, 17, 70, 73, 119 80, 81, 88, 89, 93, 96, 102, 10811,
Third Battle 50, 56, 63, 64, 78, 87, 112, 113, 116, 121, 135, 136, 138,
88, 90, 105, 110, 135, 152, 153, 13940, 145, 159, 165, 17, 180,
159, 165, 173, 178, 188 188
Fifth Battle 192, 202 Field Service Regulations 1909 39, 226
Zhob 72 fitness (physical) of COs 23, 37, 39, 46, 62,
Zulu 38 66, 111, 129, 174
British Legion 164, 165 French Foreign Legion 21, 45
burn-out of COs 57
health of COs 23, 24, 31, 35, 38, 40, 41,
cavalry, contribution to infantry command 114
534
Cavalry Reconaissance 1911 64 Imperial Service Obligation 23, 143
central flying school 55 Indian Army, contribution to command 20,
citizens as COs 1, 7, 52, 53, 61, 68, 69, 70, 30, 53, 76, 85
76, 79, 83, 85, 86, 87, 93, 15782, infantry battalion composition 1
183, 190, 192, 199, 205, 207, 208, Infantry Training 1914 35
210, 211, 212 Inspector of Infantry 19
age of citizen COs 15960 invalidity and wounding 6, 22, 24, 42, 44,
commission routes of citizen COs 172 48, 50, 51, 56, 71, 73, 81, 11115,
occupations of citizen COs 16172 116, 117, 121, 188
OTC experience of citizen COs 16061 psychological breakdown (shellshock)
Combined Training 1902 4, 14, 18, 39, 43, 38, 72, 82, 104, 11314, 115, 118,
226 1513, 178, 179
Committee of Imperial Defence 16 suicide of COs 114, 136
court martial of COs 4, 21, 22, 48, 61, 62,
118, 133 192 Kings Regulations 37, 123, 131, 143, 227
criticism of pre-war officer corps 34,
2089 leadership 12430
expert power 1279, 1334, 1413,
deskilling of British Army 20910 146, 152, 153, 154
General Index 231

fire-eaters 77, 183, 184, 187 58, 71, 75, 81, 93, 97, 1037, 138,
identity leadership 1278, 129, 131, 142, 151, 154, 169, 186, 197, 203,
154 2056
paternalism 126, 128, 132, 133, 134, to CO 5, 7, 18, 31, 42, 61, 70, 74,
150 8081, 82, 84, 93, 958, 151, 159,
rat-catchers 183, 184, 192, 206, 213 1723, 181, 200, 206, 21011
referent power 1279, 1313, 13441, to corps command 22, 106
144, 146, 153, 154 to division command 6, 22, 105
regulators 184 purchase of commission 32, 956, 221
training role of CO 1489
unpopular COs 1436 quality of COs 2, 5, 18, 2024, 28, 423,
Legion of Frontiersmen 44 712, 74, 80, 81, 867, 95, 107,
length of COs command 556 121, 172, 188, 20710
Lexden Gladiator 81
rank
martinet COs 24, 44, 127, 131, 134 Acting 6
merit-based promotion 1, 5, 7, 93, 106, of future COs in 1914 678
144, 169, 183206, 210, 211 Substantive 6
multiple commands 5662 Temporary 6
Musketry Regulations 1909 17 regimental particularism 512
removal of CO from post (sacking) 11521
National Reserve 19 new broom sackings 115, 11920,
new army service battalions 121
COs role in training 356 scapegoating 115
formation of 2832 Reserve of Officers 29
locally-raised battalions 2832, 81 resting of COs 59, 75, 82, 84, 92, 100, 117,
military knowledge of first COs 3940 151, 153, 195, 209
principles of appointment of first COs River Clyde (SS) 116
2830 Royal Military Academy (Woolwich) 12
quality of first COs 3742 Royal Military College (Sandhurst) 10, 11,
use of Indian army officers 30 12, 18, 70, 71, 102, 195, 221
non-commissioned officers as CO 7, 12, Royal United Services Institute 13, 55, 125
61, 678, 823, 84, 92, 185, 187
Notes for Commanding Officers 102, 227 schools attended by COs
Bedford Modern 158
Officer Training Corps (OTC) 76, 78, 80, Brighton Grammar 167
157, 16061, 164, 178, 180, 192 Cheltenham College 11, 92
Chichele College 178
pioneer battalions 41, 63 Christs Hospital 164, 167
prisoners of war, COs as 16, 17, 22, 48, 50, Clifton College 80
60, 71, 72, 73, 81, 108, 116, 136, Eton College 64, 90, 92, 125, 193
171 Fettes College, 66
promotion (see also Senior Officers George Watsons College 165
School) Haileybury 9, 54, 58, 64, 77, 165
merit-based 7, 84, 93, 169, 183, 211, 212 Hurstleigh 70
test of fitness to command 96 Lancing College 11
to brigadier general 6, 9, 10, 19, 22, Malvern 166
24, 25, 37, 42, 478, 5051, 54, Marlborough College 175
232 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

Repton 78 Staff College (Camberley) 15, 16, 218


Rugby 78, 170 Staff College (Quetta) 53, 54, 73
Shrewsbury 78 Statistics of the Military Effort of the
Wellington College 11, 71 British Empire During the Great
Winchester College 27, 59, 81, 157, 178 War 159, 161, 168, 169
School of Musketry 17, 80, 195 stiffening of TF units with regular COs
Seistan Arbitration Commission 17 86, 8890
Senior Officers School 83, 99102
seniority principle 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 12, 29, 30, Tarzan legend 45
46, 49, 60, 73, 80, 956, 103, 144, territorial officers commanding regular
206, 210 units 70
small war experience 1214 The Service Sketching Case and Notebook
social origins of senior officers 10 1891 64
source of infantry COs appointed during Training and Employment of Divisions 201
war 525 turnover of battalion command 4951
sport careers of COs
athletics 1667 Union of Democratic Control 67
boxing 83 universities
cricket 81, 88, 165, 168 178, 194 Cambridge 7980, 91, 165, 166, 167,
football 78, 79, 158, 164, 166, 169, 169, 175, 178
175, 176, 178, 179 Edinburgh 66
hockey 166, 178 Manchester 164
rowing 166, 176 Oxford 76, 78, 81, 83, 92, 157, 164,
rugby 158, 165, 167, 171, 175, 194 165, 166, 167, 193
shooting 176
staff service 1518, 20, 29, 7071, 72, 81, War Book 16
90, 1023, 116, 117, 180, 181, 189, War Office 17, 21, 28, 30, 31, 36, 63, 117,
191, 195, 200, 20910, 212 159, 162, 174, 208
Index of Names and Places

Names Benzie, Lt-Col R. 186, 187, 216


Bernard, Lt-Col H.C. 140
Abercrombie, Lt-Col A.W. 12 Bertie, Lt-Col Hon A.M. 168
Abercromby, Lt-Col Sir G.W. 8081 Bertie, Lt-Col Hon R.H. 131
Adam, Capt A.I. 147, 150 Best-Dunkley, Lt-Col B. 146, 165
Aldworth, Lt-Col A.A. 169 Bicknell, Lt-Col H.P.F. 151
Aldworth, Maj J.N. 91 Bird, Lt-Col W.D. 47
Allason, Lt-Col W. 70 Birch, Lt-Col J.G. 171
Allen, Lt-Col F.E. 177 Bircham, Lt-Col H.F.W. 129, 132, 13940
Allenby, Lt-Gen E.H.H. 11 Bishop, Lt-Col B.F. 169
Alston, Lt-Col J.W. 136 Blackwall, Lt-Col J.E. 130, 144
Ames, Lt-Col W.H. 115 Blackwood, Lt-Col A.E. 154
Anderson, Lt-Col C.A.W. 71 Blatchford, Pte R. 126
Anderson, Lt-Col P.C. 81, 196 Blatherwick, Lt-Col T. 199
Anderson-Morshead, Lt-Col R.H. 71 Bliss, Lt-Col W.M. 910, 12, 24, 25
Andrews, Lt-Col R.J. 1867, 216 Blunden, Lt E.C. 120, 136, 138, 151, 224
Andrews, Pte W.L. 131 Blunt Lt-Col D.H. 71
Angus, A.W. 194 Boger, Lt-Col D.C. 17, 48
Ardagh, Lt-Col G.A. 146 Bols, Lt-Col L.J. 11, 57
Armitage, Lt-Col F.A.W. 745 Bottomley, Lt-Col R.A.A. 4041
Armstrong, Lt-Col C.A. 59 Bowden, Lt-Col E.G. 66
Asquith, Lt-Com A.M. 58, 1334, 154, 223 Boyd, Lt-Col E.R.H. 192, 216
Boyd, Lt. J. 48
Baddeley, Lt-Col W.H. 167, 216 Boyle, Lt-Col E.C.P. 139
Ballard, Lt-Col C.R. 17 Bradford, Lt-Col R.B. 64, 97, 1289
Ballard, Gen J.A. 13 Brett, Lt-Col C.A.H. 109
Barlow, Maj N.W. 72 Brewis, Lt-Col G.S. 198
Barrow, Gen E. 30 Bridcutt, Lt-Col J.H. 678
Barter, Maj-Gen C. St L. 98 Bridges, Maj G.T.M. 21
Bartlett, Lt-Col A.J.N 138 Brighten, Lt-Col G.S. 165
Barwell, Lt-Col N.F. 165 Brown, Lt-Col 104
Battock, Maj G.A. 91 Brown, Lt-Col P.W. 58, 59
Beadle, Lt-Col J.C. 171 Brown, Lt-Col W.E. 187
Beauman, Capt A.B. 57 Bruce, Lt-Col R. 142
Beckwith, Lt-Col H.L. 23 Bruce-Williams, Maj-Gen H. 135
Begbie, Lt-Col A.S. 31 Brunker, Brig-Gen C.M. 143
Behrend, Lt A. 134, 136, 224 Brush, Lt-Col G.H. 140
Beith, Capt I.H. 34, 37 Buckle, Lt-Col A.C. 57
Bell, Lt-Col H.P. 32 Buckley, 2nd Lt F. 36
Benson, Lt-Col C.B. 136 Bullen-Smith, Lt-Col G.M. 107
234 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

Burdett, Lt-Col J.C. 171, 174, 181, 216 Cooper, Lt-Col P.C. 144
Burgess, Pte O. 36 Corry, Lt-Col N.A.L. 21, 63
Burgoyne, Lt G.A. 136, 224 Cotton, Lt-Col A.E. 78
Burke, Lt-Col C.J. 55 Courtenay, Lt-Col H. 70, 191
Burnett, Lt-Col R.P. 170 Craufurd, Brig-Gen G.S.G. 120
Busfield, Maj J.A. 48 Crawshay, Lt-Col C.H.R. 131, 138
Bushell, Lt-Col C. 789 Creagh-Osborne, Lt-Col H.P. 57, 58
Butler, Lt-Col F.N. 70 Crichton, Lt-Col A.G.M.M. 81
Butler, Lt-Col R.H.K. 22 Croft, Lt-Col H.P. 104, 224
Croft, Lt-Col W.D. 104, 105, 137, 147,
Cadogan, Lt-Col H.O.S. 12, 15, 96, 224 149, 150, 224
Cameron, Lt-Col J.J. 169 Cronshaw, Lt-Col A.E. 90
Campbell, Lt-Col D.C. 22 Crook, Lt-Col F.J.F. 170
Campbell, Maj-Gen D.G.M. 157, 158, 174 Crosbie, Lt-Col J.D. 42
Campbell, Lt-Col Sir J.B.S. 194 Cross, Lt-Col E.G.K. 90
Campbell, P.J. 138 Crosthwaite, Lt-Col J.A. 38
Campbell, Lt-Col R. 195 Crozier, Lt-Col F.P. 38, 66, 118, 140, 148,
Campbell, Lt-Col R.W. 81 1858, 206, 224
Cannon, Lt-Col H.C. 170 Cruddas, Lt-Col B. 59
Carr, Lt-C.C. 64 Cruttwell, Capt C.R.M.F 91
Carrington, Lt C. E. 139, 224 Cubitt, Lt-Col T.A. 54
Carter, Brig-Gen C.H.P. 115 Cuddeford, 2nd Lt D.W.J. 1445, 22
Carter, Lt-Col W.H. 823 Cumming, Brig-Gen H. 157, 174, 181,
Carter-Campbell, Lt-Col G.T.C. 9, 25 182, 202, 224
Carton de Wiart, Lt-Col A. 96 Curzon, Lt-Col F.E.P. 43
Castle, Lt-Col G.S. 198
Challenor, Lt-Col E.L 174 Daly, Maj-Gen A.C. 178
Chaplin, Lt-Col J.G. 50 Daly, Lt-Col W. 67
Chapman, Lt-Col E.H. 41 Darlington, Lt-Col H.C. 8990
Chapman, Lt G. 119, 135, 146, 181, 224 Daunt, Lt-Col R.A. C. 47, 119
Chapman, Lt-Col W.G. 189 Davidson, Lt-Col C.S. 17, 57
Charlesworth, Lt-Col C.B. 171 Davies, Lt-Col H.R. 13
Checkland, Maj B.H. 119 Davies-Evans, Lt-Col D.W.C. 54
Chirnside, Lt-Col W.S. 70, 19091 Dawson, Lt-Col L.H. 170
Christie-Miller, Capt E.G. 48 Dawson, Lt-Col W.R.A. 767, 80, 82, 139,
Churcher, Lt-Col D.W. 34, 21 141
Clapham, Pte H.S. 132, 224 de Berdt Hovell, Lt-Col H. 345
Clare, Lt-Col O.C. 199 de Crespigny, Lt-Col C.R.C. 111, 137
Clarke, Lt-Col R.J. 91 de Falbe, Lt-Col V.W. 11, 41
Clayton, Lt-Col C.P. 100101, 102, 108 de Sales la Terrire, Lt-Col H.M.B. 128,
113, 1114, 120, 139, 141, 224 134, 151, 216
Cloete, 2nd Lt S. 34, 224 Deakin, Lt-Col G. 18990
Coleridge, Brig-Gen J.F.S.D. 154 Delme-Readcliffe, Lt-Col H. 114
Collings-Wells, Lt-Col J.S. 111, 133 Denbigh and Desmond, Lt-Col Earl 20
Collison, Lt-Col C.S. 35, 215 Dennys, Col W.A.B. 30, 37, 123, 225
Colt, Lt-Col Sir H.A. 55, 190 Derby, Lord 23, 69, 208
Colwill, R.A. 71 Derviche-Jones, Lt-Col A.D. 83, 84, 178,
Connellan, Capt P.M. 72 180, 216
Index of Names and Places 235

des Voeux, Lt-Col H.J. 119, 146 Fullerton, Lt-Col G. dE. H. 118, 216
Dick, Lt-Col D.H.A. 43 Furber, Lt-Col C.T. 190
Dickson, Lt-Col M.R. 165 Furse, Maj-Gen W.T. 57
Disney-Roebuck, Lt-Col C.D. 34
Dixon, Capt C.S. 47 Gallagher, Lt-Col A.E. 65
Dobbin, Lt-Col H.T. 137 Garnett, Lt-Col W.B. 136
Doig, Lt-Col C.P. 113 Gaskell, Lt-Col F.H. 41
Done, Brig-Gen H.R. 91 Gater, Lt-Col G.H. 1578, 159, 160, 161,
Doughty-Wylie, Lt-Col C.H.M 116 168, 173, 174, 182, 212
Driscoll, Lt-Col D.P. 445 Geddes, Col A.D. 11, 17
Driver, Lt-Col A. 169 Geddes, Lt-Col G.H. 11
Du Maurier, Lt-Col G.L.B. 135 Geddes, Lt-Col G.W. 116, 216
Duncan, Lt-Col H.A. 145 Geddes, Brig-Gen J.G. 11
Dugdale, Capt G. 138, Geddes, Col J.G. 11
Dyer, Lt-Col H.M. 140 Giles, Lt-Col A. 31
Dykes, Lt-Col A. McN 57, 109 Gillespie, Lt-Col J.J. 36
Gilson, Lt-Col W.F. 140
Earle, Lt-Col F.W. 75 Gloster, Lt-Col G.M. 12
Eaton, Lt-Col W.A. 1523 Godfrey-Faussett, Lt-Col O.G. 11
Eccles, Lt-Col R. 33 Godfrey-Faussett, Col W. 11
Edmonds, Brig-Gen J. E. 61, 65 Goodman, Lt-Col G.D. 119
Edwards, Capt G.J. 48 Gossett, Col M. 125, 128, 219
Egee, Lt-Col J.W.L. 149 Gough, Brig-Gen J. 49
Elkington, Lt-Col J.F 4, 21, 118 Grant, Col A.
Ellison, Maj-Gen G.F. 14 Grant-Duff, Lt-Col Sir A. 11, 16, 109, 227
Elstob, Lt-Col W. 164, 216 Graves Capt R. 99
Esher, Viscount R. 14, 18 Green, Lt-Col G. 114
Eyre, Pte G. 132, 225 Greenwell, Capt G. 137, 225
Greer, Lt-Col E.B. 64
Fallows, Lt-Col J.A. 88 Gresham, Lt-Col H.E. 88
Fargus, Lt-Col H. 132 Griesbach, Maj-Gen W.A. 204
Feilding, Lt-Col G.P.T. 97 Griffin, Lt-Col E.M. 118
Feilding, Lt-Col R. 97, 98, 99, 101, 116, Grisewood, Lt-Col H.J.M. 120, 136
184, 185, 225 Grover, Lt-Col A. 61
Festing, Maj A.H. 136 Groves, Lt-Col J.E.G. 64
Findlay, Lt-Col J.M. 138, 225 Guard, Lt-Col F.H.W. 75, 1712
Firth, Lt-Col B.A. 22 Guyon, Lt-Col G.S. 112
Fitzgerald, Lt-Col M.J.F. 117, 215
Fletcher, Maj H.R. 143 Hadow, Lt-Col R.W. 194
Floyd, Lt T.H. 146, 165, 225 Haig, Fld-Mar Sir D. vii, 21, 49, 67, 99,
Foljambe Col G. 144 150, 183, 216, 217, 225
Follett, Lt-Col G.B. 86 Haldane, Brig-Gen J.A.L. 34, 21, 217
Fowler, Lt-Col G.H. 144 Haldane, R.B. 14, 15, 18
Fraser, Lt-Col W. 105, 124, 134, 141, 147, Halford, Baron 73
148, 225 Hamilton, Maj-Gen H. 21
French Fld-Mar Sir J. 21 Hamilton, Maj L.dH. 48
French, Lt-Col W. 193 Hammond, Lt-Col M.F. 89
Frost, Lt T.L. 48 Hammond-Smith, Lt-Col M.F. 89
236 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

Hampden, Lt-Col Viscount 24, 88 Hudson, Lt-Col P.H. 75


Hanbury, Lt-Col L. 52 Hulke, Lt-Col W.B. 367, 131
Handury-Sparrow, Lt-Col A.A. 103, 225 Humphries, Lt-Col C.F.G 70, 1745, 180,
Hancox, Lt-Col H.P. 17, 21 190
Hanley, Lt-Col H.A.O. 149 Hunt, Lt-Col J.P. 67
Harbey, Lt-Col J.R. 1434 Hunter-Weston, Maj-Gen A. 116
Hardyman, Lt-Col J.H.M. 66, 225 Husbands, Pte G.R. 130 134, 144, 225
Harkness, Lt-Col R.B. 169 Husey, Lt-Col R.H. 137
Harris, Lt-Col A.E.F. 83, 84 Hutchinson, Lt-Col G.S. 4950, 150
Harrison, Lt-Col G.H. 138, 151
Hart, 2nd Lt B.H.L. 39, 225 Inglefield, Maj-Gen F.S. 143
Hart, Lt-Col H. 1034 Inglis, Lt-Col J. 195, 196
Hart-Synnot, Lt-Col A.H.S. 89 Innes-Browne, Lt-Col A.R. 80
Haswell, Capt G. 145 Irwin, Lt-Col M.N.S 5960
Hawker, Lt-Col C.J. 40 Isherwood, Lt-Col J. 88
Hayward, Lt-Col A.G. 83, 84, 169
Headlam, Lt-Col Sir C. 69, 224 Jack, Lt-Col J.L. 50, 100, 124, 137, 147,
Heneker, Lt-Col W.C.G. 13 225
Herbert, Gen A.J. 126 Jackson, Lt-Col G.S. 111, 152
Herbert-Stepney, Lt-Col C.C. 178 Jackson, Lt-Col S.C.F. 16, 72
Hermon, Lt-Col E.W. 98, 99, 108, 135, Jeffreys, Lt-Col R.G.B. 97, 109, 149, 225
141, 147, 148, 182, 225 Jenkins, Lt-Col N.F. 42
Hewitt, Lt-Col J. 38 Jeudwine, Maj-Gen H.S. 146
Heys, Lt-Col W.G. 88 Joes, Lt-Col C.G. 171
Heywood, Maj R.P. 205 Johnston, Lt-Col A.C. 99, 107, 147, 148,
Hicks, Lt-Col 72, 73 149, 224
Hilton, Lt-Col M.V. 41 Johnston, Brig-Gen F.E. 104
Hines Maj C.P. 143 Johnston, Capt R.D. 73
Hitchcock, Capt. F.C. 107, 137, 138, 139, Johnstone, Lt-Col B. 52, 191
142, 225 Jourdain, Lt-Col C.E.A 12
Hodge, Lt-Col A. 1989
Hodgkin, Maj H.S. 48 Kay, Lt-Col J.K. 192
Holberton, Lt-Col P.V. 88 Kearsey, Lt-Col A.C.H. 148
Holland, Lt-Col G.L. 34 Keeson, Maj C.A.C. 86
Holland, Col P. 35 Kellett, Brig-Gen R.O. 133
Hope, Lt-Col G.E. 89 Kelly, Capt D.V. 140
Hore, Capt W.M. 49 Kelly, Lt-Col T.J. 170, 199
Hornby, Brig-Gen M.L. 120 Kennedy, Lt-Col A.A. 112
Horne, Capt 202 Kentish, Lt-Col R.J. 99101, 216, 223
Horsfall, Lt-Col A.G. 97, 102, 124, 152, Ker, Lt-Col R.F. 193
216 Keyworth, Lt-Col W. 110
Houghton, Lt-Col N. 134, 177 King, Lt-Col G.E. 154
Howard, Lt-Col C.A. 201 Kipling, R. 125
Howard, Lt-Col W.J.H. 205 Kitchener, Lord H.H. 18, 27, 28, 29, 30,
Howitt, Lt-Col T.C. 168 31, 69, 158, 221
Hoyle, Lt J.B. 142, 225 Knight, Lt-Col G.C. 14
Hudson, Lt-Col C.E. 65
Hudson, Lt-Col N.B. 167 Lambert, Pte A. 134, 225
Index of Names and Places 237

Langlois, Gen H. 39 Manger, Lt-Col E.V. 198


Latham, Pte R. 130 Manley, Lt-Col H.T. 95
Laurie, Lt-Col G.B. 11 Marden, Lt-Col T.O. 1412
Laurie, Lt-Gen J.W. 11 Marshal, Lt-Col J.N. 112
Leggatt, Lt-Col A.F.S. 33 Marshall, Lt-Col W.R. 22, 176
Lennard, Lt-Col E.W. 89 Martin, Lt-Col A.R.S. 17
Levey, Lt-Col J.H. 153 Martin, Lt-Col C.T. 83
Lewin, Lt-Col A.C. 19 Martyn, Lt-Col M.C. 174, 202
Lewis, Lt-Col F.G. 24 Maskell, Lt-Col W.E. 89
Lewis, Lt-Col G.A. 119 Maxse, Lt-Gen Sir, I. 40, 128
Lewis, Lt-Col R.P. 89 Maxwell, Lt- Col F.A. 104, 105, 150, 184,
Lindley, Pte F. 130 187, 206, 226
Lloyd, Lt-Col E.C. 89 Meggy, Lt-Col A.R. 20
Lloyd, Lt-Col H.C.L. 108 Metcalfe, Lt-Col H.C. 66, 187
Lloyd, Lt-Col J.H. 42, 80, 89, 134 Micklem, Lt-Col J. 64
Lloyd, Lt-Col T.O. 111 Middleton, Lt J.L. 37
Lloyd-Baker, Lt-Col A.B. 912 Middleton, Lt-Col W.H. 74
Lloyd-Williams, Lt-Col H. 101, 216 Mignon, Lt-Col J.G. 32, 140
Loring, Lt-Col W.L. 11 Milbourne-Swinnerton-Pilkington, Lt-Col
Loring, Maj C.B. 11 Sir T.E. 34
Loring, Capt W. 11 Miller, Lt-Col G.S. 190
Lowther, Lt-Col H.C. 17 Mills, Lt-Col A.M. 53, 217
Lukin, Maj-Gen Sir H.T. 196 Millward, Lt-Col W.C. 168
Luxmoore-Ball, Lt-Col R.E. 204 Minshull-Ford, Lt-Col J.R. 105, 142
Lyle, Lt-Col H.T. 131 Mitchell, Maj J. 145
Lynch, Lt-Col C.W.D. 145 Mobbs, Lt-Col E.R. 158
Lyon-Campbell, Lt-Col C.H.D. 112 Montague, C.E. 35, 226
Lucy, Sgt J.F. 47, 130, 182, 225 Monteagle-Browne, Lt-Col E. 12021
Lumsden, Lt-Col W.V. 195, 196 Montgomerie, Capt E.W. 144
Moore, Capt F.C. 72
MacDougall, Lt-Col S. 40 Morant, Lt-Col H.H.S. 133
MacGill, Pte P. 39, 137, 225 Mordaunt, Lt-Col J.F.C. 75
MacKenzie, Lt-Col A.F. 34, 37 Morgan-Owen, Lt-Col M.M. 78
MacLeod, Lt-Col J.S. 199 Morland, Lt-Col C.B. 48
MacLure, Lt-Col J.F. 88 Mostyn, Lt-Col Lord 133
MacPherson, Sir J. 12021 Moyse, Maj J.J. 70
McCracken, Brig-Gen F.W.N. 21 Mukherjee, M.F. 165
McCrae, Lt-Col Sir G. 135 Muller, Lt-Col G.H. 38
McFarlane-Grieve, Lt-Col A.A. 84 Mullock, Lt-Col S.G. 60
McLachlan, Lt-Col J.D. 17 Murphy, Lt-Col A.D. 138, 139, 142
McMahon, Gen Sir T. 17 Murray, Leading Seaman J. 133, 217
McMahon, Lt-Col N.R. 17 Murray, Lt-Col J. 193
Machell, Lt-Col P.W. 434 Murray, Lt-Col J.T.C. 110
Mackay, Capt R.L. 145
Macmillan, 2nd Lt H. 34, 226 Naden, Lt-Col F. 612, 220
Mainwaring, Col C.V. 378 Nairne, Lt-Col C.S. 113, 195
Mainwaring, Lt-Col A.E. 4, 21, 62, 111, 118 Naish, Lt-Col W. 22
Mander, Lt-Col R. 113 Nash, Lt-Col H.E.P. 42
238 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

Newth Lt-Col A.L.W 67, 68 Prideaux-Brune, Lt-Col D.E. 154


Nicholson, Lt-Col C.L. 11, 16 Prior, Lt-Col B.H.L. 7
Nicholson, Lt-Col W.N. 58, 226 Prior, Lt-Col J.M. 135, 182
Nicholson, Gen Sir L. 11 Pritchard, Lt-Col O.B. 108, 113, 114
Norman, Lt-Col C.C. 133 Purvis, Lt-Col J.H. 32
Norman, Lt-Col W.W. 64
Norris, Lt-Col S.E. 129 Radford, Lt-Col F.J. 32
Raley, Lt-Col W.E. 38
Oakley, R. Maj 9 Ransome, Lt-Col A.L. 203
Oddie, Lt-Col W. 65 Rawson, Lt-Col R.I. 58, 59
OConnor, Lt-Col E.R. 185, Reeve, Lt-Col W.T. M. 107, 112
OMeagher, Lt-Col J.K. 22, 33 Reith, J. 180
Ormerod, Lt-Col G.S. 38, 112 Reitz, Lt-Col D. 100, 226
Osmond, Lt-Col C.F. 144 Ress, Lt-Col H.C. 32, 489, 74, 216
Oughton, Pte T. 39 Richards, Pte F. 114, 131, 133, 226
Owen, Lt-Col C.S. 767 Rickman, Lt-Col A.W. 27, 46
Riddell, Lt-Col E.P.A. 147
Pagan, Lt-Col A.W. 139 Robertson, Lt-Col P.R. 50
Paget, Col A. de B.V. 35 Robinson, Lt-Col F.D. 88, 136
Palk, Lt-Col Hon L.C.W. 72, 734 Robinson, Lt-Col H.A. 170
Panton, Lt-Col W.F. 198 Rochdale, Lt-Col Lord 88
Papillon, Lt-Col P.R. 812, 83, 216 Rogerson, Lt S. 137, 226
Parish, Lt-Col F.W. 114 Romer, Lt-Col C.F. 634
Parker, Lt-Col G.H. 723 Romilly, Lt-Col B.H.S. 114
Parkinson, Lt-Col T.F. 33 Ross, Capt R.B. 142
Patterson, Lt-Col J.H. 132, 226 Rothes, Lt-Col Earl 144
Pearce, RSM J.C. 133 Routledge, Lt-Col P.C.L. 57
Pearce-Serocold, Lt-Col O. 9091 Rumbold, Lt-Col S.D. 171
Peel, Lt-Col S.C. 208 Rye, Lt-Col J.B. 88
Peel, Lt-Col W.R. 200
Percival, Lt-Col A.E. 170 Sadler, Lt-Col R.P. 31
Percival, Pte G.H. 159 St John, Lt-Col W.E. 145
Pereira, Brig-Gen C.E. 116, 120 Sanders, Lt-Col A.R.C. 54
Perkins, Maj G.F. 73 Sandilands, Lt-Col V.C. 9
Peyton, Gen W.E. 105 Sandys, Lt-Col E.T.F. 114
Pilcher, Maj-Gen T.D. 123 Sandys-Lumsdaine, Lt-Col F.M. 31
Pinney, Maj-Gen Sir R.J. 118, 119, 188 Sassoon, Capt S. 105, 136, 142, 226
Plowman, Lt M. 142, 226 Saunders, Lt-Col C. 57
Plugge, Lt-Col A. 104 Sawyer, Lt-Col G.H. 202
Plunkett, Lt-Col J.F. 1856 Sellar, Lt-Col T.B. 43
Pollard, Capt A.O. 68, 132, 139, 144, 226 Sceales, Lt-Col G.A. McL 131, 133, 152
Pollitt, Lt-Col G.P. 54 Schofield, Lt-Col F.W. 91
Pomfret, Lt-Col H.T. 65 Scott, Maj-Gen A.B. 203
Ponsonby, Lt-Col J. 14, 48, 97 Scothern, Lt-Col A.E. 164, 165, 216
Pope, Lt-Col E.A. 113, 187 Scott, Lt-Col E.R.
Pope, Lt-Col V.V. 112 Scougal, Lt-Col A.G. 164, 167
Popham, Lt-Col F.J. 65 Scougal, Maj F.W. 165
Poyntz, Lt-Col H.S. 176 Seeley, Brig-Gen J.E.B. 112
Index of Names and Places 239

Sharples, Col R. 27 Thorne, Lt-Col A.F.A. N. 63, 98, 107, 148,


Shaw, Lt-Col T.B. 114 151, 223
Sheagrave, Brig-Gen W.H.E. 188 Thorpe, Lt-Col E.I. de S. 60
Shearman, Lt-Col C.E.G 191 Tickler, Lt-Col W.M. 199200, 206
Shepherd, Col C.H. 32 Tizard, Lt-Col H.E. 116
Sherwood-Kelly, Lt-Col J. 6061 Treffry, Lt-Col E. 132
Shore, Capt J.L. 48 Trevor, Lt-Col H.E. 95, 97, 102, 116, 216
Shoubridge, Lt-Col T.H. 40 Trotter, Lt-Col G.F. 112
Shute, Maj-Gen C. 58 Turner, Lt-Col F.W. 119
Sladen, Lt-Col G.C. 139
Slim, Lt-Gen W. 60 Unsworth, Lt-Col G. 168
Simner, Lt-Col P.R.O.A. 142 Unwin, Cmdr E. 116
Simonds, Lt-Gen G. 55 Utterson, Lt-Col A.T. le M. 60
Sims, Pte R.H. 130, 216 Utterson-Kelso, Lt-Col J.E. 195
Smeltzer, Lt-Col A.S. 202, 206
Smith, Lt-Col R.A. 135 Vandeleur, Lt-Col C.B. 9, 48
Smith-Dorrien, Lt-Col Sir H.L. 21 Vann, Capt A. 169
Smyth, Lt-Col G.B.F. 197, 202, 205 Vann, Lt-Col B. 164, 167, 1689, 180, 216
Smyth, Lt-Col R.A. 113 Vanner, Capt 202
Somerset, Lt-Col Hon W.F. 108 Villiers-Stuart, Lt-Col W.D. 29, 36, 37,
Somervail, Lt W.F. 9 153, 226
Sotheby, Lt-Col J.G. 193
Stafford, Lt-Col R.S.S.H. 169 Wade, Lt-Col D.H. 87, 88
Stanway Lt-Col W.H. 61 Wade, Lt J. 87
Stead, Lt-Col J.W. 39 Walker, Lt-Col H. 134
Stephens, Lt-Col R.B. 22 Walsh, Lt-Col J. 62, 84
Stevens, Lt-Col G.A. 104, 149, 151, 216 Walshe, Lt-Col H.E. 57, 58
Stevens, Lt-Col H.S.E. 169 Wanliss, Lt-Col C. 17, 21, 217
Stevenson, Lt-Col P.H. 70 Warden, Lt-Col C.W. 38
Steward, Lt-Col G.R.V. 147 Watson, Brig-Gen H.W.M. 127
Stewart, Brig-Gen J.M. 45 Watson, Lt-Col W.M. 14
Stockwell, Lt-Col C.I. 136, 142 Watt, Brig-Gen D.W. 92
Stone, Lt-Col A. 79, 113, 216 Watts, Capt A.N. 113
Stone, E. 79 Watts, Lt-Col L. 33, 38
Stone, F. le S. 79 Wauchope, Maj A.G. 36
Stone, R.G. Lt-Com 79 Wauhope, Lt-Col G.B. 154
Stone, W.N. 79 Webster, Lt-Col J.R. 1768, 180, 216
Stoney, Lt-Col G.B. 60 Wedgwood, Lt-Col G.H. 90
Strickland, Lt-Col E.P. 13 Weetman, Lt W.C.C. 144
Strode-Jackson, Lt-Col A.N. 166 Weldon, Lt-Col E.S. 113
Stubbs, Lt-Col T.T. 118 Weston, Lt-Col S.P.V. 168
Sunderland, Lt-Col A.J.E 132 Whitehead, Lt-Col H.F. 92
Sykes, Lt-Col Sir M. 20, 22 Wilberforce, Lt-Col W. 189, 216
Wilford, Lt-Col E.E. 39
Tetley, Lt-Col F.E. 198 Williams, Capt B. 35, 39, 221
Thomas, 2nd Lt A. 34, 77, 139 Williams, Lt-Col H.M. 115
Thompson, Maj R.N. 60 Wilson, Maj G.L. 145
Thord-Gray, Lt-Col I. 45 Wilson, Lt-Col G.T.B. 19
240 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

Winser, Lt-Col C.R.P. 142 Courcelette 202


Wood, Lt-Col E.A. 39, 107, 113, 138, Crozat Canal 178
203 Cubray 202
Wood, Capt G.B.G. 87
Wood, Lt-Col G.B.G. 87 Dadizeele 196
Wood, Lt-Col L.I. 12 Delville Wood, 82
Woodcock, Lt-Col W.J. 42 Dunkirk 60
Worthington, Lt-Col G.F.P. 66
Woulfe-Flanagan, Lt-Col E.M 132 Ephy 189
Wynne, Lt-Col R.O. 175, 176, 180 Etaples 188

Young, Maj F.B. 48 Falfemont Farm 170


Younger, Lt-Col W.J. 23 Fampoux 74, 149
Flanders I Stellung 202
Flixcourt 99
Places Foreville 205
Abbeville 68 Frezenberg 88
Achiet-le-Petit 71, 175, 190, 191 Frires Wood 203
Albert 111, 167, 189, 198, 203 Fromelles 115
Annay-Wadegnies 178
Antwerp 189 Gavrelle 111
Audregnies 48 Gheluvelt 48
Authuille Wood 44 Givenchy 166, 175
Gomiecourt 88, 186
Bailleul 176 Gouzeaucourt 55, 189
Bapaume 66, 189, 198 Guillemont 82
Battery Valley 202
Bazentin Ridge 32, 140, 174 Haute Rive 202
Beaumont Hamel 139 Hautmont 200
Becelaere 194 Hawthorn Ridge 74
Bellicourt 72 High Wood 111, 112, 113, 114
Berthen 99 Hindenburg Line 50, 56, 72, 189, 198
Boezinghe 64 Hoegnacker Ridge 192
Bois de la Haut 21 Hohenzollern Redoubt 59
Bois du Biez 175 Hooge 17, 179
Bourlon Wood 186
Bouzies 167 Irles 190
Bouzincourt Ridge 111
Bray-Corbie Ridge 78 Laaga Capelle Wood 193
Bruille 202 Le Gheer 73
Bukoba 45 Le Havre 175
Bulgar Wood 177 Le Sars 174
Buridon 202 Lehaucourt 179
Leipzig Salient 44
Canal du Nord 189 Ligny 72
Cape Helles 157
Chauny 178 Malard Wood 178
Chemin des Dames 71 Maltzhorn Ridge 176
Index of Names and Places 241

Mametz Wood 119 Rolleghem Capelle 194


Manchester Hill 164 Roucy 71
Mataura 174 Roeux 75, 152, 194, 195
Menin Road 68, 149, 165, 177
Messines 23, 149, 157 St Julien 73, 178
Meteren 192 St Quentin 4, 21, 62, 72, 78, 111, 164, 178,
Moorseele 167 179
Morlancourt 167 Sambre, River 112, 200
Mormal, Forest 200 Sanctuary Wood 71
Moss Vale 175 Scheldt, River 187
Mount Carmel 167 Schwaben Redobt 170
Munster Alley 113 Sedd-el-Bahr 116
Souchez 66
Nauroy 72 Steenbeke 193
Neuve Eglise 62 Steenvoorde 99
Nieppe, Forest 175 Sugarloaf 115
Nieppe Station 197
Tara Hill/line 17, 203
Oppy 83 Tergnier 178
Oppy-Mericourt Line 74 Trones Wood 82, 197, 199
Outeghem-Ingoyghem Ridge 192
Ovillers 114 Vadenay 101
Vimy Ridge 21, 66, 140, 178, 179
Padua 92 Viry Noreuil 178
Passchendaele 178, 194, 195, 196
Ploegseert Wood 73 Welsh Ridge 186
Polygon Wood 11 West Ham 33
Pozieres 113, 140 Wieltje 146
Wisques 99
Quadrilateral Redoubt 82 Wytschaete 158

Ramicourt 180 Zandvoorde 96


Rennecourt, 65 Zutpeyne 99
This page has been left blank intentionally
Index of Regiments, Units,
Formations and Armies

Regiments 1/5th Btn 64


2nd Btn 154
Infantry, British Army 4th Volunteer Btn 61
6th Btn 62
Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders 10th Btn 99, 107, 147, 149
1/6th Btn 38 16th Btn 67
1/8th Btn 195 Coldstream Guards 40, 67, 68
2/6th Btn 31 1st Btn 14, 48
2/8th Btn 19 3rd Btn 97
4th Btn 19, 194 Connaught Rangers 98
10th Btn 34, 193 2nd Btn 12
11th Btn 145 6th Btn 97, 116, 188
12th Btn 165 Devonshire Regiment 89, 186, 224
14th Btn 186 1st Btn 12, 71
Bedfordshire Regiment 111, 227 2nd Btn 71, 132
1st Btn 70, 71, 191, 215 Dorsetshire Regiment 203, 222
2nd Btn 171, 176, 215 1st Btn 11, 51, 57, 125
3rd Btn 176 1/4th Btn 198
4th Btn 83, 169 6th Btn 193
5th Btn 70, 190, 215 8th Btn 57
7th Btn 170 Duke of Cornwalls Light Infantry
Black Watch 24, 36, 194, 222, 223 1st Btn 70, 132, 175
1st Btn 11, 16, 109, 110 7th Btn 113
1/4th Btn 131 8th Btn 165
1/6th Btn 22 Duke of Wellingtons (West Riding)
8th Btn 81, 193, 194 Regiment
9th Btn 111 1st Btn 14
10th Btn 30, 113, 199 2nd Btn 97, 124
13th Btn 193 2/4th Btn 42
Border Regiment 42, 227 Durham Light Infantry 35
2nd Btn 12, 60 1/6th Btn 149
6th Btn 164 1/9th Btn 64, 128
9th Btn 171 2nd Btn 38, 198
11th Btn 43 8th Btn 199
2nd Btn 12 10th Btn 133
Cambridgeshire Regiment 14th Btn 33
1/1st Btn 147 East Kent Regiment (Buffs) 45, 202, 218,
Cheshire Regiment 200 222
1st Btn 17, 48 2nd Btn 11, 17, 111
244 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

6th Btn 152, 202 14th Btn 62


7th Btn 203 Hertfordshire Regiment
8th Btn 63, 64 1/1st Btn 24, 177
East Lancashire Regiment Highland Light Infantry 31
1st Btn 55, 67, 75 2nd Btn 83
1/4th Btn 88, 89, 135 12th Btn 31, 144, 175
1/5th Btn 89 14th Btn 43
2nd Btn 11, 16 Honourable Artillery Company 30, 68
2/5th Btn 92 1st Btn 132, 134, 139, 144, 215
7th Btn 41 Irish Guards
11th Btn 27 2nd Btn 64
13th Btn 187 Kent Cyclist Battalion 33
East Surrey Regiment 89 Kings Liverpool Regiment 62, 84, 130,
1st Btn 70 165, 198, 223
8th Btn 167, 199 1st Btn 83, 129, 178
East Yorkshire Regiment 1/9th Btn 33
7th Btn 42, 154 2/7th Btn 169
9th Btn 200 2/9th Btn 33, 38, 198
Essex Regiment 44, 60, 61, 63, 170 3rd Btn 178
1st Btn 11, 54 10th Btn 178
1/4th Btn 20, 78 13th Btn 2045
2nd Btn 13 17th Btn 176
9th Btn 114, 128, 134, 151 18th Btn 176
10th Btn 32 19th Btn 176
11th Btn 198 Kings Own Scottish Borderers 61, 222
13th Btn 62, 69, 814, 93, 178, 215 1st Btn 60
Gloucestershire Regiment 97 2nd Btn 192
1st Btn 139 1/4th Btn 19
2nd Btn 189, 190 2nd Btn 70, 191
1/4th Btn 58, 67, 198 6th Btn 80, 193, 197
1/6th Btn 64, 89 7/8th Btn 43
8th Btn 140 8th Btn 43
12th Btn 55, 59 9th Btn 193
14th Btn 53 Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry
18th Btn 165 2nd Btn 95
Gloucester Engineers Volunteer Btn 80 7th Btn 58
Gordon Highlanders 59, 80, 222, 225 9th Btn 34, 145, 222
1st Btn 59, 105 11th Btn 39
1/6th 105, 124, 134, 141, 147, 148 12th Btn 171
1/7th Btn 142 Kings Royal Rifle Corps
10th Btn 40, 194 1st Btn 169, 201
Grenadier Guards 89 2nd Btn 129, 132, 139
1st Btn 112 7th Btn 171
2nd Btn 21, 111, 137, 185 13th Btn 166
3rd Btn 21, 63, 98, 151 14th Btn 34
Hampshire Regiment 61, 75, 171, 221 Lancashire Fusiliers 43
1st Btn 16, 69, 725, 215 1st Btn 89
1/4 Btn 22
th
1/5th Btn 87, 88, 198
Index of Regiments, Units, Formations and Armies 245

1/6th Btn 54, 60, 64, 88, 89 2/4th Btn 32


1/7th Btn 88, 89, 170, 198, 199 10th Btn 37
1/8th Btn 88, 89, 199 Manchester Regiment 84, 87, 88, 120, 129,
2nd Btn 22, 55 130, 185, 227
2/5th Btn 165 1st Btn 13, 175
2/7th Btn 19 1/5th Btn 89, 198, 200
4/5th Btn 170 1/6th Btn 88, 89, 90, 199
11th Btn 42, 54 1/7th Btn 88, 90, 198
15th Btn 42, 80, 134 1/8th Btn 88, 90, 198, 199
16th Btn 80, 112, 113 1/9th Btn 87, 89
17th Btn 53, 170 1/10th Btn 88, 89, 200
Leicestershire Regiment 198 2/6th Btn 19
1/4th Btn 198 2/7th Btn 43
6th Btn 171, 174, 202 11th Btn 65
7th Btn 168, 169, 202 16th Btn 164
8th Btn 32, 60, 140 18th Btn 199
9th Btn 153, 168 21st Btn 64
Leinster Regiment Middlesex Regiment 186
2nd Btn 107, 112, 138 1st Btn 119
Lincolnshire Regiment 36, 149 2nd Btn 9, 114
1st Btn 60 4th Btn 151
1/4th Btn 198 5th Btn 58
2nd Btn 60 12th Btn 68, 105, 150, 184, 215
2/5th Btn 54 13th Btn 170
6th Btn 157 17th Btn 82, 84, 169
8th Btn 54 21st Btn 66, 187
1st Garrison Btn 32 Norfolk Regiment 223
London Regiment 1, 62 1st Btn 13
1/1st Btn 186 1/4th Btn 1434
1/5th Btn 130, 137 10th Btn 61
1/6th Btn 136 North Staffordshire Regiment 59, 97
1/8th Btn 178 1st Btn 11, 41, 112
1/9th Btn 86 2nd Btn 13
1/12th Btn 178 8th Btn 114
1/13th Btn 24 12th Btn 185
1/14th Btn 23 Northamptonshire Regiment 34
1/15th Btn 23, 98, 184, 188 1st Btn 47
2/2nd Btn 84 6th Btn 62, 84
2/8th Btn 178 7th Btn 159
2/14th Btn 186 1st Garrison Btn 118
2/19th Btn 84 Northumberland Fusiliers 59, 223
2/25th Btn 45 1st Btn 59
3/2nd Btn 62 2nd Btn 27, 59
38th Btn 132 3/7th Btn 36
Loyal North Lancashire Regiment 45 7th Btn 111, 152
1st Btn 14 10th Btn 74
1/4th Btn 23 11th Btn 45
2nd Btn 12 23rd Btn 92
246 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

24th Btn 148 Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers 89, 186


27th Btn 98, 108, 135, 141, 147, 182 1st Btn 61, 89
Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire 2nd Btn 17, 21, 65
Light Infantry 10th Btn 113
1/1st Btn 113 13th Btn 186
1/4th Btn 91, 92, 137 Royal Irish Fusiliers 120
2nd Btn 13 1st Btn 4, 21
2/1st Btn 115 11th Btn 140
2/4th Btn 115 Royal Irish Regiment 55, 89
5th Btn 165 2nd Btn 186
8th Btn 59 6th Btn 43
Queens Own Cameron Highlanders 7th Btn 62
1st Btn 17 Royal Irish Rifles 43, 72
2nd Btn 195 1st Btn 11, 67, 119
1st Volunteer Btn 92 2nd Btn 47, 67, 68, 130, 136, 182
5th Btn 81, 194, 195, 196 9th Btn 38, 112, 140, 148
Rifle Brigade 123, 153 10th Btn 140
1st Btn 64 Royal Lancaster Regiment 42, 57
2nd Btn 22 1st Btn 17
8th Btn 154 1/5th Btn 71
9th Btn 29, 36, 153 2nd Btn 109
11th Btn 54, 78, 168 2/5th Btn 58, 65, 169
Royal Berkshire Regiment 168, 205 Royal Munster Fusiliers 185
1st Btn 84, 133 1st Btn 116
1/4th Btn 69, 9093, 215, 222 2nd Btn 22, 48, 51, 120
3rd Btn 57 8th Btn 120
8th Btn 167 9th Btn 120
Royal Dublin Fusiliers 67, 126 Royal Scots Fusiliers
2nd Btn 4, 21, 111, 149 1st Btn 43
3rd Btn 97 2nd Btn 195
9th Btn 67 1/4th Btn 59
Royal Fusiliers 1/5th Btn 24
1st Btn 59 3rd Btn 43
2nd Btn 112, 151 8th Btn 165
3rd Btn 79, 135 Royal Scots Regiment 33, 42
4th Btn 17, 112 1st Btn 43
7th Btn 170 1/4th Btn 23, 165
10th Btn 40, 199 3rd Btn 192
11th Btn 64 9th Btn 193
13th Btn 119, 135, 146 11th Btn 81, 104, 150, 192, 202
17th Btn 168 12th Btn 193
20th Btn 165 13th Btn 145, 169
21st Btn 174 14th Btn 194
24th Btn 35 15th Btn 75, 172
25th Btn 44, 57 16th Btn 135
26th Btn 170 Royal Sussex Regiment 186
45th Btn 171 1/4th Btn 130
Index of Regiments, Units, Formations and Armies 247

3rd Btn 81 Sherwood Foresters (Nottinghamshire and


6th Btn 151 Derbyshire Regiment) 176, 225
11th Btn 120, 136, 138, 168 1st Btn 22
13th Btn 153 1/5th Btn 119, 215
Royal Warwickshire Regiment 2, 13, 86, 1/6th Btn 164, 178, 222
108, 153, 160, 1623 1/8th Btn 130, 144, 179
1st Btn 4, 21, 190 2nd Btn 65
1/5th Btn 139 6th Btn 119
1/7th Btn 52, 215 9th Btn 31, 157, 164
1/8th Btn 137 16th Btn 130, 170
2nd Btn 11 17th Btn 130, 177
2/5th Warwickshire 114 Shropshire Light Infantry
9th Btn 118 6th Btn 39, 107, 113
11th Btn 35 Somerset Light Infantry 68
14th Btn 189 1st Btn 75
15th Btn 190 8th Btn 66
16th Btn 189, 190 South Lancashire Regiment
Royal Welsh Fusiliers 42, 131 2nd Btn 17, 21
1st Btn 12, 15, 96 7th Btn 142
2nd Btn 104, 138 9th Btn 59, 110, 169
1/4th Btn 12 5th New Zealand Regiment 14
9th Btn 101 South Staffordshire Regiment
19th Btn 185 1st Btn 57
Royal West Kent Regiment 52, 189 2nd Btn 17, 57, 82
1st Btn 76, 189, 191, 192 7th Btn 83
3rd Btn 189 8th Btn 170
4/4th Btn 34 South Wales Borderers
6th Btn 139 12th Btn 113, 186, 187
7th Btn 199 Suffolk Regiment 222
11th Btn 171 1/4th Btn 119, 215
Royal West Surrey Regiment 78 2nd Btn 109
1st Btn 215 Welsh Guards
3/4th Btn170 1st Btn 204
7th Btn 78 Welsh Regiment 100
11th Btn 66 1st Btn 141, 142, 198
Scots Guards 80 2nd Btn 41, 48, 100, 108, 113
1st Btn 17, 114 3rd Btn 113
Scottish Rifles (Cameronians) 43, 81 4th Btn 59
1st Btn 9, 48, 5051 13th Btn 198
2nd Btn 9, 147, 186 16th Btn 41
5/6th Btn 112 17th Btn 186
8th Btn 138 18th Btn 187
9th Btn 1956 19th Btn 169
10th Btn 170 West Yorkshire Regiment 179, 223
Seaforth Highlanders 1st Btn 74
2nd Btn 81 1/5th Btn 65
7th Btn 196 2nd Btn 100, 124, 137, 147
2/5th Btn 40
248 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

6th Btn 41 Dragoons 79


10th Btn 142 Hussars 19, 24
16th Btn 38, 112 Imperial Yeomanry 38, 186, 199
18th Btn 38 London Yeomanry 65, 97
Worcestershire Regiment Roberts Light Horse 17
2nd Btn 34 Scottish Horse 11, 193
2/8th Btn 54
3rd Btn 47 Cavalry Empire Units
8th Btn 58, 189
13th Btn 35 Border Horse 199
York and Lancaster Regiment 90, 170, 222 Border Mounted Rifles 44
1/4th Btn 22, 168 Cape Mounted Police 61
9th Btn 171 Cape Mounted Rifles 45
12th Btn 37, 38 Imperial Light Horse 60
13th Btn 38, 39, 154 Nairobi Mounted Police 45
14th Btn 36, 38, 130 Roystons Horse 45
Yorkshire Regiment South African Light Horse 199
1/5th Btn 20 1st New South Wales Mounted Infantry 14
6th Btn 41
Indian Army 11, 20, 22, 30, 53, 54, 76, 85,
Royal Naval 124, 220
Infantry
Collingwood Btn 189 Gurkhas 29
Hood Btn 58, 1334, 154 Punjabis 38
Sikhs 34
Home Guard 59, 78, 164, 166 Cavalry
King Georges Own Lancers 53
Lovats Scouts 92 37th Lancers 11

Empire Units Brigades

Ceylon Planters Rifle Corps 186 Infantry, British Army


Chinese Regiment 14
Lydenburg Militia 45 1 Guards 17
Shanghai Volunteers 14 3 Bde 120
South African Constabulary 45 6 Bde 82, 83, 84, 102, 178
South African Defence Force 80 7 Bde 107
Transvaal Scottish 80 8 Bde 17
Upper Burma Rifles 44 10 Bde 3, 17, 111, 209
West India Regiment 66 11 Bde 75
12 Bde 13, 42
Cavalry, British Army 25 Bde 24
26 Bde 196
2/1st Essex Yeomanry 92 27 Bde 57, 105
12th Lancers 202 33 Bde 107
18th Lancers 53, 105 36 Bde 76
37th Lancers 11 40 Bde 19
Index of Regiments, Units, Formations and Armies 249

41 Bde 142 Indian Army


47 Bde 116, 187 Ambala 53
49 Bde 42 Jullunder 176
50 Bde 54
55 Bde 138 Tank
57 Bde 54 3rd Tank 89
62 Bde 158 4th Tank 64
70 Bde 106
71 Bde 58, 59
75 Bde 42 Divisions
89 Bde 176
90 Bde 42, 80 Infantry
91 Bde 64
92 Bde 27 1st Div 13
94 Bde 197 2nd Div 60, 81, 178
95 Bde 190 4th Div 72
100 Bde 78 5th Div 7, 8, 14, 6972, 93, 117, 121, 132,
101 Bde 43 188, 18992, 200, 205, 222
103 Bde 58, 59, 106 6th Div 16, 142
107 Bde 60 8th Div 13, 16, 106
112 Bde 36, 215 9th Div 7, 8, 28, 57, 8081, 117, 121, 188,
114 Bde 142 19297, 200, 202, 205, 222, 224
115 Bde 37, 202 11th Div 13, 107
116 Bde 169 17th Div 116, 202
117 Bde 177 18th Div 40, 78
119 Bde 66, 118 21st Div 117, 157, 227
122 Bde 168 24th Div 11, 178
125 Bde 88 25th Div 107
126 Bde 8890, 107 29th Div 116, 152
127 Bde 889 33rd Div 78, 118, 188
135 Bde 67 34th Div 11, 98, 106
142 Bde 95, 106, 178 37th Div 66
145 Bde 91, 92 38th Div 32, 40
152 Bde 60, 188 40th Div 14
163 Bde 143 42nd Div 7, 8, 8790, 117, 121, 188,
170 Bde 203 198200, 205, 222
184 Bde 63, 107, 115, 151 46th Div 72, 144, 179
185 Bde 11, 41 47th Div 106
186 Bde 64 48th Div 90
189 Bde 154 51st Div 9
234 Bde 13 54th Div 143
1 Royal Naval 189 55th Div 146
South Midland Volunteer 99 New Zealand 103
Royal Naval 58, 189, 223
Canadian Corps Theodore Roosevelt 45
1 Canadian 204 1st Canadian 220
2 Canadian 140, 217 1st Siberian Assault 45
250 British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War

Corps Armies

Infantry First 106


Second 99, 192
II 107, 109, 184 Third 99, 189, 198, 201 204, 218
III 22, 106 Fourth 107
IV 50, 106 Fifth 107, 164, 192
VI 142
IX 151
X 22 Other
X111 107
XVIII 105, 107 K1 2831, 34, 35, 36
III Indian Corps 22 K2 2831
Canadian Corps 6, 55, 117 K3 2832, 37
Regular Army 1, 5, 7, 918, 19, 2022,
22, 25, 289, 31, 33, 35, 36, 39,
Empire 42, 46, 4776, 82, 84, 8590, 93,
95, 98, 105, 108, 117, 131, 133,
ANZAC Corps 186 148, 161, 1724, 18082, 185,
Indian Cavalry Corps 23 187, 189, 205, 206, 20711
Royal Artillery 11, 13, 54, 76, 87, 104
Royal Engineers 11, 54, 96, 114, 197
Other Royal Marines 55, 61, 76
Royal Navy 55, 76, 79, 190
Australian Imperial Force Special/Extra Reserve 1, 12, 1819, 20,
age of COs 65 27, 28, 30, 34, 41, 42, 43, 52,
Australian Pioneer Corps 170 53, 58, 70, 76, 78, 80, 85, 90,
Canadian Expeditionary Force 98, 100, 111, 159, 172, 173, 190,
age of COs 656 192, 193, 205
Intelligence Corps 54 Territorial Force 1, 7, 1920, 224, 27,
Labour Corps 17, 23, 112, 175 28, 30, 31, 324, 36, 39, 40, 42,
Machine Gun Corps 42, 50, 91, 142, 205 43, 46, 47, 50, 52, 53, 59, 63, 65,
Public School Special Corps 168 67, 68, 69, 70, 76, 77, 78, 79, 80,
Royal Army Medical Corps 1, 96 84, 8593, 98, 100, 106, 115,
Royal Army Service Corps 70, 76, 96, 175 117, 129, 135, 159, 161, 165,
Royal Flying Corps (Royal Air Force) 55 172, 173, 189, 190, 192, 193,
Special Brigade 54 198200, 205, 207, 208, 211,
Tank Corps 13, 64, 112 212, 220, 222, 227
Zion Mule Corps 132