Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson: A Political Soldier

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A number of students, of whom the most famous was Archibald Wavell , later contrasted Wilson's expansive lecturing, ranging widely and wittily over geopolitics, with the more practical focus of his successor Robertson. Many of these recollections are unreliable in their details, may well exaggerate the differences between the two men, and may have been influenced by Wilson's indiscreet diaries published in the s.

Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson Jeffery Keith

He objected to Wilson's tactical views — Wilson was sceptical of claims that Japanese morale had enabled their infantry to overcome Russian defensive firepower — and his lecturing style: "a sort of witty buffoonery … a sort of English stage Irishman". In May and June Wilson had been tipped to succeed Haig as Director of Staff Duties, although he would have preferred command of a brigade.

He may have felt that Robertson's lack of private means did not suit him for a position which required entertaining.

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Whatever the truth of the matter, relations between Wilson and Robertson deteriorated thereafter. Repington whom Wilson thought a "dirty brute" and "lying brute" attacked the current standards of British staff officers in The Times on 27 September , arguing that Wilson had educated staff officers to be "sucking Napoleons " and that Robertson was a "first rate man" who would sort it out.

He was initially impressed only by the mapping section and one of his first acts was to have a huge map of the Franco—German frontier hung on his office wall. Wilson believed his most important duty as DMO to be the drawing up of detailed plans for deployment of an expeditionary force to France, in accordance with the CID's decision of July Little progress had been made in this area since Grierson's plans during the First Moroccan Crisis. He hoped also to get conscription brought in, but this came to nothing. Wilson described the size of Haldane's planned Expeditionary Force six divisions of three brigades each and a cavalry division of four brigades as simply a "reshuffle" of the troops available in Britain, and often declared that "there was no military problem to which the answer was six divisions".

Foch is supposed to have told Wilson that he would be happy for Britain to send just a corporal and four men, provided it was right from the start of the war, and that he promised to get them killed, so that Britain would come into the war with all her strength. The house was a financial burden and the Wilsons often let it out.

Wilson and his staff spent the winter of —11 conducting a "great strategical War Game" to predict what the great powers would do when war broke out. Wilson thought the existing plans for deployment of the BEF known as the "WF" scheme — this stood for "With France" but was sometimes wrongly thought to stand for "Wilson-Foch" "disgraceful. A pure academic, paper arrangement of no earthly value to anyone.

He was given this after a lunch with Haldane, who had already consulted Foreign Secretary Grey 20 January. On the return journey he noted how many railway sidings were being built at Herstal on the Belgian frontier, and dined in Paris with Foch, whom he warned 26 February against listening to Repington, and the French Chief of Staff General Laffort de Ladibat. Spender 27 February was hostile to Wilson's plans to deploy forces to the continent. Wilson sat up till midnight on 4 July three days after the Panthe r arrived at Agadir in an attempt to overawe the French writing a long minute to the CIGS.

The Wilson-Dubail memorandum, although making explicit that neither government was committed to action, promised that in the event of war the Royal Navy would transport six infantry and one cavalry divisions totaling , men to Rouen, Le Havre and Boulogne, and that the BEF would concentrate between Arras, Cambrai and St Quentin by the thirteenth day of mobilisation. In reality, the transport plans were nowhere near ready, although it is unclear that the French knew this.

Wilson approved of Lloyd George 's Mansion House speech backing France , which he thought preferable to "the funk Edward Grey 's procrastinat ion ". Wilson was perhaps unappreciative that Grey was not only trying to find a peaceful resolution but also had to consider the domestic political crisis as the Parliament Act was being pushed through and troops were being deployed against strikers in London, [] Liverpool and South Wales.

Hankey letter to McKenna 15 August complained of Wilson's "perfect obsession for military operations on the Continent", scoffing at his bicycling trips of recent years around the French and Belgian borders, and accusing him of filling the War Office with like-minded officers. He argued that British aid would be necessary to prevent Germany defeating France and achieving domination of the continent, and that this would have both a moral and a military effect on the outcome.

He argued that by Day 13 of mobilisation France would have the upper hand, outnumbering the Germans by 63 divisions to 57 along the frontier, but by Day 17 Germany would outnumber France by 96 divisions to However, because of road bottlenecks in the passable parts of the war theatre, the Germans would at most be able to deploy 54 divisions in the opening phase, allowing the 6 infantry divisions of the BEF a disproportionate effect on the outcome. Wilson thought the Royal Navy plan "one of the most childish papers I ever read". Prime Minister H. Asquith ordered the Navy to fall in with the Army's plans, although he preferred to send only four divisions.

Hankey also recorded that even by French and Haig were not fully aware of what had been decided, Morley and Burns resigned from the Cabinet as they were unable to accept the decision, and Churchill and Lloyd George never fully accepted the implications of committing a large military force to France. After the meeting Hankey began to draw up the War Book detailing mobilisation plans, and yet the exact deployment of the BEF was still undecided as late as 4 August Wilson had recommended deploying at Maubeuge.

He thought wrongly, as it turned out that the Germans would only violate Belgian territory south of the Meuse, whereas to attack further north would mean attacking Liege, Huy and Namur, possibly violating Dutch neutrality by crossing the Maastricht appendix, and would be more likely to attract Belgian resistance. Over the next few weeks Wilson had several meetings with Churchill one of which lasted three hours , Grey and Lloyd George, who were keen to obtain an agreement with Belgium.

This attracted the opposition of Haldane, who wrote to Churchill that Wilson was "a little impulsive. Throughout the Agadir Crisis Wilson was keen to pass on the latest intelligence to Churchill, e.

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Churchill and Grey came to Wilson's house 4 September to discuss the situation until after midnight. Wilson 18 September recorded four separate reports from spies of German troops massing opposite the Belgian frontier. Wilson was also responsible for Military Intelligence, then in its infancy.

It is unclear from the surviving documents just how much of Wilson's time was taken up by these agencies, although he dined with Haldane, Kell and Cumming on 26 November In October Wilson went on another bicycle tour of Belgium south of the Meuse, also inspecting the French side of the frontier, also visiting Verdun, the battlefield of Mars-La-Tour , where he claimed to have laid 16 October a small map showing the planned concentration areas for the BEF at the foot of the statue of France, then Fort St Michel at Toul near Nancy.

Radical members of the Cabinet Morley, McKenna, Crewe , Harcourt pushed for Wilson's removal, but he was staunchly defended by Haldane 16—18 November , who had the backing of the most influential ministers: Asquith, Grey and Lloyd George, as well as Churchill. After Agadir the MO1 section under Harper became a key branch in preparing for war. Churchill, newly appointed to the Admiralty , was more receptive to Army-Navy cooperation. Intelligence suggested 8 January that Germany was getting ready for war in April He was impressed by him and spent an hour and three quarters discussing Ireland and defence matters.

That summer he began having regular talks with Long, who used Wilson as a conduit to try to establish cross-party defence agreement with Churchill.

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Wilson September thought Haldane a fool for thinking that Britain would have a time window of up to six months in which to deploy the BEF. Plans to visit Constantinople had to be shelved because of the First Balkan War , although Wilson recorded his concerns that the Bulgars had beaten the Turks a month after the declaration of war — evidence that the BEF must be committed to war at once, not within six months as Haldane hoped. By 14 November the railway timetables, drawn up by Harper's MO1, were ready, after two years of work. A joint Admiralty-War Office committee, including representatives of the merchant shipping industry, met fortnightly from February , and produced a workable scheme by spring In the event the transport of the BEF from just three ports Southampton for troops, Avonmouth for mechanical transport and Newhaven for stores would proceed smoothly.

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Keith Jeffery. Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson, an Irishman who in June was assassinated on his doorstep in London by Irish republicans, was one of the most controversial British soldiers of that age. A passionate Irish unionist, he gained a reputation as an intensely. Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson: A Political Soldier eBook: Keith Jeffery: Amazon. in: Kindle Store.

Repington and Wilson were still cutting one another dead whenever they met. In November Repington, who wanted to use the Territorial Army as a basis for conscription, urged Haldane now Lord Chancellor to have Wilson sacked and replaced by Robertson. Wilson again gave evidence to the CID 12 November that the presence of the BEF on the continent would have a decisive effect in any future war. In the spring of Roberts, after previous urging by Lovat, arranged a reconciliation between Repington and Wilson. Repington wrote a letter to The Times in June , demanding to know why Wilson was not playing a more prominent role in the CID "Invasion Inquiry" debates of —14 as to whether some British regular divisions should be retained at home to defeat a potential invasion.

Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson: A Political Soldier by Keith Jeffery, Paperback | Barnes & Noble®

He was also drafting pro-conscription speeches for Lord Roberts. Although Roberts was not a "whole hogger" — he favoured conscription only for home defence, not a full-scale conscript army on the continental model — Wilson advised other campaigners not to quarrel with him and risk losing his support. Wilson spoke French fluently but not perfectly, and would sometimes revert into English for sensitive matters in order not to risk speaking inaccurately.

He saw the lines of Charaldhza , and the battlefields of Lule Burgaz and Adrianople. Wilson was unimpressed by the Turkish Army and road and rail infrastructure, and felt that the introduction of constitutional government would be the final blow to the Ottoman Empire.

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These views, although correct in the long term, may have contributed to the underestimation of Turkey's defence strength at Gallipoli. Roberts had been lobbying French to promote Wilson to major-general, a rank appropriate to his job as DMO, since the end of In April , with a brigade command about to fall vacant, Wilson was assured by French that he was to be promoted to major-general later in the year, and that not having commanded a brigade would not prevent him commanding a division later.

Wilson believed that French wanted him to become chief of staff designate of the BEF after the manoeuvres, but that he was too junior. Instead Murray was appointed. Wilson was promoted major general in November Edmonds later wrote that Robertson, acting as Exercise Director, drew Wilson's attention to his ignorance of certain procedures, and said to French in a stage whisper "if you go to war with that operations staff, you are as good as beaten" []. Wilson and his family had long been active in Unionist politics. His father had stood for Parliament for Longford South in , whilst his older brother James Mackay "Jemmy" had stood against Justin McCarthy for Longford North in and , being defeated by a margin of over each time.

As far back as , during the passage of Gladstone 's Second Home Rule Bill , Wilson had been party to a proposal to raise 2,—4, men, to drill as soldiers in Ulster, although he wanted Catholics also to be recruited. In February Henry and Cecil listened to and "enjoyed immensely" a "very fine" speech by Joseph Chamberlain about London municipal questions in Stepney, and Wilson listened to another speech by Chamberlain in May.

In Wilson's father was part of the Landowners' Convention deputation to observe the passage of Irish land legislation through Parliament. In his younger brother Tono was Tory agent in Swindon. It is unclear whether he actually envisaged armed insurrection or hoped that the Government would back off. Asked by Roberts 16 April to be chief of staff to the "Army of Ulster", Wilson replied that if necessary he would fight for Ulster rather than against her.

At a meeting at the War Office 4 November , Wilson told French, who had recently been asked by the King for his views, that he for one "could not fire on the north at the dictates of Redmond" and that "England qua England is opposed to Home Rule, and England must agree to it … I cannot bring myself to believe that Asquith will be so mad as to employ force". It is unclear what Wilson meant by "England qua England", although he did believe that the Government should be forced to fight a General Election on the issue, which on the basis of recent by-elections the Conservatives might win.

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Each side thought the other was bluffing. French, whom Wilson urged to tell the King that he could not depend on the loyalty of the whole of the Army, was unaware that Wilson was leaking the contents of these meetings to the Conservative leader Bonar Law. He passed on his wife Cecil's advice that the UVF should take the patriotic high ground by pledging to fight for King and Country in the event of war. Wilson also advised Bonar Law — at this time the government were attempting to offer Counties Londonderry, Antrim, Armagh and Down an opt-out from Home Rule, the plan being that a refusal would make Carson look intransigent — to ensure that negotiations failed in way which made the Irish Nationalists look intransigent.

He met Macready , Director of Personal Services, who told him 13 Nov that he was being sent over to Ulster but that the Cabinet would not try to deploy troops.

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On 14 November he dined with Charlie Hunter and Lord Milner , who told him that any officers who resigned over Ulster would be reinstated by the next Conservative Government. Wilson found Asquith's Leeds speech — in which the Prime Minister promised to "see this thing through" without an election — "ominous", and on 28 November John du Cane turned up at the War Office "furious" with Asquith and asserting that Ulster would have to be granted Belligerent status like the Confederate States of America.

His mission was not secret — the official purpose was to inspect 3rd Royal Irish Rifles and give a lecture on the Balkans at Victoria Barracks, and he reported his opinion of the Ulster situation to the Secretary of State and to Sir John French — but attracted press speculation 5 March.

After Paget had been told to prepare to deploy troops in Ulster, Wilson attempted in vain to persuade French that any such move would have serious repercussions not only in Glasgow but also in Egypt and India. Wilson was summoned home by his wife to see Johnnie Gough , who had come up from Aldershot, and told him of Hubert Gough 's threat to resign see Curragh incident.

Wilson advised Johnnie not to "send in his papers" resign just yet, and telephoned French, who when told of the news "talked windy platitudes till Wilson was nearly sick". By the morning of Saturday 21 Wilson was talking of resigning and urging his staff to do the same, although he never actually did so and forfeited respect by talking too much of bringing down the government. At the request of Seely Secretary of State for War Wilson wrote a summary of "what the army would agree to", namely a promise that the army would not be used to coerce Ulster, but this was not acceptable to the government.

Despite Robertson's warm support, Wilson was unable to persuade French to warn the government that the Army would not move against Ulster. Hubert Gough breakfasted with Wilson on 23 March, before his meeting with French and Ewart at the War Office, where he demanded a written guarantee that the Army would not be used against Ulster. Wilson then left, telling people in the War Office that the Army had done what the Opposition had failed to do i. Wilson told French that he suspected he French would be sacked by the Government, in which case "the Army would go solid with him".

Asquith publicly repudiated the amendments to the Cabinet document the "peccant paragraphs" 25 March , but at first refused to accept the resignations of French and Ewart, although Wilson advised French mid-afternoon on 26 March that he must resign "unless they were in a position to justify their remaining on in the eyes of officers". French eventually resigned after Wilson tested the climate at a Staff College point-to-point. Wilson telegraphed Gough twice and advised him to "stand like a rock" and hold onto the document, but received no reply to either telegram.

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Milner thought Wilson had "saved the Empire", which Wilson 29 March thought "much too flattering". He thought 29 March Morley who had advised Seely and Haldane who advised French would also have to resign, which would bring down the government. Gough was angry that Wilson had not himself offered to resign and Soldiering On p blamed Wilson for having done nothing to stop the government's plans to coerce Ulster until Gough and his officers threatened to resign.