The Dead Donkeys: The Myth of the ‘Château Generals’ Part Four – 1916

January 1916 saw the deaths of two British generals.  Brigadier-General Hugh Gregory Fitton D.S.O., G.O.C. 101st Brigade, 34th Division (above), forced to cross open ground due to the appalling state of the front line trenches near Ypres on the night of 19th January, was shot in both legs by a German sniper.  He died the following afternoon, the very first casualty of 101st Brigade, who had only disembarked on 9th January, and is buried in Lijssenhoek Military Cemetery near Poperinghe.  And Brigadier-General George Benjamin Hodson D.S.O., G.O.C. 33rd Indian Brigade, 11th Division, wounded in the head by a sniper while looking over the parapet at Suvla Bay on Gallipoli on 14th December 1915, as mentioned at the end of last post (where you will find his photograph), died of his wounds at Tigne Military Hospital on Malta on 25th January 1916, and is buried at Pieta Military Cemetery.  Both men were 52.

On 17th February, Brigadier-General Archibald Cameron MacDonell D.S.O., G.O.C. 7th Canadian Brigade, 3rd Canadian Division (left), seriously wounded in South Africa at Diamond Hill in 1900, was wounded again, his left arm broken by a bullet, another bullet in the shoulder, while out in front of the trenches near Kemmel, and on 18th February, Brigadier-General Robert Gilmour Edwards Leckie, G.O.C. 3rd Canadian Brigade, 1st Canadian Division (right), was wounded by a bullet through both legs somewhere near Messines. The background photograph shows Mont Kemmel from the Messines Ridge.

Major-General Claude William Jacob, G.O.C. 21st Division, wounded by shellfire near Armentières on 4th March.  At which point we need to turn our attention to the campaign in Mesopotamia.

British offensive action in Mesopotamia began in November 1914, and after a successful initial few months, the new commander, General Sir John Eccles Nixon, who arrived in April 1915, ordered Major-General Sir Charles Vere Ferrers Townshend D.S.O., G.O.C. 6th Indian (Poona) Division, to advance on Kut Al Amara, which duly fell on 29th September 1915, prompting Townshend to turn his attention towards Baghdad.  However, the Battle of Ctesiphon (marked in green on the map below – click to enlarge), a bloody encounter fought in November, left Townshend’s force with some 40% casualties, and he retreated back to Kut, pursued by the Turks, Townshend arriving on 3rd December, the Turks a few days later.  And there the British stayed, first in the face of Turkish attacks, and then, once the Turks realized there was an easier way, and despite three or four failed attempts to reach them (at a cost of 23,000 casualties and more sacked generals, including Nixon), they starved (inset left above).  By 29th April, after 147 days of siege, and despite last-minute attempts at negotiation which included the offer of a huge sum to buy the troops out (really!), Townshend surrendered his remaining men, including 2000 sick and wounded.  As always with these things, numbers vary slightly from source to source, but around 275 British officers and 200 Indian officers, two and a half thousand British troops, nearly 7000 Indians & Gurkhas and well over 3000 Indian support staff were rounded up and began the march to Baghdad (main photograph).  1,750 men had died during the siege, and of the survivors, two-thirds of the British troops and a quarter of the Indians would die in captivity.

Three generals with the unsuccessful relief columns were wounded, and one killed.  First, Brigadier-General William James St. John Harvey, G.O.C. 19th Brigade, 7th Indian Division (no image), who had previously fought in France, died on 1st February in Amara from wounds received the day before the Battle of Hanna (or Hannah – either way a depression between the River Tigris and the marshland of Lake Suwaicha, marked in mauve on the map) on 20th January.  Aged 43, he is buried in Amara War Cemetery, in present-day Iraq.  Major-General Sir George Frederick Gorringe D.S.O., G.O.C. 12th Indian Division (inset right, previous photo of the march to Baghdad), the man in command of the relief attempts, was wounded by a sniper’s bullet in the buttock whilst on horseback on 23rd February, recovering in Amara.  Despite the failure to relieve Kut, Gorringe (‘Bloody Orange’ to his troops – I don’t think he was well liked) seems to have got away with it, so to speak, as he would later command 47th Division in France from late 1916 until the end of the war.  On 8th March, Brigadier-General Francis John Fowler, G.O.C. 37th Brigade, 14th Indian Division (no image), had been wounded during an attack on the Dijailah Redoubt (marked in blue on the map), and on 6th April, Major-General George Vero Kemball D.S.O., G.O.C. 28th Indian Brigade, 7th Indian Division (top inset above), also suffered wounds from rifle or machine gun fire during the attack on Sannaiyat (marked in orange), although both men would survive to later serve in India.  And rather curiously, Brigadier-General Frederick Aubrey Hoghton, G.O.C. 17th Brigade, 6th Indian Division (again, no photo), died in Kut from poisoning.  Whether accidental, as in food poisoning, or enemy-induced, I do not know, but either way he gets a mention here.  Aged 52, he is buried in Kut War Cemetery.

On 29th April the defenders of Kut laid down their arms.  Six generals surrendered that day.  Major-General Walter Sinclair Delamain D.S.O., G.O.C. 16th Brigade, 6th Indian Division (second from top above); Major-General Sir Charles John Mellis V.C., G.O.C. 30th Brigade, 6th Indian Division (third from top), awarded the Victoria Cross for his gallantry during the Ashanti Campaign of 1900, during which he was wounded four times; Brigadier-General Usher Williamson Evans, G.O.C. 17th Brigade, 6th Indian Division (no photo), and two generals wounded during the siege, Brigadier-General Harry Dixon Grier, C.R.A. 6th Indian Division, wounded on 24th December 1915, and Brigadier-General William George Hamilton, G.O.C. 18th Brigade, 6th Indian Division, wounded in the back by a sniper’s bullet on 19th February (no photo of either).  The bottom inset shows Major-General Sir Charles Vere Ferrers Townshend D.S.O., G.O.C. 6th Indian Division, himself.  Townshend lived out the rest of the war in captivity in relative comfort, unlike his men, and was, quite frankly, a bit of a bastard, even if his D.S.O. suggests he too was probably a brave bastard.

As a postscript to the Kut story, a certain Major Clement Attlee was seriously injured in the leg by shrapnel while storming a Turkish trench during the Battle of Hanna(h); Attlee would later serve as British Prime Minister from 1945 to 1951.

Meanwhile, back in Flanders, Brigadier-General George Darell Jeffreys, G.O.C. 58th Brigade, 19th Division, was wounded by shrapnel on the Rue des Bois (pictured) while returning from the trenches on 14th April, reassuming command eight days later.

Brigadier-General Frederic James Heyworth D.S.O., G.O.C. 3rd Guards Brigade, Guards Division (both photos), killed at long-range by a German sniper when going up to the front line to inspect a newly blown German mine crater near Bellewaarde on 9th May.  Aged 53, he is buried in Brandhoek Military Cemetery, Vlamertinghe.  Heyworth, in the centre in the lower photo, is also pictured in a similar shot in the first post of this series.

Brigadier-General John Gellibrand, D.S.O. & Bar, G.O.C. 6th Australian Brigade, 2nd Australian Division, hit in the chest by shrapnel on Gallipoli on 8th May 1915, you may remember from last post, and wounded once more by shellfire near Erquinghem-Lys on 21st May 1916.  He would return once more, eventually to command 3rd Australian Division as a Major-General.  Meanwhile, fifteen miles to the south, Brigadier-General William Thwaites, G.O.C. 141st Brigade, 47th Division (no photo), was wounded near Lens on 23rd May.

Another man of whom I have no photo, Brigadier-General William Frederick Sweny, G.O.C. 61st Brigade, 20th Division, and already wounded twice during the war, was wounded for a third time by a shell in Ypres on 2nd June, but tragedy had already struck that morning, not so far away.  Major-General Malcolm Smith Mercer, G.O.C. 3rd Canadian Division (both photos on the left), accompanied by Brigadier-General Victor Arthur Seymour Williams, G.O.C. 8th Canadian Brigade, 3rd Canadian Division (right), paid a visit to the front line trenches at Mount Sorrel.  Possibly not coincidentally, while they were there the Germans opened an intense and lengthy bombardment on the Canadian positions.  Williams was soon badly wounded in the face by a shell which also stunned Mercer who, on recovering, and as more and more men died in the now-obliterated trenches, determined to return to his headquarters to organize resistance to the inevitable German attack.  On the overland trip back, near Armagh Wood, he was hit in the leg, breaking a bone, his aide dragging him into a nearby ditch for cover.  The Germans took Armagh Wood, the British making attempt after attempt to regain the lost ground as the battle raged for the rest of the day, and during one of these attacks, now on 3rd June, a British shell burst near the ditch containing the wounded Mercer, a piece of shrapnel piercing his heart.  His body was found and buried by the Germans, and a little later recovered by the Canadians after it was unearthed by a shell.  He was 56, and was buried in Lijssenhoek Military Cemetery on 24th June (his grave is pictured in a photograph taken in May 1918 in the first post of this series).  Williams was taken to hospital in Menin, a prisoner of the Germans, the highest ranking Canadian officer to suffer captivity during the war.  The background photograph looks towards Mount Sorrel and Armagh Wood from Hill 62.

On 5th June H.M.S. Hampshire left Scapa Flow bound for the Russian port of Archangel.  Aboard, on his way to meet the Tsar for a personal meeting about the deteriorating position on the Eastern Front, was 65 year old Field Marshal The Rt. Hon. Earl Horatio Herbert Kitchener of Khartoum K.G. K.P. P.C. G.C.B. O.M. G.C.S.I. G.C.M.G. G.C.I.E., Secretary of State for War.  When the ship hit a German mine in a gale off the Orkney Islands with the loss of 737 lives, Kitchener and all his staff were lost, including 44 year old Brigadier-General Wilfred Ellershaw, S.S.O.* War Office. The inset photos show Kitchener boarding H.M.S. Hampshire, and beneath, Brigadier-General Ellershaw.

*Special Service Officer

Back in Flanders again, Brigadier-General William Fletcher Clemson D.S.O. & Bar, G.O.C. 124th Brigade, 41st Division (top), would be wounded by German machine gun fire near Ploegsteert Wood in the early hours of 9th June, returning to his brigade a few weeks later.  Which brings us to 1st July 1916 and the Battle of the Somme.  I suppose it is not surprising, given what we have seen so far, that at least one general would not be able to help putting himself in the thick of the action, and as it turned out two did.  Brigadier-General Neville John Gordon Cameron, G.O.C. 103rd Brigade, 34th Division, not pictured, was wounded by machine gun fire at La Boiselle on 1st July, returning to duty in December, and Brigadier-General Charles Bertie Prowse D.S.O., G.O.C. 11th Brigade, 4th Division (bottom above), was shot in the back by a machine gun in the front line trench near Beaumont-Hamel, aged 47, and thus holds the distinction of being the only British General Officer killed in action on 1st July 1916.  The background photo above shows Prowse Point Cemetery, near Ploegsteert, where Prowse displayed great heroism during the fighting in October 1914, and which is the only cemetery in the Salient named after an individual.  And no, he isn’t in it.  He is buried in Louvencourt Military Cemetery on the Somme.

On 2nd July Major-General William Holmes D.S.O., G.O.C. 4th Australian Division, was taking the Premier of New South Wales to view the Messines battlefield (Messines church above) by a usually safe route behind Hill 63 when a stray shell burst nearby, Holmes receiving shrapnel wounds in the chest and lungs, and dying on the way to the aid station.  He was 54 and is buried in Trois Arbres Cemetery, Steenwerck.

The Somme began to take its toll.  Still in early July, although I am unsure of the exact date, Brigadier-General Horatio James Evans, G.O.C. 115th Brigade, 38th Division, was seriously wounded in the head at Mametz Wood (background picture), eventually leading to his retirement from the Army, Brigadier-General Colin Robert Ballard, G.O.C. 95th Brigade, 5th Division, was wounded when a shell hit his headquarters at Becordel-Becourt on 20th July, and Brigadier-General Ralph Glyn Ouseley, C.R.A. 17th Division, was wounded near Dernancourt the next day.  I have photos of none of them.  The inset photo above is of Major-General Edward Charles Ingouville-Williams D.S.O., G.O.C. 34th Division, who was killed by shellfire at the southern end of Mametz Wood while returning from a reconnaissance trip on 22nd July. He was 54 and is buried in Warloy-Baillon Communal Cemetery and Extension.

Brigadier-General Herbert Cecil Potter D.S.O., G.O.C. 9th Brigade, 3rd Division (top left), wounded three times during the war, the last time by shell splinters near High Wood (background) on 23rd July, Major-General Thomas David Pilcher, G.O.C. 17th Division (bottom left), wounded by shell splinters at Reninghelst on 26th July, and Brigadier-General Winston Joseph Dugan D.S.O., G.O.C. 184th Brigade, 61st Division (right), wounded in 1915, and accidentally injured while watching a Stokes Mortar demonstration at La Gorgue on 8th September 1916.  All three would return to command.

Brigadier-General Louis Murray Philpotts D.S.O., C.R.A. 24th Division, killed while reconnoitering positions near Guillemont (Guillemont church spire in the distance) on the Somme on 8th September, aged 46.  He is buried in Fricourt New Military Cemetery.

Three photographs of Brigadier-General Henry Frederick Hugh Clifford D.S.O., G.O.C. 149th Brigade, 50th Division, already wounded in the left arm by a sniper’s bullet in May 1915, and killed on 11th September 1916 while inspecting new assembly trenches being dug for the next British attack on the Somme, planned for a few days time.  Never one for personal safety, Clifford, one has to say rather irresponsibly, elected to walk overground between two trenches, an alert German sniper in High Wood (background) shooting him through the heart.  He was 49 and is buried in Albert Communal Cemetery Extension.

Brigadier-General Leopold Guy Francis Maynard, Lord Brooke, G.O.C. 12th Canadian Brigade, 4th Canadian Division, wounded by shell fire near Kemmel Château (the photo is, of course, not Kemmel Château, but Kemmel church) on 11th September.

Brigadier-General Charles Edward Stewart, G.O.C. 154th Brigade, 51st Division, killed on 14th September along with his Intelligence Officer by a stray shell while walking in Houplines; the divisional history records that it was the only shell that fell in the vicinity all day.  Stewart was 47, or maybe just 48, and is buried in Cite Bonjean Military Cemetery, Armentières.

On 7th October, Brigadier-General Philip Howell, B.G.G.S., II Corps (top left), veteran of the Salonika campaign who had returned to France prior to the Battle of the Somme, and known as a frequent visitor to the front line, was killed by a stray shell at Authille on the Ancre (pictured), aged just 38, and was buried in Varennes Military Cemetery.  The inset photo next to him is Major-General Archibald Paris, G.O.C. 63rd (RN) Division, seriously wounded by a German shell on the Somme on 12th October.  Evacuated to the C.C.S. at Pughevillers with a compound fracture of the leg and several other wound to arms and legs, Paris’s injured leg had to be amputated.  Brigadier-General Henry Alexander Walker, G.O.C. 16th Brigade, 6th Division (no image), was then seriously wounded by shell fire at Becquigny, near Le Cateau, on 16th October, losing his left arm as a consequence, and Brigadier-General The Hon. Charles John Sackville-West, G.O.C. 190th Brigade, 63rd Division (bottom right), wounded by a bomb dropped from an aeroplane on the Somme on 30th July, was wounded once again, in the jaw, five days after returning to his brigade at Varennes, on 29th October.  He would return to command 182nd Brigade in 1917.

On the left, Brigadier-General John Paton, G.O.C. 7th Australian Brigade, 2nd Australian Division, wounded by a German sniper while standing on the trench parapet near Le Sars on 7th November.  Paton had been the commander of the mixed force that captured Rabaul in German New Guinea in the early weeks of the war, and as he didn’t retire until 1926, presumably he returned to some form of command.  The two photos on the right show Brigadier-General Duncan John Glasfurd, G.O.C. 12th Australian Brigade, 4th Australian Division, mortally wounded by a shell, a piece of shrapnel entering his kidney, near Flers on 12th November.  He died later in the day at the age of only 42, perhaps 43, and is buried in Heilly Station Cemetery, Méricourt-l’Abbé (the other inset shows a contemporary photograph of his grave).

The final three General Officer casualties in 1916 all took place in December: Brigadier-General George Bull D.S.O., G.O.C. 8th Brigade, 3rd Division, pictured, was wounded in the shoulder and side by a German sniper while inspecting the trenches at Courcelles on 7th December.  Aged just 39, he would die four days later on 11th December, and is buried in Varennes Military Cemetery.  I can find no images of the othe two.  In Mesopotamia, on 18th December, Brigadier-General Leslie Warner Yule Campbell, G.O.C. 9th (Sirhind) Brigade, 3rd (Lahore) Division, was wounded by a sniper’s bullet, east of Kut, and at some point in the month Major-General Hurdis Secundus Lalande Ravenshaw, North-West Frontier and the South African War veteran, who had already served in France, was captured by the crew of an Austrian submarine while returning by ship to England from Greece, I think, and would spend the rest of the war in captivity.  The circumstances of his return, after only a couple of months in command of 27th Division in Salonika, having relinquished his command, sound a bit odd to me, as was his eventual fate; repatriated after the war, he was found dead in a village in South Africa near Port Elizabeth on 8th June 1920.

1917 beckoned.

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12 Responses to The Dead Donkeys: The Myth of the ‘Château Generals’ Part Four – 1916

  1. Morag Sutherland says:

    We have local men buried in Warloy Varennes and Heilly station….at a minumim of tge crmetrrirs upu mentioned but the last cemetery is of my personal favourites……
    Did you get my photos of the plaque commemorating the man buried in Estaires? I sent it last Sunday. All the best from COLD north of Scotland

    • Magicfingers says:

      I did, and have replied – thanks Morag. Have you got snow up there? I have not visited any of those three cemeteries yet.

  2. Sid from Down Under says:

    Very interesting reading and again thank you MJS for your incredible research. Here’s some remotely associated trivia: Subiaco, a suburb of Perth, had a park named after Colonial Government Botanist Mueller but due to WW1 sensitivities, noting at British request the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force capture of German New Guinea and Protectorate islands in September-November 1914, was renamed the more agreeable Kitchener Park.

    Will you be doing a post on the famous albeit vain, imposing and arrogant Kitchener?
    Not to forget the curious building of the tower in his honour at Marwick Head – a story in itself.

    • Magicfingers says:

      Thanks a lot Sid. Is it still Kitchener Park? I’m not sure I know about Marwick Head? And Kitchener himself? We’ll see.

      • Sid from Down Under says:

        Yes, still Kitchener Park and very much in our local news. In 1981 a section within Kitchener was renamed back to Mueller. Kitchener is alongside our iconic Subiaco Football Ground now under redevelopment. With our new world class Perth Stadium the other side of the city Kitchener will be home to the new “Inner City College at Kitchener Park”.

        Marwick Head, the Orkneys, almost fifty foot Kitchener Tower. I’ve emailed reference to a Financial Times article titled “The strange death of Lord Kitchener” that “tells all”

  3. Nick Kilner says:

    I’m astounded by the casualty rates. Wandering around the cemeteries, as we do, you occasionally come across the odd headstone with ‘Brigadier-general’ or similar on, but it’s not until you see them all laid out in such a way that you begin to realise just how high the casualty rate was for the men holding the rank of General. Statistically far higher I should imagine, than for Privates, certainly up to this point in the war. Another fascinating post Magicfingers

    • Magicfingers says:

      I now know that I have missed quite a few in my cemetery wanderings, too. Thanks Nick. I agree entirely, and it is one of the points I was hoping these posts were getting across. I’m learning all this as I research and write. I’ll give you some figures to play with in the final post. But don’t think that we’ve peaked in numbers yet. Basically they are getting younger, you might notice, and perhaps even more gung ho because of it. We shall see.

  4. Daisy says:

    Hey Magicfingers,
    Love your work as usual…
    Just some figures if you have some idea…
    How many of these officers were there in total?
    On any given day how many of this level officer would there be?
    What percentage is the numbers of deaths?
    Wondering if these deaths are a high percentage?

    • Magicfingers says:

      Morning Daisy. Thanks as ever. When you get to Part Six, the final part, there are some figures at the end that either answer your questions, or allow you to work them out. Not sure you will get the answer to ‘on any given day’, but the figures are quite revealing. Fire away with any more questions after that!

  5. Amber says:

    My great grandfather was Brigadier-General Frederick Aubrey Hoghton, and I was always told he succumbed to poisoning by eating inedible plants which poisoned him as he was starving out in the desert, as he had refused to shoot and then eat his horse which he was so fond of.

    • Magicfingers says:

      Hello Amber. Thanks for taking the time to comment. Your Great Grandfather was clearly a decent man. Are there any photos of him?

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