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Remembered Today:

Galloper Jack


IanA
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I have just finished reading this book and was mildly surprised to see that it has not yet been reviewed here. Since the life and career of Jack Seely ought to be of interest to Great War buffs, I shall remedy that and shall be interested to read of any views which pals may have formed concerning events such as the Curragh incident and Seely’s role in them.

John Edward Bernard Seely was born in 1868, the son of a wealthy coal owner. He was educated at Harrow (where he met his lifelong friend Winston Churchill) and Trinity College, Cambridge. Throughout his life he appears to have been insensible of danger and narrowly avoided death on several occasions. In 1891, while serving with the local lifeboat crew on the Isle of Wight, he attended a shipwreck where he tied the end of a rope around his waist and swam through the storm to rescue the badly injured captain of the Henri et Léontine. The French government awarded him their Médaille D’Or d’Honneur.

In the Boer War he fought with the Militia where he again demonstrated his undoubted bravery and a disregard for authority. When ordered to retire with two troops, leaving two troops to fight a rearguard action, Seely chose to stay with the rearguard. He refused to follow a repeated direct order by his commanding officer and, upon successfully completing this critical operation, was put under arrest and a court martial was convened. The court decided on a reprimand but reinstated him to his command. A few days later, he was awarded the D.S.O. for the action. It was during his South African experiences that he developed a distrust of what he saw as the blinkered military mind of the career soldier: a feeling which became mutual when Seely was in government.

After the Boer War had ended, Seely began his career as a politician (he had been elected in his absence while fighting) and he had risen to Secretary of State for War by the time of the Curragh incident. The country was faced with a near mutiny which culminated in fraught meetings with Sir John French, Sir Henry Wilson and a stubborn brigadier – Hubert Gough – who said: “Seely then, in a very pompous and sententious manner, began a harangue...” Gough stood his ground and Seely was manoeuvred into drafting what became known as the ‘guarantee’ for which he was soon forced to resign. Gough later wrote – “Seely and I eventually became great friends. He served under me in command of the Canadian Cavalry Brigade.”

In 1914, the scapegoat politician and ‘arch colonel’ was desperate to serve his country and found a sort of employment as a glorified runner for Sir John French and, later, Sir Douglas Haig. He petitioned his old friend Churchill who spoke to Kitchener and got him to agree to giving Seely command of the Canadian Cavalry Brigade in 1915. He rapidly grew to love and respect his Canadian command they him but the regular army generals above him were contemptuous. General Horne thought him a “Silly creature...I had the chance of telling him some truths about the neglect to listen to the warnings we Gunners had given about our guns, shells, etc.” ‘Sally’ Home, thought him of “no use”, while Haig wrote in November, 1916: “ Kavanagh also mentioned that he would probably have to report that Brigadier General Seely was unfit to command the Canadian Cavalry Brigade. I told Kavanagh that he must only think of him as a cavalry brigadier in the field responsible for the efficiency and handling of his command and not as an MP and Ex-Secretary of State for War.”

Despite the accumulated wrath of high command, Seely survived and the brigade was soon attracting plaudits rather than brickbats. Five months later the ebullient Seely was attacking Equancourt without orders and removing his troops from the position they were supposed to occupy. After the action, Seely attempted to rest but was awakened by the arrival of an incandescent General du Cane, “sitting on his horse as angry as could be, with a flow of language of which I had not believed him capable and which I could not but admire....He said to me that he would see that the most severe disciplinary measures would be taken against me.” At that point Seely’s Brigade Major ran up bearing a message which read: “Heartiest congratulations to you and all under your command on your most brilliant feat of arms. Commander in Chief.” Seely handed the note over to du Cane who retreated as gracefully as he could.

Seely continued to command the Canadian Cavalry until shortly after the famous charge on Moreuil Ridge at Easter, 1918. He was gassed quite severely and in May the Canadians demanded that their cavalry be led by a Canadian. He resignedly joined the Ministry of Munitions and so ended his war. He was awarded the C.B. and the C.M.G.

The author of this biography is Seely’s grandson but he makes no effort to disguise his less attractive qualities such as his overweening arrogance or his tendency to embellish accounts of his undoubted bravery. He goes on to relate how Seely, like so many men who fought throughout the war, went on to become an arch appeaser in the lead up to 1939. It is a very well written book with an easy flowing style and attractively illustrated. As far as I am aware, only two cabinet ministers served on the Western Front – Churchill’s brief command is generally known and well documented but I believe that Seely’s far more emphatic contribution deserves greater publicity and I hope this volume might help to redress the balance.

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Sadly. it was very quickly remaindered and copies were widely available for 99p which made it an excellent bargain at the time!

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I certainly thought it a very good read, but in places Brough's knowledge of things military is a little shaky.

Charles M

Granted. Perhaps, one of these days, we'll get a more detailed account of his experiences in the Great War. It would surely make a tremendously swashbuckling film script.

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I have Seely's autobiography. It wasn't very enjoyable. A case of 'how I won the war but no-one realised or appreciated'. Not recommended.

Robert

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I have Seely's autobiography. It wasn't very enjoyable. A case of 'how I won the war but no-one realised or appreciated'. Not recommended.

Robert

This aspect of Seely's character comes across in the book but it is significant that people such as Gough and du Cane who initially despised him came to regard him with affection.

Ian

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  • 11 months later...

For those with access to the Miltary channel (531) - there is a programme about Galloper Jack on at 21.00 hours tomorrow (6th March)evening. I have no idea what the quality is like but, as it is presented by Brough Scott, it should be interesting.

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Brough Scots book is an extremely poor revamp of Seely's own two books Adventure, Fear and be Slain and a bit from a book that JS wrote about his horse Warrior. I could discern no new research in it at all. All of Seely's own books are fairly readily available. Seely was not exactly a modest man but as other evidence shows he was brave and deeply committed, seeking to serve in the army after having been forced to give up the War Ministry over the Curragh incident. His command of Canadian Cavalry was equally bold and effective and little reported. Forget grandson's pot boiler and go for the originals they actually read very well if you do not trip over the man's ego.

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  • 10 years later...

https://cefrg.ca/blog/brigadier-general-jack-seely-dso/

The Canadian Cavalry Brigade raised by Brigadier General Jack Edward Bernard Seely in December 1914. The 2nd King Edward's Horse (The King's Overseas Dominions Regiment) later replaced by The Fort Gary Horse in February 1916, with the other original units being the Royal Canadian Dragoons, Lord Strathcona's Horse (Royal Canadians), and the Royal Canadian Horse Artillery battery.

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