Jump to content
The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Lieutenant-General Sir James Grierson


robigunner88
 Share

Recommended Posts

Morning all,

I have just been viewing the chapters of a edited book to published next month on the BEF in 1914. One of the chapters is about II Corps original commander, Lieutenant-General Sir James Grierson. All I know about Grierson is that he died of a heart attack in France and was replaced by Smith-Dorrien before the BEF engaged the German Army at Mons. Many of the books I have read about the BEF in 1914 rarely go much deeper in information than that about him.

So do any forum members know much about his personality or his style of leadership from the pre-war manoeuvres? I guess it is another 'what if' of the war regarding how he would have marshalled his Corps during the first engagements and whether there would have been a better relationship with Haig and French throughout the initial phases of the war?

Jamie.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

He provides one of those innumerable 'What if' type of questions.

Born in 1859 (55 and six months in Aug 1914) in Glasgow into a commercial family. Had an unusual military career (tho' did staff college - which in reality was unusual in itself, because of its small size). Commissioned as a gunner. Educated partially in Germany. Passed out 4th from Woolwich. Went with Au-H armies (as observer) when they occupied Bosnia-Herzegovina; in 1880 observed Russian manoeuvres iN Warsaw for a newspaper/ Then India (Simla) and the first of a number of appointments to the QMs department/side of the military. Used for Intelligence. Spoke Turkish, German, French, Hindi, Urdu, a working knowledge of Japanese and Chinese, Arabic wrote handbooks on Turkish army, and an arabic handbook. Operations in Egypt (1882) and present at two battles; interrupted Camberly to take part in the Sudan Campaign, became an expert on the Russian army and translated a number of works from Russian; served in Russian section of Intelligence Department; back to India 1887 as a captain(promoted in 1886) - took part in an expedition in 1888; back to Int Dept 1889, head of Russian Section; analytical books on armed forces of Germany, Japan and Russia; wrote Staff Duties in the Field; brevet lt col 1895, Bde Major Aldershot 1896 - and then to Berlin as Military Attache in 1896.

There became ever more concerned that a breach between GB and Germany was inevitable. Got on well with his German hosts. To South Africa with the MAs in 1900, but then immediately taken by Roberts as AAG. Took part in numerous actions. In August 1900 hurriedly sent as Brit representative to Waldersee, commanding the force against the Boxers. In 1901 eventually chief staff officer II Corps; 1904, in the new War Office, a major general, director military ops; worked hard for good military relationships with the French - got on very well with Huguet. This work carried on by, eg Wilson. 1906 to Aldershot, commanding 1st Div (1906), then GOC Eastern Command. An excellent field trainer, respected by his men, a meticulous planner; if war with Germany had broken out over teh Agadir Crisis of 1911, was considered likely to be CinC of any expeditionary force.

Enjoyed his food and was probably more than a little overweight! But then look at Joffre!

Outstanding linguist (actually the pre 1914 army was pretty good at languages and put quite a heavy emphasis on them - Haig had a good knowledge of German (I hesitate to say speaker, because he disliked public speaking), for example, besides being competent in French and Urdu.

Anyhow, I digress: to the point - his pedigree and record were good, he had a considerable knowledge of the opposition - but, there again, S-D did pretty well himself, tho' Grierson might not have had the personal animosities that exited between French and S-D. Would that have made any difference? Doubt it, but ...

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Apparently he was persona grata with the Kaiser, who described him as "der gute Colonel Grierson" when he was Military Attache in Berlin. He certainly had a deep working knowledge of the German Army, and as such his advice to Sir John French would have been invaluable. If French had still handled the reserves badly at Loos Grierson might well have been a serious contender to succeed him as C-in-C, whereas in fact Haig turned out to be the only feasible replacement.

On the matter of his corpulence he used to joke that the medals on his chest represented many heroic battles with a knife and fork. I have also read, though I cannot remember the source, that his force "defeated" Haig's force in one of the pre-war Army manoeuvres - 1912 I think.

As you and Nigel say, it is a great "what-if" for students of the war!

Ron

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks for the resumes. Does anyone know the extent that he was over weight in 1914? Was the physical fitness of senoir officers a consideration in the promotion stakes in those days? These are only rhetorical questions, as, of course, apparently fit people can suffer sudden death for all sorts of reasons. I notice that Sir max Hastings in his recently published ' Catastrophe' has two short comments on General Grierson; self indulgent, and an early appreciater of the value of aircraft (1912 manoeuvres)

Old Tom

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I doubt if it was an overwhelming problem - Joffre? Gallieni? Curry was no lightweight, rather like a mobile pear, though he was tall. Haig, asthmatic, at least to a degree. And so it goes on.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Here is a photo of Grierson among the Sergeants of the 1st Bn Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders 31 July 1910. This was probably taken after Sunday church parade.

fa0054bbee1f.jpg

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thank you for your replies Gentlemen.

I can see why he was in Corps Commander now at the outbreak of the war. His knowledge of the European armies must have been quiet remarkable! However, I guess he was not one for sports like many other senior officers if he was on the larger size.

I understand from your posts he took part in the 1912 manoeuvres. Would this have been with II Corps or was he appointed commander of II Corps at the outbreak of war?

Jamie

Link to comment
Share on other sites

There was no "II Corps" in peacetime - in fact, the decision to have a level between GHQ and the divisions only seems to have been confirmed on the outbreak of war, to conform with French practice. In 1914 Grierson was GOC-in-C Eastern Command, based at Horse Guards, with only 4th Division and two TF Divs under him. In August he was appointed to command II Corps, consisting of 3rd and 5th Divisions -3rd Brom Southern Command, 5th from Ireland.

Haig, as GOC-in-C Aldershot Command, took its two divs (1st and 2nd) to war as I Corps.

I believe that at manoeuvres the two forces were called Red and Blue, and they were commanded by generals who would be expected to have a corps command on the outbreak of war, but these jobs, and that of the C-in-C himself, were, in effect, only "pencilled in" with names before the "precautionary period" just before war broke out.

Gen Smith-Dorrien was GOC-in-C Southern Command in Aug 1914. This command, and those of Aldershot, Eastern and Irish Commands, were regarded as more important (and higher paid!) posts than the other home commands, so the actual selection of wartime commanders was made from a fairly small pool. III Corps was given to Lt-Gen Pulteney, though he did not hold any home Command at the time.

Ron

Link to comment
Share on other sites

He was also educated at The Glasgow Academy

Not much of a commendation to those of us educated at the same school as Sir John Moore and Lord Clyde! (Though not quite my contemporaries!)

Roger.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Not much of a commendation to those of us educated at the same school as Sir John Moore and Lord Clyde! (Though not quite my contemporaries!)

Roger.

Agreed – I never went there myself – prefer the East coast and Jim Clark (Though I hesitate to bring Norman Lamont, Alistair Darling and Sir Nicholas Fairbairn into civilised conversation)

Griersons contemporaries thought highly of him and started fund raising for a memorial to him soon after his death.

What if indeed.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Lt J M Grierson was mentioned in dispatches in Wolseleys final despatch from the Sudan June 1885 .. along with Lt F R (Reginald) Wingate who also went on to make a name for himself in Sudan.. [the 2 RA junior officers MID] and a brevet Major Herbert Kitchener who also did quite well for himself - like others so that generation, perhaps just a bit old for 1914 [Montague-Stuart-Wortley a KRRC subaltern also MID in the same 1885 despatches was judged unfavourably by some in 1916]

Link to comment
Share on other sites

There was no "II Corps" in peacetime - in fact, the decision to have a level between GHQ and the divisions only seems to have been confirmed on the outbreak of war, to conform with French practice. In 1914 Grierson was GOC-in-C Eastern Command, based at Horse Guards, with only 4th Division and two TF Divs under him. In August he was appointed to command II Corps, consisting of 3rd and 5th Divisions -3rd Brom Southern Command, 5th from Ireland.

Haig, as GOC-in-C Aldershot Command, took its two divs (1st and 2nd) to war as I Corps.

I believe that at manoeuvres the two forces were called Red and Blue, and they were commanded by generals who would be expected to have a corps command on the outbreak of war, but these jobs, and that of the C-in-C himself, were, in effect, only "pencilled in" with names before the "precautionary period" just before war broke out.

Gen Smith-Dorrien was GOC-in-C Southern Command in Aug 1914. This command, and those of Aldershot, Eastern and Irish Commands, were regarded as more important (and higher paid!) posts than the other home commands, so the actual selection of wartime commanders was made from a fairly small pool. III Corps was given to Lt-Gen Pulteney, though he did not hold any home Command at the time.

Ron

I assumed that he would have had been in command of II Corps and the divisions that fell under it for some time before the outbreak of the war in order to build a working relationship with the divisional and brigade commanders. So in fact, Smith-Dorrien's late appointment would not have been too much of a hindrance to the overall command and control of II Corps, as Grierson had only a short period of being in command as well.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

post-81601-0-52843700-1379379814_thumb.j

Found this photograph on Britishbattles.com. Here's the caption for it:

"Photograph taken during the visit by senior British officers to the French training camp at Mailly, in July 1914, showing from the left General Allenby, General Grierson and General Haig with an unidentified French General, presumably the commandant of the French camp"

Link to comment
Share on other sites

II Corps did not just suffer from the loss of its commander but also some of its senior staff officers, two i believe either being killed of injured in a car incident before the battle unfolded. Forestier-Walker and Grierson/SD had to gell a command from literally no common working relationship, in complete contrast to 1 Corps.

On Greierson, yes he did show Haig a clean pair of heels in the manouvers, was also, I believe, an exponent of using aircraft as recce planes etc and was considered one of the best brains in the British Army.

Rgds

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 weeks later...
  • 2 weeks later...

A small aside but The Aldershot News reported on his death and stated that he was a big football fan. His Aldershot office was next to a pitch, apparently he was well known for abandoning his office to watch after hearing a referees whistle. His will allowed one of the Messes to take any books they wanted from his estate from memory.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

There are detailed accounts of the British Army annual manuoevres in The Times which you might be able to access on-line. This includes the Grierson v. Haig set based in East Anglia with Haig the invader and Grierson the defender of London.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
 Share

×
×
  • Create New...