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Wexflyer

Role of King During Great War?

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Wexflyer

I think we all know that George attended innumerable reviews and such like during the war. However, my question is did he play any more substantive role?

- As regards the conduct of operations, I think not.

- As regards strategy, I don't know.

- As regards top level command appointments, the answer is clearly yes.  The king was consulted as a matter of course on all top military and naval appointments. But this raises two further questions for me:

   * How high a level did the appointment have to be before George was consulted? Lt General/Vice Admiral, or Major General/Rear Admiral, or....?

   * On what basis did George provide input to these command appointment decisions, and why?

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Ron Clifton

The Victorian historian Walter Bagehot famously encapsulated the role of a constitutional monarch in three phrases: the right to be consulted, the right to encourage, and the right to warn. For certain roles such as the appointment of a Commander-in-Chief abroad, the King's consent was necessary for certain legal reasons, including the warrant carrying the power to confirm a death penalty. For others, such as lieutenant-general or vice-admiral and above, the promotion normally carried an automatic knighthood, which also required the King's agreement as the "fountain of honours". The ranks of field marshal and admiral of the fleet were within the gift of the King anyway.

 

All that said, the King would ultimately accept the advice of his ministers, though in private discussions with them he undoubtedly made use of the three rights quoted by Bagehot, and through a network of contacts via his private secretaries, he was sometimes better placed to give his ministers a flavour of how a potential appointment might be viewed outside the strict military/political hierarchy. He also encouraged certain senior officers to write directly to him if they had any particular concerns, and he could then raise them appropriately.

 

Ron

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brummell

I think it worth considering that the level of the King's interest in the matter reflected the level to which most of his pre-war military 'friends' - Haig, Plumer, Smith-Dorrien, Grierson, Hamilton, among others - had risen by the time the army began to expand.

 

Whilst the King may have had an influence over the appointment of divisional commanders when there were only a handful of divisions and a relatively small pool of regular officers to command them, he could have little useful to say about the command of the many New Army divisions - some of which went to political placemen anyway, and many of them to men that the King had never met. When Major Generals were almost ten a penny, they were hardly worth the King's time; particularly when those whom the King did know and who had enjoyed his esteem for many years were, by and large, sitting at the corps or army command level by mid-1915.

 

It was therefore at this level and above that the King focussed his attention - because he knew the men concerned and they were already under his patronage.

 

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David_Underdown

The introduction of the Military Medal seemed to be dreamt up jointly by Kitchener and the King http://blog.nationalarchives.gov.uk/blog/centenary-military-medal/

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PhilB
47 minutes ago, brummell said:

I think it worth considering that the level of the King's interest in the matter reflected the level to which most of his pre-war military 'friends' - Haig, Plumer, Smith-Dorrien, Grierson, Hamilton, among others - had risen by the time the army began to expand.

 

George V is usually described as "not very intelligent" even by Royal standards. That`s somewhat disconcerting. It makes one wonder which senior commanders a more intelligent king would have favoured and how that would have influenced the conduct of the war.

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voltaire60
28 minutes ago, PhilB said:

George V is usually described as "not very intelligent" even by Royal standards. That`s somewhat disconcerting. It makes one wonder which senior commanders a more intelligent king would have favoured and how that would have influenced the conduct of the war.

 

     But to balance this out-  KGV is usually portrayed as a man of good common sense-albeit the commonsense of a country squire.  Please, let us remember that the "King" might be a person but that kingship is supported by a strong corps of specialist advisers and flunkeys- A monarch has only to be bright enough to take the right advice from his Household. Which is what the KIng did.

   As to the IQ of the King v the Generals.  Not sure this has ever been assessed.  The assessment of the IQ of US Presidents from their writings and speeches (with the caveat that most of the stuff is written for them) suggests that Grant was the least intelligent of US Presidents. But achieved a few victories as a military commander. along the way. 

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Steven Broomfield

And surely one of the main roles of the King (and Royal Family as a whole) was as a figurehead ... a totem? In the same way that less-fortunate nations salute the flag, we salute the monarch: the effect of the King turning out in appalling weather to inspect troops or visit hospitals (and the morale effect of his visit to Brighton to meet Indian wounded is a case in point) is notable.

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sassenach

Exactly. And his son did the same in WW2.

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Uncle George

 " ... The King and his devoted Queen threw themselves into every form of war work and set an example to all. Tirelessly the King inspected and reviewed the growing armies, alas for many months without weapons. Day by day he encouraged and assisted his Ministers in their various tasks ...

 

" ... The agony of the War continued. Governments and Ministers were worn out by its strains. The King was ever at hand to aid in forming new combinations ... All stood firm, not a link in the chain broke; but the holding-ground in which all the anchors of British strength were cast was the hereditary Sovereign and the function of Monarchy which he so deeply comprehended ...

 

" ... he died surrounded by his loved ones, amidst the respect of mankind and the grief of his subjects. In harness to the last, he left behind him an example and an inspiration to all concerned in the government of men. Duty, public and private, faithfully, strictly, untiringly, unostentatiously, and successfully performed, and a calm, proud humility at the summit of majestic affairs, are characteristics which will for ever illuminate his fame."

 

Churchill, 'Great Contemporaries' (1937).

 

 

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Moonraker

When the King visited a division at a training camp in England, it was usually a sign that it was about to leave for active service - something that the officers and men would have known anyway once a training programme of some 13 weeks had become routine. He visited the First Canadian Contingent twice on Salisbury Plain - once after it had just arrived and then shortly before its departure.

 

On the one hand the officers and men are said to have welcomed the sign that they were to get into the real war, on the other it entailed a lot of preparation. "When Royalty visits Sling Camp to review the New Zealand troops there are always great preparations in the way of extra drills and parades. On the occasion of the King's visit about a week was spent on rehearsal; one of the days being Sunday, divine devotion was cut out," noted New Zealand Truth.

 

When on June 24, 1915, the King inspected the 20th (Light) Division and the 18th (Eastern) Division,  R D Mountfort of the 10th Royal Fusiliers reported that "the King had told our Colonel personally that he thought that they are a fine lot of men and so forth & that he would remember this Battalion individually as one of the best he had inspected. No doubt he told the other dozen or more the same thing." Indeed, such royal praise does recur, though when the King inspected the hastily-recuited Canadian Contingent in November 1914 he expressed reservations (not unfounded) about some of its officers.

 

If one believes contemporary reports, the King was generally warmly welcomed, though there are disparaging remarks about some visits by senior generals.

 

Moonraker

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