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What happened to sacked officers?


Moonraker
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What happened to officers who were removed from their posts because of old age or inefficiency? Were they retired, or were they given less demanding positions? I'm not thinking of those who were court martialled. My own studies into the raising of new battalions suggest that these often relied at first on officers and NCOs brought back from retirement but that some of these were deemed too old for active service. Were they found jobs "back at the depot"?

And what about those generals who were "sacked" for not achieving results (or perhaps because of a personality clash with their senior officer)? Sir John French went on to perform usefully at home, but did others retire to their armchairs and gardens - or were their abilities put to use elsewhere?

(I was going to ask about the term "Stellenbosched", but a Google search confirms that this was a term coined in the Boer War when officers who performed unsatisfactorily in the field were sent to staff duties, including the remount depot, at Stellenbosch.)

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Stellenbosched was a term used as was degummed, obviously for coming unstuck!

Most officers if regulars that were sent home were used in ireland and England to command troops there. The likes of Smith-Dorrien was attempted to be used in other theatres but illness prohibited this.

The only ones i am not sure about would be some of those returned to the colours who were then found to be too old and were degummed? I am not sure if these were used at home or retired.

regards

Arm.

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From my research into officers of the Yorkshire Regiment.

Vicar's son Harold Donkin was commissioned into the Yorkshires on July 9th 1916 and then on Oct 8th 1916 was,

"Removed from the army, the King having no further use for his services as an officer".

Two months later he died of pneumonia in France while serving as a private soldier with the 1st battalion of the Queens, Royal West Surrey Regiment.

Obviously determined to serve this man has intrigued me for a long time.

An example of an ex officer, would love to know why he lost his commission.

Bob.

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One example I bring to mind is Walter Braithwaite, sent home after being chief of Hamilton's staff in the MEF. he got landed with a very dodgy task - the 62nd (2/W Yorks) divisions; second-line TF divisions were not exactly the cream of the cream!

he took it to France and did extremely well, and ended up with a Corps (and the 62nd was, I believe, the only TF divn to join the march to the Rhine).

I did some research into his son, Valentine (Som LI, MC, memorial at Serre), and I have a bit of a soft spot for old Walter!

Maybe not all Stellenbosched officers ended in anonymity. By the way, I've been to Stellenbosch, and I can think of many worse places to be sent to in disgrace :P - it's the heart of the SA wine growing area.

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  • 11 years later...

I was going to open a new thread with a variation on my original question of 12 years ago:o but vaguely remembered this one, without realising it was written so long ago! Since then, we've discussed numerous cases of sacked officers who made good or didn't, such as Lieutenant Colonels Elkington, Mainwaring and England.

 

What has now occurred to me is how officers of general rank reacted emotionally  to being sacked? In charge of thousands of men one moment, sent home the next. Perhaps some - or many - could not accept that they were to blame for perceived shortcomings and that there were other factors in play, not least unrealistic objectives set by politicians, poor planning by their superiors and insufficient resources in terms of men and equipment.

 

Rather than our repeating previous discussions about the reasons for sacking very senior officers (Sir Ian Hamilton and Gallipoli, for example), I'm hoping that replies can concentrate on the effect this had on the men themselves.

 

Moonraker

 

 

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This chap certainly went through the sort of harrowing career catastrophe you're investigating - took over as OC 14th (Light) Division on 21 Mar 1918 just as the Kaiserschlacht broke over the division and lasted six days ...

 

 

Greenley went as part of the Romanian military mission following this episode.

 

Andy would definitely be interested in any insights into the impact his divisional command experience had on him.

 

Mark

 

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On 8/18/2005 at 18:31, Terry_Reeves said:

Bob

There is a file for an H Donkin in WO339/1757 at the NA. Can't be sure it's the same man though.

Terry Reeves

 

     Terry- You have rung a little bell on this which you may then know the answer to-  A man who loses his commission- would his file still be in the officers long service sequence at Kew???   Or would he have had his file in the OR stuff-the burnt documents. Cannot say I have seen any reference anytime to the file on a "degummed" officer being still at Kew- nor, despite losses, that anyone has made reference to an OR file on a demoted officer still being in what is left of the "burnt documents" stuff.  (Remembering that the Arnside fire burnt 100% of the officers files-what we have are the administrative leftovers scraped together from elsewhere)

 

      What exactly was the system of fitness/capability assessments for command and promotion during the war? Presumably, given the vast increase in the number of officers, there must have been a standardised confidential report system???   With standard forms???   Have any of these survived- there are usually strays of any admin.system tucked away soemwhere. Can any GWF enlighten me with a copy of an assessment report or form??

 

     As to employment of ex-officers or those sacked from other posts- We lack the full officer files from the time which would have had the sequence of fitness reports from superior officers.  An officer of middling or senior rank who had failed in a task at one rank, say, Brigadier, must presumably have got through capability assessments positively up to and including the rank of Colonel. Given that the stock of higher officers is comparatively inelastic, then the proven experience and suitability -plus long professional service to get there- must have figured in keeping some failed senior officers in other jobs where their records still counted as a plus. But without capability reports for performance at lower ranks-particularly the one rung below- then it's a guess as to why some were moved and some got rid of completely.

 

       There is a splendid "Punch" cartoon of c.1979-80 (from meory)-one of the "Madison Avenue" type that Punch used to have- American offices, large desks, graphs on the wall, the boss with thick, black-rimmed glasses and crew-cut (ex-US Marine) haircut. A poor wretch is standing before one such boss- the caption is "Congratulation, Smith, I have never known anyone stay over-rated as long as you have"

Edited by Guest
spelllin agian
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  • 4 years later...

I'm reading the excellent IWM book The Western Front, by Malcolm Brown, which has a chapter about Brigadier General F M Carleton, who as OC 98th Infantry Brigade was sacked by Major General H J S Landon, one reason being that he lacked "a cheerful outlook which  will communicate itself to the troops". Back in England, he made a very strong protest that led to him being re-appointed to command an infantry brigade, but in Salonika, described by Brown as "one of the 'sideshow' fronts". Unfortunately his health broke down and he was invalided home.

Another issue that cannot have helped his reputation with Landon was when he was given three hours' notice to attack a point 10,000 yards away and pointed out the impracticality of doing so. (According to Carleton, the staff officer relaying the order admitted that he did not know the distance involved.)

Brown notes that Haig once stated that he had dismissed more than a hundred brigadier generals.

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My understanding is that  officers' confidential files were destroyed in 1940. There are, however files for some generals in series WO138 (including such as Fitz Clarence, Stuart-Wortley, Townshend, Stopford, Nixon), WO339 and WO374. Of those that I've seen, some do contain information that could be considered confidential, e.g. in  series WO138 confidential assessments in Fitz Clarence's (WO138/25) ; complaints about his sacking by Stuart-Wortley (OC 46th Division, 1.7.1916) in his (WO138/29)  ; and Frank Crozier's chaotic financial affairs in his (WO374/16997). Mansel Shewen's WO339/20332 file complains that he relinquished command of 71 Brigade in France, understanding he would be given a training command in the UK.

As for how sacked generals fared, besides some of the above, there are surviving diaries. Major General Bertram Mitford, after successfully commanding 72 Brigade in 24th Division for 2 1/2 years, was given command of 42nd Division. Unfortunately, the division failed to make its mark in small scale attacks at Ypres in September 1917. Mitford was shocked to be told not to return to France. Perhaps because there were quite enough generals who had already been sacked, he was not given a post in the UK and retired early in 1918. At the end of 1917, he had written,' Here ended a year of illusions and disillusions, of vain hopes and great disappointments.' His diary is at the N.A.M. I am just finishing a biography of him.

Michael

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  • 4 months later...

Lt Col Pickard-Cambridge of the 7th Bedfords was retired when they went to France and issued a SWB

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On 18/08/2005 at 18:18, Bob Coulson said:

Harold Donkin was commissioned into the Yorkshires on July 9th 1916 and then on Oct 8th 1916 was,

"Removed from the army, the King having no further use for his services as an officer".

2nd Lt. Harold Arthur Bryan Donkin

Commission: https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/29671/page/7103 

Removal: https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/29776/supplement/9721

Officer's papers at TNA, Kew. https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C1120765

M

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  • 3 weeks later...
On 04/05/2022 at 11:51, EastSurrey said:

Major General Bertram Mitford, after successfully commanding 72 Brigade in 24th Division for 2 1/2 years, was given command of 42nd Division. Unfortunately, the division failed to make its mark in small scale attacks at Ypres in September 1917. Mitford was shocked to be told not to return to France. Perhaps because there were quite enough generals who had already been sacked, he was not given a post in the UK and retired early in 1918. At the end of 1917, he had written,' Here ended a year of illusions and disillusions, of vain hopes and great disappointments.' His diary is at the N.A.M. I am just finishing a biography of him.

This book has now been published under the title The Real 'General Mitford' - Sudan, South Africa, Loos, Somme, Passchendaele, and, as I have posted elsewhere, it is well worth a read. The author reports that, following his retirement, Mitford spent time on "genealogy and heraldry, collecting material relating to the Mitford family", and retaining his interest in things military, inter alia writing three long articles about his early career in the Egyptian Army with the IX Sudanese Battalion. There is a rather nice story of the man's modesty and sense of humour in replying to a request for his autograph by saying "I am afraid you have had a shot at the wrong bird. I can't imagine anyone wanting my autograph", and explaining that there must have been a mix-up with his cousin, Bertram Mitford the novelist.

At the other end of the spectrum (in rank)  of sacked officers, I had occasion to look at the surviving service record of a 2nd Lieutenant Richard Waugh on my last trip to the NA, He was sent back to the UK in June 1916 after only about 8 weeks at the front. There is some confusion in the file as to whether what actually triggered the return was incompetency or ill-health, but a move to dispense with his services as an officer had been set in motion before he left the front, and his services were indeed were subsequently dispensed with on the grounds that he was “unfit to serve as an officer – inefficient – totally lacking in powers of leadership”. His resignation of his commission was published in the Gazette on 14 September 1916 entirely without his approval or acquiescence, and he immediately appealed by letter dated 18 September 1916 protesting that he had not resigned, and asking to be reinstated to his former position until his health had been re-established. “If not I shall be pleased to learn what reparation you are prepared to make for my nerves having been shattered by shellshock.

My grandfather has hardly a bad word to say about anyone in his diary, but he had no time for 2nd Lieutenant Waugh. He was mostly sympathetic to men who suffered from nervous illness, but I think that what he found difficult was that Waugh “crocked up when the first bullet came over” before he had really had any experience of the front line worth speaking about. Probably Waugh was just one of those men who should never have been accepted into the army at all, and, as my grandfather acknowledges at one point, he may have been genuinely ill, but the tone of his letters to the War Office on file in his service record, and particularly his tendency to exaggerate the challenges he had faced, do not endear him to the reader.

Anyway, for the purposes of this thread, the point is that, following his involuntary resignation of his commission, he then received a notice dated 13 October 1916 calling him up to enlist as a conscripted private with immediate effect.

I suppose that it is logical that a man who does not have satisfactory qualities for leadership might nevertheless perform perfectly satisfactorily as a private. However, Waugh was horrified at this development, as the last thing that he wanted to do was to return to the front, and he replied to the calling up notice saying that there must have been some mistake.

How the situation was ultimately resolved is not clear from his record. There are conflicting notes as to whether he received a gratuity, but it is certain that he was not reinstated as an officer, and there are no documents relating to further service as a private. The final document in the file shows that on 9 May 1939 aged 53 he wrote to the War Office in a pencilled scrawl pleading to be allowed to re-join the army as an officer’s servant. As the cut-off age for enlisting in that role was 51 he was already two years too old, so, not surprisingly, his application was politely refused.

 

 

Edited by A Lancashire Fusilier by Proxy
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