Sir William Robert, Bart Robertson - Encyclopedia


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"SIR WILLIAM ROBERT ROBERTSON, Bart. (1859-), British field-marshal, was born, of poor parentage, in Lincs. Sept. 14 1859. He enlisted as a private in the 16th Lancers in 1877 and served in the ranks of that regiment until 1888, when he won a commission in the 3rd Dragoon Guards, then in India.. On joining he eagerly studied his profession in all its branches and he was very successful in learning the native languages. He was selected to be railway staff officer in the Miranzai and Black Mountain operations of 1891, and in the following year he joined the intelligence department at Simla; while on its staff he carried aut a reconnaissance to the Pamirs, and in 1895 served with the Chitral Relief Force, being wounded and receiving the D.S.O. He passed through the Staff College in 1897-8 - the first officer risen from the ranks to do so - and then, after a few months at the War Office, went out to S. Africa on the intelligence staff; he accompanied Lord Roberts on his advance from Cape Colony into the Transvaal and was promoted brevet lieutenant-colonel for his services. He spent the period from 1901 to 1907 at the War Office, being promoted colonel in 1903, and he then went to the staff at Aldershot, where he spent three years. In 1910 he was appointed commandant of the Staff College, was shortly afterwards promoted major-general, and in 1913 became director of military training at the War Office.

On mobilization of the army for the World War, Sir W. Robertson - he had been given the K.C.V.O. in 1913 - was nominated quartermaster-general of the Expeditionary Force; he filled that appointment most successfully for five months and then, in Jan. 1915, he became chief of the general staff to Sir J. French. In the autumn of that year he was promoted lieutenant-general for distinguished service and in the following Dec. was brought back to the War Office to take up the post of chief of the imperial general staff. There he immediately introduced great improvements in the office organization, and during the first year and a half of his holding the appointment he was successful in keeping the general control of operations on sound lines. While convinced that the western front represented the decisive theatre of war, and fully aware how mischievous was dispersion of force in principle, he saw to it that, where circumstances unfortunately rendered operations in distant regions unavoidable, the commanders on the spot were furnished with what was deemed essential to achieve success - with the result that the position of affairs in Mesopotamia, on the Suez frontier and in E. Africa was completely transformed within a very few months of his taking up his task. His services were recognized by his being promoted general in 1916 and by his being given the G.C.B. in 1917. He had, however, always experienced some trouble in sufficiently impressing upon the Government that the war could only be won in the west, and in the later months of 1917 he found it more and more difficult, in view of the somewhat disappointing results obtained by Allied offensives in France and Flanders, to persuade the War Cabinet that diversion of fighting resources to Alexandretta, or to Palestine, or to Macedonia, or to the Austro-Italian frontier, endangered prospects of victory at the decisive point and might lead to disaster near home. His anxieties were increased by the manner in which the problem of man-power was treated. He moreover foresaw that the plan of having a supreme war council composed of military representatives of the Allies, such as was introduced towards the end of the year, was an unworkable one. Finally in Feb. 1918 he resigned - just one month before the success that attended the great German offensive of March proved how correct had been his appreciation of the situation. He was given charge of the eastern command, and three months later he succeeded Lord French as commander-in-chief in Great Britain. On the final distribution of honours for the war he was rewarded with a baronetcy and grant of £Io,000, and he was nominated G.C.M.G. From April 1919 to March 1920 he commanded the British troops on the Rhine, and, after relinquishing that appointment on the force being reduced, he was promoted field-marshal.

See his autobiographical volume From Private to Field-marshal (1921).

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