Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives
Papers of FM Sir William (Robert) Robertson, 1st Bt, GCB, GCMG, GCVO, DSO (1860-1933)
Reference code: GB99 KCLMA Robertson W R
Title: ROBERTSON, FM Sir William (Robert), 1st Bt (1860-1933)
Dates of creation of material: 1898-1930
Level of description: item level
Extent: 0.08m3 or 8 boxes of papers
Born in 1860; pupil-teacher at Welbourne School, Lincolnshire; footman in the service of the Cardigan family at Deene Park, Northamptonshire, and the Vernon family at Hanbury Hall, Worcestershire; entered the army 1877; served in the ranks with 16 (The Queen's) Lancers, 1877-1888, qualifying as a regimental instructor in musketry, signalling and elementary intelligence duties; overcame educational, financial and social restrictions, to take a commission in Muttra, India as 2nd Lt, 3 (Prince of Wales's) Dragoon Guards, 1888; qualified as an instructor in 5 Indian languages, by taking lessons in his spare time, 1890; Lt, 1891; Railway Transport Officer, Miranzai and Black Mountain Expeditions, India, 1891; Staff Lt, 1892-1895 and Staff Capt, 1895-1896, Intelligence Department, Simla, India, 1892-1896; Intelligence Officer, Headquarters, Chitral Relief Force, India, 1895; married Mildred, daughter of Lt Gen TC Palin of the Indian Army, 1894; awarded DSO, 1895; became the first ranker officer ever to attend the Staff College, Camberley, Surrey, 1897-1898, and passed out second in his year; Staff Capt, Colonial Intelligence Section, War Office, 1899; Deputy Assistant Adjutant General, Assistant Head of Colonial Intelligence Section, War Office, 1899-1900; Maj, 1900; Deputy Assistant Adjutant General, Intelligence Section, General Headquarters, South Africa, 1900; Deputy Assistant Adjutant General, Assistant Head of Colonial Intelligence Section, War Office, 1900-1901; Brevet Lt Col, 1900; Assistant Quartermaster General, Head of Foreign Intelligence Section, War Office, and General Staff Officer, Grade 1, 1901-1907; Col, 1903; during 4 months on half pay, translated several German Army manuals for the War Office, 1907; Assistant Quartermaster General, Aldershot Command, 1907; Brig Gen and Chief of General Staff, Aldershot Command, 1907-1910; Maj Gen, 1910; Commandant, Staff College, Camberley, Surrey, 1910-1913; created KCVO, 1913; Director of Military Training, War Office, 1913-1914; Quartermaster General, BEF (British Expeditionary Force), 1914-1915; Chief of General Staff, BEF (British Expeditionary Force), 1915; Lt Gen, 1915; Chief of the Imperial General Staff, 1915-1918; Gen, 1916; GCB and Aide de Camp General to HM King George V, 1917; General Officer Commanding, Eastern Command, 1918, and Home Forces, 1918-1919; Commander in Chief, BAOR (British Army of the Rhine), 1919-1920; created GCMG and Bt, 1919; FM, 1920, making him the only man ever to have risen from the ranks to that position; retired 1921; Col, 2 Dragoons (Royal Scots Greys), 1916-1925, 3 (Prince of Wales's) Dragoon Guards, 1925, and Royal Horse Guards, 1928; entered upon a remarkably successful business career, being appointed Director of British Dyestuffs, the Palestine Corporation, the London General Omnibus Company, and Chairman of the Brewers' Trustees; awarded honorary degrees from Oxford and Cambridge; created GCVO, 1931; died 1933.
Publications:From Private to Field Marshal (Constable and Co, London, 1921); Soldiers and Statesmen 1914-1918 (Cassell and Co, London, 1926).
The majority of the papers were placed in the Centre by the family in 1965, with a small accession (see 7/12) being added in 1993. Section 8 consists of original correspondence between Robertson and various military friends and colleagues, collected by his former Aide de Camp, Brig Gen Cecil Courtenay Lucas, and was placed in the Centre by Lucas' widow in 1969, through the offices of MRAF Sir John Cotesworth Slessor.
The papers of FM Sir William (Robert) Robertson, 1st Bt, are most exclusively concerned with the conduct of World War One, though a small quantity of earlier material, including memoranda, texts of speeches and teaching notes, relates to his work in the Foreign Intelligence Section of the War Office, 1901-1907, and his post as Commandant of the Staff College at Camberley, Surrey, 1910-1913.
On the outbreak of World War One, Robertson was appointed Quartermaster General to the BEF (British Expeditionary Force) in France and Belgium, and private correspondence with Maj Gen Sir Stanley Brenton von Donop, Master General of the Ordnance, and Maj Gen Sir John Steven Cowans, Quartermaster General to the Forces, gives a detailed overview of the difficult supply situation and the severe shortages of artillery and ammunition facing the British forces on the Western Front in the winter of 1914-1915. Official memoranda and reports collected whilst he was Chief of General Staff to the British Armies in France, 1915, illustrate the views of the General Staff in France concerning the waging of the war on the Western Front and in other theatres, such as the Balkans and the Dardanelles.
The bulk of the Robertson papers consist of official documents and private correspondence created during his tenure as Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Dec 1915-Feb 1918. The official papers include many closely argued memoranda by Robertson on general strategy in World War One , which are notable for his continued insistence on the importance of the Western Front as the main theatre of war. There are also files of papers on operations in the Middle East, especially Palestine, and the increasingly severe manpower shortages facing the Army Council and the British Government in 1916 and 1917. Personal correspondence and telegrams feature largely for this period, mainly due to Robertson's belief that official telegrams and memoranda often led to misunderstandings which could be injurious to the conduct of operations, and the need to communicate certain personal opinions outside official channels. There are a large number of personal telegrams between Robertson and various army commanders and military attachés, 1916-1917, from which he gathered detailed information on the situation in Salonika, Egypt and Palestine, Russia, Italy and Mesopotamia.
His private correspondence, however, gives an even more detailed picture of Robertson's dealings with French and British senior military commanders, and members of the British Government whilst in the post of Chief of the Imperial General Staff. There are two files of correspondence, 1915-1918, with FM Sir Douglas Haig, Commander in Chief, British Armies in France, which give a detailed understanding of the relationship between the two men, and the day to day management of the requirements of the British forces in France and Belgium. The letters are wide-ranging, dealing with subjects such as preparation for, and negotiations with the French Army concerning, offensives on the Western Front; Robertson's dealings with the British Government, and, more particularly in 1917, with the Rt Hon David Lloyd George, Prime Minister, especially concerning support for the British Flanders offensive of Spring 1917 (Third Battle of Ypres); the shortage of manpower on the Western Front, and attempts by the French and British Governments to remove troops to other theatres. Another file of private correspondence relates to military affairs in India, Mesopotamia, Egypt and Palestine, and comprises letters to temporary Gen Sir Archibald (James) Murray, Gen Sir Beauchamp Duff, Gen Sir Charles Carmichael Monro, and Gen Sir Edward Henry Hynman Allenby.
Robertson's private correspondents during the period 1915-1918 include many of the most important political and military figures of World War One, such as Lt Col Arthur John Bigge, Baron Stamfordham, Italian Gen Luigi Cadorna, the Rt Hon Winston (Leonard Spencer) Churchill, Reginald Baliol Brett, 2nd Viscount Esher, French Gen Ferdinand Foch, the Rt Hon David Lloyd George, Lt Col Sir Maurice Pascal Alers Hankey, Lt Gen Sir Frederick Stanley Maude, Maj Gen Frederick (Barton) Maurice, Lt Gen George Francis Milne, French Gen Robert Georges Nivelle, Gen Sir Herbert Charles Onslow Plumer, Lt Col Charles A'Court Repington, Lt Gen the Rt Hon Jan Christian Smuts, Lt Col Clive Wigram, Lt Gen Sir Henry Hughes Wilson, and Gen Sir (Francis) Reginald Wingate.
In addition, the collection contains files relating to the creation of the Allied Supreme War Council, about which Robertson had severe misgivings, and detailed documentation, comprising correspondence, notes and memoranda, relating to events leading to his resignation as Chief of the Imperial General Staff in Feb 1918.
Material covering Robertson's later career includes several files of inspection reports of depots and units in Britain dating from his posts as Commander in Chief, Eastern Command and Home Forces, 1918-1919; papers relating to his tenure as General Officer Commanding in Chief, BAOR (British Army of the Rhine), including memoranda by French Marshal Ferdinand Foch, Allied Supreme Commander on the Western and Italian Fronts, concerning the Allied control of the Rhineland, 1918-1919; papers relating to the organisation and functions of the British Zone of Occupation in Germany, 1919; and correspondence relating to the reduction of the BAOR (British Army of the Rhine), 1919.
The collection was sorted and arranged into files prior to its deposit in the Centre. This arrangement was referred to in letters to the Centre written by Victor Bonham-Carter, author of a biography of Robertson, A Soldier True: the life and times of Field-Marshal Sir William Robertson, Bart. GCB, GCMG, KCVO, DSO, 1860-1933 (Frederick Muller Ltd, London, 1963), though it is unclear whether the files were created by Bonham-Carter, or represent an earlier filing system. In cataloguing the collection, the integrity of those files has been retained, though the order in which they are listed has been slightly altered to make the papers more accessible. The papers collected by Brig Gen Cecil Courtenay Lucas have been placed in a separate series at the end of the catalogue, and retain the order in which they were deposited.
Open, subject to signature of reader's undertaking form.
Copies, subject to the condition of the original, may be supplied for research use only. Requests to publish original material should be submitted to the Trustees of the Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives, attention of the Director of Archive Services.
English, with some items in French.
Existence of copies
A preservation microfilm has been made of sections 1-7.
Related units of description
Papers of Victor Bonham-Carter include working papers for and proof copies of Soldier True, the life and times of Field Marshal William Robertson (Frederick Muller Ltd, London, 1963) (Ref: GB99 KCLMA Bonham-Carter 1/1-3). Papers of Gen Sir Alexander Godley include letters from Robertson, 1910-1932 (Ref: GB99 KCLMA Godley 3/242-263). Papers of Lt Gen Sir Lancelot Kiggell include correspondence with Robertson relating to operations on the Western Front, 1915-1917 (Ref: GB99 KCLMA Kiggell 3/1-11). Papers of Capt Sir Basil Henry Liddell Hart include an obituary of Robertson written by Liddell Hart (Ref: GB99 KCLMA Liddell Hart 10/1933/55-56); notes written to David Lloyd George, 1st Earl Lloyd George of Dwyfor, concerning Robertson's Soldiers and Statesmen 1914-1918 (Cassell and Co, London, 1926) (Ref: GB99 KCLMA Liddell Hart 11/1933/12-18); papers relating to Robertson's career, 1926-1933 (Ref: GB99 KCLMA Liddell Hart 15/2/41).
Department of Western Manuscripts, Bodleian Library, Oxford University: papers of Herbert Henry Asquith, 1st Earl Asquith of Oxford and Asquith, include correspondence; papers of Arthur Augustus William Harry Ponsonby, 1st Baron Ponsonby of Shulbrede, include correspondence, 1914-1918.
Victor Bonham-Carter used the papers for his biography Soldier True, the life and times of Field-Marshal Sir William Robertson (Frederick Muller, London, 1963). A number of letters and telegrams from the collection are reproduced in Military correspondence of Field-Marshal Sir William Robertson, Chief of the Imperial General Staff, December 1915-February 1918 edited by David R Woodward (Army Records Society, Volume 5, London, Bodley Head, 1989).
Last modified: Monday, 08-Aug-2005 13:20:00 BST
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