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«A Slashing Man of Action»

The Life of Lieutenant-General Sir Aylmer Hunter-Weston MP

Elaine McFarland

Hailed by General Sir Ian Hamilton as «a slashing man of action», Aylmer Hunter-Weston began the Great War as one of the British Army’s rising stars. By its close, his reputation was very different. Branded by some contemporaries as a «butcher» and a «mountebank», he has also been criticised by modern military historians both for his role in the Gallipoli campaign and also at the Somme, where his corps suffered the worst losses of any engaged on the first day of the battle. Drawing on original archival research, this is the first full-length study of his colourful and controversial career. It explores how he gained his sanguinary reputation, and asks how far this was actually deserved. Rejecting a simplistic «butchers and bunglers» approach, it argues that Hunter-Weston was an intelligent and highly professional soldier, whose failures can best be understood by reference to the structural challenges of modern war on a mass scale. There is no doubt that his personal flaws and idiosyncrasies contributed to his woeful image, but he also emerges as a transitional figure, frustrated by a battlefield in which managerial skills had become more important than heroic personal leadership. Indeed, his career offers valuable glimpses into the practical business of generalship, including the under-researched «political» role of senior officers. While not one of Britain’s great commanders, «Hunter-Bunter» remains one of the most compelling.
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My thanks are firstly due to the Hunter family for their kind permission to consult the Hunter papers at Hunterston House. I would also like to thank the staff and trustees of the following institutions for their invaluable assistance during my research for this book: the National Library of Scotland, the Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives, the Imperial War Museum, the British Library, the National Archives, the National Army Museum, the Churchill Archives Centre, Churchill College Cambridge, the West Kilbride Museum. I have attempted to locate current holders of copyright in text, but I apologise for any omissions that may have occurred in this respect and will ensure amendments are made in any future edition.

I am grateful to Colin Cumming for proof reading and his many excellent suggestions; also thanks to Michael Hopcroft for his hard work with the maps.

My apologies to colleagues in the GCU battlezone who have been subjected to many inspiring parallels from the career of Hunter-Weston over the last few years: Annie Tindley, Stewart Davidson, Fraser Duncan, Ross Campbell, Ben Shepherd, Vicky Long, and Karly Kehoe.

Finally, thanks to Jim Whiston for his continuing tolerance and unflagging support (and help with photographs). ← ix | x →← x | 1 →

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