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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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Chapter Fourteen: The Man That Gets Things Done

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CHAPTER FOURTEEN

The Man That Gets Things Done

The first days of peace were spent in a blur of speeches, lunches and civic ceremonies as the liberated towns of Flanders celebrated their deliverance.1 However, as the pleasures of victory subsided, those who had progressed quickly in their careers began to fear for the future. While successful Army Commanders could expect plum imperial postings, temporary Lieutenant-Generals would be lucky if they were selected to command a division in the Army of Occupation.2 Some of Hunter-Weston’s colleagues later proved remarkably enterprising in adapting to civilian life: Beauvoir De Lisle trained polo teams for the Maharaja of Kashmir; Sir Ivor Maxse became a fruit-grower; while Hubert Gough experimented rather less successfully with raising pigs, cows and chickens. In contrast, Hunter-Weston’s victory in the December 1918 General Election meant that he was to remain a public figure, serving as MP for Bute and North Ayrshire for the next seventeen years and successfully defending his parliamentary seat at six General Elections. His time as an MP spanned the glory years of Scottish Unionism as the party grew in vitality and confidence against a background of economic crisis and social strife. As a Tory landowner, he proved to be remarkably adept at rebranding himself as a hard-working, ‘non-political’ local representative – ‘the man that gets things done’. He could not escape the scrutiny of his war record, especially regarding Gallipoli, but while more illustrious military contemporaries became mired in controversies over their past...

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