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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 Eight: ‘A Second Crimea’ – The Road to Gallipoli



‘A Second Crimea’ – The Road to Gallipoli

The essential purpose of the Dardanelles expedition of 1915 was to deliver a knock-out blow against the Ottoman Empire and thus shorten the war. Nothing else about the campaign was ever that simple. Halfway through his leave, Hunter-Weston received a telegram from Lord Kitchener who wanted to see him immediately. Attending the War Office on 15 February, his old chief briskly informed him that the government was thinking of sending a military force to the Dardanelles to cooperate with the fleet. If the expedition did head east, then Hunter-Weston would take over command of the 29th Division; if not, then its current GOC would take it to France. Either way, he was to give up the 11th Brigade and take command of a newly formed division.1

The machinery of promotion had been turning discreetly at the highest levels. Only three days previously, the War Office had requested Sir John French to forward the names of officers of Major-General rank, who had ‘a thorough knowledge of French, so as to be able to conduct operations of a detached force of English and French troops combined’.2 The object of the mission was not specified, but at this stage an allied landing was projected in Salonika with the aim of tempting Greece into the war. Despite being deeply distrustful of such adventures, French speedily forwarded a shortlist consisting of Henry Wilson, Hubert Gough and Hunter-Weston. His first choice...

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