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Full text of "Sir William Robertson, the life story of the Chief of the Imperial General Staff"

SIR- WILLIAM 

ROBERTSON 




G. A.iLrEASK* 




to 

Xibran? 

of tbe 

\Hmver0it\> of Toronto 

bs 

Bertram 1H. SDavis 

from tbe boofcs of 

tbe late Xionel Davis, 1R.<L 




Photograph by G. C. Beresford. 



GENERAL SIR WILLIAM ROBERTSON, 
K.C.B.. K.G.V.O., D.S.O. 




SIR WILLIAM 
ROBERTSON 

The Life Story of the Chief 
of the Imperial General Staff 



BY 



G. A. LEASK 

Author of "V.C. Heroes of the War," etc. 




GASSELL AND COMPANY, LTD 

London, New York, Toronto and Melbourne 
1917 



OR 



3 



CONTENTS 

CHAPTER PAGE 

1. EARLY DAYS ..... i 

2. IN THE RANKS ..... 18 

3. WINNING HIS SPURS IN INDIA . . 35 

4. Ax THE STAFF COLLEGE, THE WAR OFFICE, 

AND IN SOUTH AFRICA 57 

5. AT THE WAR OFFICE, INTELLIGENCE 

(1902-1907) 70 

6. ALDERSHOT ...... 81 

7. COMMANDANT AT THE STAFF COLLEGE, 

CAMBERLEY ..... 93 

8. THE GREAT WAR IN FRANCE . . 112 

9. CHIEF OF THE IMPERIAL GENERAL STAFF 130 

10. CHARACTERISTICS, IMPRESSIONS AND AP- 
PRECIATIONS ..... 140 



SIR WILLIAM ROBERTSON 



CHAPTER I 

EARLY DAYS 

IT was Napoleon who remarked that "all great 
captains have performed vast achievements by con- 
forming with the rules of the art by adjusting 
efforts to obstacles." The subject of this bio- 
graphy is a conspicuous present-day example of a 
captain who has achieved success and done great 
things by surmounting obstacles, unaided and 
alone. 

The stirring and amazingly successful career 
of General Sir William Robert Robertson, 
K.C.B., K.C.V.O., D.S.O., Chief of the Imperial 
General Staff, is one of the romances of recent 
times. There is no more fascinating 1 military 
record for the ambitious young soldier to read and 
study, and in order to find a parallel to his rapid 
rise we have to go back to the days of the French 
Revolutionary wars. Certainly General Robert- 
son has had the most remarkable career of any 
soldier produced by this country. There is only 



SIR WILLIAM ROBERTSON 

one other instance in our Army of a "ranker" 
achieving the eminence of Lieutenant-general, but 
Sir William Robertson has surpassed the record 
of the late Sir Luke O'Connor, V.C., by becoming 
a full General. He has been well described as the 
best scientific soldier this country has reared, and 
the most efficient organiser the Army has pro- 
duced in the past fifty years, with the exception of 
Lord Kitchener. To-day there is only one step 
separating Sir William Robertson from the highest 
rank of all, that of Field-Marshal. 

To describe fully the wonderfully successful 
life-story of the Army Chief, or the "Brain behind 
the British War Office," as he has been named, 
has not been attempted in these pages. To do this 
would demand a volume of greater dimensions than 
is desirable for popular reading. The purpose of 
the writer has been to give a plain, straightforward 
narrative of the General who has risen from the 
ranks, in the hope that the stirring story of the life 
and work of Sir William Robertson may act as an 
incentive, not only to the many thousands of young 
soldiers now serving their country, but to young 
Britons everywhere, to put forth their best efforts 
so as to make excellent use of their time and talents. 
This brief record is a thrilling chapter in the 
romance of self-help. Without influence of any 
sort, but by sheer grit, hard work and con- 
scientious effort, Sir William Robertson has risen 
step by step from trooper to Chief of the Imperial 
General Staff. 

No one of our great leaders has been less 

2 



EARLY DAYS 

'written up" than General Sir William Robertson, 
iust because he has never courted the limelight. 
tie is a typical example of the strong, silent 
Englishman and soldier, always content to let his 
nvn deeds speak for themselves. "To the British 
Dublic," says a writer, "Sir William Robertson 
nay still be little more than a name, but he is 
ecognised to-day by soldiers as one of the great 
nen whom this war has, if not discovered, proved 
Deyond challenge. Some day the country will 
snow how much it owes to his strength, sagacity, 
ind initiative." 

A further brief note respecting the scope of this 
jttle volume may be added. The writer has 
undertaken it under certain disadvantages, the 
:hief of which has been the well-known shrinking 
:>f its subject from anything in the nature of self- 
advertisement. While naturally lamenting these 
drawbacks with regard to the material at his dis- 
posal, the writer has nevertheless been fortunate 
in getting into close touch with a number of people 
who know General Sir William Robertson, both 
with respect to his earlier career and his present 
work. In this way much interesting information 
not previously recorded in print will be found in 
the following pages. Of every prominent man 
there is an inevitable crop of anecdotes which, 
while making for interest, have no ground in fact. 
By confining his researches on the lines indicated 
above the writer has been able to avoid all such 
errors, and has stated nothing that is not absolutely 
true and verifiable. 

3 



SIR WILLIAM ROBERTSON 

Success in any walk of life depends upon many 
factors. All are agreed that to be successful a 
man must rely mainly on himself and the exercise 
of his own energies, rather than upon the help of 
others, or as Emerson puts it : " Self-trust is the 
first secret of success." The man who has con- 
fidence in his own powers will assuredly succeed. 
This particular and essential quality for success is 
possessed in no small degree by Sir William 
Robertson. He has always been a firm believer in 
his own "star," and while, like most men, he has 
had his dark days, he has refused to be "downed." 
Another factor making for success is courageous 
working, without which, as Samuel Smiles re- 
minds us, nothing that is of real worth can be 
achieved. One could go on enumerating "success 
maxims " and apply them to the stirring career of 
Sir William Robertson, and find that they have 
had no small part in moulding it. His success has 
been attained by the age-long formulas persever- 
ance, reliability, unceasing work and originality, 
and his story is well worth perusing by all young 
men starting the battle of life, whether on the 
lowest rung of the commercial ladder or as privates 
in the ranks. 

It is often remarked that every famous man 
casts a lustre upon the county and place that gave 
him birth. Indeed, no biography is complete with- 
out some reference to the district that cradled its 
subject. It would be a fascinating task to make a 
comparison between the various counties of this 
land, in order to discover which has produced the 

4 






EARLY DAYS 

most great soldiers, sailors, poets or preachers, but 
such cannot be attempted within the compass of 
this modest record. A few facts are all that can be 
given of the county that gave birth to Sir William 
R. Robertson. 

Lincolnshire, the large eastern maritime county 
of England, has an area of 1,693,547 acres, of 
which 61 per cent, is arable land, 29 per cent, 
grass and meadow, 2 per cent, woods, and the re- 
mainder waste, water, roads, etc. The county as 
a whole is very fertile, and is famous for the high 
state of its agriculture. Few counties rival it in 
the quality of its cereals, while among other im- 
portant crops are beans, turnips, and potatoes. 
Lincolnshire is also famous as a leading stock- 
rearing county. Physically, it is full of interest; 
its Fenland is world-famous, while the rivers 
Trent, Witham, and Welland, together with the 
numerous short canals, make it one of the best- 
watered of our counties. Lincolnshire is for the 
most part flat. The famous Wolds (300 feet to 
500 feet), against which hills the Fenland ter- 
minates in the western area, run nearly north and 
south from the Humber at Barton to within ten 
miles of the Wash at Spilsby. West of the Wolds 
the country is flat or gently undulating. 

Historically, Lincolnshire is one of our most 
interesting counties. The archaeologist and the 
historian find in it a never-failing field of study 
and speculation. Of prehistoric man the relics 
include abundant tumuli and earthworks. The 
Romans had several roads in the county, and im- 

5 



SIR WILLIAM ROBERTSON 

portant stations at Lincoln, Horncastle, an'd 
Caistor, places of much importance and interest 
at the present day. It is not our purpose tc 
describe the rich historical past of the County oi 
Lincolnshire; it possesses a fascination and interesi 
for every student of the history of these isles. 
Suffice it to say that the Angles found convenient 
landing in the Humber and Wash, and overran 
the district which afterwards formed part of the 
Saxon Kingdom of Mercia. Then came the 
Danish inroads. King John, the Civil War, the 
Puritan emigrants, these are but three associa- 
tions writ large in the history of this importan 
county. 

In later days the immortal names of John and 
Charles Wesley and Alfred Tennyson stand forth 
chief among Lincolnshire's famous sons. It has 
been said that flat countries produce no poets. 
Lincolnshire must be an exception, for it gave birth 
to England's greatest and most representative Poet 
Laureate, and her most prolific and foremost hymn- 
writer. To such a county, rich in historical asso- 
ciations and interesting in many other ways, be- 
longs the subject of this "Life." 

William Robert Robertson was born at Wei- 
bourn in 1860, a village in South Lincolnshire, 
twelve miles south of the historic city of Lincoln. 
It is one of a string of picturesque spots which lie 
between Lincoln and Grantham. It may be 
described as a typical English village, no better 
and no worse than hundreds of others, but its fame 
is now secure as the birthplace of one of England's 

6 



EARLY DAYS 

greatest soldiers, and the inhabitants are very 
Droud of this association. 

Welbourn has been described as a quaint spot, 
tfith two distinctive ends and a middle. One goes 
3y the name of "The Nooking" and the other is 
<nown as "The Green." The intervening portion 
s the business part of Welbourn. The village is 
very healthy, its soil is a fine strong loam, heath 
and stiff clay, overlying shale and clay. Besides 
the usual public buildings it possesses the fine 
church of St. Chad, restored in 1884, the south 
porch of which has canopied and crocketed 
buttresses, and is of excellent design. There is 
also a Wesleyan Church. The former Manor 
House is now occupied by a farmer. 

In this little straggling village first saw the 
light the trooper who has risen to the highest 
rank, the great soldier who is now the "Brain 
of the British Army." It is an interesting co- 
incidence that the first entry made in the new 
baptismal register at the Parish Church was that 
of William Robert Robertson, the son of Thomas 
C. Robertson and Mrs. A. Robertson. Of the 
latter, who before marriage was a Miss A. 
Johnson, eldest daughter of Mr. William and 
Mrs. Rosamond Johnson, of Navenby, much 
might be written. Wherever we find a dis- 
tinguished man, especially one who has elbowed 
his way from small beginnings to a high 
position, we invariably look for a devoted 
and splendid mother. A famous preacher once 
said that the first thing for a man to do, if he would 

7 



SIR WILLIAM ROBERTSON 

succeed in life, was to be careful to "choose a good 
father and mother to be born of." Sir William 
Robertson was fortunate in both respects. 

The eldest of her children, William was his 
mother's favourite. She was a woman of simple 
piety and lovable disposition, qualities inherited by 
her famous son. No man cares to proclaim to the 
world the depth of his family affections, least of all 
the feeling represented in the relationship of a son 
to a mother. Every man knows in his heart of 
hearts the debt he owes to a good mother's up- 
bringing, a knowledge he can seldom put into 
words. But we shall not be intruding upon his 
private and intimate family ties if we refer to Sir 
William Robertson's own tribute to his saintly 
mother. 

"She was," he has said, "a splendid mother 
pious, religious, affectionate. She was continu- 
ally instilling good principles into her children, 
as, for example, punctuality, honesty, truth, per- 
severance, and love of the Bible." 

One can trace in his subsequent career the fruits 
of this noble teaching and splendid example. 

Sir William Robertson cannot claim any more 
Scottish descent than his name, though his many 
admirers north of the Tweed persist in regarding 
him as "one of us." Had he, by accident of 
birth, been born in Scotland, doubtless much more 
would be known of his career, for the writer has 
noticed that however reticent the average Scot may 
be concerning his own life, he is and rightly so 
profuse in details where a distinguished "brither 

8 



EARLY DAYS 

Scot" is in question, and all the facts of the hero's 
early days, rise to fame and sterling deeds, are 
known and told from Berwick to John o' Groat's, 
and gleefully handed forth to the Southerner as 
one m'ore example iof how and why Scotsmen 
succeed ! Nor is this to be condemned, for in 
making known the life, particularly its early part, 
of any man of outstanding ability one is doing an 
inestimable service in stimulating those " toiling 
upward." 

The above digression is introduced merely to 
emphasise the fact already noted, that the subject 
of this sketch cannot claim more Scottish connec- 
tion than his name, a fact that bears hardly on his 
biographer, for it is solely due to Sir William's 
well-known aversion to publicity that this chapter 
on his early days is less full than the writer would 
have wished. Although the public career of a 
famous man becomes in a sense universal property, 
the same cannot be said of his earlier days. These 
remain a sealed book unless he opens their pages 
for the public to contemplate. 

Sir William, as we have seen, was singularly 
fortunate in having a good mother "to be born of." 
He also had a good father. Mr. Thomas C. 
Robertson has been described as a man of singu- 
larly handsome presence, and "of exceptional 
character, big both in mind and stature ; a man of 
stern will, who courted the favour of no one, while 
he commanded the respect of all." He had mi- 
grated from Grantham to Welbourn, and in the 
little village occupied an important place. Both 

B 9 



SIR WILLIAM ROBERTSON 

father and mother were strict disciplinarians, and 
the future Chief of the Imperial Staff had early 
inculcated into him habits of obedience. In the 
case of their eldest son no upbringing could have 
been better in view of the soldier's career he was 
to carve out for himself. Obedience has always 
been regarded as the first commandment in the 
army, and the humble private who practises it 
knows how to win it when he becomes an officer. 
But side by side with strictness went devotion, 
and no children were more lovingly cared for. 
Each was given the best education and start in life 
possible. 

Even at school William Robertson showed 
signs of greatness. The future Chief of the Im- 
perial General Staff took his work very seriously 
from the start, and showed a strong will and deter- 
mination to get on, characteristics that have got 
him to the top of the ladder. 

One of his chief occupations was drawing, and 
he would practise landscape work during his 
leisure moments. Here again we may notice the 
hand of fate, the child being father of the man. 
The keen young eyes that took in the contour of 
the country around Welbourn were afterwards to 
study the topography of other lands with the 
trained eye of the military strategist, as, for 
example, when he visited the Pamirs in Central 
Asia, and during his extensive investigations in 
the North- West Frontier of India, to which refer- 
ence is made later on. It is said that he was never 
without pencil in hand, and the youthful artist had 

10 



EARLY DAYS 

to run the gauntlet of the usual schoolboy chaff. 
Nothing deflected William Robertson from a thing 
once he had set his mind to it. He was determined 
to draw, and draw he did. It is said that maps 
early fascinated him, and his masters, noting his 
eagerness and aptitude, gave every encouragement 
to his geographical inclinations. It has been re- 
marked of him in these early days by one who 
knew him that "he had the most strange views con- 
cerning everything, and in habit he was very par- 
ticular and thorough, but all his strange ideas have 
come into effect. Everything he purposed he 
always accomplished." 

An essay which he wrote when thirteen years 
of age, describing a storm which broke over the 
neighbourhood, has been preserved, and is now a 
treasured record in the school he has made famous. 
The essay, which was cherished by the late Canon 
Melville up to the time of his death, is written in 
an excellent hand, and shows remarkable terseness 
of expression and conciseness as to facts. 

STORM AT WELBOURNE AND NEIGHBOURHOOD 

On the nth day of July, 1872, there was a 
fearful storm at Welbourne and neighbourhood. 
It began about 4 o'clock at night. The rain fell 
in torrents till 5 o'clock. Then there was a 
tremendous whirlwind, which started at Fulbeck 
and made dreadful havoc in Colonel Fane's garden, 
and also broke down some of his glass houses. 

Then it went to Leadenham and tore up trees 
by their roots, and uprooted part of the goods 



ii 



SIR WILLIAM ROBERTSON 

shed, the slates flying in all directions. It then 
went below the (railway) line, just missing the 
village, and tearing up trees and breaking off 
branches; from thence in the direction of Coleby. 

Then ensued torrents of rain and loud cracks of 
thunder, and the lightning was most fearful. 

WILLIAM ROBERTSON. 

About the age of fourteen William Robertson 
left the little school in the long, straggling street 
of Welbourn, and the question arose as to what 
he should turn his hand to. Fully to understand 
this phase of his career we must throw our minds 
back to life in a rural district of Lincolnshire in 
the 'sixties and 'seventies, when Robertson was a 
boy in a country village, and picture the conditions 
existing at that time. 

The population consisted of the working classes, 
and the local squire and the parson, there being 
no "middle class." Education was not at an 
advanced stage, and wages were very low. The 
ordinary agricultural labourer earned IDS. to 125. a 
week, and out of this had to keep a family often 
consisting of ten to twelve children. Contrast this 
with the conditions to-day, when wages are much 
higher, and education free and efficient. The 
labourer of to-day lives in a house of brick, 
famine and plague are things of the past, there is 
a sufficiency of food, while the inventions of the 
age have lessened his labours. 

During the boyhood of Sir William the Reform 
Bill of 1867 was passed into law, and admitted no 

12 



EARLY DAYS 

fewer than a million persons to the franchise in 
England and Wales alone. Then in 1870 came 
the Elementary Education Act providing for the 
division of the whole country into school districts, 
thus bringing education to the reach of the very 
poorest. 

These and other reforms had not been long 
in operation at the time when William Robertson, 
along with his contemporaries, left the little school- 
house for the stern battle of life. Hence they 
had not the advantages and prospects in life pos- 
sessed by the country lads of to-day. It was 
probably too early to fix on his definite future 
career. By a piece of singularly good fortune 
he found a friend in the local rector, the 
late Rev. Canon F. A. Leslie Melville, a Scots- 
man belonging to the old family of that name. 
Between the latter and Sir William Robertson the 
closest ties of friendship, commenced in tjhose 
early days and continued for many years, were 
only severed by the death of Canon Melville some 
ten years ago. 

Much could be written of this period of Sir 
William Robertson's life. The rector was really 
the builder of his career. He took the warmest 
interest in his general education, and encouraged 
him in those studies that had gripped his attention 
at school. 

From the rector and his wife he received 
nothing but kindness. It may be mentioned 
in passing that Mrs. Leslie Melville, who happily 

'3 



SIR WILLIAM ROBERTSON 

is still living, is a member of the well-known old 
Scottish family of Ramsay. 

In a communication I have received from her 
are some interesting notes bearing on Sir William 
Robertson's early days. 

"He was known in those days," she says, "as 
an ordinarily clever boy. The first thing out of 
the common to be noticed was his taking up topo- 
graphy and learning shorthand when he was about 
fourteen. He made a survey map of his native 
village. . . . 

"In a sense Sir William Robertson may be re- 
garded as one of those great men whose early 
training is associated with the rectory. From his 
earliest years he was very mucli attached to the 
rector of the parish, Canon Leslie Melville, who 
had lived with his parents during the time that the 
new rectory was being built. It was at the rectory 
he received his first French lesson, when his teacher 
said she never had a pupil with such wonderful 
ability of teaching the subject he was learning." 

To this early grounding in French may be 
traced his aptitude for learning languages, and 
Indian dialects in particular, of which mention will 
be made later. 

Before passing from these Welbourn days we 
may incidentally remark that the village to-day is 
proud of her greatest son, and reveres his name. 
Its inhabitants, at a time when his name was un- 
known to the great world, followed with pride and 
interest each step of his early advancement. Sir 
William, in turn, still cherishes the warmest regard 



EARLY DAYS 

for the old place and its associations. He remem- 
bers all the friends of his boyhood days; and of 
one whom he knew as a contemporary of his 
father, Mr. George Crosby, an interesting little 
anecdote is worth noticing, as it proves how 
human our famous men reveal themselves, even 
in ways least expected. The old man, who carries 
on a confectioner's business, and is famous for his 
pork pies, remembering the Army Chief's fond- 
ness for the appetising edible in his younger days, 
recently forwarded one. In a letter of thanks, 
Sir William stated that it "reminds me of old 
times." 

Even at this early stage he seems to have 
always had the intention of joining the army, 
although he kept his ambition quite secret. If we 
closely examine the causes why a man seeks one 
career in preference to another, we usually dis- 
cover some guiding factor, and in Sir William 
Robertson's case there were two determining facts 
that fired his youthful mind. There were not so 
many newspapers in those days, but the repeal of 
the Paper Duty in 1861 gave an impetus to 
popular literature, and knowledge was just begin- 
ning to be more diffused. Hence it was not 
remarkable that the little Lincolnshire lad of ten 
should, through reading and hearsay, become 
familiar with the great Franco-Prussian War of 
1870-71. The events of this short, sharp, decisive 
campaign were followed with the keenest interest 
in every hamlet in England. The crushing French 
defeats at Metz and Sedan and the terrible Siege 

'5 



SIR WILLIAM ROBERTSON 

of Paris made a deep impression upon the youthful 
mind of William Robertson. As he pondered over 
the clash of arms little did he dream how closely 
he would be connected with France in the future, 
or that he would one day be Chief of the Staff in 
the largest army ever sent from this country, or 
that the opponents he would be planning to defeat 
would be the victorious Prussians of 1870-71, with 
other Germanic States in alliance, or that later he 
would be sitting in Whitehall directing the whole 
of the British strategy in the greatest conflict of 
the ages. 

Then, seven years later, his imagination was 
again fired by the accounts received of the Russo- 
Turkish War (1877-78), and we can imagine his 
now more matured mind following with the deepest 
interest all the details of the terrible battle of 
Plevna, the capture of Kars, and the rout of the 
Turkish army at the famous Shipka Pass. 

Most of his friends expected that he would 
follow a business life, for soldiering was an un- 
heard of career in his family, and it was naturally 
a shock when his parents learnt that their eldest son 
had made up his mind to become a soldier. At 
that time no one entered the ranks with a view 
to a career. The middle classes were for the most 
part unrepresented, and while every allowance is 
made for the gallantry of our soldiers in those days, 
it must be admitted that the rank and file were for 
the most part a rough lot. Therefore we can 
imagine the sort of feeling produced in his parents' 
minds when they learnt that their son had "en- 

16 



EARLY DAYS 

listed," as he had no other chance of becoming a 
soldier. They were distracted, and immediately 
made up their minds to buy him out. They were 
dissuaded from this course with difficulty by 
Colonel Wardlaw Ramsay, Mrs. Leslie Melville's 
brother. Perhaps also they realised their son's 
determined will. They lived long enough to be 
proud of him. 



CHAPTER II 

IN THE RANKS 

EVERY period of General Sir William Robert- 
son's wonderful career is of surpassing interest. 
Although some of its later phases are characterised 
by amazing bounds in promotion and are replete 
with honours, no part presents so much fascina- 
tion for the general reader as the period we are now 
to describe. The ten years and two hundred and 
twenty-five days which he spent " in the ranks " 
were, in many respects, the most strenuous, the 
most praiseworthy, and the hardest, for reasons 
that will be subsequently made evident. Many 
of our famous generals in their earlier days have 
shown equally determined effort and application to 
duty, but in all cases they had the advantage of 
starting their military career as officers. 

Robertson had the handicap of commencing as 
a private, possessing few friends, and with no 
influence to give him a "leg up." That he 
fought his way in those days from trooper to 
lieutenant is in itself one of the most striking 
evidences of what grit and ability can do, for 
at the time of which we are writing the number 
of privates who attained commissioned rank could 
be counted on the fingers of the hand. True, there 

18 



IN THE RANKS 

were what were known as " gentlemen rankers" 
men who, through misfortune or worse, had to join 
up as privates and such men, possessing educa- 
tion and sometimes influence, were able to get 
ahead of their more illiterate comrades of the 
barrack room. But Robertson 's record in the 
ranks stands out pre-eminent in clear and brilliant 
outline, as he passed from grade to grade, reaching 
in ten years commissioned rank. Add to this the 
fact that these ten years were spent in the Army 
in times of peace, when promotion is naturally 
slower than in war time, and his wonderful 
record is all the more interesting to the student of 
success. 

We have seen how the sturdy Lincolnshire lad 
of seventeen had determined to become a soldier, 
and the next glimpse obtainable of him reveals the 
future British General, just a few weeks past his 
seventeenth birthday, standing outside the cavalry 
barracks at Aldershot. He had set out on what 
was to become a long, hard, and, in the end, 
victorious career, though on this wet, miserable 
night of November 29 he could scarcely have 
peered into the future and seen himself Chief of 
the Imperial General Staff in Britain's greatest and 
most glorious war. Yet who knows what thoughts 
may have passed through the mind of this dogged, 
well-set-up lad from a sleepy Lincolnshire village, 
as he entered the recruiting hall and "took the 
Queen's shilling"? 

It should be remembered that Robertson had 
deliberately chosen the Army as a career, intending 

19 



SIR WILLIAM ROBERTSON 

by his own unaided right arm and inflexible will to 
make a good job of his selected vocation. 

The regiment he joined was the i6th Lancers. 
They are the proud possessors of more battle 
honours than any other cavalry regiment, and they 
are equally proud of Sir William Robertson, and 
rejoice to think that one who was "brought up " in 
the regiment should have won for himself, and by 
his own abilities only, so splendid a position. 

A few notes on the records of this crack cavalry 
regiment will be of interest. 

The i6th (Queen's) Lancers date from 1759, 
being the second regiment of light cavalry enrolled 
for permanent service. They were raised by 
Lieutenant-Colonel Burgoyne, of the 2nd Foot 
Guards, who assumed the position of "com- 
mandant" on August 4, 1759. The proud battle 
honours of the i6th Lancers are : Talavera, 
Fuentes de Onoro, Salamanca, Vittoria, Nive, 
Peninsula, Waterloo, Bhurtpore, Afghanistan, 
Ghuznee, Maharajpore, Aliwal, Sobraon. 

The regiment first saw active service in 1761, 
when two troops were engaged at the siege of Belle 
Isle. In the following year the i6th Lancers were 
in Portugal, and assisted at the capture of Valencia 
di Alcantara, Sobrina, Formosa, and Villa Velha. 
In 1763 they returned to England, where they re- 
mained, until in 1776 they were engaged in the 
New World, taking part in the actions of Brandy- 
wine, Germantown, and elsewhere. 

Returning home, the regiment enjoyed a 
number of years of respite from fighting, until in 

20 






IN THE RANKS 



1793 it was included among the forces that pro- 
ceeded to Holland and Flanders to uphold liberty 
against the aggression of the French Republic. 
Famars, Valenciennes, Dunkirk, Landrecies, 
Roubaix are but a few of many engagements in 
which these famous horsemen acquitted themselves 
with distinction. They returned to England in 1796. 

Thirteen years later the i6th were again on the 
Continent. This time (1809) thd r destination was 
the Peninsula. To describe all their gallant deeds 
in this marvellous and terrible campaign is not 
possible here. At all the great battles of the 
Peninsular War the Lancers won further glory. 
At the great battle of Vittoria (1813) the i6th won 
distinction, and also in the subsequent pursuit of 
the enemy. In the great "Hundred Days" cam- 
paign the Lancers were well to the front, engaging 
Napoleon's forces at Quatre Bras and at Waterloo. 
It was in the following year (1816) that the i6th 
Lancers discarded the carbine and adopted the 
lance. The latter weapon had been in abeyance 
in our army for two hundred years. In this year 
the title of the regiment "i6th Queen's Lancers" 
was established. 

Later, in 1822, the regiment proceeded to India, 
and first laid the foundation of a brilliant fighting 
record in this part of the British Empire. It took 
part in the war that destroyed the Mahratta power, 
winning exceptional renown at the battle of 
Maharajpore, in 1843. In 1845 the i6th Lancers 
were attached to Sir Harry Smith's division in the 
war against the Sikhs. In this campaign was 

21 



SIR WILLIAM ROBERTSON 

fought the famous battle of the Plains of Aliwal, 
when the gallant British mounted men lost heavily, 
also in the decisive battle of Sobraon. Later, in 
1865, tf 16 i6th Lancers were again in India. Their 
later history is too well-known to require mention 
here. 

It would be an interesting task to describe the 
conditions that existed in the Army in the days 
when Robertson was in the ranks, but the limita- 
tions of our space prevent this. To-day the con- 
ditions are vastly different, and changed greatly 
for the better. 

Then the soldier had to "rough it" in more 
ways than one. It should be remembered that up 
to 1870, or thereabouts, all men joining the Army 
enlisted for twenty-one years. When, in 1877, 
Robertson became a trooper in the i6th Lancers 
he found these long-service men in the regiment 
rough, hard, wild veterans, heavy drinkers and 
swearers. The soldier of those days was not with- 
out a certain excuse. He was a victim of a system. 
Year in year out he went through the same 
routine, until he became a mere machine, lacking 
initiative, with his finer senses blunted, and with- 
out any ambition or imagination. Then, too, as 
he thought of the future, he saw how dreary and 
hopeless was the outlook, after serving his country 
for twenty-one years. He was too old to pick up a 
trade after leaving the Army, and altogether the 
prospect was not hopeful. It is little wonder that 
he lived only for the present, and "let himself go " 
when opportunity arose. 

22 



IN THE RANKS 

In 1871-2 Viscount Cardwell revolutionised life 
in the Army. As Secretary of State for War he 
introduced, among other changes, the short-service 
system. This was but a part of his policy, which 
also included the abolition of transportation, and 
the abolition of the purchase of commissions. He 
also welded together into a single whole all the 
various branches of the British military system. 

Under Cardwell's system men served twelve 
years with the colours and nine years in reserve. 
Later came the system whereby a man served a 
maximum of twelve years, part in the Army and 
part in reserve. 

Robertson enlisted for twelve years. He was 
speedily made aware of the mode of life he had 
entered upon hard work, stern discipline, and an 
experience of rough conduct on the part of the 
majority of the men. Pay night came once a week, 
and many of his fellow-troopers spent their money 
immediately on drink. It was a very rough start 
in life for the quiet lad from the peaceful Lincoln- 
shire village, but Robertson "put the best face on 
it," and resolved to keep out of temptation, to 
work hard at his new vocation, and win through. 
He bought as many text-books as his meagre pay 
permitted, and lost no time in mastering them. 

From the very start he made up his mind to 
gain promotion. This in itself was a daring 
ambition, as there were very few promotions from 
the ranks in those days. There were two ways by 
which a man could rise by merit and by influence. 
The former naturally always took a long while 



SIR WILLIAM ROBERTSON 

say, ten or twelve years; the latter perhaps two or 
three. Among those in the latter category were 
the sons of well-connected or wealthy people who 
had been ploughed at Sandhurst, or who had not 
shown sufficient intelligence to warrant being 
coached for the ordeal. The Treasury gave a 
bonus of ,150 to a limited number of men. Others 
could get promotion, but without the bonus. In 
Sir William Robertson's case the sum of ^150 was 
a leading consideration, although he had to wait a 
year (or two) before a sum of ^150 was available 
for him. 

As we have already mentioned, he went through 
all grades of non-commissioned rank. Imme- 
diately on joining he was posted to "G" troop. 
He was very anxious to "go in for the stripe," 
which meant that he wanted to become lance- 
corporal, as the stepping-stone to higher things. 

In order to qualify for "stripes " Robertson 
went in for a course of strenuous study at the 
regimental school. He was determined to win 
promotion, and while others were idling and run- 
ning to seed young Robertson devoted every 
moment to books, and for his persistent diligence 
he duly had his reward. He was able to pass for 
his second-class certificate, the possession of which 
is sufficient even to-day to carry a man up to ser- 
geant's rank. In Robertson's early days it was 
the only educational qualification needed for the 
rank of warrant officer. He became a lance-cor- 
poral at the earliest possible date within a year 
from his enlistment. 

24 



IN THE RANKS 

After securing the second-class certificate 
Robertson made up his mind to try for his first. 
There was really no need, for, as already stated, 
the possession of a second-class carried a man to 
the rank of sergeant, and few rankers aspired 
beyond that. Robertson had other views. Beyond 
the sergeant's rank he could see the post of troop 
sergeant-major, and beyond that ? This deter- 
mined Lincolnshire lad on the very day he was 
" in orders " for his second-class certificate 
announced to the Army schoolmaster that he in- 
tended going in for the first-class certificate. 

"What is the use ? " was all the encouragement 
he received. "You surely do not expect ever to 
become a commissioned officer ? " 

Robertson answered enigmatically : 

"One never knows ! " 

He soon afterwards got his corporal's stripes, 
thus setting his feet firmly on the ladder he was to 
climb until he had duly reached the top. Robert- 
son's motto then may well have been : 

Courage and faith and patience ! 

There's space in the old world yet. 
The better the chance you stand, lad, 

The farther along you get. 
Keep your eye on the goal, lad, 

Never despair or drop; 
Be sure that your path leads upward : 

There's always room at the top. 

As a corporal he had to take charge of the 
messing account, and attend to the catering for 
his own troop. This duty as orderly corporal 
c 25 



SIR WILLIAM ROBERTSON 

was taken in turn, week and week about, by the 
corporals. 

It is said that the messing during the week 
Robertson first assumed charge of it was so great 
an improvement on the ordinary that he was re- 
quested by his comrades of the troop to take 
permanent charge. This he did, thus early ex- 
hibiting his capacity for organisation, and in view 
of the fact that when Quartermaster-General of the 
British Expeditionary Force which first went out to 
France he had to look after the material comforts 
of the troops, being the "man behind the grub," 
as Tommy put it, this early revelation of efficient 
organisation is of supreme interest. 

Then in due course he put on the third stripe 
and became a full-blown sergeant. He had risen 
from private to sergeant in three and a half years, 
which was a very rapid rate of promotion in those 
days. It usually took ten years to become a ser- 
geant in such a crack cavalry regiment as the i6th 
Lancers. Before proceeding to describe Sir 
William Robertson's further rise in rank before he 
received his commission, it may be of interest to 
refer briefly to his first "command." This 
occurred when he was a corporal and had been in 
the regiment two and a half years. He was sent 
with three men on a detachment to Chatham as a 
personal escort to Sir Evelyn Wood (who ever 
since has been his good friend). He was six 
months in this capacity in sole charge of his little 
detachment. 

In those days to pass from corporal to sergeant 
26 



IN THE RANKS 

was no easy step. It meant much hard work and 
diligent study. To pass from sergeant to sergeant- 
major was an even more arduous progress for the 
young soldier. The duties of a sergeant-major are 
highly important, and often carry greater respon- 
sibility than those of a junior commissioned officer. 
He is the adviser and counsellor of the rank and 
file, he practically "runs" his company or troop, 
and even young subalterns look to him for many 
things, relying on the experience and all-round 
military knowledge of the sergeant-major. 

As troop sergeant-major Robertson won golden 
opinions from both officers and men. He ex- 
hibited unusual business acumen. He was very 
careful to see that waste was abolished and 
efficiency practised. He took care "that every- 
thing was done on the straight, that the country 
got value for its money, and the soldiers got the 
things to which they were entitled." He made 
numerous reforms, some of them of quite a drastic 
nature. Under the " Robertson regime " there was 
no jobbery. Contractors who supplied insufficient 
quantity and inferior quality were faithfully dealt 
with. 

It is said that when he was cheated in connec- 
tion with the expenditure of the money he con- 
tributed to the messing account out of his own 
pocket, the net result being that he not infrequently 
went hungry to bed. This rotten state of affairs 
was altered when Sergeant-Major Robertson "got 
going," and before very long his troop had the 
reputation of being the best fed and most contented 

27 



SIR WILLIAM ROBERTSON 

in the whole regiment. And this improvement in 
the messing was effected with economy, the ex- 
penditure being kept within limits. 

Sergeant-Major Robertson was a strict dis- 
ciplinarian. He took a serious view of his duties 
and responsibilities. One who was with him in the 
ranks remarks that the men knew better than to 
take liberties with the senior non-com. He was 
always popular, but he went on the useful rule that 
"work is work.'* He would insist on all the other 
non-commissioned officers duly appearing on 
parade with the rest of the men. This firmness of 
control meant so much more efficiency, and was all 
to the good of the men, and they knew it. He 
would have thought nothing of sending the senior 
sergeant to the guard-room if he was in the wrong. 
In this way Sergeant-Major Robertson early gave 
proof of his ability to command men and win their 
respect. 

A distinguished colonel, who was a subaltern 
at the time Robertson was senior N.C.O. of his 
troop, informed the writer that even after the lapse 
of more than thirty years he could recollect being 
struck by the superior intelligence Robertson 
showed compared with that of most other N.C.O.'s 
in the regiment. "His resolute determination to 
master subjects that might be useful to him for 
advancement was very apparent, and he was par- 
ticularly proficient in the more educations .1 work of 
a soldier such as signalling and the drawing of 
maps. I believe that all his spare time was spent 
in learning languages and reading up the history 

28 



IN THE RANKS 

of military campaigns." Here it may be noted 
work of that kind was far more difficult in those 
days than now. Barrack life was much rougher. 
There were few facilities for study compared with 
the present day, and but little encouragement was 
given to N.C.O.'s and soldiers who might wish to 
acquire more knowledge than was necessary for 
the performance of their duties. 

During all the years he was in the ranks 
Robertson became efficient in every branch and 
arm of the service. He "passed" as signalling 
instructor and musketry instructor, and acted in 
that capacity in the regiment for some years. 
During part of his period in the ranks Robertson 
was stationed at York and Dundalk, and in this 
way the dull monotony of army life in peace time 
was relieved. During the "bad old days" of the 
early 'eighties in Ireland, Robertson was stationed 
for a time at the Curragh and Dublin. 

He excelled in all physical exercises. He was 
the best man in his troop at skill-at-arms with 
sword and also with lance, and enjoyed the reputa- 
tion of being the crack shot. He kept in excellent 
bodily health and fitness. This was doubtless 
helped by his healthy and careful upbringing. He 
used to run ten miles every Saturday afternoon, 
"just for the fun of it," but nevertheless this 
strenuous exercise helped to keep him fit and agile. 

During the last few years he spent in the ranks 
Sir William Robertson turned his attention to the 
study of war. He became a serious student of 
tactics and strategy, and read every war book he 

29 



SIR WILLIAM ROBERTSON 

could lay hands on. By this time he had fully 
resolved to try for a commission, and these later 
years were spent with that purpose in view. He 
worked very hard and studied thoroughly, attend- 
ing more "school." All this was necessary in the 
working up for a commission. In this important 
step in his splendid career Sir William Robertson 
was helped by the very friendly Colonel Maillard, 
who commanded the regiment. 

The following incident shows General Robert- 
son's thorough grasp of the whole art of soldiering 
as applied to cavalry work. It also gives a pleasing 
account of how he justified his fitness for a com- 
mission. 

About the early part of the year 1887 the i6th 
Lancers were quartered at Island Bridge Barracks, 
Dublin. At this time Sergeant-Major Robertson 
had been recommended for a commission, and was 
warned to proceed to the Royal Barracks in the 
same city to undergo the usual oral examination 
which all N.C.O.'s had to pass before being 
granted a commission. 

When Robertson duly arrived at the barracks 
he found a wing of the ist Royal Dragoons drawn 
up on parade under their commanding officer. 

The sergeant-major had first to lead a troop and 
then command a squadron. This he accomplished 
in a very satisfactory manner. 

Then came Sergeant-Major Robertson's turn to 
take command of the whole of the officers and men 
on parade. In those days cavalry movements were 
usually done on a fixed base, the base being taken 

30 



IN THE RANKS 

up and shown by the adjutant and regimental ser- 
geant-major. Several movements were done in a 
satisfactory manner, as was usual in the case of 
the ist Royal Dragoons. The sergeant-major 
then gave the order for a very complicated move- 
ment to be performed, one very seldom done on 
parade. 

Away went the adjutant and regimental ser- 
geant-major to give the usual base, but they were 
on the wrong flank of the regiment. The colonel's 
eyes twinkled. He saw the mistake, and resolved he 
would catch out the base and the sergeant-major 
at the same time. The latter, however, had also 
seen what was wrong, and delayed giving the word 
of command for the regiment to move. 

The commanding officer immediately started to 
hustle, and brusquely called out : 

"Now then, Sergeant-Major, * get on ' give 
the word of command." 

"Very well, sir," replied Robertson. "I will, 
when the base is placed in the right position." 

"Oh!" replied the colonel, "is that so? 
Dam 'me, if you can put my adjutant and regimental 
sergeant-major in their proper place, that is quite 
good enough for me. I don't want to see any 
more." Then, to the Royal Dragoons, "Fours 
right ! Walk, March ! " 

That was how Sergeant-Major Robertson 
passed his oral examination for a commission. 

In 1887 Robertson proceeded to the School of 
Musketry, Hythe. This well-known institution, 
which affords accommodation for about 400 



SIR WILLIAM ROBERTSON 

officers, warrant-officers and non-commissioned 
officers of the British Army, has greatly developed 
since that date, and to-day is the central seat of 
Army instruction not only in musketry, but in the 
use of machine-guns. There are several courses of 
instruction every year, and each course terminates 
with an examination. 

In order to make the present narrative as helpful 
as possible it will be noticed that we have in 
various places added notes on the origin and his- 
tory of various institutions referred to in connection 
with Sir William Robertson's career. Therefore 
it will be of interest to append a note or two about 
the famous institution known as the School of 
Musketry. 

The school was established in 1854, i ts creation 
being due to the impending adoption of the rifle. 
The first commandant was Lieutenant-Colonel 
Charles Hay, igth Regiment, whose first duty was 
to formulate a system suited to the rifled musket 
for the British Army, and next to put it to a practi- 
cal test. The method adopted consisted of a course 
of drills in aiming and in the fire motions and 
positions, alternating with lessons in the care of 
arms and the theory of shooting. In the first year 
of its establishment the school staff trained five 
parties, comprising 64 detachments of a total 
strength of 50 officers, 80 sergeants, and 464 rank 
and file. In 1880 the attendance of the rank and 
file was discontinued. It may be added that the 
firing exercises and range practices were necessarily 
remodelled upon the adoption successively of the 

32 



IN THE RANKS 

Snider (1866), Martini-Henry (1870), and Lee-Met- 
ford (1889) rifles. 

Until 1884 a sergeant who could not qualify 
for the appointment of sergeant-instructor of a 
battalion failed to obtain a certificate. During the 
next six years, which covers the period when 
Robertson attended, " Company Certificates " were 
issued and again abandoned. Since 1900 the 
records "Distinguished" and "Qualified" have 
been granted to N.C.O.'s as to officers. 

The annual course consists of six target prac- 
tices of seven rounds, at from 200 to 800 yards, 
and of nine practices at moving or vanishing 
figures exposed to fire for three or four seconds. 
Eighty-four rounds per man are allowed for com- 
pany and battalion practice, while general officers 
can in addition draw 4,000 rounds per battalion for 
field-firing. 

The selection of warrant officers and N.C.O.'s 
for qualifying courses is left to the discretion of 
C.O.'s, subject to the approval of the G.O.'s 
C.-in-C. A regimental, battalion, or depot ser- 
geant-major who has not qualified has to attend a 
qualifying course, also N.C.O.'s who on return to 
their units will be required as instructors are 
specially selected for the course at Hythe. Exam- 
inations are held during the first day after the 
arrival of officers and N.C.O.'s at the school for 
any qualifying courses. Those failing to reach the 
required standard at this examination are remanded 
to their units. 

Robertson passed all the tests with flying 
33 



SIR WILLIAM ROBERTSON 

colours, coming out at the top of the list. He once 
more proved his real ability, not only in the theory 
of his art but in its practice. It is of interest to 
note that in the class at Hythe with him was the 
present Lord Derby, then Lord Edward Stanley, 
lieutenant of the Grenadier Guards, also Lieu- 
tenant, now Lieutenant-Colonel, Sir Arthur 
Leetham, Secretary of the Royal United Service 
Institution. 

Finally Robertson succeeded in passing in 
every other branch, and duly received his commis- 
sion. After spending a short time at the cavalry 
depot at Canterbury, Lieutenant Robertson went 
out to India in 1888 to join the 3rd Dragoon 
Guards. 



CHAPTER III 

WINNING HIS SPURS IN INDIA 

THAT part of Sir William Robertson's career 
which is connected with India is probably one of 
the most important from a military standpoint. 
Up till now he had been serving in the ranks. He 
had gone through "ten years hard," a period of 
thorough preparation and strenuous activity. He 
had been, as it were, serving his apprenticeship 
for his real life-work as a commander and an 
organiser. As we have shown, the years he spent 
in the i6th Lancers were full of activity, and re- 
vealed for the first time the true character and 
genius of General Robertson ; yet, however brilliant 
in accomplishment, they were only stepping-stones. 
His real work and worth had yet to be shown. 

Hence the period we are about to describe ranks 
very high in his career, and possesses an import- 
ance all its own. For in India Robertson may be 
said to have matriculated in the art of war; pre- 
viously he had been learning and preparing. So 
we find him from 1888 onward acting in the 
capacity of a leader, a man possessing power of 
initiative, and with every facility for putting the 
knowledge gained in his apprenticeship to the best 
use. It must not be imagined, however, that he 

35 



SIR WILLIAM ROBERTSON 

rested on his oars; on the contrary, he studied as 
hard as ever, as will be seen. For the first time in 
his life he was able to apply his hard-earned ex- 
perience. Men under him marvelled at his almost 
uncanny knowledge of everything pertaining to the 
art of war and the soldier's duties. 

The period under consideration may be divided 
into a number of clear-cut episodes, such as the 
various Frontier Expeditions, his work as Intelli- 
gence Officer with the Chitral Relief Expedition, 
as Staff Officer at Simla, Intelligence Branch, and 
so on. Each phase is really interwoven with the 
other, so as to make a continuous and interesting 
record of busy days and brilliant achievement. It 
is a remarkable fact that India, which has long 
been the historic field for all talents in the army, 
should have been the place where Sir William 
Robertson made his mark. He had the privilege 
of following in the footsteps of eminent soldiers 
whose careers spurred him on to put forth his best 
endeavours. Lord Roberts had not yet retired 
from India, Sir George White was there, and, 
above all, he was in the historic succession of 
Outram, Lawrence, Havelock, John Nicholson, and 
many other splendid British soldiers. 

Sir William Robertson, according to the well- 
known custom of our army, was transferred to 
another regiment on receiving his commission, and 
at the age of twenty-eight was gazetted to the 3rd 
Dragoon Guards, which unit he joined in India 
in 1888. 

This crack cavalry regiment, originally called 

36 



WINNING HIS SPURS IN INDIA 

" Cuirassiers," was raised in 1685 for the suppres- 
sion of the Monmouth Rebellion, and possesses 
many well-won battle honours; it first saw service 
outside England in Holland, being present at the 
battles of Steinkirk and Landen. In 1702 the 
regiment was again sent on active service to the 
Continent, where it remained for nine years, 
during which time it distinguished itself at the 
sieges of Liege and Venloo. Returning to Eng- 
land in 1715, the regiment was sent to Scotland 
in view of the Jacobite alarm, and in 1746 it 
was "reduced" to the quality of Dragoons 
and styled "the 3rd Regiment of Dragoon 
Guards." Originally it had been incorporated 
into the regiment which ranked as the "Fourth 
Horse." 

Later the Dragoons again saw service on the 
Continent, being engaged at the battles of Minden, 
Bergen, Denkern, etc. The next important date 
in the regiment's history is the year 1765, when, 
on returning to England, it received the name of 
"The Prince of Wales's Regiment of Dragoon 
Guards." In 1793 it was again fighting on the 
Continent. In 1809 it proceeded to the Pen- 
insula for the great campaign under Wellington, 
and brilliantly acquitted itself, as witness the battle 
honours Talavera, Albuera, Vittoria, Peninsula. 
The regiment participated in the Allied march on 
Paris in 1814. 

Later the Dragoons fought under Field-Marshal 
Lord Napier of Magdala in his Abyssinian cam- 
paign. Since then they have served with distinc- 

37 



SIR WILLIAM ROBERTSON 

tion in South Africa and the present war. Such 
is a brief outline of the glorious record of the regi- 
ment to which Lieutenant Robertson became at- 
tached in 1888. It was particularly pleasing to the 
junior lieutenant to find himself well received by 
his brother officers. 

One of his first experiences as an officer was 
at the brilliant cavalry concentration at Muridki 
Camp near Lahore, in January, 1889, at which the 
late Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence, elder 
brother of King George, reviewed sixteen regi- 
ments of British and Indian horse. We can well 
imagine the effect that all this Oriental splendour 
and visible evidence of Britain's might produced in 
the mind of the young officer hitherto familiar with 
the rigours of a plain barrack-room at Aldershot 
and the tame countryside surrounding an English 
cavalry headquarters. Robertson drank deeply of 
every new impression and sight. It was all so new 
to the young, unsophisticated soldier; and who 
knows but that the pageantry he saw at Muridki 
Camp fired his mind to understand, and possibly 
to command, these magnificent native regiments, 
and resolved him then and there to learn their 
dialects ! 

From Muridki Robertson went on to Rawal 
Pindi, a place noted in Indian military history. 
In the district of that name, the town and canton- 
ment of Rawal Pindi is ninety miles south-east of 
Peshawar. It was the scene of the surrender of 
the Sikhs after the battle of Gujarat, and its once 
famous fort is now utilised as an arsenal. At the 

38 



WINNING HIS SPURS IN INDIA 

time we are describing the 3rd Dragoon Guards 
were stationed there for three years. During 1890 
and 1891 Robertson was placed in charge of the 
garrison "grass farm" of 11,000 acres, which 
supplied all the horses of that large cantonment 
with hay. It was an entirely native establishment, 
speaking many different frontier dialects, and while 
here Lieutenant Robertson learnt much of the 
habits and language of the frontier tribes. 

Robertson's well-known methodical habits 
again stood him in good stead, and he settled 
down in real earnest to acquire two of the 
languages. These were Pushtu, the language of 
the Pukhtun or Pathan tribes of Afghanistan, 
and Punjabi. He was able to master both after 
a period of arduous study on novel lines. For 
example, instead of engaging a teacher and paying 
him so much a lesson or course, Robertson paid 
the Munshi (native teacher) by results ! In this 
way the latter was induced to work hard. He 
would call Robertson every morning at 5 a.m. for 
lessons, before the young lieutenant went to his 
day's work. Naturally the teacher was anxious 
for his pupil to excel, and gave him no peace until 
he had "passed," when, of course, he got his share 
of the reward ! 

There was not much soldiering just then in 
India. For a year or two Robertson went on with 
his regimental duties, giving unqualified satisfac- 
tion to his superiors, who recognised in him a 
painstaking officer and a soldier out of the ordinary, 
imbued with an insatiable appetite for work. He 

39 



SIR WILLIAM ROBERTSON 

acted as adjutant of his regiment, relieving Captain 
Triggs, who, curiously enough, had also risen from 
the ranks in the 6th Dragoon Guards or Carabi- 
neers. He was put in charge of the regimental 
musketry and signalling all this within three and 
a half years. It can well be imagined that a quick- 
working brain like Robertson's soon grasped the 
military situation in India at that time. He made 
a special study of everything likely to increase his 
efficiency when the day of testing should come. 
He seriously took up the study of native languages, 
and passed, in two and a half years, the higher 
standard in Hindustani, Punjabi, Persian, Gurk- 
hali and Pushtu. His remarkable memory, aided 
by a genius for acquiring languages, had stood 
him in good stead. 

At the time Sir William Robertson first made 
acquaintance with India the Marquess of Lans- 
downe had just become Viceroy in succession to 
the Marquess of Dufferin and Ava. For the most 
part the condition of our great dependency was quiet 
and prosperous, save for a number of difficulties 
in regard to the frontier States, which turbulent 
regions always seemed to be either ablaze or on 
the point of conflagration. The trouble was usu- 
ally caused by the quarrels of the neighbouring 
tribes, when British intervention became necessary. 
Another pressing problem at this time was the 
definition of boundaries between the outposts of 
our Indian Empire and China, Burma, etc. ; also 
trade roads had to be opened up. 

In 1891 a punitive expedition was sent to the 
40 



WINNING HIS SPURS IN INDIA 

Miranzai (Hangu) and Black Mountains. Both 
these ranges are in the North-West Frontier 
Province of India. The valley of the former forms 
the meeting place of many different tribes, but its 
chief inhabitants are the Banjash and the Ozakzais. 
The Black Mountains are inhabited by Pathans. 
Former disturbances had led to British interference. 
In 1891 a military operation known as the Second 
Hazara Expedition was decided upon. The tur- 
bulent tribes had fired on a force within the British 
limits. As we have seen, Lord Lansdowne during 
the period of his viceroyalty had considerable 
trouble regarding the question of the limitation of 
the North-West Frontier of India. In the year 
mentioned a force of 7,300 British troops traversed 
the country. The tribesmen made their submission 
and entered into an agreement with the Govern- 
ment of India to preserve the peace of the border. 
Simultaneously a punitive expedition was sent in- 
to the Miranzai Valley. 

Lieutenant Robertson, as we have already 
observed, had attracted attention by his ability an<' 
devotion to duty, and it was a distinct feather ii 
his cap when he was appointed to the importan. 
and difficult position of Railway Transport Office! 
in the Miranzai Expedition. How different his task 
in these early days from the work of the R.T.O. 
in the present war ! As can be imagined, the work- 
ing of the line in a pioneer district like the North- , 
West Province was a task of infinite difficulty and 
one calling for initiative and organising genius. 
Lieutenant Robertson then, as always, rose to the 

D 4 i 



SIR WILLIAM ROBERTSON 






occasion, and distinctly made his mark, thus setting 
his feet still higher on the ladder which he was one 
day to scale. 

No one unacquainted with the topography of 
this region can realise the tremendous task he had 
to perform. He had not to sit down and plan out 
a time table, as a railway transport officer can do 
in France. He had to improvise as he went along. 
On the efficient carrying out of his duties depended 
largely the success of the punitive expedition. Men 
had to be got to a certain place in a given time, 
and Lieutenant Robertson managed the seemingly 
impossible. It was an exceedingly responsible 
task for an officer so young in the service, and it 
is no stretching of language to say that his remark- 
able and smooth handling of considerable bodies 
of troops in this campaign was an excellent proof 
of his genius for organisation, which gift was 
later to be displayed with even greater brilliance 
in the Great War. He had made his mark as a 
capable officer who was likely to attain to very 
high command. 

From 1892 to 1896 Sir William Robertson was 
a trusted and efficient officer of the British Military 
Headquarters at Simla, where he was sent owing to 
his fine command of native languages. Inter- 
spersed was the Chitral Campaign, which will be 
described later. 

During the above period Sir William had an 
interesting and important mission entrusted to him. 
In 1894, ^e year before the Chitral Campaign, he 
made an extensive reconnaissance from Kashmir 

42 



WINNING HIS SPURS IN INDIA 

to the Pamirs, visiting Badakhshan, a picturesque 
hill country of Afghan Turkestan, and the Wak- 
han provinces of Afghanistan. The Pamirs is the 
name given to a mountain region of Central Asia, 
known from its altitude as the "roof of the world." 
This historic region covers more than 28,000 
square miles, and its mean elevation is about 
12,000 feet above sea level. Robertson's journey 
was through a difficult and wild country. He had 
to cross high peaks, some 17,000 feet, and snow 
was met with. He also visited the Chitral 
neighbourhood, and in this way obtained valuable 
information, of which full use was made in 1895 
during the Chitral Relief Expedition. This 
journey was not unaccompanied with danger the 
country was wild and difficult, mountainous with 
big rivers and glaciers but he came through it 
safe and sound. Lieutenant Robertson went alone 
on this reconnaissance, accompanied only by a few 
natives, one of whom was a Gurkha. With his 
well-known plan of turning every available occa- 
sion to practical use, Robertson took advantage of 
the native's presence to acquire from him a fuller 
knowledge of the Gurkhali language. There has 
never been a prominent soldier who has shown 
such a zest for, and mastery of, languages as 
Robertson, and it is very typical of the man that 
he should take this unique opportunity of adding 
one more to the many other native languages of 
which he had a thorough knowledge. 

Reverting to Sir William Robertson's work at 
headquarters, it may be noted that he joined the 

43 



SIR WILLIAM ROBERTSON 

Intelligence Branch when it was reorganised and 
expanded under the orders of Colonel (now General 
Sir) E. Elles, brother of Sir W. Elles, who com- 
manded at Rawal Pindi when Robertson was there. 
Lord Roberts was Commander-in-Chief at Simla 
at this time, and selected Robertson for the Staff, 
thus giving him his first Staff appointment. 

Lieutenant Robertson was regarded as the 
"rising genius of the army," and received a fairly 
well-paid and important post in the Intelligence 
Department at Simla. As Staff Captain and 
D.A.Q.M.G., Intelligence Branch, he found 
further opportunities for the exercise of his talents. 
It was a post calling for hard work and keen in- 
sight. His work made him take the deepest in- 
terest in the life, customs and conduct of the 
heterogeneous native races of the North- West. 
He early decided that if he was to carry out 
his duties satisfactorily as a member of the In- 
telligence Staff he must know all the native 
dialects. To start and acquire this knowledge was 
a remarkable and praiseworthy act. Lieutenant 
Robertson, always a tireless worker, set his mind 
to the task of understanding the dialects of the 
peoples over whose movements he watched with 
such vigilant eye. He is a linguist of extraordi- 
nary talent, and after days and nights of hard and 
incessant toil acquired, as we have already men- 
tioned, a complete mastery of a number of the 
native languages. 

No one who has not moved in these regions 
can comprehend the differences between the native 

44 



WINNING HIS SPURS IN INDIA 

hill tribes in language, religion and customs, or 
the undying antagonism between them. Their 
secret customs and signs must be thoroughly 
understood by the Intelligence Branch, which has 
to advise the military authorities. It is not too 
much to say that Robertson was the real brain of 
the Intelligence Branch during the period he was 
at Simla. He attained the position because, in 
his own thorough way, he had set himself to 
master the native languages, showing a tireless 
energy and high ability which have never been 
surpassed in this particular sphere of activity. In 
this way he became possessed of a first-class 
knowledge of all phases of Indian frontier condi- 
tions. Wider duties fell to his lot ; he had to keep 
his finger on the pulse of international affairs as 
well, for in those days Russia was active and 
aggressive in Central Asia. He had his reward in 
the Chitral Campaign, as will be shown. 

Here we may briefly refer to the crowning joy 
of Sir William Robertson's life. During the time 
he was on the Staff at Simla he met the lady whose 
life has ever since been linked with his own in 
bonds of love and devotion. He married in 1894 
Mildred Adelaide, second daughter of the late 
Lieut.-General T. C. Palin, Bombay Staff Corps. 
The honeymoon was spent at a residence near 
Simla, kindly lent to the young couple by a friend. 
The union has been rich in felicity, and no man 
has a more devoted helpmeet than the Chief of the 
Army. This gifted and gracious lady has always 
taken the warmest interest in everything pertaining 

45 



SIR WILLIAM ROBERTSON 

to her distinguished husband's career, and despite 
separations necessitated by Sir William's military 
duties in various lands, their home life has been 
ideal. Slightly adapted, the beautiful quotation 
may be applied to their married life: "Calumny 
dared hint no charge against him, nor even whisper 
an innuendo. Slander herself was silent." They 
have two sons and two daughters. The elder son 
is a brilliant young officer, a note about whom ap- 
pears elsewhere. It is of interest to note that a 
sister of Lady Robertson married a brother of 
General Sir William Birdwood, so that there is a 
certain relationship between the Army Chief and 
the "Soul of Anzac." 

In 1895 tne drums of war sounded once more 
in India, and the newly married Staff officer had 
to leave his wife at Simla and take up a highly 
responsible post in connection with the sinister 
Chitral Campaign sinister in its possibilities, but 
brilliant as a chapter in the glorious military 
records of the British in India. In order fully to 
understand the nature of this important frontier 
campaign, and the part played by Lieutenant 
Robertson, it is necessary to recall to mind 
the events leading up to the Chitral Relief 
Expedition. 

When, on January 24, 1894, the Marquess of 
Lansdowne handed over the office of Viceroy to 
his successor, the Earl of Elgin, the latter was 
soon to experience a period of disturbance such as 
his predecessor had not known. Lord Lansdowne 
governed our great Eastern dependency during a 

4 b 



WINNING HIS SPURS IN INDIA 

period of peace, with the exception of a few minor 
expeditions. Lord Elgin's sound common sense 
and excellent judgment were at once put to a lead- 
ing test. His first important task was the difficult 
one of settling the Chitral succession. 

In 1892 the Mehtar of Chitral, ruler of the Chit- 
ralis, a wild hill tribe settled in the Hindu Khus 
range, on the north-west frontier of Kashmir, died. 
He had been well disposed towards the Indian 
Government, who paid him an annual subsidy. 
His second son, Afzul-ul-Mulk, seized the throne, 
usurping the reins of power from his elder brother, 
Nizam-ul-Mulk, who fled to the British post at 
Gilgit. Afzul was soon attacked by his uncle, 
Sher Afzul, and died in the struggle. Sher Afzul 
had to yield to Nizam-ul-Mulk, who, as we have 
seen, had taken refuge with the British, and whose 
right to the supreme authority was recognised by 
Lord Lansdowne, the then Viceroy. The latter 
decided to place a British officer as resident in 
Chitral to uphold order and represent the British 
Government. 

Then for three years all went well until, in 
1895, soon after Lord Elgin had assumed responsi- 
bility, further and graver complications arose. 
Nizam-ul-Mulk, who ruled under the nominal pro- 
tection of the Indian Government, was treacherously 
murdered by a younger brother, who had been 
instigated to this foul deed by Umra Khan, Chief 
of the Jandol, who had invaded Chitral. The 
assassin, Amir-ul-Mulk, was ambitious, and in 
order better to establish his authority, asked Lord 

47 



SIR WILLIAM ROBERTSON 

Elgin to recognise him as Mehtar of Chitral. 
Naturally the British representative of the Queen- 
Empress refused. 

In the middle of January, 1895, Sir George 
Scott Robertson (then Surgeon-Major Robertson), 
the British Agent at Gilgit, was dispatched by the 
Indian Government to Chitral to report on the 
situation. He arrived on January 31, accompanied 
by a force of Sikhs. His arrival gave welcome 
relief to Lieutenant Gurdon, who had succeeded 
Colonel Sir Francis Younghusband, K.C.I.E., in 
the political charge of Chitral, and happened to be 
on a visit to the capital with an escort of eight 
Sikhs. Robertson at once interviewed the usurp- 
ing Mehtar prior to conducting an inquiry into 
the truth of his complicity in Nizam-ul-Mulk's 
murder. He came to the conclusion that the real 
head of the Chitralese must be installed. This was 
a youth, son of a man who had himself reigned, 
and he was installed according to Chitral custom. 
Sir G. S. Robertson has described his experiences 
in his well-known book "Chitral." This installa- 
tion is described as follows : 

"I then showed that Amir-ul-Mulk (the nominal 
ruler) had been given every chance to prove himself 
capable of ruling the country. Though helped in 
many ways, and even officially accepted as Mehtar 
as far as my powers permitted, it was clear that he 
could not maintain proper authority, and it was 
equally clear that he had been listening to the 
promptings of ill-advisers. By this last act (his 

48 



WINNING HIS SPURS IN INDIA 

alliance with the marauding neighbour) he prac- 
tically resigned the Mehtarship. . . . But I had 
determined to make his younger brother the head of 
the State, conditional on the approval of the 
Government of India. 

"By a gesture Amir-ul-Mulk was directed to 
leave the armchair, which was treated as em- 
blematic of a throne, and I then ceremoniously 
placed the little Shuja-ul-Mulk upon it and formally 
entrusted his personal safety to Captain Towns- 
hend, the officer who immediately commanded the 
Cashmir part of my escort." 

Shortly after Umra Khan of Jandol, brother-in- 
law of Amir-ul-Mulk, invaded Southern Chitral, 
capturing Kila Drosh fort on February 9. Sir 
G. S. Robertson ordered him to leave Chitral, and 
Umra Khan responded that he had no animosity 
against the Indian Government, and that he would 
leave Amir-ul-Mulk alone if he would make peace. 
Events moved s quickly ; Sher Afzul, the brother of 
old Aman-ul-Mulk, who himself aspired to the 
Mehtarship of Chitral, joined forces with Umra 
Khan at Kila Drosh fort. The latter was sternly 
ordered to evacuate Chitral territory by April i. 

The first brush between British and enemy 
forces occurred on March 10, 1895, in which Cap- 
tain Ross, forty-six Sepoys, and eight followers 
were killed while advancing from Buni to Roshun. 
The dogs of war were now let loose. Our Indian 
Government acted promptly and with wonderful 
thoroughness. 

49 



SIR WILLIAM ROBERTSON 

Major-General Sir Robert Low was at Pesha- 
war with a force of 14,000 men ready to advance 
against Umra Khan. With commendable tact 
and common sense the Government issued a 
proclamation to the people of Swat and Bajaur. 
This document gave the true facts of the case : 
Umra Khan had forcibly entered the Chitral 
Valley and attacked the Chitralis; force would be 
used if need be to compel his retirement. 

By March 31 the Indian Government learnt 
that Sir G. S. Robertson and his Sikhs were 
closely invested in Chitral fort by Sher Afzul 
and a Bajaur force. The members of the 
beleaguered garrison included some of the bravest 
and ablest young officers in India, men such 
as Captain Campbell, Captain Townshend 
(later Major-General), the hero of the siege 
of Kut in the Great War, Lieutenant Gurdon 
the Chitral political officer Lieutenant Harley, 
and Surgeon-Captain Whitchurch. In addition 
there were 500 men. Sher Afzul had been success- 
ful in capturing the town of Chitral, and his troops 
recognised him as Mehtar. All the Chitralis out- 
side the fort joined Sher Afzul under threats. 
Amir-ul-Mulk was only Mehtar temporarily and 
virtually resigned on March 2. As he was found 
to be treacherously approaching Umra Khan he 
was promptly arrested. 

The story of the relief forces may be briefly 
described. 

"From the time that Lord Roberts made his 
famous march from Kabul to Kandahar," says 

5 



WINNING HIS SPURS IN INDIA 

Younghusband in his "The Relief of Chitral," 
"the Indian Army had hitherto taken part in no 
campaign so rapid, brilliant, and successful as the 
operations which resulted in the relief of the sorely 
pressed garrison of Chitral." This extract gives 
in a nutshell the verdict of a very competent mili- 
tary authority on this historic British exploit. To 
describe fully the relief columns in detail would be 
outside the scope of this book. All that can be 
said is that the ist Division of all arms, some 
15,000 strong, belonging to the ist Army Corps 
mobilised at Peshawar, moved rapidly, and pass- 
ing through Swat and Dir fell on the rear of Umra 
Khan. Colonel Kelly led a column some 400 
strong, which, moving from Chilas and taking the 
wide circuit through Gilgat and Mastuj, forced its 
way to Chitral from the north-east. 

Lieutenant Robertson was selected as Field 
Intelligence Officer, attached to Headquarters, a 
tribute to his masterly grip of the topography and 
conditions of the territory through which the re- 
lieving army was to march. He was compelled to 
be continually in touch with the natives, who are 
both treacherous and warlike. From his informa- 
tion collated from the reports of natives, our forces 
gained knowledge of that portion of the theatre of 
operations which lay between the Peshawar Valley 
and Chitral territory. 

The command of the relief force, as we have 
seen, was given to Lieutenant-General Sir Robert 
Low, K.C.B., with Brigadier-General Bindon 
Blood, C.B., Royal Engineers, as his Chief Staff 



SIR WILLIAM ROBERTSON 

Officer. The column under Colonel Kelly has 
already been referred to. Low's force fought 
battles at the Malakand Pass and Panjkora River, 
where all units distinguished themselves. 

Kelly's column marched heroically. It reached 
Ghizr, 10,000 feet above sea level, in a heavy snow- 
storm, on March 31 ; on the next day it set out for 
Chitral, meeting with terrible difficulties in the 
mountain passes, but bravely triumphed, and in 
the afternoon of April 20 the little force of native 
troops, led by a mere handful of British officers, 
marched into Chitral. A week later the advanced 
parties of General Low's force arrived. Space does 
not permit of a description of the gallant defence 
of Chitral, which, with the story of the relief, forms 
one of the most brilliant chapters in Indian military 
annals. 

Of Lieutenant Robertson's work with the relief 
force much could be written. He was the brain of 
the party, and upon his knowledge depended the 
safety of our forces. His accumulated experience 
of native conditions in those turbulent regions was 
put to the best use and advantage. 

In his dispatch Sir Robert C. Low gives a glow- 
ing tribute to the work of his department : 

"The Intelligence Branch also has lost no 
opportunity of adding to our knowledge of the 
country. Stage by stage as the force advanced, 
the officers of the Intelligence Department recon- 
noitred, sketched and reported on the route to be 
followed by the troops in the rear the mileage of 

52 



WINNING HIS SPURS IN INDIA 

this alone being 186 miles. In addition, 600 miles 
of branch road were sketched and reconnoitred, as 
well as between thirty and forty passes; and the 
whole country embraced by these reconnaissances 
was gazetted and much new information collected." 

Robertson's work naturally led him into 
danger. 

On one occasion he had a narrow escape of his 
life, and as the duties he was engaged in were 
essential for the safety of our advance force and the 
success of our enterprise, Lieutenant Roberston's 
bravery and resource form a brilliant exploit in the 
story of the relief expedition. The true account 
of Robertson's narrowest escape from a "tight 
corner " is here given : 

In the course of his reconnaissance duties as In- 
telligence Officer, Lieutenant Robertson had to get 
into close touch with the natives. He set out on 
one occasion to obtain certain information and to 
sketch fortifications, taking with him a Pathan 
whose loyalty had been hitherto unquestioned. 
The young officer was coming down one end of a 
ravine to meet another officer who was to approach 
him from the other. 

Just as it had begun to get dusk, Robertson 
found himself surrounded in a lonely district by a 
number of the enemy, who had been wrought up 
to a pitch of fanaticism by a mullah or priest. He 
had been led into an ambush. This serious state 
of affairs was due to no lack of forethought on 
Robertson's part, for he had taken every precau- 

53 



SIR WILLIAM ROBERTSON 

tion. He could not, however, foresee the workings 
of the Oriental mind, which, while feigning loyalty, 
was planning treachery. The enemy were aided 
by the treacherous Pathan who had volunteered to 
act as his guide. He had come under the influence 
of a native leader who favoured the cause of Umra 
Khan, who headed the attack on the Chitral 
garrison. 

This traitor fired two shots at Lieutenant 
Robertson, and then attacked him with a sword. 
Though surrounded and badly wounded, besides 
being completely taken by surprise, Lieutenant 
Robertson managed to effect his escape from an 
exceedingly tight corner. It is little short of 
marvellous that he escaped with his life, for, as it 
was, he was seriously injured. He was shot in the 
back, in the head, and injured in the left hand, and 
to this day one of the fingers is useless, though no 
inconvenience is suffered. 

This alarming incident might well have cut his 
career full short had not Robertson acted with 
splendid bravery and quick resource. As it was, 
he managed to cut his way through and got back 
to the Expeditionary Force, carrying with him very 
valuable information. The after effects of his 
wounds were not serious, and his splendid 
physique enabled him to recover in a surprisingly 
short space of time. 

At the end of the Chitral Campaign he was 
mentioned in dispatches, and received the coveted 
D.S.O. and medal with two clasps, besides a step 
up in rank. 

54 



WINNING HIS SPURS IN INDIA 

His splendid record was noted in the London 
Gazette of November 15, 1895, in the following 
terms : 

"Lieutenant W. R. Robertson, 3rd Dragoon 
Guards, Field Intelligence Officer, is a very active 
and intelligent officer of exceptional promise." 

We can well imagine that this honour of being 
"mentioned in dispatches " proved an incentive to 
Robertson to perform even greater services. It 
was specially gratifying to the young officer, with 
his foot firmly planted on the ladder he meant to 
climb, to know that his hard work and application 
to duty had not been overlooked in official 
quarters. 

Space does not permit of more than a passing 
reference to the social side of Robertson's life in 
India. We have already touched upon his 
marriage. 

In the earlier years of his stay in India he 
managed to find time for the exercise of his well- 
known prowess in skill-at-arms among the officers, 
and he won a number of prizes. All manly sports 
appealed to him, and he acknowledges that he was 
never so fit and strong in his life as between the 
ages of twenty-eight and thirty. He had to 
abandon his running, much to his regret, owing to 
the hot climate. His splendid physique enabled 
him to take up many forms of exercise which would 
have been denied a man of less robust frame. He 
excelled at fencing, with the lance and sword, and 
won prizes in the well-known Anglo-Indian sports 
such as tent-pegging, lemon-cutting, etc. The 

55 



SIR WILLIAM ROBERTSON 

writer has seen a shield he won for skill in this 
sport, his opponent being General Sir William 
Birdwood. The trophy was presented by Sir 
Edward Elles. He had many warm friends in 
India, among whom were Lockhart, Roberts, Sir 
George White, Brackenbury, Duff, Barrow. He 
was always of a buoyant disposition, full of good 
spirits, and to-day can look back to those Indian 
years as among the best of his life. 

At the present time, it may be of interest to 
note, he is fond of outdoor exercise, is a good 
tennis player, and a very fair exponent of the 
ancient and royal game of golf, though naturally 
his arduous and responsible duties do not permit 
of much activity in this direction. 

The year 1896 found Sir William Robertson 
back at Simla as Staff Captain. He worked hard 
in his spare time for the Staff College entrance 
examination, studying French and German in 
particular, and in this year passed all right "off 
his own bat," without the aid of crammers. To- 
wards the end of the year he left for England tc 
enter the Staff College at Camberley. 



CHAPTER IV 

AT THE STAFF COLLEGE, THE WAR OFFICE, AND 
IN SOUTH AFRICA 

CAPTAIN ROBERTSON'S entrance to the famous Staff 
College at Camberley was the real turning point in 
his career. Had he remained in India, he might 
have developed along the more regimental side of 
his career, becoming a major, colonel, and so on, 
or he could have continued on the Staff. In either 
case he might have had a long period of waiting 
before he rose very high, as the conditions in 
India, after the successful termination of the 
Chitral Expedition, appeared to have become 
normal, and peace reigned again. 

It cannot be too often emphasised that Robert- 
son had ambition. His talents wanted the fullest 
scope for their exercise, and his intuition had told 
him that India was not likely to produce this wider 
field. On the other hand, a return to England, 
in order to qualify as a Staff captain, held high 
prospects. 

We have seen how he studied hard and suc- 
cessfully passed for admission to Camberley. 
When it is remarked that the regimental certificates 
which candidates must produce are of the highest 
standard, it speaks volumes for the ability of 
E 57 



SIR WILLIAM ROBERTSON 

Robertson in passing the entrance examination. 
All of his fellow-competitors had the advantage of 
an excellent education in their earlier days. Cam- 
berley then, as now, attracted the picked brains of 
the army, and Robertson was not slow to see that 
his shortest and quickest cut to higher commands 
lay in this way. Accordingly it was with real zest 
and with the happiest bodings for the future that 
he sailed for Europe. Here it may be mentioned 
that, on his way back from India, he was strongly 
tempted to visit Palestine, but decided to come 
straight home for the sake of his beloved mother. 
Sad to say, she died very suddenly before his 
arrival. 

General Sir William Robertson was the first 
"ranker" to enter the Staff College at Camberley. 
All through his life and splendid career he seems 
to have set up precedents. At first he was received 
by the professors with some doubt and suspicion. 
This soon passed off, and he settled down to a 
happy and strenuous life of study and social re- 
creation, greatly relishing the pleasant amenities 
of the College and its environment. 

Some account of this famous institute is here 
given. 

The history of the Staff College, Camberley, 
dates back to May, 1799, when a military institu- 
tion for the purpose of educating commissioned 
officers for Staff employment was opened at High 
Wycombe. Two years later this institution was 
recognised by Royal Warrant, and henceforth 
became known as the "First or Senior Department 

58 



AT THE STAFF COLLEGE 

of the Royal Military College." In 1813 the 
Senior Department was moved to Farnham, while 
eight years later it was transferred to Sandhurst. 
By the year 1857 the average annual admissions 
had fallen as low as six. Then, as the outcome of 
the Crimean and Mutiny experiences, was insti- 
tuted the Staff College, with its yearly quota of 
15 students, and about this time the fees of thirty 
guineas ceased to be exacted. 

From January i, 1858, the name of "Staff 
College" was substituted for that of the " Senior 
Department of the Royal Military College." In 
August, 1862, the present Staff College buildings 
at Camberley were completed, at a cost of ,62,000. 
Another change took place in November, 1870, 
when the Staff College was separated from the 
Royal Military College. It is interesting to com- 
pare the numbers of students at various periods. 
From 1871 to 1883 there were only about 40; from 
1886 to 1905 the number had risen to about 60; 
in 1905 the number was raised to nearly 80, and 
to-day it amounts to 100. Officers of the Colonial 
forces first joined the college in 1903, while two 
years later the system of attaching naval officers 
was first introduced. 

As its name implies, the college trains and pro- 
vides Staff officers for the whole army. For 
entrance to the college the competition is very 
keen. 

Admission is obtained (i) by competition, (2) 
by nomination. Thirty-six vacancies are offered 
for competition annually. Each year twelve 

59 



SIR WILLIAM ROBERTSON 

officers are specially nominated from those who 
have performed good service in the field or who 
have held the appointment of adjutant with the 
Regular Forces for a period of three years. 

The subjects of examination for entrance to the 
college are : Mathematics, Military Engineering, 
Military Topography, Tactics, Military Law, 
Military Administration, Military History and 
Strategy, Military Geography, Languages. Each 
officer who enters the college is required to be in 
the possession of a horse. He is entitled to the use 
of one Government horse, or he may use a private 
horse instead, stabling and forage being provided. 
The college course occupies two years. There are 
three terms : January 22 to April 15, May 16 to 
July 31, October i to December 21. 

For instructional purposes, the Staff College is 
divided into three sections. The principal subjects 
dealt with in the first section are : Military History 
and Geography, Strategy, Tactics, Imperial De- 
fence, Home Defence, Military Engineering, Com- 
munications in the Field. In the second section 
the subjects are : History of the British Army, Ad- 
ministration, Organisation and Training of the 
Regular Army (other than Administrative Corps 
and Departments), Special Reserve and Territorial 
Force, Reconnaissance, Mobilisation, Organisa- 
tion, and duties of the Staff, Overseas Possessions 
and their Armed Forces, Movements of Troops by 
Sea and Land, Foreign Armies. In the third 
section the subjects are : Organisation in Duties 
of Administrative Corps and Departments. Ex- 
Go 



AT THE STAFF COLLEGE 

aminations are held half yearly. Officers who are 
successful in passing the final examination are 
qualified for Staff appointments. The exact scope 
of the instruction given during the first and second 
years respectively and the details of the administra- 
tion of the college and the life of the students' will 
be found described in the later chapter dealing 
with Sir William Robertson as Commandant of the 
Staff College. 

In all his class work at Camberley, Robertson 
gave unmistakable evidence of brilliance. He 
passed out after the usual two years with flying 
colours. He particularly excelled in languages 
and qualified as an Interpreter in French, a feat 
that was to bring its fullest advantages in the 
Great War. In connection with his French 
knowledge it is interesting to note what his tutor 
has to say. Mr. O. Bowman, writing in the 
Evening News about the time he was appointed 
C.I.G.S., said : 

"Having been his tutor in modern languages 
when he was a captain at the Staff College, Cam- 
berley, I came in contact with him daily for several 
months, as we used to take long walks in the 
country talking French or German all the time. 

"Even in those days, before the South African 
War broke out, he was not a man who expected 
his tutor to have a lesson prepared for him, but 
he himself drew out of the tutor all he wanted to 
know. He was a most remarkable linguist in those 
days. Nothing that might be of any use to him 

61 



SIR WILLIAM ROBERTSON 

escaped his notice. He always asked, * What is 
the name for this? ' ' What is the name for that? ' 
and you had to be prepared for him, or out came 
his pocket dictionary. 

" In dictation he would not omit a comma or the 
modification signs on a German vowel. In order 
to be able to express himself correctly in French 
or German at the dinner table he frequently in- 
vited me to dinner, and of course I did the same. 
After our walks we sometimes went to the Staff 
College and had a game of billiards, in French or 
German, of course. 

"He is silent, cool, and clear-headed, but the 
only complaint I ever heard him make was that 
promotion was very slow. Well, he has got it 
now, and if ever anyone wishes him more luck it 
is his old tutor." 

In concluding our account of this period of Sir 
William Robertson's career, it may be of interest 
to add that among his fellow-students at Camberley 
were Sir Douglas Haig, Sir Archibald Murray, 
General Milne, and many others who have since 
proved very capable leaders in the field, some of 
whom were to be closely associated with him in 
later years in France. 

From the Staff College Sir William Robertson 
went straight to the War Office. He joined the 
Intelligence Division on December 12, 1898, being 
attached to "Section D," which dealt with Russia 
and Asia. On April i, 1899, he was appointed 
Staff Captain, holding this appointment until 

62 



AT THE WAR OFFICE 

October 9, 1899, when he was advanced to 
temporary D.A.A.G. in charge of a Section. For 
the most part his duties were concerned with our 
Colonies. 

The whole organisation of the Intelligence is 
dealt with in detail elsewhere, but before passing 
to describe more particularly Robertson's work at 
this period, it may not be out of place to add a 
brief note concerning the personnel just before 
he went to the War Office. 

On March 31, 1896, General Chapman had 
vacated his appointment, and was succeeded as 
Director of Military Intelligence by Major-General 
J. C. Ardagh, R.E. The new General had a 
unique experience of the Intelligence Division, and 
was a persona grata at the Foreign Office. During 
the latter part of General Chapman's tenure and 
General Ardagh's time, the A.A.G., Colonel 
Everett, was engrossed with the settlement of our 
many outstanding frontier questions in West 
Africa. He was a member and military expert at 
many meetings of International conferences in 
Paris and Berlin. 

Continuing our general survey of the Intelli- 
gence Division during these years we may add 
that by 1897 tne shadow of South Africa had begun 
to occupy the field. The coming w r ar was for some 
years foreseen by the Intelligence Department, and 
statistics and information concerning the Boers 
were collected as far as possible. In 1899, as the 
result of the outbreak of the South African War 
and during its earlier phases, a great strain was 

63 



SIR WILLIAM ROBERTSON 

thrown on the Intelligence Division. Not only 
was its work trebled or quadrupled, but there was a 
constant drain on its staff of officers, many of whom 
were being ordered to the front, their places being 
taken in the Division by any officers who might be 
qualified or were available, whether they were 
P.S.C. or not. Among the officers thus withdrawn 
from the War Office was Captain W. R. Robert- 
son. 

To return to a more particular survey of Robert- 
son's work during this period, 1898-99, it may be 
remarked that the duties he had to perform were not 
dissimilar to those at Simla. The chief difference 
was that they were wider in scope, and naturally 
more important. In India the Intelligence Staff 
concerned itself wholly with Indian affairs, or those 
bearing directly or indirectly on our dependency. 
The Intelligence Division at home dealt with the 
whole world. Another change in his outlook was 
the fact that he had been at the Staff College for 
two years, and was now in a more fit condition to 
master his subject. 

Captain Robertson, as has been stated, had to 
deal with the collection of information concerning 
the British Colonies, Protectorates, and spheres of 
influence. He had to assist in examining and re- 
vising schemes of home and colonial defence, and 
conduct correspondence arising therefrom with the 
Admiralty, Colonial Office, and other departments 
of State. Also he had to observe military opera- 
tions conducted in any part of the Empire, except 
India, including those conducted by local forces 



AT THE WAR OFFICE 

working under the orders of the Foreign Office or 
Colonial Office, both of which departments looked 
to the Intelligence Division for military advice, 
whenever emergencies occurred. Here it may be 
noted that no fewer than thirty of these small wars 
took place during the years 1896-9, some of them, 
such as the Uganda mutiny, the Sierra Leone re- 
bellion, and the operations in West Africa, 1897-8, 
involving questions of some difficulty and com- 
plexity. 

Then he had to study the organisation, numeri- 
cal strength, and efficiency of the Colonial forces 
of the Empire, and on the results of the Intelligence 
Branch's facts, consultations were held with the 
Colonial Office and Foreign Office on questions 
relating to their administration. 

At this time events were developing in South 
Africa, and Robertson's department had to collate 
and submit to the Commander-in-Chief information 
concerning the military forces and plans of the two 
South African Republics. 

His duties also included : a study of boundary 
questions affecting British Colonies and Protec- 
torates, and consultation with the Colonial Office 
and Foreign Office thereon, and the collation, pre- 
paration, and distribution of information concern- 
ing the resources and topography of all parts of 
the Empire, except the United Kingdom and India, 

All this gave him a useful experience. Appro- 
priately enough it was the very department in 
which he should have served in view of his present 
position as Chief of the Imperial Staff. 

65 



SIR WILLIAM ROBERTSON 

Indeed, during the whole of the time he was at 
the War Office Captain Robertson may be said to 
have laid the foundation of his present position. 
His work during these months gave him an insight 
into military problems such as hitherto he had not 
known. His horizon was being continually ex- 
tended, and he threw himself into the new problems 
and conditions with an amazing zest and ability. 
During this, his first, period of service at the War 
Office he was brought into contact with many in- 
teresting men, including Lord Wolseley and Sir 
John C. Ardagh. His duties w r ere brilliantly per- 
formed, and he had the satisfaction of knowing 
that he had made an excellent impression, and was 
regarded as a man who could well be entrusted with 
more responsible work, which was soon to come. 
For, in the autumn of 1899 came the outbreak of 
the South African War. 

Everyone is familiar with the history of the 
causes of hostilities, and the chief events of that 
terrible struggle which tested Britain as she had not 
been tried for many years when "few reputations 
were made and many lost." After the dread Black 
Week in December, 1899, Lord Roberts was sent 
out to assume supreme control and restore prestige 
to British arms. Lord Kitchener accompanied 
him as his Chief of Staff. Roberts, always a good 
judge of character, knew of Robertson's life and 
work, and wired to him to accompany him as a 
Staff officer. Sir William Robertson quickly made 
all the necessary preparations, and duly proceeded 
to the seat of the war. He went out with his dear 

66 



IN SOUTH AFRICA 

old friend and tutor, Colonel G. F. R. Henderson, 
who had gained a high reputation as Professor of 
Military History at the Staff College, Camberley. 
He was a brilliant writer and profound thinker on 
problems of strategy and tactics, and his fame rests 
sure as the author of the popular life of Stonewall 
Jackson. 

At first Sir William Robertson's well-known 
and proved abilities in Staff work were extensively 
utilised at Headquarters. During the early part 
of 1900 he acted as Deputy- Assistant- Adjutant- 
General, Intelligence Department, working de- 
votedly under his friend Colonel Henderson, 
Director of Military Intelligence. The latter 
was in poor health, and illness deprived Lord 
Roberts of his valuable services within a short 
time of the opening of his campaign (he 
died in 1903). Hence the greater part of the 
w r ork devolved upon Captain Robertson, who 
may be said to have "run " the department. But 
before his breakdown Henderson did yeoman ser- 
vice in creating an Intelligence Branch, where none 
had existed. As is well stated in the " Times His- 
tory of the South African War " : " No amount of 
money poured out after war has begun can secure 
the knowledge that only comes from the careful 
and methodical piecing together and collecting of 
infinite details in time of peace. . . . But when 
Roberts arrived even the free spending of money 
to secure some of the information that ought to 
have been available long before had not been 
thought of." Colonel Henderson had been able to 

67 



SIR WILLIAM ROBERTSON 

persuade Lord Roberts to allot him sums of money 
and the means to collect a staff which had been 
denied his predecessors. The first task he took in 
hand was the compilation from such sources as 
were available of a map of the war area, and in this 
all-important duty his able lieutenant Captain 
Robertson found ample scope for his love for, and 
knowledge of, map-making. 

Robertson's opportunity came for further dis- 
tinction when he was appointed to the Staff of the 
Army in the Field. Here his experience was put 
to a searching test, and he emerged from the ordeal 
with flying colours. He had charge of the censor- 
ing of the Boer mail-bags and their Press. He had 
to obtain information of all enemy movements, 
making use both of natives and white men. 

General Robertson saw much fighting during 
the period he was in South Africa, both in the 
Orange Free State and Transvaal. He was pre- 
sent at the important battle of Paardeberg, 
February 17 to 26, 1900. Lord Roberts's plan was 
to out-manceuvre the Boers by rapid and unex- 
pected flanking movements, so that their trenches 
availed them but little. The relief of Kimberley 
was his first objective, and it was carried out with 
brilliant strategy. While General Sir Hector 
Macdonald made a feint on the enemy's right, and 
the latter made efforts to crush it, French made 
his celebrated dash for Kimberley, starting on 
February n, coming up with Broadwood at the 
Modder River. Here, with the I2th Lancers, that 
general had rushed the Klip Drift, enabling him to 

68 



IN SOUTH AFRICA 

attack the Boers' left. Kelly-Kenny held the drift 
while French rode into Kimberley. The Boer 
leader, Cronje, had by now realised his peril and 
made off eastwards to Bloemfontein. Kelly-Kenny 
pursued and maintained a running fight, and 
Cronje was headed off and brought to a halt at 
Paardeberg. Here he took refuge in the bed of the 
Modder, where he continued to fight, until finding 
himself hopelessly enveloped, he surrendered to 
Lord Roberts on February 27. 

Then came the advance on Bloemfontein, and 
in the important engagements at Poplar Grove, 
Driefontein, Vet River (May 5 and 6), and Zand 
River Robertson took part. In the further 
advance, during the actions for Johannesburg and 
Pretoria, he was also engaged, and east of Pretoria 
from July to October. 

For his brilliant services in all capacities in the 
South African War, he was mentioned in dis- 
patches, and received the Queen 's medal with four 
clasps and brevet of Lieutenant-Colonel. His 
career in South Africa, owing principally to the 
nature of the duties he performed, did not loom 
large in the public eye that is to say, there was 
nothing dazzling that gripped and held the popular 
imagination but in official circles, and in the Army 
generally, he was regarded as a man who had won 
new distinctions, whose organising talents had con- 
tributed to victory as much as actual fighting. 
Robertson was henceforth marked out for high 
preferment along those lines wherein his genius 
lay. 

69 



CHAPTER V 

AT THE WAR OFFICE, INTELLIGENCE (1902-1907) 

THE period in Sir William Robertson's career with 
which this chapter deals is perhaps the most diffi- 
cult to describe from a popular point of view. The 
statement that he was engaged at the War Office 
from 1902 to 1907 on Intelligence duties may not 
suggest episodes as exciting as his life in the 
ranks, nor raise the interest to such an extent. 
The six years he spent at the War Office were, 
nevertheless, as important and honourable as any 
in his career. They gave Sir William Robertson 
the opportunity further to extend his military know- 
ledge, and thereby helped to fit him for the greater 
positions which inevitably loomed ahead. They 
gave the final stamp to his qualifications as a great 
scientific soldier, versed both in the theory and the 
practice of war. Nor were his duties without 
interest, as will be shown. At the same time, the 
work he then performed was of the highest 
importance. 

A proper understanding of this phase of his 
career cannot be gained without some account, 
however brief, of the organisation of the War 
Office and its personnel. It was during this period 
that the War Office, or rather our army organisa- 

70 



WAR OFFICE, INTELLIGENCE 

tion, was remodelled and placed on the footing it 
now holds. 

In November, 1903, a War Office Re-organisa- 
tion Committee was appointed, consisting of Lord 
Esher, Admiral Sir J. Fisher (now Lord Fisher), 
and Sir George Sydenham Clarke, late Governor 
of Victoria (now Lord Sydenham). Its first re- 
port dealing with the outlines of its scheme 
of reorganisation gave the following recommend- 
ations : 

1. The War Office must be reconstituted with 
the single aim of preparing the military forces of 
the Crown for war. To form an organisation for 
this the Commissioners looked to the Defence Com- 
mittee of the Cabinet, and suggested a Permanent 
Secretary appointed for five years, and under this 
officer two naval officers selected by the Admiralty, 
two military officers chosen by the War Office, and 
two Indian officers nominated by the Viceroy, with, 
if possible, one or more representatives of the 
Colonies. The duration of their appointments was 
suggested as two years. 

2. There should be an Army Council modelled 
on the Board of Admiralty, the War Secretary to 
be placed on exactly the same footing as the First 
Lord, so that all submissions to the Crown on 
military matters should be made by him alone. 
The Council to consist of four military and three 
civil members, with the Permanent Under- 
secretary as secretary. 

These proposals were, in the main, adopted. 



SIR WILLIAM ROBERTSON 

The old Intelligence Department was merged in 
the General Staff (which was constituted February, 
1904), thus receiving a fuller and more important 
status than hitherto. 

The Army Council was duly set up. It is com- 
posed of seven members, four military and three 
civil, as follows : 

The Secretary of State for War. 

The first military member (the Chief of the 
Imperial General Staff). 

The second military member (the Adjutant- 
General to the Forces). 

The third military member (the Quartermaster- 
General to the Forces). 

The fourth military member (the Master-General 
of the Ordnance). 

The civil member (the Parliamentary Under- 
secretary of State). 

The finance member (Financial Secretary to the 
War Office). 

It may add to the better understanding of this 
important change if we reproduce the Order in 
Council defining the duties of the Army Council, 
dated August 10, 1904. 

I. The Secretary of State is to be responsible 
to His Majesty and Parliament for all the business 
of the Army Council. 

All business, other than business which the 
Secretary of State specially reserves to himself, is 
to be transacted in the following principal divisions : 

72 



WAR OFFICE, INTELLIGENCE 

(a) The first military member of the Army 
Council (the Chief of the Imperial General 
Staff), the second military member of the 
Army Council (the Adjutant-General), the 
third military member of the Army Council 
(the Quartermaster-General), and the fourth 
military member of the Army Council (the 
Master-General of the Ordnance) to be 
responsible to the Secretary of State for the 
administration of so much of the business 
relating to the organisation, disposition, 
personnel, armament and maintenance of the 
army as shall be assigned to them or each 
of them from time to time by the Secretary 
of State. 

(6) The finance member of the Army Council 
to be responsible to the Secretary of State 
for the finance of the army, and for so much 
of the other business of the Army Council 
as may be assigned to him from time to 
time by the Secretary of State. 

(c) The civil member of the Army Council to be 
responsible to the Secretary of State for the 
non-effective votes, and for so much of the 
other business of the Army Council as may 
be assigned to him from time to time by 
the Secretary of State. 

2. The Secretary of the War Office will act as 
Secretary of the Army Council, and will be charged 
with the interior economy of the War Office, and 
the preparation of all official communications of 

F 73 






SIR WILLIAM ROBERTSON 

the Council, and with such other duties as the 
Secretary of State may from time to time assign to 
him. 

The duties of the Intelligence Department were, 
as we have seen, merged in the General Staff. As 
an officer of the latter Sir William Robertson 
worked under the supervision of the Chief of the 
General Staff. His duties were manifold and im- 
portant. He was put in charge of all foreign 
countries for Intelligence. He had to collect, pre- 
pare (including strategical and tactical considera- 
tions), and distribute information concerning the 
military geography, resources, and armed forces 
of all foreign countries; to conduct correspondence 
with military attaches, examine all foreign journals 
and literature generally. He worked directly 
under the Director of Military Operations, who is 
one of the three Directors who divide the depart- 
ment of the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, 
the others being the Director of Staff Duties, and 
the Director of Military Training. 

A more detailed account of the Intelligence 
Division may be given, as it enables us to obtain a 
clearer idea of the duties performed by Sir William 
Robertson during this period. He had been 
appointed to the War Office, Intelligence Division, 
in October, 1901, and it was in this month that 
the Division was rearranged. The old section 
designations A to F with H, L, and M were 
abolished. Two A.Q.M.G.'s were appointed, 
Colonels W. R. Robertson and E. A. Altham. 

74 



WAR OFFICE, INTELLIGENCE 

The new organisation was in three "subdivi- 



I i. Strategical and Colonial Defence. 

I 2. Foreign and India. 

I 3. Executive and Telegraphy and special 
duties. 

Robertson's "subdivision" was I 2. Then 
in 1903 the additional sub-section I i c was 
added to I i, and two sub-sections I 2 e and f 
were added to I 2. When Robertson was 
A.Q.M.G. his business was the following 
countries : France, Belgium, Italy, Spain, Portu- 
gal, Central and South America, States, and 
Mexico. Then came the constitution of the 
General Staff in 1904, as has been shown. The 
Staff of the new Directorate of Military Operations 
was constituted as follows : 

i D.M.O., Major-General J. M. Grierson. 
3 Assistant-Directors, Colonel W. R. Robert- 
son, Colonel Altham, and Colonel F. J. Davis. 
15 D.A.Q.M.G.'s. 
24 Staff Captains. 

A re-arrangement of duties and titles was made, 
and as far as Colonel Robertson was concerned his 
departmental division was known as M.O.2. 

In 1905 Colonel Robertson was still M.O.2 
(Foreign and Indian Section), and held the respon- 
sible position of Assistant-Director. His duties as 
specified in the official War Office List of that time 
were the collection and preparation of information 

75 



SIR WILLIAM ROBERTSON 

concerning the military geography, resources and 
armed forces of all foreign countries. 

Speaking generally, the Intelligence work per- 
formed by Sir William Robertson during these 
years was, as we have stated, very important. 
Perhaps the two countries in which he was chiefly 
interested were Russia and France. The question 
of a friendly rapprochement with these two 
countries was receiving much attention just then, 
and it is significant in view of the close ties of 
friendship, cemented in blood and tears, of these 
nations with Great Britain that the three countries 
should then be working together along lines of 
peaceful alliance and mutual understanding. 

During part of these years General Sir William 
Robertson had his anxious moments in common 
with the rest of the General Staff and the Cabinet. 
Russia was busy completing her new Central Asian 
Railway, and there were not wanting those who 
saw in this a future menace to our Indian posses- 
sions. It seemed as if the balance of power in 
Central Asia had been shifted heavily to the 
Russian side. But it was then wisely held that 
"friendly relations based upon an equilibrium 
between Russian interests and British interests are 
much more likely to be permanent than friendly 
relations based upon the enmity of either to a third 
Power." Happily, as we know, the rapprochement 
with Russia became an accomplished fact. 

During the period 1902-7, General Robertson 
held two highly important posts. In 1903 he was 
(temporary) A.Q.M.G., and in 1906 Assistant- 

76 



WAR OFFICE, INTELLIGENCE 

Director of Military Operations. The duties con- 
nected with the administration of the Army at the 
War Office will be more fully dealt with in the 
chapter describing Sir William Robertson's pre- 
sent position. The Quartermaster-General, as we 
have seen, is the third military member of the Army 
Council, and Sir William Robertson's duties as 
assistant were such as are suggested by their 
designation. As Assistant-Director of Military 
Operations, which post he held in 1906, he had to 
deal with plans of offensive and defensive opera- 
tions other than in the United Kingdom, and plans 
of concentration and reinforcement in connection 
therewith. Also to collect, prepare and distribute 
information as to British possessions other than the 
United Kingdom and India. All matters con- 
nected with frontier questions, boundary delimita- 
tions, and demarcation commissions also came 
within his view. As already stated, the new scheme 
of reorganisation merged the old Intelligence De- 
partment in the General Staff, and as the latter deals 
with the military operations through a Director, all 
the above duties may be regarded as coming under 
the head of Intelligence. 

It will be of interest to observe how Colonel 
Robertson, as he then was, acquitted himself in 
connection with his important work at the War 
Office. We have already given in fair detail the 
exact scope of his duties, and the following im- 
pressions of the man at work are gathered from 
unimpeachable sources. 

It is not too much to say that Robertson estab- 
77 



SIR WILLIAM ROBERTSON 

lished a new tradition during all the time he was 
at the War Office. He did not simply go through 
so much office routine; he made the study of 
military operations and training the chief thing. 
That is to say, his whole policy was directed to 
preparation for actual war. In a lecture delivered 
at the Staff College, November, 1912, he gave some 
significant hints as to a war in the near future : 
"History, especially recent history, shows in what 
hopeless position any nation may one day be if it 
neglects to make due preparations for war . . . that 
ill-trained troops are given no time in which to 
make themselves efficient; and that a very heavy 
penalty is the result of inadequate peace prepara- 
tion.'* He knew, as did every far-seeing military 
expert, that our army, efficient and trained as it 
was, would one day perhaps sooner than anyone 
knew be tested as it had never been tried before. 
Therefore he threw his whole soul into the work 
before him, and infused his own enthusiasm and 
energy into his staff. He divided the latter into 
sub-sections, and conducted the war-game, the 
Kriegspiel. One section would be France and 
the other Germany. Each had to collect, collate 
and discuss the information that had been gathered 
from every available source. It was the thorough- 
ness of Robertson's methods that had much to do 
with the excellent state of preparedness in which 
our "contemptible little army" found itself at the 
outbreak of war. He was very fond of the "war 
game," and regarded it as the best possible training 
for the officers of his staff. 

78 



WAR OFFICE, INTELLIGENCE 

Though his present duties cover the whole of 
the work he did in these half-dozen strenuous years 
that is, he is responsible for their efficient carry- 
ing out there is no doubt that in the days he was 
in charge of Intelligence and Assistant-Director of 
Military Operations, Robertson made a great name 
for himself. He created a stir, as the saying goes. 
It was as if a fresh, revivifying wind had blown 
into the quiet recesses of the War Office. Red tape 
took a back seat, inefficiency found a chilling atmo- 
sphere where all had been placid before. The 
whole staff seemed to be aware that a man had 
come upon the scene who would stand no fooling, a 
purposeful, masterful man, with an iron will, a 
glutton for hard work and with a genius for getting 
it out of others. Such was Sir William Robertson 
in those days. No one with whom he came into 
contact but believed he would one day come into 
his own and direct the War Office. He was a man 
who always knew exactly what he wanted when 
working up any question. He went direct to the 
point. Many able minds have a sort of notion of 
what they want, but they cannot put it into concrete 
form. They do not know what they are driving at. 
Robertson always knew what he was out for, and 
went straight to it. He was the most remarkable 
man of his time, for what our American friends 
call the "horse sense." He was methodical, but 
never prosy or dull. In his minutes (questions 
submitted to any branch for observation) he went 
straight to the root of the matter, as a lawyer in his 
brief. During the period of his charge of the 

79 



SIR WILLIAM ROBERTSON 

Foreign Section of the Directorate he brought up 
to date the whole of its information and records 
regarding foreign countries, their armies and 
colonies. This information was collated and em- 
bodied for convenient reference in the form of 
printed reports and handbooks. 

One other fact or two may be mentioned before 
we pass on to another interesting phase of the 
career of Sir William Robertson, as it occurred 
within the period embraced in this chapter. On 
November 29, 1903, he became substantive colonel, 
just twenty-five years after entering the Army and 
less than fifteen after receiving his commission. It 
may also be mentioned that all the time he was 
able to spare from his War Office duties was spent 
in attending manoeuvres and other exercises, so 
that in this way he kept in first-hand touch with 
practical military matters. 



80 



CHAPTER VI 

ALDERSHOT 

EARLY in 1907 Sir William Robertson was put on 
half pay, and so had nothing to do for the first 
time in his life as a soldier. To a man of his 
strenuous physical and mental powers, this forced 
inactivity must have proved very irksome. How- 
ever, he had not long to wait, and meantime he 
turned his active brain to excellent use. He trans- 
lated various German works into English, includ- 
ing that on the employment of heavy artillery in 
battle. Very significant, this, in view of what has 
happened since ! 

In May of this same year Robertson was ap- 
pointed Assistant Quartermaster to the Forces at 
Aldershot. Thus he returned to his old haunts, 
where many years before he had joined the ranks. 

In order to understand this period it must be 
borne in mind that the United Kingdom is divided 
into seven Commands, each Command being sub- 
divided into districts. These are : Aldershot Com- 
mand, Eastern Command, Northern Command, 
Southern Command, Western Command, Scottish 
Command, Irish Command. The Aldershot Com- 
mand is by far the most important, and all am- 
bitious officers aspire to command a brigade or 

81 



SIR WILLIAM ROBERTSON 

division at Aldershot. The post of General Officer 
Commanding-in-Chief at Aldershot is one of the 
" plums" of the profession. This responsible post 
has been held by Field-Marshal Lord French and 
General Sir H. Smith-Dorrien, among others, in 
recent years. The staff in the Aldershot Command 
is divided into (i) the General Staff, (2) the Ad- 
jutant-General's Staff, (3) the Quartermaster- 
General's Staff. It was to the third section that 
Sir William Robertson was appointed. The 
general functions performed by a Staff officer of the 
General Staff in any command are to assist the 
officers on whose staffs they are serving in pro- 
moting military efficiency, especially in regard to 
the education of officers and the training of troops, 
and to aid them in carrying out the policy pre- 
scribed by the Army Council. As is well known, 
the officers who are selected for the important posi- 
tions at Aldershot are drawn from those who have 
been considered most likely to prove capable of 
forming a school of progressive military thought. 
Robertson's half-dozen years at the War Office 
had firmly established his reputation, and it was 
with a view to utilising his great gifts in even more 
responsible directions that he was selected for 
Aldershot. 

The great camp at Aldershot has been re- 
organised from time to time. It was established 
in 1854-5 during the Crimean War to provide for 
practical instruction in tactics, outpost duties, and 
other exercises requiring a large tract of country. 
The troops were at first housed in wooden huts, 

82 



ALDERSHOT 

but these were gradually superseded by brick huts 
and barracks, the finest in the country. Over one 
and a quarter million pounds were spent on the 
camp during the first five years of its existence. 
The barracks, inclusive of the drill grounds that 
lie between them, cover a large area, being two 
and a half miles in length and nearly one mile in 
width. Each arm of the service infantry, cavalry, 
artillery, etc. has its own set of barracks. Most 
of the latest buildings are of brick, and named 
after famous battles. The permanent buildings 
provide accommodation for 20,000 men, with 4,000 
horses. In 1905 a new camp was formed on the 
outskirts of Woolmer Forest, which greatly added 
to the value and extent of the manoeuvre grounds. 

Aldershot is very convenient in situation, being 
only thirty-five miles south-west of London, and 
within easy distance of several trunk lines. The 
Command is divided into five sub-districts, each 
having an officer in charge of barracks. These 
are : Maryborough Lines, including Arborfield 
Cross; Stanhope Lines, Wellington Lines, includ- 
ing Ewshott ; Woking, including Blackdown, 
Deepcut, Pirbright, the Royal Military and Staff 
Colleges; Borden, including Longmoor, etc. 
Under the army organisation of 1901-3, Aldershot 
Camp was occupied by the ist Army Corps. In 
1904, when a drastic reorganisation of the army 
system was inaugurated, it retained its position as 
the headquarters of an army corps. 

We append a few additional details regarding 
some of the administrative services. The troops at 

83 



SIR WILLIAM ROBERTSON 

Aldershot are under the command of a lieutenant- 
general, and are divided into three infantry 
brigades and one cavalry brigade, each under a 
major-general. The artillery is under a major- 
general and the engineers under a colonel of the 
Staff. The chief engineer has the status of a 
brigade commander in connection with the Royal 
Engineer Army Troops and Training Depot, 
which are commanded by the O.C. troops and 
companies, R.E. There is an Assistant Director 
of Supplies and Transport, who also has the status 
of a brigade commander. He is the commanding 
officer of the Army Service Corps quartered in the 
command. This corps is divided into the Train- 
ing Establishment and Service Companies, each 
with its own C.O. The Assistant Director of 
Ordnance Stores has the status of a brigade com- 
mander. There is a Deputy Director of Medical 
Services, who is the O.C. the R.A.M.C. in Alder- 
shot. Then there are the divisional commanders. 

All the above-mentioned facts go to prove how 
highly important and responsible a post is the 
Aldershot Command, and it can well be imagined 
that from the very first day of his appointment as 
A.Q.M.G., vSir William Robertson had his hands 
very full. It was real solid hard work, calling 
for the most careful attention to detail. 

Six months later, in October, 1907, came his 
reward. He was promoted to the very responsible 
position of Chief of the Staff, Aldershot. He be- 
came the right-hand man of the G.O. Command- 
ing-in-Chief, and by the nature of his administra- 



ALDERSHOT 

tive duties practically "ran" the Command. Just 
as in France he was the right-hand man of Lord 
French, so at Aldershot Robertson interpreted his 
chief's wishes and commands, and saw that they 
were faithfully carried out. 

The distribution of Staff duties in connection 
with a " Command " is set forth in the King's 
Regulations as follows : 

" Orders, other than those issued at manoeuvres 
or in the field, will be arranged in two classes, 
viz. : 

"General Staff Orders. 

"Orders relating to administration. 
" i . The orders comprised under each class will 
be divided into numbered paragraphs, each dealing 
with a separate subject, but the numbering for both 
classes combined will be consecutive throughout 
the year. Each order will be prepared by the Staff 
officer or head of service or department concerned. 

2. Orders should, as a rule, be embodied under 
one heading containing the name of the officer 
issuing the orders, the command or force to which 
the orders refer, and the date and place of issue, 
e.g.: 

"Orders by General X 

" Commanding 

"Aldershot, 
"25th June, 19 . 

"3. General Staff orders should be signed by 
the senior general Staff officer, or, in his absence, 

85 



SIR WILLIAM ROBERTSON 

by the next senior, or if there be no next senior, 
by a Staff officer not belonging to the General Staff 
whom for the time being the G.O.C. may empower 
to sign General Staff orders. 

"Orders relating to administration should be 
signed by the general officer i/c administration, or, 
in his absence, or if there be no general officer i/c 
administration, by the senior Staff officer present 
belonging to either the Adjutant-General's or the 
Quartermaster-General 's department. 

"A Staff officer signing orders will add to his 
signature his rank and the title of the appointment 
which he holds on the Staff, except that in the case 
of a Staff officer not belonging to the General Staff 
but temporarily authorised to sign General Staff 
orders, he will append to his signature his rank 
and the words: * For General Staff Officer,' and 
in the case of a Staff officer signing orders relative 
to administration on behalf of the general officer 
i/c administration, he will append to his signature 
his rank and the words * For general officer i/c 
administration.' " 

Sir William Robertson became Chief of the 
Staff at Aldershot just thirty years after joining 
there as a recruit in the West Cavalry Barracks, 
and he often gazed at the old barrack room which 
he had entered on that wet November night in 
1877. If ever any British soldier had reason to be 
proud or feel highly elated surely it was Robert- 
son, as he reflected on the amazing progress he 
had made during those three decades from the 

86 



ALDERSHOT 

humblest, most friendless, and rawest recruit in all 
Aldershot to the virtual controller of the great 
camp. Had he not been a man of firm control he 
might long ago have been carried away by the 
retrospect of his steady and brilliant advancement 
from one stage to another in the Army. 

At Aldershot, Robertson served first as 
A.Q.M.G. with Lord French, who was then in 
command of the troops there. This close connec- 
tion was to be renewed seven years later in France, 
as will be seen. After Lord French relinquished 
the Command he was succeeded by General Sir 
Horace Smith-Dorrien, who was later to show the 
greatest gallantry and ability during the terrible 
retreat from Mons. 

The few years Sir William Robertson spent at 
Aldershot were full of vigorous action. No actual 
words can adequately sum up his brilliant work at 
this time, when our army was being perfected and 
" licked into shape" for the grim ordeal that was 
to confront it not many years hence. Robertson 
left the mark of his genius at Aldershot as he had 
done at the War Office from 1902-7. His methods 
were characterised by the same forceful vigour and 
originality. As Chief of the General Staff he was 
always accessible to those with ideas, listened 
patiently even to schemes which at their face value 
seemed wildly improbable of being carried into 
action, and never dismissed any "impossible" pro- 
ject for improving the efficiency of the Army with- 
out careful consideration. Although unidentified 
in the public mind with military sports or athletics, 

87 



SIR WILLIAM ROBERTSON 

he nevertheless took a very keen interest in these, 
but from the point of view of their effect on military 
training. 

The period spent by Sir William Robertson 
when Brigadier-General on the Headquarters Staff 
at Aldershot was destined to be one of very great 
importance, for during the time that Lord French 
and General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien were re- 
spectively in command there they were responsible 
for the introduction, or working out to a practical 
conclusion, of many new ideas in training methods 
and improvement in military equipment and 
material. It cannot be too strongly emphasised 
that during the time Sir William Robertson served 
under these leaders the foundations were laid on 
which the training of the famous original British 
Expeditionary Force was carried out, and which 
formed the basis of the training scheme for the 
New Armies that subsequently sprang into being. 

From Mr. Edgar J. Sercombe, the genial and 
able editor of the well-known Aldershot News, I 
have received the following interesting outlines of 
Sir William's work at Aldershot. Coming from 
the pen of one whose profession brought him into 
the closest touch with military matters at this 
period at the great camp, and who still recalls the 
courtesy and assistance he received as a journalist 
from Sir William, they are all the more interesting. 

"Never," says Mr. Sercombe, "during the 
whole time Sir William filled the important ap- 
pointment at Aldershot was he * in the limelight.' 
Seldom, indeed, were the occasions upon which his 

88 



ALDERSHOT 

name appeared in print either in the newspapers 
or the training memorandums issued from Head- 
quarters, but, nevertheless, his was the unseen hand 
that guided the training work, and many of the 
new ideas introduced could be traced to him. 

"Sir William had the fortune to take up his 
duties as Chief of the Staff at Aldershot at the 
same time that there had been a change in the 
supreme command. Field-Marshal Lord French 
had just relinquished the Command, being suc- 
ceeded by General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien, and 
had taken his Chief of the Staff, Major-General 
A. J. Murray (now General Sir Archibald Murray) 
with him to the War Office. Thus the new Chief 
of the General Staff had a comparatively free hand 
in the discharge of his new duties. One of his 
earliest efforts was in the direction of the training 
of junior officers. In the first training scheme Sir 
William issued in the early spring of 1908 at 
Aldershot, he emphasised the importance that 
junior officers should be prepared at all times and 
under all circumstances to act alone. The im- 
portance and value of this view, when the character 
of the present struggle in Belgium and France is 
considered, cannot now be overestimated. 

"Another extract from the same memorandum 
also has intense interest at the present time. It 
is as follows : ' Modern war demands that indi- 
vidual intelligence should be on a high plane. 
Battlefields now cover such extensive areas that 
control by officers is very difficult, consequently 
N.C.O.'s and even private soldiers very often find 

G 89 



SIR WILLIAM ROBERTSON 

themselves left to their own resources : and it is 
only by being accustomed in peace training to use 
their common sense and intelligence that they are 
likely to be equal to their duties in time of war.' 
When it is remembered that the system of training 
carried out by the troops quartered in Aldershot is 
generally followed at all other stations at home, 
the value of this far-seeing view of Sir William 
can be gauged. 

"The important part that entrenchments were 
destined to play in modern war was also early 
recognised by Sir William, who in the course of a 
memorandum on the subject directed that ' the 
troops should be continually practised in making 
hasty cover for themselves and in improvising ex- 
isting cover on every possible piece of ground 
gained which it is important to hold. Officers and 
N.C.O.'s should be trained to site and trace trenches 
after dark as well as by day.' Another extract from 
the same memorandum shows the same remarkable 
foresight in preparing these troops for what was to 
come. It states : ' Artillery, too, is very dependent 
on the hours of darkness in getting into positions, 
and although it may as a rule be possible to select 
positions during the day, it must frequently 
happen that the actual digging of gun pits and 
moving guns into them must take place at night.' 
When it is considered that was written eight years 
before the Battle of the Somme the foresight shown 
is almost uncanny. 

"In another important phase of training, re- 
markable developments were made during Sir 

90 



ALDERSHOT 

William's tenure of his Aldershot appointment, 
this being in musketry, for which he, as Chief of 
the General Staff, was directly responsible. 
Musketry instruction had been made more and 
more practical from the close of the South African 
War, but from 1908 onwards the work was con- 
ducted as near as possible under service conditions 
as ingenuity could devise. This was shown in the 
conduct of the Evelyn Wood Cup Competition, 
which each year attracted hundreds of platoon 
teams and was conducted as a combined marching 
and shooting test, eleven miles having first to be 
covered in three hours before firing at a series of 
' service ' targets. These later, in 1908, took the 
form of twelve-inch iron plates, daubed all over 
with red, blue and yellow paint, and stood up on 
their edges on grassy or sandy banks, with which 
backgrounds they blended almost to invisibility. 
Yet by the system of training introduced the teams 
picked up and * picked off ' these very difficult 
targets. The value and importance of accurate 
judging distance in connection with musketry was 
also emphasised during this period of the training 
of the Aldershot troops, who were instructed on 
more scientific lines by sight and sound. 

u The cavalry, too, went through a period of 
evolution consequent upon the introduction of a 
new pattern sword, which abolished the old cutting 
and hacking methods in favour of the lightning 
thrust. The infantry were provided with a new 
web equipment, and the first serious efforts were 
made to provide the troops with travelling kitchens. 



SIR WILLIAM ROBERTSON 

Mechanical transport was placed on a practical 
basis, thus solving many of the difficulties of am- 
munition supply. Thus Sir William Robertson 
was closely identified with a period of the utmost 
importance in the modern training of the British 
Army, and it is not too much to claim that his 
sound judgment, clear foresight and soldierly skill 
contributed in no small degree to the success which 
attended the training of the troops and made pos- 
sible the present splendidly equipped arm that is 
upholding the credit of British arms among the 
nations of the world." 

To sum up, we may remark that Robertson, 
working with French and Smith-Dorrien at Alder- 
shot, was responsible in no small measure for the 
magnificent Expeditionary Force that left these 
shores in 1914, and which gave such an excellent 
account of itself in retreat and advance. The rela- 
tions existing between Robertson and the two 
Commanders-in-Chief at Aldershot were always of 
the most cordial character. The latter knew that 
in him they had the very best man for this 
work. The years he lived there were very happy, 
and it was with sincere regret that he relinquished 
his responsible position for one perhaps even more 
responsible, but of a vastly different character. 

While at Aldershot, it may be added, Sir Wil- 
liam saw much of His Majesty King George (as 
Prince of Wales at first), and he has seen much of 
him since, being attached to his suite at several 
manoeuvres. 



92 



CHAPTER VII 

COMMANDANT AT THE STAFF COLLEGE, CAMBERLEY 

THE year 1910 saw General Sir William Robertson 
back at the Staff College, Camberley. The first 
"ranker " to enter it as a student, he is the first 
and only " ranker" who has directed it. No 
appointment in the whole of his career is of more 
romantic interest. When we look back and see 
the lonely Lincolnshire lad standing outside the 
Cavalry Barracks at Aldershot on that November 
night of 1877, an d follow, as we have done in these 
pages, his dogged career from private to general, 
we are all the more struck by the dramatic side of 
this latest appointment. He was selected solely 
on the grounds of merit and suitability for the 
highly important and onerous task of instructing 
the future heads of the Army. He had won the 
coveted position of commandant, one of the 
"plums" of the service, through sheer merit, hard 
work and all-round knowledge of military science. 
To many men such a position would be the 
adequate crown of a successful career. In Robert- 
son's case it was but one of many leading positions 
he had filled and was to fill. 

By the time Sir William Robertson had 
assumed the direction of studies at Camberley, the 

93 



SIR WILLIAM ROBERTSON 

latter had become essentially military. Earlier 
the curriculum included subjects of a more general 
nature. Thus between 1882 and 1886, geology, 
mathematics and Hindustani had been removed 
from the course; in 1888 the professorship of 
applied science was reduced to a lectureship, which 
was itself abolished in 1899. In 1895 Russian, 
which had been added in 1882, disappeared, and 
a similar fate attended German and French in 
1903 and 1904. Whether the abolition of instruc- 
tion in these useful languages was a wise step is 
a matter upon which opinions are not unanimous. 

Commandant is the name by which the head 
of the "Directing Staff " at Camberley is known. 
The latter formerly received the designation of 
D.A.A.G. and "Professor." Sir William Robert- 
son had the complete supervision of the working 
of the college in all its branches. The students 
are formed into two divisions of about equal 
strength Juniors (first year), Seniors (second 
year), each being under a General Staff Officer, 
ist Grade. The remaining Directing Staff officers 
are normally divided between the two divisions, 
thus making a total of seven with each. 

The Commandant at the Staff College is the real 
builder of future Army leaders; he is practically 
the head of what may be termed a "War School," 
for although training for Staff work in peace is by 
no means omitted, instruction is, and ought to be, 
principally directed towards the problems of war. 
The curriculum proves this, for the first year of the 
course is devoted to imparting the requisite store 

94 



COMMANDANT AT STAFF COLLEGE 

of knowledge; while in the second year chief 
attention is paid to developing the power of apply- 
ing this knowledge to those situations with which 
British Staff Officers and commanders may be 
confronted in war. 

To describe all Sir William Robertson's mani- 
fold duties at Camberley cannot be attempted, for 
to do so would be to give a treatise on military 
education. His lectures were always very popular ; 
in fact, it is not stating too much to say that he 
was noted for them. He had a gift of clear, con- 
cise presentation of fact and theory which illumined 
the driest subject, so that his hearers were charmed 
while being instructed. His lectures were models 
of precision and simplicity. He aimed at teaching 
his students first and last to be soldiers. 

He had to organise, among other tours, the 
annual visit to Chatham, where was carried out a 
programme prepared by the Commandant of the 
School of Military Engineering, in consultation 
with Sir William Robertson. During the second 
year a Staff tour is held, the post of all com- 
manders being filled by members of the Directing 
Staff, the Staff appointments being filled by the 
students. The work done by the latter during the 
tour is, therefore, exclusively confined to Staff 
duties. In order that natural situations may 
arise, calling for action on the part of the Staff, a 
war game, conducted by the Commandant, is pre- 
viously played by the two General Staff officers, 
ist Grade, and the situations which arise there- 
from are duly recorded. 

95 



SIR WILLIAM ROBERTSON 

During the tour these two officers act as Com- 
manders-in-Chief, and the manner in which the 
operations will develop remains a secret except to 
them and to one or two others of the Staff who 
may require to know it. No narrative is issued ; 
information is gained from the reports of sub- 
ordinates, and from small and numerous items of 
news which come in at all hours of the day or 
night from such sources as observers in aeroplanes, 
secret agents, prisoners, inhabitants and news- 
papers. The preparation of these items of intel- 
ligence, not by any means all reliable, requires 
much time and care, for it should be possible by 
thorough sifting and skilful piecing together to 
obtain the same amount of information as might 
reasonably be expected in war. 

Although the Directing Staff act as com- 
manders, and may know what the next move is to 
be, they expect the students to be able to give 
them at any time a short verbal appreciation of 
the situation, and any other information or assist- 
ance they may require from them as their Staff 
officers. The students are thus made to realise 
the necessity of constantly looking well ahead, 
thinking out beforehand what may have to be 
done, and being prepared to meet any contingency 
and answer any question that is likely to arise. 

During the summer term two or three Staff 
tours are held, one of which takes place in North 
Wales at the termination of a course of lectures 
regarding Indian frontier warfare. Students who 
have once taken part in this tour are not likely 

96 



COMMANDANT AT STAFF COLLEGE 

to forget their long mountain climbs on foot ; how 
they picqueted the roads which narrowed them- 
selves into mule tracks, along which they could 
almost see the long string of pack animals, the 
cause of much previous calculation and anxiety ; 
how they protected their camps at night; the 
tactics they employed to capture the passes crowned 
with sangars; and, finally, how the enemy gave 
an infinity of trouble during the withdrawal of the 
expedition down the nalas en route to India i.e. 
to the railway stations at Carnarvon, Llanberis 
and Bangor. 

A great part of the instruction in both years 
takes the form of solving concrete problems deal- 
ing with tactical situations and other subjects 
which lend themselves to this method of treatment. 

Readers will be interested to have the following 
summary of the course of instruction during the 
second year, which consists of a wider application 
of the principles taught in the first year, and of a 
more extended teaching in the science and art of 
war generally. 

Military History and Geography, Strategy and 
Tactics : As in the first year, but with special 
reference to modern campaigns and including 
savage warfare. 

Imperial Defence: The geographical and 
strategical frontiers of the Empire, and of certain 
Continental Powers. Strategical principles gov- 
erning the defence of the Empire. Home Defence. 
Plans of concentration for War. Naval strategy 
as applied to the British Empire. Duties and 

97 



SIR WILLIAM ROBERTSON 

distribution of the Navy. Naval bases and de- 
fended ports. Food supplies of the United 
Kingdom in time of war. British and foreign 
submarine cables. 

Military Engineering and Communications in 
the Field: Military engineering as in first year, 
and including fortifications of frontiers. Different 
systems of communication in the field; aerial 
navigation. 

Staff Duties: Duties devolving upon Staff 
officers at the War Office, in command and in the 
field. Organisation and administrative systems 
of the principal foreign armies, and lessons to be 
derived therefrom. Landings on an open beach. 
Coast reconnaissance. Oversea expeditions, in- 
cluding embarkations, disembarkations, and re- 
embarkations. Co-operations with the Royal 
Navy. 

Transport and Supply: System of mainten- 
ance in selected campaigns. Economic geography 
in its relation to the service of maintenance. Fram- 
ing reports. Commercial law in its relation to the 
service of maintenance. 

Medical : As in the first year, and including 
the work of the Medical Services in selected 
campaigns. 

Staff Tours : These are arranged by the Com- 
mandant as funds are available, and, if possible, 
include a disembarkation scheme. 

Practical Test: During the third term a 
thorough test of the general standard of efficiency 
attained by the students in strategy, applied 

98 



COMMANDANT AT STAFF COLLEGE 

tactics, reconnaissance, and staff duties generally is 
carried out under the orders of the Chief of the 
Imperial General Staff. 

All these particulars of the instruction are of 
the deepest interest as showing the wide range of 
military science that Sir William Robertson had 
to possess as Commandant at Camberley. He 
was, of course, responsible for this instruction 
being imparted to the students. Here, it may be 
added, that many of the above particulars are taken 
from a highly interesting and brilliant article on 
the Staff College by Sir William Robertson in the 
Army Review, October, 1912. 

A word or two may be written about the social 
side of General Sir William Robertson's tenure 
of the office of Commandant at the Staff College. 

The two years he spent there were full of 
activity and happiness. The utmost loyalty 
existed between the staff and the head, and between 
the teachers and taught. The latter were not only 
drawn to admire the soldier in General Robertson, 
but also the man. He was always their friend, 
and while he had the reputation of being very 
strict, he was acknowledged to be absolutely just. 
He made an ideal Commandant. He judged a 
man entirely on his merits, and paid no regard to 
name or connection. He thoroughly enjoyed the 
life and was happy in the Government House 
attached to the college, and took much delight in 
the charming garden, formed of the grounds of the 
college, with a lake for boating. 

A word may be said about the various forms of 
99 



SIR WILLIAM ROBERTSON 

recreation available. Of these the drag hunt is at 
once the most important and the most popular. It 
supplies exactly the kind of exercise and distraction 
required during the winter months when the greater 
part of the day's work is done indoors. On two 
afternoons of the week one may leave the college 
after lunch and return by tea-time, having had a 
good run over a fairly difficult country with an 
extraordinary variety of fences. In addition to 
being a fine and healthy form of recreation, the 
drag provides good training of the eye for country, 
braces up the nerves, and improves the horseman- 
ship of all who take advantage of it, and all are 
expected to do this. 

There is an excellent cricket ground, which is 
used for that game in summer and hockey in 
winter. There are a few tennis courts and a squash 
racquet court, and adjoining them are nine-hole 
golf links. 

While, therefore, officers who proceed to the 
college must be fully prepared to do hard and 
serious work, and plenty of it, they may neverthe- 
less count upon spending two pleasant years pro- 
vided they take their work in the right way and do 
not make "heavy weather " over it. 

One of the most pleasant functions of the year 
was the Annual Staff College Dinner, when the 
speeches both by the Commandant and his staff 
and the students were a feature. General Robert- 
son's speeches revealed the Head in very human 
characteristics. His infectious laugh and boyish 
fun kept everyone in the best of spirits. 

100 



COMMANDANT AT STAFF COLLEGE 

General Sir William Robertson relinquished 
his position at the Staff College at the end of 1912, 
to the great regret of everyone therein. He left to 
take up even more important duties. 

Before concluding this chapter we have thought 
it only fitting to include extracts from one of the 
lectures delivered by Sir William Robertson. The 
occasion was his final address to the officers of the 
Senior Division, Staff College, Camberley, Decem- 
ber 20, 1911. It is a model of compact, concise, 
practical advice, based on a long experience, gained 
as the result of intense study and first-hand know- 
ledge. Some passages are very significant in view 
of the present war. 

"This is the Staff College, and our first business 
is to teach staff duties, and, as far as it is possible 
to do so without actual practice, send you away 
ready to take up any staff appointment suitable to 
your rank and experience which you may now any 
day be selected to fill. For, becoming proficient in 
the higher and more important duties of command, 
you have still much time in front of you, and what 
we have aimed at in this respect is to give you a 
sound foundation upon which you can build after 
you leave, and so eventually acquire those many 
and varied attainments which are essential to 
official command. 

"Also, experience on the staff is of itself a good 
and requisite apprenticeship for command. An 
officer who has never served outside his regiment 
must, when called upon to fill a General's appoint- 

101 



SIR WILLIAM ROBERTSON 

ment, frequently find himself in a difficult position 
which a little previous experience on the staff would 
have obviated. 

"Having acquired a theoretical knowledge of 
staff duties, you should, from this time forward, 
turn your thoughts to the practical application of 
it. Comparatively speaking, it is quite an easy 
matter to amass a certain amount of knowledge ; it 
is difficult to apply that knowledge in practice. 
The errors you may have committed here when 
carrying out staff duties have had no more serious 
effect than to subject your work to additional 
criticisms by the Directing Staff. When you 
leave, and have to perform these duties in a prac- 
tical manner, the result of a mistake may be con- 
siderable even in peace, and in war may be very 
far-reaching indeed. Therefore, you should begin 
at once to think deeply over the application of what 
you have learned. . . . 

"On taking up a staff appointment your first 
object must be to obtain the confidence of your 
Chief, and you might do worse than begin by 
remembering that you yourself are not the Chief, 
but the Chief's agent and assistant. The extent to 
which he will entrust you depends largely upon 
yourself. Most of us know people W'ho have the 
reputation of wishing to do everything themselves, 
but even such people are, according to my experi- 
ence, quite ready to leave their subordinates to do 
their own work more or less in their own way as 
soon as those subordinates show that they can be 
trusted. 

102 



COMMANDANT AT STAFF COLLEGE 

" Learn to take ' No ' for an answer. The 
business of a staff officer is to put a case as it arises 
fully before his General, and to make appropriate 
and practical suggestions for dealing with it. The 
General then decides, and when he has done that 
it is for the staff officer whole-heartedly to devote 
his efforts to carrying out the decision, whether it 
is in accordance with his suggestions or is opposed 
to them. Upon the General rests the responsi- 
bility, and, therefore, with him must rest the 
decision. . . . 

44 With respect to office work in general, be 
careful to keep your pen well under control. More 
trouble is caused in an office by pen and paper 
than by anything else. As far as possible, do 
your work verbally when dealing with complicated 
questions which have to be discussed with another 
branch, afterwards committing the result of your 
discussion to paper as far as this may be required 
for record and other purposes. Much time will be 
saved thereby. Also, be careful to mind your own 
business, and avoid interfering with that of other 
branches. This is a recognised rule of office 
etiquette, and when it is broken there is apt to be 
trouble. You have no right to interfere with the 
work of another branch, and probably no good, but 
much harm, will result from doing so, because, as 
a rule, you will not know enough about the work 
of that branch. 

"Another word of advice I would give about 
office work pure and simple is, do not try to remain 
in an office a day longer than the ordinary tenure 

103 



SIR WILLIAM ROBERTSON 

of your appointment, but get back to troops. A 
certain amount of office work is an essential part 
of your education, but it is nevertheless true that 
if you remain in an office unduly long your physical 
condition will suffer, your eye will get out as re- 
gards distance and ground, and you may become 
unpractical in regard to what troops can do as well 
as insufficiently sympathetic towards them. As I 
have many times told you, we exist for one purpose 
only, namely, war, and, except in the case of quite 
a few individuals, war is a business that is con- 
ducted out of doors, not in an office. 

"With respect to the training of troops, be on 
your guard against the" insidious and detrimental 
effects of peace. The longer peace continues, the 
more difficult it is to prepare for war, for the 
usages of peace have a habit of pushing themselves 
more and more into prominence, until they assume 
the appearance of war conditions, and begin to be 
regarded as such. There is naturally a wide 
divergence of opinion as to what is suitable for 
war, and war alone can decide which conception 
is a true one. Guidance can, however, be obtained 
from a close study of military history, and from 
peace exercises based on the fundamental principles 
of war. You must frequently pull yourselves to- 
gether, as it were, and try to ascertain whether you 
are or are not adhering to these principles. . . . 

"A staff officer should carry in his head all 
general information regarding the army with which 
he is serving, the composition and distribution of 
the adjacent larger formations so far as he ought 

104 



COMMANDANT AT STAFF COLLEGE 

to know them, the distribution and strength of all 
his own units, and the names of their commanding 
officers. He should be able to answer any question 
his General may ask him at any time. If he can- 
not do that, he fails in his duty, and he cannot do 
it unless he is constantly looking ahead. He must 
think over all possible alternatives of action, and 
be ready to issue the requisite orders according to 
the particular alternative his Chief may at any 
moment select. . . . 

"If troops are not in their proper place at the 
appointed time, or are not complete, fully equipped, 
and supplied in all respects as far as it is possible 
for them to be, the fault lies with the staff. There 
is no need for the staff to interfere with the execu- 
tion of details, but it is for them to ensure that the 
right thing is done, and done at the right time. 
You must not take it too much for granted that the 
troops will necessarily do what your General wishes 
them to do as notified in orders. You must see 
that they do it, and this you ensure by observing, 
watching, and inquiring before matters have time 
to go wrong. 

"The fatigue and privations of war, sickness, 
and wounds soon make serious gaps in the ranks 
of the regiments, and the abler the staff the 
stronger will be the regiments in the day of battle, 
for if the arrangements have been good the men 
will have been spared all unnecessary exertion, 
and witl have been cared for in every way. 

"In action, staff officers should be all eyes and 
ears. Your field-glasses must be used without 
H 105 



SIR WILLIAM ROBERTSON 

intermission, and anything remarkable should at 
once be reported to your superior. . . . 

"When conveying messages under fire, try to 
be cool to the utmost extent. If by nature an 
officer is excitable, he should place a strong curb 
on his manner. Verbal reports should be almost 
impassive in the style in which they are made, and 
the officer making them should always look as 
jolly and unconcerned as if engaged on an ordinary 
field day. 

" In conveying a verbal order you cannot be too 
particular to ascertain before you start what the 
exact intention of your General is, and be careful 
that you communicate it in a clear and intelligent 
way, throwing full light upon the spirit of it. 
Should the recipient be dull in catching its real 
meaning, or if he seems inclined not to obey, you 
must be respectfully firm in insisting on the order 
being carried out in the way your Chief wishes it, 
and if you think the recipient has no intention of 
doing this, lose no time in informing your com- 
mander. 

"When dealing with superior officers, be most 
respectful in your manner, remembering that you 
are but the agent of the General. A staff officer 
should feel bound by his position to treat everyone 
with the courtesy due from one gentleman to 
another. By doing this he will give his General 
great assistance, and, by omitting to do it, he may 
be the cause of incalculable harm. 

"Reticence is another virtue that needs to be 
constantly practised. Most of us have seen the 

106 



COMMANDANT AT STAFF COLLEGE 

staff officer who goes about in such a way as to 
give the impression to the outside world that he is 
oppressed with hard work, is in possession of the 
greatest secrets, and knows every movement that 
is to take place. This is not only foolish but 
wrong. It is foolish, because if the outside world 
does not believe it they will laugh at you ; and it is 
wrong, because if the impression is credited it is 
nearly as bad as if you revealed the secrets. It is 
best to profess entire ignorance regarding such 
coming events as your Chief wishes to be kept 
secret, and if officers try to pump you, you should 
parry their questions and lead them to believe that 
you cannot answer them because you do not know. 
I do not mean by this that you should be exclusive 
in your acquaintances. Quite the contrary. You 
should mix freely with regimental officers, as it is 
desirable your General should know every camp 
rumour, and the opinions of the rank and file of 
the Army as to the course of events and the actors 
in them. 

"Staff duties as a whole mean hard work. In 
these days there is no time for amusement beyond 
what is needed for the preservation of good health, 
and officers who are not prepared to accept staff 
employment on these conditions ought not to 
accept it at all. 

"To sum up, I would say that, when serving 
on the staff you should endeavour to cause your 
General to regard you as his most loyal and com- 
petent assistant and adviser ; and you should devote 
your energies to inducing the regimental officers 

107 



SIR WILLIAM ROBERTSON 

to regard you as their best friend, who is always 
ready and willing to help them in their difficulties. 
Remember that their difficulties are considerable, 
that they loom up very large in the eyes of the 
regiment, and that the regimental officer has not 
the same compensating advantages for the hard- 
ships of war as the staff officer has. . . . 

"Do not forget what I have frequently said 
about the value and culture of an intelligent and 
appropriate initiative. When you become com- 
manders and expect your subordinates to exercise 
a due amount of this quality, you must be prepared 
to see them do things sometimes not quite accord- 
ing to your wishes. You cannot have it both 
ways. You cannot expect proper initiative to be 
displayed if, at the same time, you are constantly 
interfering in matters of detail. So long as prin- 
ciples are being correctly observed you must leave 
the details to your subordinates. Initiative is a 
very sensitive thing and is easily checked; con- 
sequently, you must be careful not to do anything 
which would unduly interfere with it. 

"In making strategical and tactical plans, do 
not forget that the enemy may be just as afraid of 
you as you may have cause to be afraid of him. I 
was a little disappointed a few days ago in watch- 
ing some of you engaged in a tactical exercise. I 
listened to some verbally describing the situation 
and giving their ideas as to how they proposed to 
meet it, and I noticed that they paid much more 
attention to what the enemy might do than to what 
they themselves wished to do. Of course, full 

108 



COMMANDANT AT STAFF COLLEGE 

consideration must be given to the probable plans 
of the enemy, but do not put these in absolutely the 
first place, and what you yourself desire to achieve 
in the second place, or you may, perhaps quite 
unconsciously, surrender the initiative to him. 
While carefully considering what the enemy may 
do to thwart your object, always keep that object in 
the forefront of your meditations. . . . 

" Do not forget . . . our ' doctrine ' in regard 
to the battle. It is to be found in the first line of 
the first paragraph in the chapter in Field Service 
Regulations dealing with the battle. Go for your 
man as soon as you can. There is <no necessity to 
come to the Staff College in order to learn that 
only by the offensive can you win. That is 
obvious to everybody. But going for your man 
does not justify making a mere blind rush at him. 
Of what use is the study of the science of war if, 
when battle comes, you throw it all to the winds and 
rush straight on your enemy as if you knew nothing 
of this science? Still, I repeat, go for your man, 
for it is only by so doing that you can win. 

"In this connection remember that the know- 
ledge you have acquired here is only a means to an 
end; it is not the end. You do not necessarily win 
battles by being ' based on an arc/ or by having 
' liberty to manoeuvre/ or by being on ' interior 
lines/ or by being in possession of any of these or 
any other high-sounding things. There is only 
one way, ultimately, of winning a battle, and that 
is by fighting, hard fighting, and that is why both 
commander and staff should devote their constant 

109 



SIR WILLIAM ROBERTSON 

attention to all those matters which tend to increase 
the fighting power of the troops. 

"Another word of advice to you is, whether you 
are on the staff or in command, endeavour by your 
example to create a good standard of discipline 
and respect for superior authority. I fear that in 
these days there is apt to be some slackness in this 
respect. Discipline is the only thing, or rather the 
chief thing, which differentiates between an army 
and a mob. It is the result of constant and careful 
attention, and can never be produced on the spur 
of the moment. . . . 

" So far as one can judge from the present state of 
the world, you may any day find yourselves taking 
part in a war than which there has been no greater 
for the last hundred years or so, and it may be 
upon you to whom I am now speaking that to a 
great extent will depend how we emerge from that 
war. We are too apt to go on day by day discuss- 
ing the probability and consequences of certain 
wars, without ever really recognising our own in- 
dividual responsibility ; and remember that officers 
who have been through the Staff College have the 
greater responsibility. You do not come here 
merely for the sake of passing certain examinations 
at the end of the first year, and of obtaining a 
P.S.C. at the end of the second. You come here 
in order that you may leave the College a better 
and more efficient member of the military com- 
munity. You should now endeavour to increase 
the knowledge you have acquired, disseminate it 
amongst others, and, as I have often told you, 

no 



COMMANDANT AT STAFF COLLEGE 

direct your studies and peace preparations in 
general to a special and definite end that of 
fighting the most probable and formidable adver- 
sary for the time being. r 

"Finally, remember that when the day fcr fight- 
ing comes, the qualifications demanded of you, 
whether on the staff or in command, will Include, 
in addition to a good theoretical knowledge of your 
professional duties, the possession of a quick eye, 
a good digestion, an untiring activity, a determina- 
tion to close with your enemy, and a firm resolution 
not to take counsel of your fears." 



CHAPTER VIII 

THE GREAT WAR IN FRANCE 

IN the early part of 1914 Sir William Robertson 
was busy at the War Office. His post was that 
of Director of Military Training, to which he had 
been appointed October 9, 1913. It is not for 
us to inquire whether at this time the gathering 
storm-clouds across the horizon of Europe were 
being duly noted. All we know is that outwardly 
peace reigned supreme abroad during the first part 
of 1914. There were ominous clouds in the 
political sky at home. Any discussion of internal 
politics, and the part the War Office played in the 
same, does not come within the scope of this book, 
and as these things have no reference to General 
Robertson's career they may be dismissed in spite 
of their great interest. It had been arranged that 
Sir William Robertson should proceed to Alder- 
shot in the following year to take command of the 
ist Infantry Division. The nature and scope of 
the Aldershot Commands have already been de- 
scribed in an earlier chapter. He was to have 
succeeded General Lomax, but the latter was 
ordered to retain his Command on the outbreak 

112 



THE GREAT WAR IN FRANCE 

of war. Far more responsible and greater work 
was reserved for General Robertson. 

When Lord French was appointed Commander- 
in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Force, he 
selected Robertson as his Quartermaster-General 
in the Field. At home the Quartermaster-General 
to the Forces constitutes the Third Military Mem- 
ber of the Army Council, the body which 
administers and governs our Army. The Q.M.G. 
deals with the material of an army, as distinct from 
the Adjutant-General who has to deal with the 
personnel. He is responsible for the control over 
all affairs connected with the quartering, encamp- 
ing, marching, clothing and equipment of the 
troops. All arrangements for the movement, em- 
barkation and disembarkation of troops are under 
the Quartermaster-General. The duties of his 
staff include questions relating to the issue of 
routes, appropriation, occupation and equipment of 
barracks and hospitals, and arrangements for 
camps. Under him is a Director of Supplies and 
Quartering, to whose care is entrusted the proper 
and regular supply of food, forage, paillasse straw, 
fuel, light, disinfectants and water. These are 
but the main duties of the Q.M.G., whose work 
in the field, according to Lord French, is "of an 
extremely onerous nature.'* 

The whole subject of Staff work is too technical 
to be fully dealt with here. In addition to what 
has been said, it may be mentioned that the General 
Staff in the Field is classified broadly into three 
headings. These are: General staff work, the 

"3 



SIR WILLIAM ROBERTSON 

adjutant-general's work, and the quartermaster's 
work. The last mentioned is the link between the 
army and the inspector-general or controller of its 
lines of communication. 

It was Robertson's well-known and proved 
genius for organisation and control that secured for 
him his onerous post in the greatest expeditionary 
army that had, up till then, left these shores a 
small army measured by the standards of to-day, 
but mighty in moral and efficiency. This army 
was composed of the picked troops of the world, 
whose prowess and deeds will live for ever an 
army that withstood the shock of the Germanic 
hordes, and saved Europe from Kultur's infamous 
reign. Robertson materially contributed to the 
wonderful organisation by which this "con- 
temptible little army" was shipped to France, 
without the loss of a single man or horse. 

Once in France Sir William Robertson's 
arduous work had to be taken in hand with the 
utmost care. On his shoulders hung a burden 
which, day in day out, grew bigger as the gallant 
little British Army, outnumbered and outgunned, 
yielded, inch by inch, to the foe, only after stub- 
born and glorious righting. He was in a sense the 
"Universal Provider" of the Expeditionary Force. 
His organising genius was not only responsible for 
feeding and equipping this force, but for the estab- 
lishment of a transport system which in the early 
days of the war worked as smoothly as circum- 
stances would permit, and to-day is superb. 
Robertson's problem of feeding and equipping the 

114 



THE GREAT WAR IN FRANCE 

Expeditionary Force was complicated by the 
rapidity of the German onrush, when his base had 
to be removed from Boulogne to Havre, and then 
to St. Nazaire. Those who took part in the heroic 
fights of August and September of 1914 can best 
appreciate Robertson's work, when food and am- 
munition and equipment were waiting for them 
whenever they called a halt. 

One who was through the great retreat pays a 
glowing tribute to the excellent supply and 
organisation of everything required by the Army. 
Even when the roads were congested with men 
marching, bandaged Tommies, Staff motor-cars, 
artillery, cavalry, and battalions and brigades 
streaming past, you would see "lorries loaded with 
ammunition, long trains of motor wagons full of 
provisions, sacks of flour, meal and potatoes, boxes 
of biscuits, half beeves, bales of horse fodder the 
food of the Army, horse and man." As the 
General Headquarters were shifted back back 
from Le Cateau to St. Quentin, to Noyon, to 
Villers Cotteret, and the Army retreated on Paris, 
so the work of the Q.M.G. became more compli- 
cated. Robertson did not fail, he splendidly won 
through. It would be too much to say that the 
organisation worked without a hitch no man is 
perfect, and the successful man is he who makes 
the fewest mistakes; but it is safe to say that no 
man other than Robertson could have succeeded in 
maintaining it at such a pitch of efficiency. 

Then when the great retreat was over, and the 
Germans were being pushed back to the lines they 



SIR WILLIAM ROBERTSON 

were to occupy for so many months, the Q.M.G.'s 
labours were not in any way lessened. The grim 
ordeal of the fight for the Channel ports was to 
come, and the terrible first winter in the trenches. 
These trials only increased his labours, nor did 
they lessen his anxieties. Sir William Robertson 
not long ago remarked that the more he saw of the 
difficulties of this war, the more remarkable did 
it seem to him that in the first stages our thin line, 
with hardly any reserves and with very few guns 
and ammunition, was able to hold that line until 
our new armies had become ready to take their 
place. He might have added that his own depart- 
ment's work contributed to this in no small 
degree. Naturally, he was brought into close con- 
tact with our gallant men, and no one has a warmer 
admiration for their dauntless fighting spirit. 
"When we went to war," says Sir William Robert- 
son, "we had just six divisions. Fortunately they 
were very good indeed. No better divisions ever 
left the shore of any country. The way which 
those six divisions kept up their end and fought 
at Mons, Le Cateau, and in the wonderful retreat 
to the Marne and then turned and thrust back the 
enemy to the Aisne, is a story which will go down 
through history for all time. I personally shall 
never forget what I witnessed and what I heard 
during the first few weeks of this war as to the 
doings of those wonderful divisions." 

It has been stated that during the time he was 
Q.M.G. with the British Forces in France, he 
earned the nickname of "Old Any-Complaints," 

116 



THE GREAT WAR IN FRANCE 

because whenever he stumbled accidentally on n 
group of soldiers at their meals, his invariable 
question was: "Any complaints, men?" Should 
there be any, as sometimes happened, General 
Robertson promptly had them investigated, and if 
well founded they were as promptly rectified. 

Our soldiers, as is well known, always show 
their affection and esteem for their leaders by 
giving them popular nicknames, and in addition 
to " Old Any-Complaints " he was known as " Old 
Hurry-up," as there was not a soldier who did not 
know how much health and comfort he owed to the 
genius and hustle of the Q.M.G. 

It is said that once, when making some trans- 
port arrangements between Calais and the British 
Field Base, a Staff officer pointed out that there 
were only thirty-four motor drivers available, and 
that Sir William had arranged for thirty-five 
wagons to go. 

The Q.M.G. looked at his subordinate for a 
moment, and then remarked coolly : 

"I thought you could drive a motor-van when 
I asked you to look after the job. Send me 
someone who can." 

The Staff officer, however, hastily undertook to 
drive the thirty-fifth wagon. 

Napoleon's oft-quoted remark that an army 
marches on its belly is as true to-day as when first 
uttered, and it is no exaggeration to say that the 
work of Sir William Robertson in provisioning 
and quartering the army in these early and anxious 

117 



SIR WILLIAM ROBERTSON 

days contributed in no small degree to our success- 
ful retreat in face of overwhelming odds, and 
helped to make possible the subsequent advance. 
Our army then, as now, was the best-fed in the 
world. "The transport is simply marvellous," 
wrote a soldier, "and we are often surprised our- 
selves to see the way the troops are fed." 

In his famous Mons despatch, dated Septem- 
ber 7, 1914, Field-Marshal Lord French paid the 
first tribute we had received to Sir William Robert- 
son's work in the war. The latter then, as always, 
effaced himself, preferring to let his deeds speak, 
and probably few of the general public were even 
aware he was out in France. Indeed, it may be 
said that the "discovery" of Sir William Robert- 
son is one of the most outstanding personal events 
of the war. 

Here is what Lord French wrote : 

"In such operations as I have described, the 
work of the Quartermaster-General is of an ex- 
tremely onerous nature. Major-General Sir 
William Robertson has met what appeared to be 
almost insuperable difficulties with his character- 
istic skill and determination." 

Again, in his dispatch on the Battle of the 
Aisne, which is dated October 8, 1914, he remarks 
that "Lieutenant-General Sir William Robertson 
has continued to perform excellent service as 
Quartermaster-General ." 

During the late autumn and the winter of 
I 9 I 4- I 5> Sir William Robertson continued to put 

118 



THE GREAT WAR-IN FRANCE 

forth the most strenuous efforts in the organisation 
of the Quartermaster-General's department, before 
receiving promotion to Chief of the Staff, and here 
it will not be out of place to give some idea of the 
magnitude of his task. 

The feeding of the Army has been intimately 
and vividly described by the official "Eye-Wit- 
ness," from whose narrative we select some of the 
more interesting passages. We quote them because 
this brilliant writer had facilities given him such 
as few others have had of seeing the British Army 
" behind the scenes." 

"It is universally admitted that no British 
Army yet placed in the field has been so well fed 
as ours is to-day, and since it is the largest force 
we have ever maintained in any one theatre of 
operations, and the problem of its supply has at 
times presented peculiar difficulties, it may be of 
some interest to give a short sketch of the system 
employed and to show how it has worked since the 
commencement of the war. 

"The system by which the immense volume of 
food required for man and horse is conveyed to the 
troops is in principle simple enough. The diffi- 
culties lie in its application to the supply of an 
army which is equivalent in numbers to the 
population of a great city, may be constantly 
moving from place to place with its goods and 
chattels, horses, carts and motors, and is frequently 
liable to interference from the enemy. 

"During peace the reserve supplies for the 
whole of our army are maintained in the Supply 

119 



SIR WILLIAM ROBERTSON 

Reserve Depot. When mobilisation became im- 
minent all these stores were at once transferred to 
the Home Base Port, that is to say, the port where 
supplies are accumulated for shipment overseas. 
Contracts were made to provide and maintain the 
necessary articles forming the soldier's ration and 
ships were loaded and sent to the oversea bases. 
At these supply depots and field bakeries were 
established. Owing to the course taken by the 
operations in August, these great accumulations of 
stores had to be moved; but in spite of the tre- 
mendous task involved in their shipment to one 
port after another, the whole machinery of supply 
continued to work smoothly throughout all the 
early vicissitudes of the campaign. 

"From the stores thus collected at a base food 
is sent up by rail to a ' regulating Station.' From 
this place of assembly and distribution trains, each 
made up of trucks carrying the right proportion of 
each kind of article required, are dispatched to the 
* railheads,' which are the stations nearest to the 
troops to which it is possible to work the railway. 
There is usually a separate railhead station for each 
corps. At these points the supplies are loaded 
on convoys of motor lorries called * supply 
columns,' each trainload being so divided up 
among two or more columns as to serve the 
different formations, divisions, etc., of which a 
corps is composed. 

"The supply columns convey the food to a 
suitable rendezvous previously selected, which, of 
course, varies daily when the troops are moving. 

1 20 



THE GREAT WAR-IN FRANCE 

There they are met by representatives of the divi- 
sion or other formation which is to be fed, and 
conducted to ' refilling points ' selected daily in 
the same way as the rendezvous. For the cavalry 
there are no refilling points, and the supplies are 
carried by the supply columns direct to the units. 
At each refilling point the supply column is met 
by the horsed wagons of the * supply sections of 
the train ' of the division, and its contents are again 
subdivided according to the scale authorised for 
each unit and are reloaded. The horsed wagons 
convey the food to the units battalions of infantry, 
brigades of artillery, etc. 

"A factor which has at times increased the diffi- 
culty of the work of feeding the Army has been 
the transference of great masses of men from one 
part of the line to the other. 

"These changes have often had to be made at 
short notice, and a railhead may have had to be 
adapted within a few hours for the accommodation 
of a vast amount of rolling stock and for loading 
and unloading lorries in the shortest possible time. 
What this entails may be imagined when it is re- 
membered that the only railhead available may 
consist of a small wayside station where there is 
perhaps only room for one row of lorries at a time 
and the entrances and exits to the station have to 
be widened and other preparations made to handle 
the large number of vehicles required to cater for 
one or more army corps. 

"The excellence of the performance of the 
supply columns during the present campaign is 
i 121 



SIR WILLIAM ROBERTSON 

shown by the fact that, except during the retire- 
ment, not a single day has passed upon which food 
has not reached our men. 

"In addition to the importation of food, resort 
has been made to requisitioning on the country, 
and large purchases have been made of cattle, hay, 
wheat, vegetables, oats and straw, all of which the 
inhabitants have readily placed at our disposal. 
Fruit was plentiful during the season, and the 
country people were very generous in giving it to 
our soldiers while it lasted. Our own bread, baked 
at the base by our own bakers in the open, has 
reached the troops regularly. It keeps well, which 
is important, for it cannot well be less than four 
days old by the time that it is eaten." 

We are apt to regard the Q.M.G. as "the man 
behind the grub," as Tommy calls him. The pro- 
vision of food, however, is only one part of the 
manifold duties. His department is one of a 
Military Universal Provider. " Eye-Witness " has 
given us a brilliant account of the vastness of 
army "supply," though it must be understood that 
he is referring to the period early in 1915. 

In one month there were issued to the troops, 
according to this writer : 

450 miles of telephone wire, 
570 telephones, 
534,000 sandbags, 
10,000 Ib. of dubbing for boots, 
38,000 bars of soap, 
150,000 pairs of socks, and 
100,000 pairs of boots. 
122 



THE GREAT WAR-IN FRANCE 

This was only the case some eighteen months 
ago. Much larger supply is made now. 

u ln ten days the number of fur waistcoats given 
out amounted to 118,160, while during the same 
period 315,075 flannel belts were distributed. The 
weight of the average weekly distribution of 
vaseline for the feet is five tons, and that of horse- 
shoes 100 tons. The official ' Vocabulary of Stores ' 
corresponds to the price list of a large shop, and 
contains 50,000 separate items. The different 
patterns and varieties of the same article stocked is 
also somewhat surprising. For instance, there are 
several hundreds of kinds of spanners in use in the 
Service, spanner No. 203 being listed as required 
for ' gland and valve of cap securing inner chamber 
of air cylinder and filling valve, spindle intensifier, 
barbette, B.L. 9.2 in. Mark IV., also filling and 
emptying valve gland air cylinder, barbette B.L. 
9.3 in. Marks V. to V.B.' Even such unusual 
demands have been made as those for bitter aloes, 
to put on head ropes to prevent horses biting them, 
and permanganate of potash for dyeing grey horses 
brown. 

"The duties of the department can be divided 
into those of supply and maintenance. The first 
consists of estimating betimes what will be re- 
quired, of framing scales of issue and checking 
demands for it, of ordering, procuring, and testing 
or making it, of providing the troops with it, and 
of accounting for it afterwards. 

"To equip the Army is, of course, the main 
thing. But there is another side of the work which 

123 



SIR WILLIAM ROBERTSON 

cannot be neglected, and that is the accounting for 
the stores expended. This entails a vast amount of 
dull and arduous clerical labour at the various 
depots, advanced bases and bases, which loses none 
of its value because it is not ' in the limelight.' " 

He goes on to show how the "Vocabulary of 
Stores " provided a perennial source of amusement. 
The system of nomenclature adopted, though the 
only one which lent itself to ready reference, was at 
first sight cumbrous, the actual name of an article 
invariably preceding any adjective or qualifying 
description. 

For instance, no ordnance officer ever referred 
to a tell-tale clock as such. He would call it 
"Clock, tell-tale, portable, 6 Stations, Mark II., 
one." Many stories are told regarding the addiction 
of the department to this inverted phraseology. 
According to one, an official is supposed to have 
asked at a restaurant for a "Choke, arti, rusalem, 
Je " ! 

In January, 1915, General Sir William Robert- 
son succeeded General Sir Archibald Murray as 
Chief of the Staff. The latter had been compelled, 
on medical advice, to return to England. The 
position of Chief of the Staff is second only to that 
of Commander-in-Chief, and it was a wonderful 
achievement for the ex-trooper of the i6th Lancers 
to have risen to such a high post. He became at 
once the brain of the Army in the Field and its 
"General Manager." He was responsible for the 
smooth running of our ever-increasing forces in 
the field. He had to carry out the commands of 

124 



THE GREAT WARIN FRANCE 

his chief, Lord French, and on him devolved the 
enormous staff work responsible for our various 
offensives during 1915. Robertson thus came into 
still closer touch with his old Aldershot chief, for 
whom he entertains the greatest respect as a leader 
and affection as a friend. 

In a dispatch dated April 5, 1915, General 
Robertson was again honourably mentioned by 
Lord French. The Commander-in-Chief wrote : 

"I am also much indebted to the able and 
devoted assistance I have received from Lieut. - 
General Sir William Robertson, K.C.B., 
K.C.V.O., D.S.O., Chief of the General Staff, in 
the direction of all the operations recorded in this 
dispatch." 

When acting as Chief of the Staff, General 
Robertson necessarily took a more intimate part 
in actual military affairs than hitherto. He be- 
came more closely associated with Lord French, 
and both these fine brains worked in unison. As 
Chief of the Staff Sir William Robertson had a 
separate mess for his department, and occupied 
quarters away from Lord French, though in the 
immediate vicinity of General Headquarters. The 
latter had his personal staff in a small mess, as it 
is found advisable for the Commander-in-Chief to 
enjoy perfect quiet and repose. Reports from the 
various fronts poured into Sir William Robert- 
son's quarters at the rate of nearly 3,000 a day. 
He had the onerous task of sifting them and 
presenting only the really pressing and most im- 
portant to the Commander-in-Chief. G.H.Q., it 

125 



SIR WILLIAM ROBERTSON 

may be observed, is usually pitched in a quiet, old- 
world little town many miles away from the din 
of battle, but in close touch with the various 
army headquarters, and so with the men in the 
trenches, by an elaborate but simple system of 
wires, motor dispatch riders, cyclists, messengers 
and signallers. All these constitute the arteries 
leading to the "heart of the Army" at G.H.Q., 
so that the Chief of the Staff is in constant and 
intimate touch with everything that is going on. 

It may be added that officially the Chief of 
Staff is the general's "responsible adviser on all 
matters affecting military operations, through 
whom he exercises his functions of command, and 
by whom all orders issued by him will be signed." 
The Chief of the Staff is the head of the following : 
Study of proposed operations; framing, issue and 
dispatch of the operations orders; plans for the 
movements to the points of concentration ; measures 
of security ; intercommunication ; reconnaissances ; 
providing, distribution and revision of maps. He 
has also to furnish the Adjutant-General and 
Quartermaster staffs with information as to the 
situation and probable requirements of the troops. 

The work of the Chief of the Staff has been 
likened to a great business department. Clerks, 
officers, staff captains are here found at work and 
on the alert, by day and night, planning, schem- 
ing, tabulating and recording, giving instructions 
and receiving reports as to the manner in which 
these are carried out. At the conferences of the 
General Staff, Sir William Robertson was the 

126 



THE GREAT WAR IN FRANCE 

Commander-in-Chief's right-hand man. In the 
midst of important and critical operations it was 
Lord French's custom to hold a conference with 
the General Staff and reporting officers at mid- 
night, when the military situation as it developed 
in the day was carefully discussed and appreciated. 
These conferences sometimes lasted two hours. 

Much more intimate and interesting details 
relating to Sir William Robertson's work at this 
period could be written, but at the present time 
it is not in the interests of the Army that these 
should be disclosed. When the war is over, and 
it is possible to lay bare and comment upon every 
phase of the titanic conflict, it will be seen that 
his work during these arduous months was as 
brilliant and painstaking as any in his splendid 
career. 

Before leaving this story of his career in France, 
a few interesting facts not generally known may 
be added. 

In November of 1914 Sir William was over in 
London on a few days' leave, and journeyed back 
to the front with Field-Marshal Lord Roberts, 
when that great soldier was proceeding to visit our 
army in the field. Neither dreamed it was the old 
warrior's last earthly journey, and it is a curious 
and sad coincidence that Sir William Robertson 
who, like Roberts, won his spurs in India, where 
he was given his first Staff job by the Field-Mar- 
shal, and was selected by him to proceed to South 
Africa in 1899, should be associated with him in 
his last days. Sir William Robertson was one 

127 



SIR WILLIAM ROBERTSON 

of the few privileged to view the mortal remains 
of the Field-Marshal at St. Omer. Between the 
two soldiers the greatest friendship existed, and 
Lord Roberts had no warmer admirer than General 
Robertson. The latter always keenly enjoyed the 
delightful hospitality which the Field-Marshal 
extended to his former Staff officers each Ascot 
week. 

It is not the moment to describe in detail the 
relations that existed between Robertson and his 
French colleagues. He met the leading soldiers 
of France in council from time to time, and came 
to have a warm regard for General Joffre, the 
Generalissimo, both as a soldier and a man. They 
were very friendly, and always got on exceedingly 
well together. In all their intercourse they have 
never required an interpreter. Sir William's ex- 
cellent command of French now proved exceedingly 
useful. He also saw a good deal of General Foch, 
and formed a high opinion of that famous soldier's 
qualities of head and heart. 

It was a pleasing experience for Sir William to 
have his young soldier son out in France. He is 
Lieutenant Brian Robertson, aged twenty, an 
officer of great promise, and in every respect the 
worthy son of a worthy father. He was formerly 
a second A.D.C. at G.H.Q., and is now a lieu- 
tenant in the Royal Engineers, attached to the 
headquarters of the nth Corps. He was educated 
at Charterhouse, where he was a brilliant scholar. 
He passed loth into Woolwich, and passed out 
with equal distinction a fact that proves his all- 

128 



THE GREAT WAR-IN FRANCE 

round abilities, as he had been distinguished for 
classics at Charterhouse, winning scholarships in 
this subject. 

In December, 1915, General Sir William 
Robertson left France to become Chief of the Im- 
perial Staff vice Lieut.-General Sir A. J. Murray, 
who had been selected to take a command in the 
field. 



I2C) 



CHAPTER IX 

CHIEF OF THE IMPERIAL GENERAL STAFF 

IT was just about thirty-eight years after he entered 
the ranks as a private soldier that General Sir 
William Robertson became Chief of the Imperial 
General Staff. The official announcement was as 
follows: "The appointment is gazetted of Major- 
General (temporary Lieutenant-General) Sir Wil- 
liam R. Robertson, K.C.V.O., C.B., D.S.O., to 
be Chief of the General Staff, vice Major-General 
(temporary Lieutenant-General) Sir A. J. Murray, 
K.C.B., C.V.O., D.S.O., and to retain his tem- 
porary rank." 

At the time of writing this was the highest posi- 
tion the former trooper had attained ; that he will 
go higher is not open to doubt, and no one who has 
followed his brilliant rise, step by step, as unfolded 
in these pages, will be surprised if yet further 
honours and position come to him. But few men 
from the ranks have scaled the Army ladder to any 
great height, and it is for this reason that the 
brilliant soldier of whom we are writing is so 
worthy of praise and notice. 

When the above announcement was made 
public there was a stream of approving comment, 
swelled by a chorus of eulogy. By this time most 

130 



CHIEF OF STAFF 

people had become aware of General Robertson's 
work and worth, though but little was known of 
his wonderful earlier career. Everyone was 
familiar with the fact of his rise from the ranks, but 
few knew the whole romantic story. Added to this 
universal approbation on his appointment was the 
amazing feeling of confidence that seized posses- 
sion of all classes. The consensus of opinion was 
that no man ever better deserved by hard work and 
honesty of purpose such high distinction. It was 
felt that with a man of Robertson's well-known 
and tried gifts at the head of the Army the future 
was more than assured. True, the public con- 
fidence in Lord Kitchener had never waned, but 
people did not forget that he was Secretary of State 
for War, and occupied a constitutional place as 
such by reason of being a member of the Cabinet. 
Hence it was regarded as an excellent combination 
of talents when Robertson joined U K. of K." at the 
War Office. The former was able to relieve the 
latter of much of the minutiae of administration that 
properly belonged to the Chief of Staff. This 
change was regularised by the Order in Council of 
February, 1916, and from that date Lord Kitchener 
merely conveyed to Sir William Robertson the 
general directions of the Cabinet on military 
matters. The Chief of Staff was left to carry them 
out in his own way. 

Another point that weighed with most men in 
hailing the new regime as one of happy augury 
was the feeling that henceforth there would be a 
better co-ordination of all our enterprises in the 



SIR WILLIAM ROBERTSON 

various theatres of war. The General Staff had 
suffered an eclipse, and with the restoration to it of 
its legitimate functions in October, 1915, it was felt 
Robertson would benefit and make it a great potent 
force. 

It cannot be denied that just at that time things 
looked like a stalemate. Nothing was happening 
that pointed to a definite decision ; Russia had not 
shown that amazing resurgence that was later to 
startle the world. The Gallipoli enterprise had 
been abandoned ; Townshend was besieged in Kut ; 
the trench warfare in the West seemed to be in- 
terminable. What was wanted was complete unity 
of fronts among the Allies. It wanted one strong 
man with a trained mind, clarity of vision and 
originality of conception to dominate the situation, 
and it was felt that when Robertson went to the 
War Office, taking with him a fully trained staff, 
among whom were Generals Whigham, Maurice, 
and Macdonogh, all of whom had been with him 
in France, the work of co-ordination would speedily 
begin, at least so far as the various British fronts 
were concerned. There was to be no more amateur 
strategy. The military situation, never so favour- 
able for our arms as at the present, is the direct 
result of the application of brains and unity of 
purpose and direction to all our various battle 
fronts. As supreme adviser on strictly military 
matters, General Robertson is forging the weapon 
that will give the final knock-out blow to the forces 
of military despotism. He has well been described 
as our sheet-anchor. 

132 



CHIEF OF STAFF 

Everyone is familiar with the present designa- 
tion of Sir William Robertson, but not everyone 
who glibly repeats the phrase " Chief of the Im- 
perial General Staff " is aware of the exact scope 
and meaning of the words. As it is impossible, for 
obvious reasons, to go very minutely into Sir 
William Robertson's present work, all that can be 
attempted here is to give some brief account of the 
nature of his post, and from what is permitied to be 
stated the reader will be able to draw his own con- 
clusions as to the duties of the Army Chief. 

We have already dealt with the reorganisation 
of the Army administration, when it was shown 
that the Army is now administered and governed 
by the Army Council, a body consisting of four 
Military and three Parliamentary members. The 
Chief of the Imperial General Staff is known as 
the First Military Member. The exact nature and 
scope of the work of the C.I.G.S. are so important 
that they may be summarised as follows : 

The duties of the department of the C.I.G.S. are 
divided among and dealt with by three Directors : 

i. Director of Military Operations. 

Plans of offensive and defensive operations 
other than in the United Kingdom, and plans of 
concentration and reinforcement in connection 
therewith. Strategical distribution of the army. 
Defence schemes abroad. Collection, preparation, 
and distribution of information as to British posses- 
sions other than the United Kingdom and India. 

Collection, preparation (including strategical 
133 



SIR WILLIAM ROBERTSON 

and tactical consideration), and distribution of in- 
formation concerning the military geography, 
resources, and armed forces of all foreign countries. 
Supply of information regarding India and adjoin- 
ing territories. Questions relating to the defence 
of India, other than those concerning coast de- 
fences. Correspondence with military attaches. 
Examination of foreign journals and literature 
generally. Conventions on international law. 

Submarine cables and wireless telegraphy. 
Ciphers. Library. 

Collection of topographical information, com- 
pilation and preparation of all maps required for 
military purposes. All matters connected with 
frontier questions, boundary delimitations, and 
demarcation commissions. Selection of officers for 
survey and geographical work. Issue of maps for 
war. 

2. Director of Staff Duties. 

Organisation and training of the General Staff 
and appointment and attachment of officers thereto. 
Entrance to, and instruction at, the Staff College. 
Examinations in foreign languages. 

Strategical and tactical principles of the employ- 
ment of all arms and services. Preparation and 
revision of training manuals, and of works con- 
nected with military education. Co-ordination of 
peace and war publications, and preparation of 
the latter in collaboration with other branches. 
War organisation of the Empire. War establish- 
ments. Questions of organisation, arms and equip- 
ment, as affecting the fighting efficiency of the 



CHIEF OF STAFF 

military forces. Reference and officers' mess 
libraries. Telegraphs and signalling. 

3. Director of Military Training. 

Home defence and plans of concentration in 
connection therewith. Study of local defence 
schemes in the United Kingdom. Policy regard- 
ing armament and equipment for home defence. 

Training of all arms (including Army reserve, 
special reserve, and Territorial force). Manoeuvres, 
and criticism of reports thereon. Allotment of 
funds for training. Questions connected with the 
acquisition of training grounds and ranges. 
Appointment of instructional staff (except General 
Staff), and supervision of instruction, at schools for 
war training. Winter training, and instructional 
exercises without troops other than General Staff 
lours. 

Entrance to cadet colleges. Examination of 
candidates for commissions in the regular army, 
and for appointment to the special reserve of 
officers. Examination of officers for promotion. 
Questions connected with the officers' training 
corps. 

Every detail of military administration and 
organisation referred to above comes under the 
supervision of Sir William Robertson's depart- 
ment, while at the present time he has in addition 
to organise and supervise the strategy of our 
military operations in all the various fields. No 
man in our military history has had such a respon- 
sible task. He directs the work of millions of 
soldiers those in the field and those preparing at 



SIR WILLIAM ROBERTSON 

home. In his work it has been a great advantage 
to Sir William Robertson to know personally our 
leaders in the various fields of operations. Generals 
Murray, Haig, and Milne were all fellow-students 
at the Staff College; Maude served under him 
before the war. Between these fine leaders and 
Robertson the most cordial relations exist ; they are 
a sort of band of brothers. The same remark 
applies to nearly every other senior officer now 
before the public eye, e.g. Allenby and Haking. 
The late General John Gough was his most able 
assistant when he was Staff College Commandant, 
and the Army lost a great soldier and Robertson 
a great friend when he was killed in 1915 by a stray 
bullet. 

Since he took up his present duties General Sir 
William Robertson has led a strenuous life. The 
public reports of his activities give but a faint im- 
pression of the vast labours that fall to his lot. He 
lives for but one purpose to plan and organise for 
victory to our arms. He has numerous councils 
and committees to attend. When we read in the 
papers that a meeting of the War Committee has 
been held, and that among others present was Sir 
W. R. Robertson, we can well imagine that his 
counsel and presence are of the highest import, and 
that the Committee's decisions are largely moulded 
by his views. 

To enumerate all Robertson's activities since he 
became C.I.G.S. would be to give a long catalogue 
of busy days, and it is not desirable that the whole 
of his official movements, or those of any of our 

136 



CHIEF OF STAFF 

leaders, should be made public. But we may 
allude in passing to one or two of the more public 
phases of Robertson's activities. During 1916 he 
attended the Munitions Conference at Paris in 
January, and the great Allied Conference held in 
the same capital towards the end of March. He 
was also present at the Conference held at Bou- 
logne on October 20, between representatives of 
the French and British Governments for an inter- 
change of views with regard to the military and 
political situation. 

In the month of March he was honoured by 
being appointed Colonel of the 2nd Dragoons 
(Royal Scots Greys). He has had frequent audi- 
ences of His Majesty King George, who holds 
him in the highest esteem. In February he had 
the honour of being made the recipient of the 
coveted Ordre de Couronne. In April he was 
authorised to wear the Legion of Honour. Early 
in June he was promoted General. 

For concise reference we give the leading dates 
in Sir William Robertson's Army career as given 
in the official Army List : 

First Appointment and Lieutenant: 

In the ranks : 10 years 225 days. Second Lieu- 
tenant, 3rd Dragoon Guards, June 27, 1888. 
Lieutenant, 3rd Dragoon Guards, March i, 1891. 
Captain : 

3rd Dragoon Guards, April 3, 1895. 
Major : 

3rd Dragoon Guards, March 10, 1900. 



SIR WILLIAM ROBERTSON 

Lieutenant-Colonel : 

Brevet, Nov. 29, 1900. 

Colonel : 

Substantive, Nov. 29, 1903. Half pay, Feb. I, 

1907. Full pay, May 14, 1907. 
General Officer: 

Major-General, Dec. 28, 1910 (temporary Lieutenant 

General, Sept. 13, 1914, to Oct. 27, 1915). 
Lieutenant-General, Oct. 28, 1915. 
General, June 3, 1916. 

STAFF SERVICES, ETC. 
Staff. Lieutenant (Intelligence Branch), Q.M.G. Dept., 

India, June 5, 1892, to April 2, 1895. 
Staff Captain (Intelligence Branch), Q.M.G. Dept., India, 

April 3, 1895, to Nov. 12, 1896. 

Staff Captain (Intelligence), Headquarters of Army, 
April i, 1899, to Oct. 8, 1899. 

D.A.A.G. (Intelligence), Headquarters of Army (tem- 
porary), Oct. 9, 1899, to Feb. 14, 1900. 

Staff Captain (Intelligence), Headquarters of Army, 
Oct. 29, 1900, to Sept. 30, 1901. 

A.Q.M.Q. (Intelligence), Headquarters" 



of Army, 
General Staff Officer, ist Grade, 



Oct. i, 1901, to 
Jan. 31, 1907. 



Headquarters of Army, 
A.Q.M.G., Aldershot Army Corps,) May 14, 1907, to 
A.Q.M.G., Aldershot Command, j Nov. 28, 1907. 

Brigadier- General, General Staff, Aldershot Com- 
mand, Nov. 29, 1907, to July 31, 1910. 

Commandant (Brigadier-General, General Staff), Staff 
College, Aug. I, 1910, to Dec. 25, 1910. 
138 



CHIEF OF STAFF 

Commandant (Major-General, General Staff), Staff 
College, Dec. 26, 1910, to Oct. 8, 1913. 

Director of Military Training, War Office, Oct. 9, 
1913, to Aug. 4, 1914. 

Q.M.Q. (graded Major-General)}A.ug.$, 1914, to Jan. 24, 

Q.M.Q. J 1915. 

Chief of General Staff (graded G.O.C. -in-Chief, 2nd 
class), Jan. 25, 1915, to Dec. 22, 1915. 

Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Dec. 23, 1915. 

Here we bring to an end our brief survey of the 
wonderful career of the ex-trooper who is now the 
Chief of the Imperial General Staff, as regards 
actual biography. The final chapter is an attempt 
to get some actual impressions of the man apart 
from his work. That all who have followed his 
rise step by step from the lowest rung of the ladder 
to the top may not only be interested but stimulated 
to emulate his dogged persistence and successful 
career is the sincere wish of the writer. 



CHAPTER X 

CHARACTERISTICS, IMPRESSIONS AND APPRECIATIONS 

IN this concluding chapter an attempt is made to 
convey to the readers of this little volume some 
characteristics and impressions of the man whose 
career has been narrated. One could fill many 
pages with high eulogy and extravagant hero- 
worship. Any biography undertaken with a love 
for, and admiration of, the subject tempts the 
writer along these lines. Indeed, in most cases it 
is impossible to keep out the hero-worship, and 
this has been the case in the present study. 

The writer cannot claim to have that intimate 
knowledge of Sir William Robertson which is 
possessed by many who know him personally and 
professionally, but he yields to none in his admira- 
tion of the man's sterling character and high 
abilities. Coming to his subject with only that 
knowledge such as any man who intelligently 
follows public affairs possesses, he found as he 
unearthed bit by bit the real story of Sir William 
Robertson that he had struck a rich vein. In the 
opinion of many, among whom is the writer, the 
Chief of the Imperial General Staff is one of the 
greatest of living Englishmen, and this estimate, 
it is hoped, will be evident from a perusal of the 
foregoing narrative. 

140 



CHARACTERISTICS 

The writer's impressions of the man have been 
gained from personal interview, as well as from 
the opinions of those who are in the best position 
to judge. 

General Robertson always strikes the observer 
as being a strong man mentally, physically and 
morally. In appearance he is solidly built, 
slightly over medium height, and of striking 
appearance. He is what is described as a burly 
man, with the fresh complexion of the country 
dweller, of the John Bull type. He appears to 
emanate strength; you instinctively feel you are in 
the presence of a man of iron will and constitution. 
His sturdy, compact frame gives an impression of 
tremendous energy. The face is pleasant, and the 
frequent winning smile makes you forget at times 
the great soldier. It has passed into commonplace 
that all our great military leaders are men of un- 
bending mien, stern in appearance, and grimly 
taciturn. Why this should be so is not easy to 
say. The usually accepted description of the late 
Lord Kitchener as the stern martinet was erroneous, 
as all who came into close contact with him were 
aware; for he was very human. General Robert- 
son is every inch a soldier, but never allows you 
to forget he is also a man. There is always a 
latent lurking twinkle in the clear, firm eyes. He 
possesses a deep sense of humour it is not every 
soldier who possesses it and loves to hear and 
crack a joke. 

What seems to strike most people who come in 
contact with Robertson is his iron constitution and 

141 



SIR WILLIAM ROBERTSON 

remarkably strong will. He has no nerves to speak 
of, and lets nothing daunt him ; neither hard work 
nor difficulties that would have seemed insuperable 
to a less determined nature. Nothing disturbs 
him ; he has the leader's imperturbable mood, and 
when matters are most serious he is coolest, his 
busy, clever brain working all the clearer. Great 
energy, activity and adaptability are three leading 
characteristics which go a long way to explain his 
wonderful military career. You feel as you study 
his life, or try to sum him up in a personal inter- 
view, that he is the right man in the right place, 
and that the surest proof of his fitness for the 
onerous duties he is now undertaking is the ex- 
ceedingly capable manner in which he has acquitted 
himself in the past, as the pages of this book amply 
show. In conversation he is quiet and undemon- 
strative. You instinctively feel that he weighs every 
word he utters, and that he possesses a firm grasp 
of the subject he is discussing. He refuses to be 
drawn off into immaterial or irrelevant discussions. 
"Silent, cool and clear-headed," says one who 
knows him well; "the more you know him the 
better you like him. Absolutely straight and 
genuine in character, he has reached the very top 
of his profession, not as the result of personal 
charm, but of merit, of brain power, of hard work, 
and of determination always to devote himself to 
the serious side of his Army career. He has faith 
in the Army, and the Army trusts him." It is of 
such a man that another writer prophesies that 
"nothing is more certain than this, that when the 

142 



CHARACTERISTICS 

war is over and we set about reorganising our 
Army as we always do after wars, only this time 
on a far greater scale, the man who is going to 
impress his will on the material and mould it to 
his liking will not be a civilian but a soldier, and 
that soldier will be Sir William Robertson." 

He is the possessor of an excellent memory, an 
inestimable gift in a general. He never forgets 
facts or faces. He will surprise you with his 
almost uncanny remembrance of the exact page 
and place of a certain passage in a book. He is 
an admirable judge of character, and does not 
gladly suffer fools. The inefficient he weeds out. 

The question is often asked as to why General 
Sir William Robertson is not more popular. This 
is not to suggest that he is unpopular, but there is 
this to be said about him he has never cultivated 
those arts which make for popularity. He is, as 
we have already stated, affable and intensely 
human, but there has never been anything sug- 
gestive of the showman about him. He is not 
given to rushing into print, nor do interviewers 
find in him an easy prey. He holds aloof from 
that publicity which many men of high position 
seem to court. He has never advertised, so that 
while his name and position and all that these 
stand for are well known, the exact steps by which 
he has risen to the front rank have been unknown. 
It is evident that by reason of his present posi- 
tion he must become more of a "public man," and 
the occasions when he has been tempted to break 
silence give promise of an interesting future along 



SIR WILLIAM ROBERTSON 

these lines. His public utterances are always worth 
hearing and reading. It has been remarked of him 
that "he is a soldier first and last, and appears in 
public seldom, and when he does so limits himself 
with the most rigid discretion to matters on which 
he is supremely qualified to speak." 

At the dinner given by Mr. Andrew Fisher, 
High Commissioner of the Commonwealth of 
Australia, to friends and delegates from the Com- 
monwealth, held at the Hotel Cecil on the evening 
of August 29, 1916, Sir William Robertson had 
the honour of proposing "The Commonwealth of 
Australia," and made one of the best speeches of 
the evening. In the course of his remarks he said 
it was commonly remarked that the enemy had 
made many mistakes. "Perhaps they had; we all 
had. One great mistake they had made was to 
misjudge the strength and assistance the Empire 
would receive from the Oversea Dominions. The 
enemy had done more to weld our Empire together 
than to break it. Australia had played a part 
second to none of the Oversea Dominions. Of all 
the splendid feats achieved on the Somme none ex- 
celled that of the capture of Pozieres by the Austra- 
lians. They had been subjected to the hardest 
tasks, and had never lost an inch of ground that 
they had won. That was a very fine record. But 
more commendable even than making a record was 
maintaining it. We might have a long way to go 
in this war before it finished. We wanted yet more 
men ; there could be no slackening. Mr. Hughes, 
the Prime Minister of Australia, had said : * Tell 

144 



CHARACTERISTICS 

us what you want and we will try to do it.' That 
was the spirit we wanted. He believed Australia 
was prepared to support and reinforce her brave 
sons at the front. We wanted more men, not 
merely to win the war and he had no doubt we 
should win it but to win peace such a peace as 
was deserved and required by the great sacrifices 
that had been so readily made by our sons of the 
Empire." 

The above remarks are an excellent sample of 
Sir William's common-sense, well-phrased public 
speeches, lit up with touches of humour. 

On another occasion at the beginning of the 
third year of the war the Weekly Dispatch pub- 
lished a number of interesting "statements" from 
eminent men on "How do we stand?" Sir Wil- 
liam's was as follows: "The British Empire has 
now, at the end of the second year of the great war, 
put her new armies to proof, and they have not 
been found wanting. She has still men, guns and 
munitions to bring into the field, and enters the 
third year of this great struggle for right and 
liberty with confidence." 

It may not be out of place here to publish Sir 
William Robertson's tribute to the late Lord 
Kitchener. It shows how deeply attached he was 
to the departed War Minister, and emphasises the 
human side of his nature. The writer has it on 
the best authority that Robertson was for the time 
stunned by his colleague's tragic end. He did not 
know Lord Kitchener much before the present war, 
for although with him in South Africa he was not 

'45 



SIR WILLIAM ROBERTSON 

brought into contact with him. After joining 
Kitchener at the War Office at Christmas, 1915, he 
became deeply attached to him. Sir William re- 
garded K. of K. as a very fine character, kind, 
gracious, and a lovable man to those who knew 
him. He felt his loss very deeply. 

To General Cadorna's telegram of condolence, 
Sir William Robertson replied as follows : 

"On behalf of the British Army and in the 
name of my colleagues I beg your Excellency to 
accept our most grateful thanks for the touching 
message of sympathy which you have sent us in 
our sad loss. Lord Kitchener, as you know, took 
the liveliest interest in the gallant Italian Army, 
and often recalled with pleasure the visit which he 
had the privilege of paying to the Italian front and 
of the meeting which he had with your Excellency 
in London. His serene confidence in the ultimate 
success of the great cause in which the Allies are 
engaged was, and will, continue to be a source of 
inspiration to us all. ROBERTSON." 

Again, in a speech delivered on October 4, 
1916, referring to our present army, he said: 
"Think of the great number of divisions we have 
put into the field, and how the officers have risen 
to the occasion. Officers who, before the war, were 
employed in training and drilling 300 or 400 men 
are now commanding 20,000. Officers who then 
commanded 10,000 are now commanding hundreds 
of thousands of men. These divisions were 
brought into being wholly and entirely owing to 
the energy and great foresight of that great soldier, 



CHARACTERISTICS 

Lord Kitchener. He had done more for this 
Empire to win this war, or as much as any man I 
know, and I am proud to say it was my great 
privilege to enjoy the guidance, friendship, and 
kindness of that great man." 

On another occasion Sir William wrote : "One 
could wish it had been so ordained that he (Lord 
Kitchener) would have lived to see the day of final 
success and to hear the high praise bestowed upon 
the armies which he created praise which they so 
well deserve." 

In this chapter we may briefly give some of Sir 
William Robertson's own views and impressions 
as to the war. He so rarely voices these in public 
that when he does they are of the utmost import- 
ance and deepest interest. If there is one man 
whom we might look to for an answer to the ques- 
tion : " How goes the war ? " surely it is the Chief 
of the Imperial General Staff, than whom none 
other is better qualified to pass an opinion. On 
October 4, 1916, on the occasion of the unveiling 
by Sir William of a village cross erected at 
Dalderby in his native county of Lincolnshire, to 
commemorate the services of its manhood in the 
fighting forces of the Empire, he remarked : 

"I think we can look forward with every con- 
fidence. I say that also because of the splendid 
spirit that prevails at the front. There are no 
shams at the front ; and when the men at the front 
are confident it shows that our situation is good. 
They will not have that confidence unless they feel 
they are winning and have confidence in those who 



SIR WILLIAM ROBERTSON 

lead them. If ever you feel inclined to be pessi- 
mistic take a trip to the front, if you can. If not, 
get a letter from the front; it will cheer you up. 
If ever I become run down I always go to the front. 
Notwithstanding this, in order not to create a false 
impression I would like to add a serious note of 
warning. The end is not yet. We must be pre- 
pared to go on for a period of time which it is im- 
possible to estimate. * Prepare for the worst and 
hope for the best,' that is a good motto. We have 
yet a long way to go, and we must be ready to go 
all the way. A fight to a finish is the order. 
Therefore there must be no slackening off. On the 
contrary, there must be a great tightening up. 
We have adopted the principle of national service 
in theory. We must see to it that we put that 
principle into practice. We have done a lot, and 
I think we can do more. We want men, more 
men. We want them now, and in due course we 
shall want all the men who can be spared. . . . 
With God's help and with unswerving determina- 
tion on our own part we can, and we will, carry the 
war through to a victorious end." 

These few sentences from what was by far the 
most weighty utterance on the war delivered at 
that time are an excellent indication of Sir 
William's direct, forceful and simple method of 
public speech. They are also of the greatest im- 
port, as the Chief of the Imperial Staff has so 
rarely opened his mouth in public on the sole topic 
of the war and its prospects. Needless to add, the 
speech was reported at length throughout the 

148 



CHARACTERISTICS 

country, came at an opportune moment, and was 
the theme of universal approbation. 

At a farewell dinner to the Duke of Devonshire, 
Governor Designate of Canada, on October 18, 
1916, Sir William, in responding for the Army, 
paid a glowing tribute to Canada's part in the 
war. He again made reference to the general 
military situation. "We had got through the 
beginning stage," he said. "We were now in 
what he thought the middle stage. They should 
not ask him when the end would be. He did not 
care much about that question. He did not think 
it ought to be bothered about now. Let us con- 
centrate upon the middle stage, and the end would 
come of itself. The end would come when the 
enemy was beaten, and the enemy could be beaten 
only by hard righting. Let us remember that. If 
we stuck firm to our resolution to carry this busi- 
ness right through, and if we took timely measures 
to support the troops who were fighting for us so 
gallantly in all parts of the world, he thought we 
might, with God's help, look forward to victory 
crowning our efforts and to our being able to wrest 
such a peace from the enemy as we had said we 
meant to have." 

This country has always been fortunate in 
possessing great soldiers of honest, clean and God- 
fearing character. All our leaders have been men 
of simple faith and unostentatious piety. Sir 
William Robertson is among this band. He may 
even be described as a deeply religious man. He 
is not "goody" in any sense of the word; rather 

149 



SIR WILLIAM ROBERTSON 

he possesses a quiet though real faith, and a clear 
and cherished trust in the Divine Power, which 
moulds all his life. 

In a letter to the Bishop of London wishing 
him complete success in his National Mission 
work, Sir William Robertson said : 

" I fear that even yet too many of us are putting 
an undue amount of trust in 'chariots and horses.' 
We may confidently rely upon our soldiers and 
sailors fighting bravely, and count upon having 
abundant ammunition, but we must not stop at 
that. I am old-fashioned enough to think that this 
great war, like those of which we read in the Old 
Testament, is intended to teach us a necessary 
lesson, and if this be so it follows that we ought 
to examine ourselves and take the lesson to heart. 

"A serious determination on the part of the 
nation to seek and deserve Divide help would, we 
may hope, enable us to take a true perspective of 
the war, and it would undoubtedly furnish valuable 
help to our gallant sailors and soldiers at the front, 
as well as lighten the heavy burden of responsi- 
bility now carried by the various authorities at 
home and abroad." 

Finally, we think it may interest all to have Sir 
William Robertson's "secret of success" in his 
own words : "Good digestion, determination; learn 
to be friendly; don't worry or brood over details; 
go to bed early and get up early." 



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