A QUESTION OF GENERALS
lf a good lecture should get the listener thinking, then John Bourne's 'Hiring and Firing' last month was a good one for it got me thinking. I should have known better but when he listed the generals who remained in the same post throughout the war, I had it in the back of my mind that he had missed one although I couldn't think who. When I got home I was still thinking about it when it suddenly dawned on me that the man I was after was Brigadier General H.W. Perry, Director of Ordnance Services (DOS), BEF in August 1914. ln November 1918 he was still a brigadier general and a DOS but by then he had been moved to Mesopotamia so he does not count as John was dealing with the Western Front.
However he was not without interest for I believe that at the outbreak of war he was Director of Equipment and Ordnance Stores at
the War Office, in other words, head of the Army Ordnance Services. Upon mobilisation most, if not all, the generals and senior administrative officers at the War Office, including Perry, vacated their posts and went to France with the BEF. They were replaced by the so-called dug outs, that is, officers brought back out of retirement.
Obviously it was not desirable to replace key figure with men who were likely to be out of touch with recent developments in the army and would almost certainly be past their peaks. Nevertheless there really wasn't any alternative for there were no spare serving generals in the small regular army to fill the command, staff and administrative posts in the completely new formations required upon mobilisation. The Official History, 7974 Vol / lists sixteen generals (and half a dozen full colonels, the rank immediately below brigadier general) in GHQ and the headquarters of Administrative Services and Departments as at 4 August 1914" ln addition many generals were needed for the HQ’s of three corps. As it was generally believed that the war would soon be over, it was probably thought that things at the War Office would more or less carry on under their own momentum for a few months.
As John pointed out, personal ambition came into it; no professional soldier wanted to sit out the 'the big one' behind a war Office desk. One is reminded that in September 1939 General Gort relinquished his position of Chief of the lmperial Staff (ie, professional head of the army) to become CinC of the BEF, technically a subordinate post.
ln view of the accusation of the proliferation of generals at GHQ" it's worth noting that the rank of the DOS of the BEF in 1918 brigadier general) was the same as it had been in 1914 despite the fact that the personnel of the AOS had increased from 1390 all ranks in L914 to 15,800 in L918. lt is also interesting to note that during the Great War ordnance officers belonged to The Army Ordnance Department whilst the ORs belonged to The Army Ordnance Corps. Subsequently both amalgamated to form The Royal Army Ordnance Corps which, later still was subsumed by The Royal Logistical Corps although during WW2 it had lost its armourers and mechanics to the newly-formed Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers.
Twelve Brummies were First World War VC winners. I wrote abut them in my book Birmingham Heroes. I also wrote about our city's eight other VC winners and some other local heroes. My book was self-published in 1993 under the imprint Newgate Press. lt is now out of print but copies are available at good libraries. Since its publication many other books about VC winners have been published. ln particular Kevin Brazier's The Complete Victoria Cross (Pen and Sword, 2010) lists all known graves of VC winners. Details of where Birmingham's First World War VC winners were buried or cremated will be listed in future issues of Brumration.
The Bulletin of the Birmingham Branch of the WFA
Compiled by Bob Butcher