CB CMG MVO DSO. GOC Infantry Division
King's Royal Rifle Corps
Hon Edward (‘Eddie’) James Montagu-Stuart-Wortley was the scion of a well-known Yorkshire landed family, the earls of Wharncliffe. He is remembered, if at all, as the first general to be sacked on the Somme. His pre-First World War military career, however, was packed with action and distinction. He was commissioned in the King’s Royal Rifle Corps (the family regiment), from the Militia, on 13 October 1877. He quickly saw active service as Assistant Superintendent of Signalling with the Kurram Field Force in the Afghan War (1878-9), where he was mentioned in despatches. He served with the Natal Field Force in the first Boer War (1881), before beginning an important association with the Egyptian Army. He was Military Secretary to General Valentine Baker (1882) and then ADC to General Sir Evelyn Wood (1883-4), taking part in the battle of Tel-el-Kebir. He served throughout the Nile Expedition (1884-5), including the battles of Abu Klea and Gubat, and was twice mentioned in despatches. He gained diplomatic experience as Military Attaché to Sir Henry Drummond-Wolff’s special mission to Turkey (1885) before being appointed DAAG to Sir Francis Grenfell’s Sudan Frontier Force, with which he took part in the action of Giniss (1886). He was Brigade-Major at Malta (1893-6). During the Nile Expedition (1897-8) he was 2i/c of a Gunboat Flotilla, winning a DSO. His service with the Egyptian Army culminated in his command of friendly Arabs at the capture of Omdurman (1898). During the South African War he commanded 2nd Battalion King’s Royal Rifle Corps (1900-1) at the relief of Ladysmith. From July 1901 until July 1904 he was British Military Attaché in Paris during an important period in Anglo-French relations. He commanded 10th Infantry Brigade, at Shorncliffe, from April 1908 until April 1912 and in June 1914 took command of the North Midland Division TF.
Montagu-Stuart-Wortley had married Violet Guthrie in 1891 and they lived in some splendour at Highcliffe Castle in Hampshire. In the summer of 1907 Kaiser Wilhelm II rented Highcliffe for the season. This brought Montagu-Stuart-Wortley into Royal circles. When 46th (North Midland) Division became the first Territorial division to deploy to France as a complete formation, in March 1915, King George V took a particular interest in its fate and asked Montagu-Stuart-Wortley to write to him weekly. Although Montagu-Stuart-Wortley received permission from Sir John French and Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien to do this, when the correspondence came to the notice of the GOC XI Corps, Richard Haking, and the GOC First Army, Sir Douglas Haig, during the King’s tour of the front in October 1915, they expressed their ‘severe displeasure’. Montagu-Stuart-Wortley was a marked man.
46th Division was unique among those formations that took part in the opening attack on the Somme (1 July 1916) in not suffering its worst casualties of the war on that day. That melancholy record was achieved on 13 October 1915 at the Hohenzollern Redoubt, during the battle of Loos. Montagu-Stuart-Wortley disagreed with Haking’s plan and was ordered to attack against his better judgement. The outcome, described by the Official Historian as a ‘tragic waste of infantry’, confirmed all Montagu-Stuart-Wortley’s worst fears. Haking, who was also corresponding with the King, blamed Montagu-Stuart-Wortley for incurring ‘unnecessary losses’. Worse was to come.
In the planning for the Somme, 46th Division, together with 56th (1st London) Division, was tasked with a diversionary attack against the German salient at Gommecourt. This was at the northern end of the British line. 46th Division came under the command of VII Corps, Third Army. The purpose of the attack was to attract German reserves from further south, where a British breakthrough was planned. The division’s preparations were, therefore, made very obvious. Viscount Sandon, who took part in the attack as an officer in the Royal Field Artillery, recalled that the preparations ‘could not have been more obvious’. The Germans duly responded, reinforcing their already strong defences with more troops and artillery. Brigadier-General Francis Lyons, chief of staff VII Corps, later admitted that the capture of Gommecourt was unnecessary to the purpose of the diversion and it seems extraordinary that the infantry attack was allowed to proceed. When it did, 46th Division suffered grievously from German enfilade artillery fire and was repulsed with severe losses. 56th Division, attacking the southern flank of the Gommecourt salient, did much better. The consequences for Montagu-Stuart-Wortley were immediate and painful. On 2 July the GOC VII Corps, Sir Thomas Snow, wired GHQ that ‘I regret to have to report that the 46th Division in yesterday’s operations showed a lack of offensive spirit. I can only attribute this to the fact that its Commander, Major-General the Hon. E J Montagu-Stuart-Wortley, is not of an age, neither has he the constitution, to allow him to be as much among his men in the front lines as is necessary to imbue all ranks with confidence and spirit … I therefore recommend that a younger man, and one more physically capable of energy, should be appointed to command the Division.’ Haig not only agreed but also showed no mercy, making it quite clear to the War Office that he would not accept Montagu-Stuart-Wortley again as a divisional commander.
There is little doubt that Montagu-Stuart-Wortley was in poor health in 1916 and was often incapacitated with sciatica. Lieutenant-Colonel A F Home, who was briefly GSO1 with 46th Division in the spring of 1916, was impressed neither with Montagu-Stuart-Wortley nor his command. ‘The whole of this Division wants ginger putting into it from top to bottom!’ he confided to his diary on 19 May 1916. Brigadier-General Lyons later described Montagu-Stuart-Wortley as ‘a worn-out man, who never visited his front line and was incapable of inspiring any enthusiasm’. This begs the question why he was not replaced before the attack. In truth, 46th Division was given an impossible task.
Montagu-Stuart-Wortley was devastated by his replacement. ‘I could not suffer a more ignoble and heart breaking fate had I been tried by Court Martial or had I committed some egregious blunder,’ he wrote to Lord French in 1919. He spent much of the rest of his life trying, fruitlessly, to secure official rehabilitation. Posterity might find more sympathy for Montagu-Stuart-Wortley had he also tried to secure official rehabilitation for 46th Division, which was disgracefully slandered by the VII Corps staff, and whose men were twice sacrificed in pointless attacks though the incompetence of senior officers and the lack of moral courage of their GOC.
Montagu-Stuart-Wortley was the brother of Lieutenant-General Sir Richard Montagu-Stuart-Wortley and the brother-in-law of Major-General C E Bingham. His son died during the war.
Centre for First World War Studies