Lions led by donkeys

‘Who were all these generals anyway?’ This question, asked by the late Peter Lawrence one spring evening at a Birmingham University extra-mural class in Wolverhampton, changed my professional life.

Most people interested in the Great War are familiar with the names of a handful of senior commanders, French, Haig, Allenby, Byng, Plumer, Rawlinson. And probably familiar with the reputations of many of them as ‘donkeys’ who sent their lion-hearted men to brutal deaths on squalid battlefields, the state of which they were culpably ignorant and from whose deprivations they were comfortably remote.

But what about the mass of general officers in an army of 60 divisions and two million men? Who were they? How many were there? How were they chosen, promoted and dismissed? Under Pete Lawrence’s inspiration, a group of us set out to discover the answers to these questions under the name of the Abbots Way Research Group. The fruits of our research are now being written up in a book, to be published by Spellmount, with contributions not only from me but also from Simon Robbins, Andrew Godefroy, Bryn Hammond and Professor Peter Simkins. As a taste of things to come the Centre for First World War Studies will be presenting a weekly portrait of one of Britain’s Western Front generals, of whom there were (at the last count) 1,257.

This page is dedicated to the memory of Peter Lawrence.

John Bourne

One of the key elements of the British generals’ project was to identify all British generals who served in the British Expeditionary Force on the Western Front between 5 August 1914 and 11 November 1918. A general is defined as an officer holding the rank of brigadier-general and above. The posts held by them also had to be ‘permanent’, rather than ‘acting’ or ‘temporary’. Given these criteria, 1,253 names have been identified. 

Can you add any more names?

Are there names listed that should not be?