J. E. B. Seely, 1st Baron Mottistone

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The Right Honourable
The Lord Mottistone
CB CMG DSO TD PC JP DL
JEB Seely 1909.jpg
Secretary of State for War
In office
12 June 1912 – 30 March 1914
Monarch George V
Prime Minister Herbert Henry Asquith
Preceded by The Viscount Haldane
Succeeded by Herbert Henry Asquith
Personal details
Born 31 May 1868 (1868-05-31)
Brookhill Hall, Derbyshire, England, UK
Died 7 November 1947(1947-11-07) (aged 79)
Westminster
Nationality British
Political party Conservative
Liberal
Spouse(s) Emily Crichton
(1870-1913)
Hon. Evelyn Murray
(d. 1976)
Alma mater Trinity College, Cambridge
Caricature of Seely by Leslie Ward, 1905

John Edward Bernard Seely, 1st Baron Mottistone CB, CMG, DSO, TD, PC, JP, DL (31 May 1868 – 7 November 1947) was a British soldier and politician. He was a Conservative Member of Parliament (MP) from 1900 to 1904 and a Liberal MP from 1904 to 1922 and from 1923 to 1924. He was Secretary of State for War for the two years prior to World War I, before being forced to resign as a result of the Curragh Incident. As General Jack Seely he led one of the last great cavalry charges in history at the Battle of Moreuil Wood in March 1918. Seely was a great friend of Winston Churchill and the only former Cabinet Minister to go to the front in 1914 and still be there four years later.

Early life[edit]

Jack Seely was the son of Sir Charles Seely, 1st Baronet. He was educated at Harrow School, where he met an older Stanley Baldwin and a younger Winston Churchill, and at Trinity College, Cambridge.[1] Churchill became a lifelong friend. He was later called to the Bar, Inner Temple. Seely served the Hampshire Yeomanry, joining the Imperial Yeomanry in the Second Boer War, having succeeded in arranging transport to South Africa for his squadron, with the assistance of his uncle Sir Francis Evans, 1st Baronet, chairman of the Union Castle Line. He was mentioned in despatches, awarded a medal with four clasps as well as the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) in November 1900.[2] He was known as "Colonel Seely" during his time as a politician before the First World War. Seely was appointed a deputy lieutenant of the Isle of Wight in 1902.[3]

Political career[edit]

Seely was elected Member of Parliament for the Isle of Wight in 1900, a seat he held until 1906, and again from 1923 to 1924; he also sat for Liverpool Abercromby between 1906 and 1910 and for Ilkeston between 1910 and 1922.

He served as Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies under Herbert Henry Asquith between 1908 and 1911, as Under-Secretary of State for War from 1911 to 1912, and became a member of the Privy Council in 1909. According to the Dictionary of National Biography, "Since his chief, Lord Crewe, was in the Lords, important work fell to the under-secretary, in particular the introduction of the measure which brought about the Union of South Africa."

In 1912, Seely was appointed Secretary of State for War, with a seat in the Cabinet, a post he held until 1914. With Sir John French he was responsible for the invitation to General Foch to attend the Army Manoeuvres of 1912 and was active in preparing the army for war with Germany. The mobility of the proposed Expeditionary Force, and in particular the development of a Flying Corps (the origin of modern day Air Force) were his special interests. According to The Times, these developments played a significant role in the victory during World War I.

Sir John French (CIGS) became very friendy with Seely when his first wife died in childbirth in August 1913.[4]

Curragh incident[edit]

With Irish Home Rule due to become law in 1914, and the Cabinet contemplating some kind of military action against the Ulster Volunteers who wanted no part of it, French and Seely summoned Paget (Commander-in-Chief, Ireland) to the War Office for talks, whilst Seely wrote to the Prime Minister (24 October 1913) about the potential use of General Macready, who had experience of peacekeeping in the South Wales coalfields in 1910, and had been consulted by Birrell (Chief Secretary for Ireland) about the use of troops in the 1912 Belfast riots. In October 1913 Seely sent him to report on the police in Belfast and Dublin.[5]

Seely spoke to the assembled Army Regional Commanders-in-Chief at the War Office (16 December 1913) with French and the Adjutant-General Spencer Ewart present. He assured them that the Army would not be called upon for “some outrageous action, for instance, to massacre a demonstration of Orangemen”, but nonetheless officers could not “pick and choose” which lawful orders they would obey, and that any officer who attempted to resign on the issue should instead be dismissed. [6]

By March 1914 intelligence reported that the Ulster Volunteers, now 100,000 strong, might be about to seize the ammunition at Carrickfergus Castle, and political negotiations were deadlocked as Carson was demanding that Ulster have a complete, not just temporary, opt-out from Home Rule. Seely was on the five-man Cabinet Committee on Ireland (along with Crewe, Simon, Birrell and Churchill (First Lord of the Admiralty)).[7] Seely repeatedly assured French of the accuracy of intelligence that Ulster Volunteers might march on Dublin. [8] No trace of Seely’s intelligence survives.[9] It has been suggested, e.g. by Sir James Fergusson, that the move to deploy troops may have been a “plot” by Churchill and Seely to goad Ulster into a rebellion which could then be put down, although this view is not universally held.[10]

The move to deploy troops resulted in the Curragh incident, in which Gough and many other officers threatened to resign. The elderly Field-Marshal Roberts, whom Seely had told the King was “at the bottom” of the matter, thought Seely “drunk with power”. [11]

At a meeting on 23 March, Seely, who – by Gough’s account - attempted unsuccessfully to browbeat him by staring at him, accepted French’s suggestion that a written document from the Army Council might help to convince Gough’s officers. Seely took over a draft document to a Cabinet meeting for approval. Seely had to leave the meeting for an audience with the King, and in his absence the Cabinet agreed a text, stating that the Army Council were satisfied that the incident had been a misunderstanding, and that it was “the duty of all soldiers to obey lawful commands”. Seely and Morley later added two paragraphs, stating that the Crown had the right to use force in Ireland or elsewhere, but had no intention of doing so “to crush opposition to the Home Rule Bill”. It is unclear whether this – amending a Cabinet document without Cabinet approval - was an honest blunder on Seely’s part or whether he was encouraged to do so and then made a scapegoat. [12]

Gough, on the advice of Maj-Gen Wilson, then insisted on adding another paragraph clarifying that the Army would not be used to enforce Home Rule on Ulster, with which French concurred in writing.[13] Asquith publicly repudiated the “peccant paragraphs” (25 March), forcing French to resign, and also insisted Seely resign.[14]

First World War[edit]

Seely served for near the entirety of the First World War. On a liaison mission between the French Fifth Army and Haig’s I Corps (31 August 1914 - during the period when Sir John French's retreat had opened up a gap in the Allied line), he claimed to have been almost captured in the fog, but to have bluffed his way past a German cavalry patrol by calling out (in German) that he was a member of the Great General Staff.[15]

He eventually won several medals and merited mention in dispatches five times, enhancing his reputation for bravery in battle, and became commander of the Canadian Cavalry Brigade. During the advance to the Hindenburg Line in spring 1917 Seely, whose Canadian Cavalry Brigade was attached to Fourth Army, commandeered infantry from XV Corps to form an ad hoc combat group to capture Equancourt Village. General du Cane’s anger was assuaged – Seely later claimed - by the arrival of congratulations from Field Marshal Haig. [16]

During the German Spring Offensive Seely, back from London, called on the Fifth Army Chief of Staff Beddington at around 2am on 24 March 1918, to inform him of the gossip in London that Fifth Army had been routed. Beddington, who had only managed to get to sleep an hour previously, for the first time since the morning of 21 March, on a camp bed in his office, recorded that he “lost (his) temper, cursed him up hill and down dale for daring to wake (him) with such drivel”. Seely himself later admitted that it suddenly seemed unimportant a few days later when he was commanding the Canadian Cavalry Brigade in action, but it mattered a great deal in the next few days when Gough was sacked from command of the Army as a scapegoat. [17]

He eventually became a major-general. After being gassed in 1918, he returned to England as the only member of the new Cabinet, besides Churchill, to see active service in the war. He was appointed Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Munitions and Deputy Minister of Munitions in 1918, and Under-Secretary of State for Air and President of the Air Council[citation needed] in 1919. However, he resigned both posts at the end of 1919 after the Government refused to create a Secretary of State for Air (as it later did).

Later career[edit]

He was made Chairman of the National Savings Committee in 1926, a post he served in until 1943, the same year he became Vice-President. During this time he was asked by the Government to conduct the publicity in regard to the conversion of the 5% war loan. According to The Times, "in the Second World War the activities of the National Savings Committee were largely extended and became a vital part of the national war effort." He continued to have an influential role in domestic politics.

In May 1935 Adolf Hitler made a well publicised speech in which he proclaimed that German rearmament offered no threat to world peace. Mottistone in the House of Lords said that "we ought to assume that it is genuine and sincere...I have had many interviews with Herr Hitler. I think the noble Lord and all the people who have really met this remarkable man will agree with me on one thing, however much we may disagree about other things—that he is absolutely truthful, sincere, and unselfish".[18] In June 1939 he proclaimed: "I am an unrepentant believer in...the policy of appeasement".[19]

He died in Westminster aged 79.

Other posts[edit]

Seely was also an Honorary Major-General, a Colonel of the Territorial Army, an Honorary Colonel of 72nd (Hampshire), an Honorary Air Commander Auxiliary Air Force, and Vice-President of the RNLI. Moreover, he served as Lord Lieutenant of Hampshire from 1918 to 1947, as a Justice of the Peace (JP) for Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, as the first Chairman of Wembley Stadium, and as a director of Thomas Cook. On 21 June 1933 he was raised to the peerage as Baron Mottistone, of Mottistone in the County of Southampton.[20]

Reputation[edit]

The Times called him a "Gallant Figure in War and Politics" and F. E. Smith, 1st Earl of Birkenhead, wrote, "In fields of great and critical danger he has constantly over a long period of years displayed a cool valour which everybody in the world who knows the facts freely recognizes." Ferdinand Foch, better known as Marshal Foch, the Supreme Commander of the Allied Armies in the final year World War I, gave him a cigarette case inscribed, "Au Ministre de 1912: au Vaillant de la Grande Guerre."

Family[edit]

Seely was a member of a family of politicians, industrialists and significant landowners. His father Sir Charles Seely, 1st Baronet, brother Sir Charles Seely, 2nd Baronet, nephew and grandfather were all Members of Parliament. His grandfather Charles Seely (1803–1887) was a noted philanthropist and famous for hosting Giuseppe Garibaldi, the Italian revolutionary hero, in London and the Isle of Wight in 1864. Seely's nephew Sir Hugh Seely, 3rd Baronet and 1st Baron Sherwood, was Under-Secretary of State for Air during the Second World War. His eldest son from his second marriage, David Peter Seely, 4th Baron Mottistone, was the last Governor of the Isle of Wight; he was baptised with Winston Churchill and the then Duke of Cornwall (subsequently Edward VIII, and then later HRH Duke of Windsor) as his godparents.

The family had homes in Nottinghamshire and the Isle of Wight as well as extensive property in London. It is with the Isle of Wight that Jack Seely will always be associated. His aunt's husband, Col. Harry Gore Browne, won the Victoria Cross during the Indian Mutiny. Gore Browne was manager of the extensive Seely estates on the Isle of Wight. Queen Victoria lived nearby at her favourite residence, Osborne House.

Honours and awards[edit]

For his services during the Boer War, Seely was appointed a Companion of the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) (1900) and was Mentioned in Despatches. During the First World War, Seely was appointed a Companion of The Most Honourable Order of the Bath (CB) (1918), appointed a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG) (1918), and was Mentioned in Despatches five times; Belgium appointed him a Commander of the Order of the Crown (Belgium), and France both appointed Seely a Commander of the Légion d'honneur and awarded him the Croix de guerre. Seely was granted the Freedom of the City of Portsmouth in 1927 (UK) and was awarded the Territorial Decoration (TD).[1]

Marriage[edit]

In 1895, Seely married Emily Florence, daughter of Colonel Honourable Sir Henry George Louis Crichton, KCB. After her death in August 1913, he married Hon. Evelyn Izme Murray, JP (d. 11 Aug 1976) on 31 July 1917. She was the widow of George Crosfield Norris Nicholson and daughter of Montolieu Oliphant-Murray, 1st Viscount Elibank. His first son, 2Lt Frank Reginald Seely was killed in action with the Hampshires on 13 April 1917. His heir John Seely (1899–1963) was an architect whose work included the interior of Eltham Palace in the Art Deco style. His grandson Brough Scott who presented horseracing television programmes, wrote a biography of Seely, Galloper Jack.

Writings[edit]

  • Adventure (1930)
  • Fear and Be Slain: Adventures by land, sea and air (1931)
  • Launch! A Life-Boat Book (1932)
  • For Ever England (1932)
  • My Horse Warrior (1934) - a biography of his charger
  • The Paths of Happiness (1938)

Seely's books shed light on his personality but are not always factually reliable.[21]

Representation in art[edit]

According to the Sir Alfred Munnings Art Museum (Alfred Munnings was a former president of the Royal Academy of Arts and famous horse painter)[22] "Without doubt his most important painting was that of 'General J. E. B. Seely (later Lord Mottistone) on his charger Warrior' which led to his commission to paint the Earl of Athlone, brother of Queen Mary."[23]

Memorial[edit]

A screen was erected in St. Peter and St. Paul's Church, Mottistone in his memory.

Other[edit]

Jack Seely was featured in the HBO film Into the Storm (2009 film) in 2009. At the end of the film Churchill reads a sympathetic post-election note from his old friend Jack Seely: "I feel our world slipping away." Churchill thinks back: "I met him in South Africa, riding across the veldt. He was Col. Seely then. I saw him at the head of a column of British cavalry, riding twenty yards in front, on a black horse. I thought of him as the very symbol of British Imperial power." The Testimony Films 2012 documentary War Horse: The Real Story contained extensive discussion of the First World War service of Seely and his widely revered horse, 'Warrior'. Warrior was adopted as his formation's mascot and had a reputation for bravery under fire. Warrior survived the war, dying in 1941 at the age of 33.[24]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Seely, John Edward Bernard (SLY887JE)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge. 
  2. ^ The London Gazette: no. 27359. p. 6306. 27 September 1901.
  3. ^ The London Gazette: no. 27408. p. 1046. 18 February 1902.
  4. ^ Holmes 2004, p167-9
  5. ^ Holmes 2004, p169
  6. ^ Holmes 2004, p172
  7. ^ Holmes 2004, p173
  8. ^ Holmes 2004, p174-5
  9. ^ Holmes 2004, p178
  10. ^ Holmes 2004, p174-5, 193
  11. ^ Holmes 2004, p181-3
  12. ^ Holmes 2004, p184-8
  13. ^ Holmes 2004, p188-9
  14. ^ Holmes 2004, p190-2
  15. ^ Terraine 1960, p169
  16. ^ Philpott 2009, p459
  17. ^ Farrar-Hockley 1975, p295
  18. ^ Imperial Defence. HL Deb 22 May 1935 vol 96 cc990-1068
  19. ^ British Foreign Policy. HL Deb 12 June 1939 vol 113 cc387-438
  20. ^ The London Gazette: no. 33952. pp. 4201–4202. 23 June 1933. Retrieved 8 August 2009.
  21. ^ Holmes 2004, p385
  22. ^ Sir Alfred Munnings Equestrian Prints, Paintings & Art Museum -UK
  23. ^ Painted in 1918 for the Canadian War Memorial when Seely was commander of the Canadian Cavalry Brigade. Held in the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa
  24. ^ War Horse: The Real Story (Television production). Bristol, United Kingdom: Testimony films / Channel 4. 4 March 2012. Retrieved 9 September 2012. 

References[edit]

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
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Sir Richard Webster
Member of Parliament for the Isle of Wight
19001906
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Godfrey Baring
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William Lawrence
Member of Parliament for Liverpool Abercromby
19061910
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Richard Chaloner
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Sir Balthazar Foster
Member of Parliament for Ilkeston
19101922
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George Oliver
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Edgar Chatfeild-Clarke
Member of Parliament for the Isle of Wight
19231924
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Political offices
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Winston Churchill
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1908–1911
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Under-Secretary of State for War
1911–1912
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Harold Tennant
Preceded by
The Viscount Haldane
Secretary of State for War
1912–1914
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Herbert Henry Asquith
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John Baird
as Parliamentary Secretary to the Air Council
Under-Secretary of State for Air
1919
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Preceded by
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President of the Air Council
1919
Succeeded by
Winston Churchill
as Secretary of State for Air
Honorary titles
Preceded by
The Marquess of Winchester
Lord Lieutenant of Hampshire
1918–1947
Succeeded by
The Viscount Portal
Peerage of the United Kingdom
New creation Baron Mottistone
1933–1947
Succeeded by
Henry Seely