Richard Ernest William Turner

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Richard Ernest William Turner
Richard Ernest William Turner.jpg
Lieutenant General Sir Richard Turner, c.1917
Born (1871-07-25)25 July 1871
Quebec City, Canada
Died 19 June 1961(1961-06-19) (aged 89)
Quebec City, Canada
Buried at Mount Hermon Cemetery, Sillery, Quebec
Allegiance  Canada
Service/branch Canadian Army
Years of service 1892–1919
Rank Lieutenant General
Unit The Royal Canadian Dragoons
Commands held 2nd Canadian Division
3rd Canadian Infantry Brigade
Battles/wars Second Boer War
First World War
Awards Victoria Cross
Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath
Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George
Distinguished Service Order
Mentioned in Despatches
Légion d'honneur (France)
Croix de Guerre (France)
Order of the White Eagle (Russia)
Relations Richard Turner (father)

Lieutenant General Sir Richard Ernest William Turner VCKCBKCMGDSO (25 July 1871 – 19 June 1961) was a Canadian Army officer during the Boer War and the First World War, and a recipient of the Victoria Cross. While Turner always displayed great personal courage while under fire, he lacked the acumen for brigade- and division-sized tactics, and the men under his command during the First World War suffered grievous losses in several battles before he was moved into administrative roles.

Early life[edit]

Turner was born in Quebec City, the son of Richard Turner, and worked at his father's grocery and lumber business, rising to partner before the First World War. He later took over the business, when he returned from the First World War. Turner joined the militia as a second lieutenant in 1892, his regiment of choice for commissioning being the Queen's Own Canadian Hussars.

Boer War[edit]

Turner was 29 years old and a major in the Militia cavalry regiment the Queen's Own Canadian Hussars when he joined the second Canadian contingent to the Second Boer War. He reverted to lieutenant to join The Royal Canadian Dragoons, Canadian Army. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) with effective date 29 November 1900[1] for his actions at the Vet River on 6 May 1900. Following action at Leliefontein near the Komati River on 7 November 1900, Turner was one of three men from his regiment who were subsequently awarded the Victoria Cross for bravery. (The others were Lieutenant Hampden Zane Churchill Cockburn and Sergeant Edward James Gibson Holland.)

Turner was Mentioned in Despatches on 16 April 1901,[2] and the VC citations were published in the London Gazette on 23 April 1901. Turner's read:

Later in the day when the Boers again seriously threatened to capture the guns, Lieutenant Turner, although twice previously wounded, dismounted and deployed his men at close quarters and drove off the Boers, thus saving the guns.[3]

He received the VC from the Duke of Cornwall and York (later King George V) during a grand military review in Quebec 17 September 1901, the second day of the visit to Canada of the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York during their Commonwealth tour.[4]

First World War[edit]

Promoted to brigadier general just after the outbreak of war on 29 September 1914,[5] Turner was given command of the 3rd Brigade in the 1st Division of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. His Brigade Major was Colonel Garnet Hughes, son of Sam Hughes, the bombastic Minister of Militia and Defence in Robert Borden's government.

The 1st Division spent the winter of 1914–15 training in England, and were sent to France in February 1915. After a period of indoctrination about the realities of trench warfare, they took control of a section of trench in the Ypres Salient on 17 April 1915. Only five days later, the Germans used poison gas for the first time on the Western Front, sending clouds of chlorine wafting over the Allied trenches. French colonial troops on the Canadians' left flank broke, leaving an enormous hole in the Allied line.

In the chaos that followed, both Turner and Hughes sent erroneous messages back to Lieutenant General Edwin Alderson at divisional headquarters that their line had been broken and was in full retreat, when in fact the 3rd Brigade had not even been attacked yet. Turner was also responsible for sending two reserve battalions forward in a night-time attack on Kitcheners Wood, although he left the details to his subordinate Hughes. Much of the subsequent high casualty rate during the attack can be attributed to Hughes and his insistence on an immediate attack before proper reconnaissance could reveal the presence of enfilading machine gun nests. Although Turner demonstrated great personal bravery when his brigade headquarters came under direct small arms fire and suffered several near misses from artillery,[6] he seemed unable to adequately cope with this new type of mechanized warfare nor with the demands of brigade-sized tactics.

He was replaced as brigade commander by R. G. E. Leckie on 12 August 1915.[7] His subsequent promotion to divisional command was opposed by his superior Edwin Alderson, who considered him to be incompetent. However the well-connected Turner had the support of Sam Hughes and other Canadian politicians, and Alderson was overruled. Alderson bitterly wrote, "I am sorry to say that I do not consider Turner really fit to command a Division and his name was not put forward by Sir John French, but Canadian politics have been too strong for all of us and so he has got it."[8] Turner was subsequently appointed a Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB) in the King's Birthday Honours of June 1915,[9] and promoted to major general in September 1915, and given command of the 2nd Division when it arrived in France. However, the division suffered heavy losses during the battle of St. Eloi in September 1916 when Turner lost communication with his division and did not form a clear picture of where they were on the confused battlefield. In addition, due to a miscommunication, his men were decimated by their own artillery, suffering 1,600 casualties.[10] Turner was subsequently relieved of field command on 5 December 1916 and shunted into administrative duties, becoming commander of Canadian forces operating in Britain and the Canadian government's chief military adviser.[11][12]

Turner was appointed a Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George (KCMG) in the King's Birthday Honours of June 1917,[13] and promoted to lieutenant general on 9 June 1917.[14] On 18 May 1918, he became the Chief of the General Staff, Overseas Military Forces of Canada.[15] In addition, he was awarded the Croix de Guerre[16] avec Palme and the Legion d'Honneur from the French government, and the Russian Order of the White Eagle with Swords.[17]

Obverse and reverse of Turner's VC

The medal[edit]

His Victoria Cross is currently stored as part of the RCD Archives and Collection at CFB Petawawa, Ontario.


  1. ^ The London Gazette: no. 27306. pp. 2699–2702. 19 April 1901. Retrieved 2008-09-25.
  2. ^ The London Gazette: no. 27305. pp. 2604–2609. 16 April 1901. Retrieved 2008-09-25.
  3. ^ The London Gazette: no. 27307. p. 2775. 23 April 1901. Retrieved 2008-01-21.
  4. ^ "Royal Tour" The Times (London). Wednesday, 18 September 1901. (36563), p. 3.
  5. ^ The London Gazette: no. 29086. p. 2096. 2 March 1915. Retrieved 2008-09-25.
  6. ^ Dancock, Daniel G. (1988). Welcome to Flanders Fields: The First Canadian Battle of the Great War: Ypres, 1915. Toronto: McLelland & Stewart. pp. 117–124. ISBN 0-7710-2545-9. 
  7. ^ The London Gazette: no. 29307. p. 9436. 24 September 1915. Retrieved 2008-09-25.
  8. ^ Cassar, George (1985). Beyond Courage. Ottawa: Oberon Press. p. 189. 
  9. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 29202. pp. 6111–6112. 22 June 1915. Retrieved 2008-09-25.
  10. ^ Duffy, Michael. "Who's Who: Sir Richard Turner". Retrieved 2008-09-25. 
  11. ^ The London Gazette: no. 29855. p. 12064. 8 December 1916. Retrieved 2008-09-25.
  12. ^ "Sir Richard Ernest William Turner". The Canadian Encycloperdia. Retrieved 2008-09-25. 
  13. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 30111. p. 5458. 1 June 1917. Retrieved 2008-09-25.
  14. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 30178. p. 6956. 1 June 1917. Retrieved 2008-09-25.
  15. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 30696. p. 6048. 21 May 1918. Retrieved 2008-09-25.
  16. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 32113. pp. 10742–10743. 2 November 1920. Retrieved 2008-09-25.
  17. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 30476. p. 828. 11 January 1918. Retrieved 2008-09-25.

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