Arthur Paget (British Army officer)
Sir Arthur Paget
Gen. Sir Arthur Paget
|Born||1 March 1851|
|Died||8 December 1928(aged 77)|
General Sir Arthur Henry Fitzroy Paget GCB GCVO PC (Ire) (1 March 1851 – 8 December 1928) was a soldier who reached the rank of General and served as Commander-in-Chief, Ireland, where he was partly responsible for the Curragh Incident.
Family and personal life
Paget was the son of Lord Alfred Paget and Cecilia Wyndham,
In July 1878, Paget married the American heiress Mary "Minnie" Stevens (1853-1919) (daughter of Massachusetts hotel proprietors Paran Stevens and Marietta Reed Stevens), who became a noted society hostess, famed for her jewels.
During the 1870s Paget was a leading owner of steeplechasers. Until 1878 he used the nom de plume 'Mr Fitzroy'. Under this pseudonym, Paget wrote several novels in the Naturalist style, recounting his exploits in the military.
During the Second Boer War Colonel Paget temporarily took command of 1st (Guards) Brigade in Lord Methuen's 1st Division after the Battle of Modder River, and then as a Major-General formed and commanded a new 20th Brigade in the same division during Lord Roberts' advance through the Transvaal. Later he commanded an independent column. Paget wrote to French praising his leadership in South Africa, and claiming that respect for him had been his reason for remaining in the Army.
He was appointed General Officer Commanding the 1st Infantry Division within 1st Army Corps in early September 1902, and at the same time temporarily assumed command of the 2nd Infantry Brigade in the Marlborough lines at Aldershot, where the Brigade of Guards were to be quartered. Six years later he became General Officer Commanding-in-Chief for Eastern Command in 1908. When GOC Eastern Command in 1909 he seldom visited his office, preferring “other activities”. In 1911, when he “commanded” one of the forces on the Annual Manoeuvres, he did not actually attend, and his BGGS (Brigadier-General, chief of Staff) Aylmer Haldane had to brief him on the train from London to Salisbury so that he could participate in the discussion afterwards.
With Irish Home Rule due to become law in 1914, the Cabinet were beginning to contemplate some kind of military action against the Ulster Volunteers who wanted no part of it. French (CIGS) and Seely (Secretary of State for War) summoned Paget to the War Office for talks. Paget’s letter (19 October 1913) suggests that he wanted “partial mobilisation”.
The following spring, Paget was sent a letter by the secretary of the Army Council warning that “evil-disposed persons” might attempt to seize weapons. Paget reported that he was drawing up plans to protect arms depots as ordered, but warning that large-scale troop movements would exacerbate the situation. Paget was summoned to London for a meeting with the Cabinet Committee on Ireland and other officers. On the evening of 18 March Paget wired Maj-Gen Friend that the troop movements were to be completed by dawn on Sunday 31 March. Paget was summoned to another meeting on 19 March at which Seely declared that the government was pressing ahead with Home Rule and had no intention of allowing civil war to break out, suggesting that the Ulster Volunteers were to be crushed if they attempted to start one. Paget said that he would “lead his Army to the Boyne” - French immediately told him not to be “a bloody fool”.
Paget travelled to Dublin that night in a state of high excitement, having been given no written orders (it is unclear whether or not this was because there were things which the politicians were reluctant to put in writing). The next morning (Friday 20 March), Paget addressed senior officers at his headquarters in Dublin. Three different accounts (written by Paget, Fergusson and Gough in his 1954 memoirs Soldiering On) exist, but it is clear that Paget exacerbated the situation. Paget claimed that with French’s assistance he had obtained “concessions” from Seely, namely that officers who lived in Ulster would be permitted to “disappear” for the duration, but that other officers who refused to serve against Ulster would be dismissed rather than being permitted to resign. By Gough’s account, he said that “active operations were to commence against Ulster” and that Gough – who had a family connection to Ulster but did not actually live there - could expect no mercy from his “old friend at the War Office”. French, Paget and Ewart had actually (on 19 March) agreed that officers with “direct family connections” to Ulster should be left behind. In effectively offering his officers an ultimatum, Paget was acting foolishly, as the majority would probably have obeyed if simply ordered north. Paget ended the meeting by ordering his officers to speak to their subordinates and then report back. Gough did not attend the second meeting in the afternoon, at which Paget confirmed that the purpose of the move was to overawe Ulster rather than fight, but at which he claimed that the orders had the King’s personal sanction.
Paget informed the War Office by telegram (evening of 20 March) that 57 officers preferred to accept dismissal (it was actually 61 including Gough). On the morning of Saturday 21 March Fergusson toured units, assuring them of his own unionist sympathies but urging them to do their duty – this action had a good effect. Paget did the same but his speech was described by one colonel as “absolutely unconvincing and inconclusive”.
The elderly Field-Marshal Roberts later learned from an interview with Seely (21 March) that Paget had been acting without authority in talking of “active operations” and in giving officers a chance to discuss hypothetical orders and attempt to resign. This news helped persuade Hubert Gough to remain in the Army, albeit with a written guarantee (which the government then repudiated) that the Army would not be used against Ulster.
Paget was, in the end, able to conduct the precautionary moves planned on 18 and 19 March.
Later Career and Assessments
Paget relinquished Irish Command on the outbreak of World War I. He continued to serve during the war, although not in France. Edmonds later claimed that Paget had been the best candidate to command III Corps in September 1914 (it went to Pulteney) but that French passed him over having had a row with him on manoeuvres in 1913. French tried to obtain an Army command for him in June 1915 (Richard Holmes writes that French remained fond of him but insisted on his suitability despite “impressive evidence to the contrary”). From April 1916 to February 1918 he commanded Southern Army charged with the defence of South-East England while French was Commander-in-Chief of Home Forces. He retired in 1918.
Paget talked of the “dirty swine of politicians. Victor Bonham-Carter (p78 of “Soldier True”, his biography of Robertson) described him as “a stupid, arrogant, quick-tempered man”. Sir Harold Nicolson wrote, more diplomatically, that “he was not a man of measured language or meek tact”.
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- Holmes does not specifically say which Army, but Third Army was activated around then
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- Charles Mosley, ed. (1999). Burke's Peerage and Baronetage (106th ed.). Crans, Switzerland: Burke's Peerage (Genealogical Books) Ltd.
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- Travers, Tim (1987). The Killing Ground. Allen & Unwin. ISBN 0-85052-964-6.
- Stephen M. Miller, Lord Methuen and the British Army: Failure and Redemption in South Africa, London: Frank Cass, 1999.
| Page of Honour
1861 – 1867
|| General Officer Commanding the 1st Division
| GOC-in-C Eastern Command
Sir James Grierson
Sir Neville Lyttelton
| Commander-in-Chief, Ireland
1912 – 1914
Sir Lovick Friend
|New title|| King of Arms of the Order of the British Empire
1918 – 1928
Sir Herbert Heath