Charles à Court Repington

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Charles à Court Repington
Birth name Charles à Court
Born (1858-01-29)29 January 1858
Heytesbury, Wiltshire, England
Died 25 May 1925(1925-05-25) (aged 67)
Hove, England
Allegiance United Kingdom
Service/branch British Army
Years of service 1878–1902
Rank Lieutenant-Colonel
Unit Rifle Brigade
Battles/wars Second Boer War
Other work War correspondent and author

Lieutenant Colonel Charles à Court Repington, CMG, (29 January 1858 – 25 May 1925[1]) known until 1903 as Charles à Court, was a British Army officer and later a war correspondent.

Biography[edit]

Charles à Court was born at Heytesbury, Wiltshire in 1858, where his father was a Conservative Party Member of Parliament. His family name at birth was à Court; in his memoirs, he later wrote: "The à Courts are Wiltshire folk, and in old days represented Heytesbury in Parliament... The name of Repington, under the terms of an old will, was assumed by all the à Courts in turn as they succeeded to the Amington Hall Estate, and I followed the rule when my father died in 1903."[2] His rich upper-class background may well have contributed to the confidence with which he later criticised senior generals and politicians.[3]

Educated at Eton and the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, he began his military career with service in the Rifle Brigade of the British Army in 1878. After serving in Afghanistan, Burma, and Sudan, he entered the Staff College at Camberley, where he was a brilliant student[3] and where his classmates included Herbert Plumer and Horace Smith-Dorrien. On graduation, he served as a military attaché in Brussels and the Hague, following which he was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel. He served as a staff officer during the Second Boer War in South Africa 1899–1901, and was appointed a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG) for his services during the operations.[4] After returning from the war, he resigned the post of military attaché in December 1901,[5] and he retired from the army 15 January 1902.[6] What appeared to be a promising career was cut short during a posting to Egypt in 1902.

Divorce[edit]

Repington had a long but unfaithful affair with Lady Garstin, the wife of a British official, William Garstin, which became public. He was reprimanded by senior military authorities, and had to give a written promise "upon his honour as a soldier and gentleman" to have no further dealings with her. He had to give this "parole" to Henry Wilson (a friend of Mary Garstin’s late father, who had been asked by her family to get involved) on 9 October 1899. Repington told Wilson – at Chieveley, near Colenso in South Africa, on 12 February 1900 – that he regarded himself as absolved from his promise to give up Mary Garstin after learning that her husband had been spreading rumours of his other infidelities. During the divorce proceedings, it was revealed that Repington had ignored warnings about his behaviour ("broken his parole") and had continued the affair. Wilson was unable or unwilling to confirm Repington’s claim that he had released him from his parole at Chieveley. Repington believed that Wilson had "ratted" on a fellow soldier, but was forced to resign his commission and as a journalist was strongly critical of Wilson thereafter.[3][7]

War Correspondent[edit]

On returning to London, he took a position as a military correspondent with the Morning Post from 1902–1904, and The Times from 1904–1918. His coverage as a war correspondent in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–1905 later appeared in book form as The War in the Far East. "Repington was a firm advocate of a strong national army (at the expense of the navy, much to the annoyance of Admiral Fisher). His journalism therefore tended to be geared towards propounding his belief in a firm national defensive policy."[8] He supported a General Staff, feared a German "bolt from the blue" and was a "westerner". According to his memoir Vestigia, an unnamed Radical paper once called him "the gorgeous Wreckington", but this was a personal attack in reference to his divorce scandal.

During the First World War, Repington relied on his contacts in the British Army and the War Office for his information, and through his friendship with the Commander-in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Force, Sir John French, Repington was able to visit the Western Front in November 1914, at a time when most rival war correspondents were banned from France. Also noteworthy is the fact that Repington appears to be the first person to use the name the First World War, on 10 September 1918 in a conversation noted in his diary, hoping that title would serve as a reminder and warning that the Second World War was a possibility in the future.[9]

Shells Scandal[edit]

Repington witnessed the failed attack at Aubers Ridge, a major offensive in Artois, and was particularly moved by the losses of the Rifle Brigade. He sent a telegram to The Times blaming lack of High Explosive shell, which despite being heavily censored was printed after Sir John French's aide Brinsley Fitzgerald assured him French would approve. Repington later emphatically denied that French had spoken to him on the issue. French had in fact, despite Repington’s denial of his prior knowledge at the time, supplied Repington with information.[10][11]

The appearance of this information in The Times and later in the Daily Mail, resulted in a political scandal which contributed to the creation of a separate Ministry of Munitions under David Lloyd George, a major reduction in the power of the War Minister, Lord Kitchener. In the long run, such blatant meddling in politics also damaged Sir John French and contributed to his enforced resignation at the end of 1915. Repington now had growing influence over military policy through the newspapers, but was banned from visiting the Western Front again until March 1916.

Move to the Morning Post[edit]

Repington resigned from The Times in January 1918 due to a dispute with its owner, Lord Northcliffe, who after the German counterattack at the Battle of Cambrai had distanced himself from Douglas Haig's conduct of the war, and returned to The Morning Post.

On 16 February, as part of the power struggle between Lloyd George and Robertson and his press supporters, Repington and Gwynne appeared at Bow Street Magistrates' Court charged with having contravened DORA Regulation 18 by printing articles (11 February) discussing Lloyd George's attempt to bypass Robertson by setting up a rival staff under Henry Wilson at Versailles, Lloyd George's plans to concentrate efforts against Turkey, and his failure to keep the Army up to strength. Robertson’s wife was in the crowd, as were his colleagues Generals Macdonogh and Maurice. Repington claimed that the crowd was the largest since the trial of Dr Crippen, and later claimed that Robertson had told him that he could no more afford to be seen with him than either of them "could afford to be seen walking down Regent Street with a whore". Repington was found guilty and was fined.[12]

Later life[edit]

After the end of the First World War, Repington joined the staff of the Daily Telegraph and subsequently published several books. These works, including The First World War in 1920 and After the War in 1922, were bestsellers, but cost Repington friendships for his apparent willingness to report what others considered to have been private conversations.

Repington died on 25 May 1925 in Hove, East Sussex.

Honours[edit]

Selected works[edit]

Repington wrote several books, including:

Further readings[edit]

  • A.J.A. Morris: Reporting the First World War : Charles Repington, The Times and the Great War, 1914–1918, Cambridge, UK : Cambridge University Press, 2015, ISBN 978-1-107-10549-2

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Lieutenant Colonel Charles à Court Repington". Rippington Family Genealogy. 2011. Retrieved 14 December 2011. 
  2. ^ à Court Repington, Charles (1919). Vestigia, Reminiscences of Peace and War. Houghton Mifflin. 
  3. ^ a b c Reid 2001, p.163
  4. ^ a b The London Gazette: no. 27359. p. 6303. 27 September 1901.
  5. ^ "Naval & Military intelligence". The Times (36628). London. 3 December 1901. p. 6. 
  6. ^ The London Gazette: no. 27397. p. 297. 14 January 1902.
  7. ^ Jeffery 2006, pp.49–53
  8. ^ "Who's Who – Charles Repington". First World War.com. 2013. Retrieved 20 February 2015. 
  9. ^ "The First World War". QI : Quite Interesting. 2015. Retrieved 20 February 2015. 
  10. ^ Repington, The First World War 1914–1918, Vol.1, London: Constable, pp.36–37
  11. ^ Holmes 2004, p.287
  12. ^ Bonham-Carter 1963, p352-3
  • Victor Bonham-Carter (1963). Soldier True:the Life and Times of Field-Marshal Sir William Robertson. London: Frederick Muller Limited. 
  • Holmes, Richard (2004). The Little Field Marshal: A Life of Sir John French. Weidenfeld & Nicolson. ISBN 0-297-84614-0. 
  • Jeffery, Keith (2006). Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson: A Political Soldier. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-820358-2. 
  • Reid, Walter (2006). Architect of Victory: Douglas Haig. Edinburgh: Birlinn Ltd. ISBN 1-84158-517-3.