Douglas Wimberley

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Douglas Wimberley
Nickname(s) "Tartan Tam"
Born (1896-08-15)15 August 1896
Inverness, Scotland
Died 26 August 1983(1983-08-26) (aged 87)
Coupar Angus, Scotland
Allegiance United Kingdom
Service/branch British Army
Years of service 1915–46
Rank Major General
Unit Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders
Machine Gun Corps
Commands held Staff College, Camberley
51st (Highland) Infantry Division
46th Infantry Division
152nd Infantry Brigade
13th Infantry Brigade
1st Battalion, Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders
Battles/wars First World War
North-West Frontier
Second World War
Awards Companion of the Order of the Bath
Distinguished Service Order
Military Cross
Mentioned in despatches
Other work Gentleman Usher of the Scarlet Rod
Principal of University College, Dundee

Major General Douglas Neil Wimberley, CB, DSO, MC (15 August 1896 – 26 August 1983) was a senior British Army officer, who commanded the 51st (Highland) Infantry Division at the Battle of Alamein during the Second World War and led it across North Africa and in the Allied campaign in Sicily.

A career soldier, he became an officer in the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders during the First World War, where he served on the Western Front. He later served as a staff officer and line officer in many parts of the British Empire in the interwar period, before rising to the command of the unit which would make his name in the Mediterranean and Middle East. After the war, he retired from the army and served as the Principal of University College, Dundee before retiring and writing his memoirs.

Early life and First World War[edit]

Douglas Neil Wimberley was born on 15 August 1896 at 8 Ardross Terrace, Inverness, Scotland, the son of Surgeon-Captain (later Colonel) Charles Neil Campbell Wimberley, and Minnie Lesmoir Gordon, daughter of R.J. Wimberley.

Wimberley was educated at Alton Burn, Nairn, Wellington College and then entered the Royal Military College, Sandhurst. During the First World War, he was commissioned, with the rank of second lieutenant, into the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders in 1915. In the trenches of the Western Front, he served first with the 1st Division and then with the 51st (Highland) Division. During his period with the 51st, he was wounded and awarded the Military Cross during the Battle of Cambrai in November 1917.

Between the wars[edit]

In 1918 Wimberley was promoted acting and temporary major and despatched to Russia and in 1919 was attached to the Machine Gun Corps, later transferring back to the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders. Wimberley chose to stay in the British Army during the interwar period and, in 1921, served as the Assistant Adjutant of the 2nd Battalion, Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders, then stationed at Queenstown during the Irish War of Independence. His battalion, a Regular Army unit, was regarded by Bernard Montgomery, the brigade major of the parent Cork Brigade, to be the best troops available to act as a "flying column" to round up rebels.[1] 1922 saw Wimberley made an adjutant of the 2nd Battalion. Two years later he gained distinction in promotion examinations and was allowed to spend a year at Emmanuel College, Cambridge.

Following his studies, Wimberley went on to the Staff College, Camberley in 1925, where he was a student of a class of instructors who would lead the British Army to victory in the next war, such as Montgomery and Alan Brooke, with fellow students such as Harold Alexander, Miles Dempsey, Oliver Leese, Gerald Templer.[2] On 29 April of that year, he married Elsye Myrtle Livingston, daughter of Captain F.L. Campbell RN of Achalader, Perthshire. With her, he had one son and one daughter.

After his marriage, the still-young Wimberley's peacetime career progressed steadily. In 1929 he was appointed brigade major of the 1st Gurkha Brigade, which was involved in operations in the North West Frontier Province a year later. In 1933 he was promoted brevet major, the same year that he won the Army Quarterly military prize for an essay on recent military campaigns.

He served as a General Staff Officer 2 (GSO2) at the War Office for four years before returning to an active command in 1938 when he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel and became Commanding Officer (CO) of the 1st Battalion, Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders, stationed in England, which he commanded until the outbreak of war a year later.

Second World War[edit]

The first year of the Second World War saw Wimberley take his battalion to France as part of the 5th Infantry Brigade, part of the 2nd Infantry Division. In December 1939 Wimberley was made GSO1 and Chief Instructor at the Senior Officers' School at Sheerness, so missing the hostilities in France. In August 1940 he was promoted brigadier and in quick succession, he commanded the 13th Brigade, the 152nd Infantry Brigade and, as acting major general, the 46th Infantry Division. In June 1941, after only a month in command of the 46th Division, he became General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the 51st (Highland) Infantry Division at the specific request of his predecessor, Neil Ritchie, who had been his divisional commander when leading the 152nd Brigade and who was being posted to the Middle East.[3]

The 51st (Highland) Division was a very different formation from that which he had been a part of in the First World War. Formerly, the 51st (Highland) Division had been forged over successive battles in the trenches. The division which he now commanded was in reality the untried 9th (Highland) Infantry Division, the sister Territorial Army division to the 51st, which had been renumbered after the latter's surrender during the Battle of France in June 1940. The division as it stood would not be able to fight as a unit, and Wimberley, now a major general, made a successful effort to instill a sense of esprit de corps in the unit. He refused "sassenach" troops for his brigades and battalions whilst "poaching" Scottish troops from other units, and appealed to his men's Scottish patriotism by encouraging the wearing of their respective tartans as much as possible, for which he was dubbed "Tartan Tam". The only non-highland unit in the 51st (Highland) Division was the 1st/7th Battalion, Middlesex Regiment because there was no machine gun battalion in the British Army which recruited exclusively in Scotland.[3] At the same time, training was not neglected. The results would manifest themselves in action.

In August 1942 the division arrived in Egypt to join the Eighth Army. It went into the line on 17 September as part of XXX Corps as the new Eighth Army commander, Lieutenant General Bernard Montgomery, prepared for the offensive which would defeat the Axis forces, Generalfeldmarschall Erwin Rommel, in North Africa. In October and November, the Division figured prominently in the "break-in" and "crumbling phase" of the Battle of Alamein and actions round Kidney Ridge. Before the battle, Wimberley had briefed his COs with a model of the battlefield and instructed them to repeat their tasks as he had shown them, so as to ensure the unity of the division's battle plan.

Before and during the battle, Wimberley had become a familiar sight touring the divisional areas, an incongruous spectacle in his jeep with his knees nearly reaching head height. During the battle Wimberley's jeep was blown up by a mine, killing two of the occupants but only badly shaking Wimberley himself.[4] He often paused to assist troops carrying out work or briefed individual private soldiers, so as to make them better understand the part which they were to play. Therefore, the casualties suffered by the Eighth Army, amounting to nearly a quarter of the infantry force, caused Wimberley to comment "never again". Having observed in the closing stages of the battle an assault by his Highlanders which had gone in without an artillery barrage, he wrote:

The position was, as we had reported, strongly held, not a sign of our tanks was to be seen, but plenty of enemy ones... The Gordons made little progress, and lost a lot of men; I felt it had been sheer waste of life and was sick at heart [5]

Known, trusted and respected by Montgomery, the Eighth Army commander, Wimberley fought his division across North Africa and into Tunisia fighting at Mareth, Medinine, Akarit and Enfidaville, and Adrano. In 1942 he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his actions.

The pace of the pursuit of Rommel–the fear of another battle of attrition like Alamein–began to tell. In his unpublished memoirs, Wimberley wrote of the Battle of El Agheila:

The 14th December is a day I will never forget....As I motored forward I saw every 100 yards or so wounded men, mostly sappers who had become casualties on the mines. The black Macadam road wound through the soft sand of the desert, pitch black in the brilliant sunshine. At intervals all down the road, mile after mile, the enemy had spread shovel-fulls of sand, and under every sixth heap or so, a mine had been buried, a hole having been drilled in the tarmac for it.

About every quarter of a mile along the road derelict vehicles had been pulled across it, to block it, and each vehicle was a mass of trip wires and booby traps....I was told the very corpses of our poor dead, which we lost out on patrol, were all booby trapped, when later the burial parties went out to clear the battlefield and bury them.... Never again, while I commanded the Highland Division, did we ever meet such a heavily mined area [6]

To Wimberley was entrusted the task of taking Buerat and opening the way to Tripoli, before supplies ran out over a tenuous chain of communication, so fast had the Eighth Army advanced. Having opened the way to the city–the first major Axis prize to fall in the whole of the war so far–Wimberley's achievement went unrecognised by Montgomery, who accused him of "dilatoriness".[7] Wimberley forgave all during the Battle of Medenine, however, when he wrote, "I felt grateful, and thought, again, what a wonderful little commander I was serving under, in Monty." [8]

In July 1943 Wimberley led the 51st Division during the Allied invasion of Sicily (Operation Husky). The division was involved in heavy fighting until gradually being relieved in August by the 78th Battleaxe Infantry Division. Despite the renowned fighting ability and reputation of the 51st, Montgomery decided after the campaign in Sicily in August 1943 that Wimberley, showing tiredness after two years in command, should be removed from divisional command.[9] Whilst Montgomery judged him unsuitable for corps command, he recommended Wimberley to his mentor and friend, General Sir Alan Brooke, the Chief of the Imperial General Staff (CIGS), for the position of Commandant at the Staff College, Camberley, a recommendation which was accepted. In December 1944 he was appointed Director of Infantry, his last appointment in the British Army, which he held until his resignation in October 1946, after the war, when it became clear that with Montgomery having become CIGS, he would progress no higher in the army.[10]


Upon leaving the army Wimberley became principal of University College, Dundee, which was at the time a constituent college of the University of St Andrews. The University of St Andrews, steeped in tradition and jealous of its academic reputation refused to allow the academic expansion of its sister college which led to agitation in Dundee for the independence of the Dundee College. Wimberley attempted to expand University College whilst at the same time not undermining the parent University, and its principal, Sir James Irvine.

Without much academic power, Wimberley sought to give the College the same esprit de corps with which he had invigorated the 51st (Highland) Division. He worked as closely with the staff and students of the college as he had with the officers and men of his division. He continually made efforts to improve facilities and conditions and to give the young institution its own traditions, he instituted a ceremonial university service at the local parish kirk.

In 1947 he wrote the "Wimberley Memo", which set the scene for the parting of ways between the University of St Andrews, and the former University College, Dundee. In honour of this event, the University of Dundee awards annually the Wimberley Award to the student who has contributed most to university life.

In his role as Principal of University College, Dundee Wimberley helped to found the Abertay Historical Society in 1947, along with the History lecturer Dr. Wainwright. The society, which is still active, was formed to encourage the study of the history of the Abertay area (Dundee, Angus, Perthshire and northern Fife).[11] According to University of Dundee historian Kenneth Baxter, Wimberley set up the Society as part of a process of developing 'town and gown links' in Dundee.[12]

In 1954, University College was replaced by Queen’s College Dundee. The post of Principal of University College was replaced by the new role of Master of Queen’s College. Wimberley was not considered for this new position and left the University.[13][14] Having retired, he took up genealogy and lived with his wife in the town of Coupar Angus, Perthshire. From 1951 to 1961 he was colonel of the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders. In 1973, Wimberley collated his papers and diaries into a five-volume autobiography called Scottish Soldier. This unpublished memoir was deposited by the general in the National Library of Scotland.[15]

He died at Foxhall, Coupar Angus, on 26 August 1983. He is survived by his son Neil Wimberley, who lives with his wife in Foxhall, and daughter Lesmoir Edington living in Haddington, Scotland.

His name lives on in Dundee with the Wimberley Houses, Dundee University student accommodation by Ninewells Hospital. The University of Dundee Archive Services also holds his papers relating to his time as Principal of University College.[13]



  1. ^ Hamilton (1981), pp. 156–157
  2. ^ Hamilton (1981), pp. 194–195
  3. ^ a b Mead (2007), p.497
  4. ^ Mead (2007), p. 498
  5. ^ Hamilton (1981), p. 843
  6. ^ Hamilton (1983) pp. 194–195
  7. ^ Hamilton (1983), p. 118
  8. ^ Hamilton (1983), p. 169
  9. ^ Hamilton (1983), p. 715
    Mead (2007), p. 499
  10. ^ Mead (2007), p. 500
  11. ^ "About us". Abertay Historical Society. Retrieved 28 January 2012. 
  12. ^ "University Established". The Courier & Advertiser (Perth & Perthshire Edition). 2 February 2017. Retrieved 17 February 2017. 
  13. ^ a b "Archive Services Online Catalogue Major-General Douglas Neil Wimberley, Principal of University College, Dundee". University of Dundee. Retrieved 10 July 2015. 
  14. ^ Shafe, Michael (1982). University Education in Dundee 1881–1981: A Pictorial History. Dundee: University of Dundee. pp. 111–114. 
  15. ^ Scottish Soldier


  • Hamilton, Nigel (1981). Monty : the making of a general, 1887–1942. London: Hamish Hamilton. OCLC 174371477. 
  • Hamilton, Nigel (1983). Monty: Master of the Battlefield 1942–1944. London: Hamish Hamilton. OCLC 174371481. 
  • Mead, Richard (2007). Churchill's Lions: A biographical guide to the key British generals of World War II. Stroud (UK): Spellmount. p. 544 pages. ISBN 978-1-86227-431-0. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Scottish Soldier by Major-General D.N. Wimberley. Unpublished memoir in the possession of the NLS.
  • Monty: A Personal Memoir by Major-General D.N. Wimberley. Unpublished memoir.

External links[edit]

Military offices
Preceded by
Charles Hudson
GOC 46th Infantry Division
May 1941–June 1941
Succeeded by
Miles Dempsey
Preceded by
Neil Ritchie
GOC 51st (Highland) Infantry Division
Succeeded by
David Bullen-Smith
Preceded by
Sir Alan Cunningham
Commandant of the Staff College, Camberley
Succeeded by
Philip Gregson-Ellis
Honorary titles
Preceded by
Sir Charles Longcroft
Gentleman Usher of the Scarlet Rod
Succeeded by
Robert Sherbrooke
Academic offices
Preceded by
Angus Robertson Fulton (acting)
Principal of University College Dundee
Post abolished