George Erskine

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Sir George Erskine
Nickname(s) "Bobby"[1]
Born 23 August 1899
Hascombe, Surrey, England
Died 29 August 1965 (aged 66)
Rusper, West Sussex, England
Buried Saint Mary Magdalene Churchyard, Rusper, Horsham District, West Sussex, England
Allegiance  United Kingdom
Service/branch  British Army
Years of service 1918−1958
Rank General
Service number 15806
Unit King's Royal Rifle Corps
Commands held 2nd Battalion, King's Royal Rifle Corps
69th Infantry Brigade
7th Armoured Division
43rd (Wessex) Infantry Division
Commander of British Forces in Hong Kong
British Troops in Egypt
Eastern Command
East Africa Command
Southern Command
Battles/wars World War I
World War II
Mau Mau Uprising
Awards Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath
Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire
Distinguished Service Order
Mentioned in despatches

General Sir George Watkin Eben James Erskine GCB KBE DSO (23 August 1899 – 29 August 1965) was a senior British Army officer who is most notable for having commanded the 7th Armoured Division from 1943 to 1944 during World War II.

Early life and First World War[edit]

Erskine was the son of Major-General George Elphinstone Erskine by his second wife Eva Constance Sarah, daughter of Canon Ebenezer Wood Edwards. He was a descendant of the noted 18th-century jurist John Erskine of Carnock.[2]

Erskine was educated at Charterhouse School and later entered the Royal Military College, Sandhurst and was commissioned as a second lieutenant into the King's Royal Rifle Corps in 1918. He served during World War I in France and Belgium and attended the Staff College, Camberley from 1929 to 1930. During the 1930s he served in India but returned to Britain in 1937 to become Deputy Assistant Quartermaster General at Eastern Command.[3]

Second World War[edit]

In 1939 he became a General Staff Officer for 1st London Division of the Territorial Army (TA). In 1941 he was appointed Commanding Officer (CO) of the 2nd Battalion, King's Royal Rifle Corps who were then part of 69th Infantry Brigade and deployed to North Africa,[3] where he earned his Distinguished Service Order (DSO) in 1942.[2] He served as Brigadier General Staff (BGS) of XIII Corps, commanded successively by William Gott, a fellow officer of the KRRC, Brian Horrocks and Miles Dempsey, throughout most of 1942 and was then promoted to acting major-general on 24 January 1943[4] and was appointed General Officer Commanding (GOC) 7th Armoured Division. He served with the division in North Africa, Italy and Normandy between 1943 and 1944.[3]

Neil Ritchie (centre, with pipe) addressing other officers in North Africa, 31 May 1942. Also pictured are Willoughby Norrie, William Gott and, with his back facing the camera, George Erskine.

During the Battle of Normandy in June and July 1944, however, the British Second Army commander, Lieutenant-General Miles Dempsey, was unimpressed with the 7th Armoured's performance and VIII Corps commander, Lieutenant-General Richard N. O'Connor, considered his direction of the division during Operation Goodwood as excessively cautious.[5] Shortly afterwards, in the difficult bocage country during Operation Bluecoat, the 7th Armoured Division failed to gain its objectives and Erskine was replaced by Gerald Lloyd-Verney. In spite of his indifferent performance as a field commander Erskine had qualities which suited him to other roles so that this episode proved only a temporary setback to his career.[5] He became Head of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force Mission to Belgium in 1944 and then GOC 43rd (Wessex) Infantry Division in 1945.[3]


After the war Erskine was Commander of British Forces in Hong Kong in 1946, Director General of the Territorial Army in 1948 to 1949 and GOC British Troops in Egypt in 1949. Returning to the United Kingdom, he became GOC-in-Chief, Eastern Command in 1952. In 1953 he was appointed GOC-in-Chief, East Africa Command where he was responsible for managing the response to the Mau Mau Uprising in Kenya and led Operation Anvil in Nairobi in April 1954. He was GOC-in-Chief, Southern Command from 1955 to 1958 when he retired.[3] He was an Aide-de-Camp General to the Queen from 1955 to 1965.[2]

Lieutenant-General Sir George Erskine, C-in-C East Africa (centre), observing operations against the Mau Mau. In May 1953, Erskine was given control of all military units plus police and auxiliary troops.

Erskine was appointed Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (KBE) in 1950, a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath (KCB) in 1952 and a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath (GCB) in 1955.[2] From 1958 to 1963 he was Lieutenant Governor and Commander-in-Chief of Jersey.[3]


Erskine married Ruby de la Rue, daughter of Sir Evelyn de la Rue, 2nd Baronet, in 1930. They had two sons and one daughter.[2]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Mead, p. 129.
  2. ^ a b c d e General Sir George Watkin Eben James Erskine
  3. ^ a b c d e f Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives
  4. ^ "No. 35928". The London Gazette (Supplement). 23 February 1943.
  5. ^ a b Mead, p. 131.


  • Mead, Richard (2007). Churchill's Lions: a biographical guide to the key British generals of World War II. Stroud (UK): Spellmount. ISBN 978-1-86227-431-0.
  • Smart, Nick (2005). Biographical Dictionary of British Generals of the Second World War. Barnesley: Pen & Sword. ISBN 1844150496.

External links[edit]

Military offices
Preceded by
John Harding
GOC 7th Armoured Division
Succeeded by
Gerald Lloyd-Verney
Preceded by
Sir Francis Festing
Commander of British Forces in Hong Kong
Succeeded by
Francis Matthews
Preceded by
Richard Gale
GOC British Troops in Egypt
Succeeded by
Sir Francis Festing
Preceded by
Sir Gerald Templer
GOC-in-C Eastern Command
Succeeded by
Sir Geoffrey Bourne
Preceded by
Sir Alexander Cameron
GOC East Africa Command
Succeeded by
Sir Gerald Lathbury
Preceded by
Sir Ernest Down
GOC-in-C Southern Command
Succeeded by
Sir Nigel Poett
Government offices
Preceded by
Sir Gresham Nicholson
Lieutenant Governor of Jersey
Succeeded by
Sir Michael Villiers