Henry Rawlinson, 1st Baron Rawlinson

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The Lord Rawlinson
Henry Rawlinson, 1st Baron Rawlinson in 1916.jpg
Rawlinson as a brigadier-general
Born20 February 1864
Westminster, London, England
Died28 March 1925 (aged 61)
Delhi, British India
Allegiance United Kingdom
Service/branch British Army
Years of service1884–1925
UnitKing's Royal Rifle Corps
Commands heldStaff College, Camberley
2nd Infantry Brigade
3rd Division
4th Division
IV Corps
British First Army
British Fourth Army
British Second Army
Aldershot Command
Battles/warsMahdist War
Second Boer War
First World War
AwardsKnight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath
Knight Grand Commander of the Order of the Star of India
Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order
Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George
Order of St. George (Russia)

General Henry Seymour Rawlinson, 1st Baron Rawlinson, GCB, GCSI, GCVO, KCMG (20 February 1864 – 28 March 1925), known as Sir Henry Rawlinson, 2nd Baronet between 1895 and 1919, was a British World War 1 general who commanded the Fourth Army of the British Expeditionary Force at the battles of the Somme (1916) and Amiens (1918) as well as the breaking of the Hindenburg Line (1918). He commanded the Indian Army from 1920 to 1925.

Early life[edit]

Rawlinson was born in Westminster, London.[1] His father, Sir Henry Rawlinson, 1st Baronet, was an Army officer, and a renowned Middle East scholar who is generally recognised as the father of Assyriology. He received his early formal education at Eton College.[2]

Military career[edit]

After passing through commissioned officer training at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, Rawlinson entered the British Army as a lieutenant in the King's Royal Rifle Corps in India on 6 February 1884.[3] His father arranged for him to serve on the staff of a friend, General Sir Frederick Roberts, the commander-in-chief in India. Rawlinson and the Roberts family remained close friends throughout his life. When Roberts died in November, 1914, Rawlinson wrote, "I feel as if I have lost my second father."[4] His first military experience was serving in Burma during the 1886 uprising.[5]

In 1889, Rawlinson's mother died and he returned to Britain. He transferred to the Coldstream Guards[5] and was promoted to captain on 4 November 1891.[6] He served on General Herbert Kitchener's staff during the advance on Omdurman in Sudan in 1898, and was promoted to major on 25 January 1899[7] and to brevet lieutenant-colonel on 26 January 1899.[8]

He served with distinction in a field command in the Second Boer War from 1899 to 1902, earning promotion to the local rank of colonel on 6 May 1901.[9] He was in Western Transvaal during early 1902, and lead a column taking part in the Battle of Rooiwal, the last battle of the war (11 April 1902).[10] Following the end of hostilities in June 1902, he returned to the United Kingdom together with Lord Kitchener on board the SS Orotava,[11] which arrived in Southampton on 12 July.[12] In a despatch dated 23 June 1902, Lord Kichener wrote of Rawlinson that he "possesses the qualities of Staff Officer and Column Commander in the field. His characteristics will always ensure him a front place in whatever he sets his mind to."[13] He received the brevet rank of colonel in the South Africa Honours list published on 26 June 1902,[14] was promoted to the substantive rank of colonel on 1 April 1903,[15] and named as commandant of the Army Staff College.[5]

Rawlinson was the first of three reforming Commandants who transformed the Staff College into a real war school. The curriculum was modernised and updated, the teaching given a new sense of purpose and instructors became 'Directing Staff' rather than 'Professors', emphasising practicality. Major Godwin-Austen, historian of the college, wrote: "Blessed with an extremely attractive personality, a handsome appearance, high social standing, and more than an average share of this world's goods, he was one to inspire his students unconsciously to follow in his footsteps."[16][17] Promoted to temporary brigadier-general on 1 March 1907,[18] he was made Commander of 2nd Infantry Brigade at Aldershot that year and, having been promoted to major-general on 10 May 1909,[19] he became General Officer Commanding 3rd Division in 1910.[5] After handing over the division to his successor in May 1914 Rawlinson went on leave, returning on the outbreak of war to briefly serve as Director of Recruiting at the War Office.[20]

In September 1914 Rawlinson was appointed General Officer Commanding 4th Division in France.[5] Promoted to temporary lieutenant-general on 4 October 1914,[21] he then took command of the IV Corps.[5] Rawlinson wrote to the Conservative politician Lord Derby (24 December 1914) forecasting that the Allies would win a war of attrition, but it was unclear whether this would take one, two or three years.[22]

In 1915, Rawlinson's IV Corps formed part of Douglas Haig's First Army. At the battle of Neuve Chapelle (10-12 March, 1915), he massed 340 guns. The weight of this bombardment on a comparatively narrow front enabled the attackers to secure the village of Neuve Chapelle and 1600 yards of the German front line. The arrival of German reinforcements prevented further advance. Rawlinson concluded that an enemy's line of trenches could be broken 'with suitable artillery preparation' combined with secrecy.[23] He also drew a lesson for the future, that trench warfare called for limited advances: 'What I want to do now is what I call "Bite & Hold" -- bite off a piece of the enemy's line like Neuve Chapelle & hold it against all counter-attacks...there ought to be no difficulty in holding against the enemy's counter attacks & inflicting on him at least twice the loss that we have suffered in making the bite.'[24]

At the end of 1915, Rawlinson was considered for command of British First Army, in succession to Douglas Haig, but the command was instead given to Sir Charles Monro. He was promoted to temporary general on 22 December 1915.[25] Promoted to the substantive rank of lieutenant-general on 1 January 1916,[26] Rawlinson assumed command of the new Fourth Army on 24 January 1916.[27] as the planned Allied offensive on the Somme. He wrote in his diary: "It is not the lot of many men to command an army of over half a million men."[28] The Somme was originally conceived as a joint Anglo-French offensive, but owing to the demands of the Battle of Verdun, French participation was greatly reduced, leaving the British, and especially Rawlinson's inexperienced army, to bear the brunt of the offensive.[29] Nevertheless, on the eve of the offensive, he "showed an attitude of absolute confidence."[30]

Battle of the Somme[edit]

General Sir Henry Rawlinson, Bt, at Fourth Army HQ, Querrieu Chateau, July 1916

The Somme offensive was launched on 1 July 1916. It soon became a heavy defeat, with British forces repulsed by the Germans along most of the front, with the British sustaining nearly 60,000 casualties on the first day. The heaviest defeats were in Rawlinson's own sector, in front of Pozières and Thiepval. By the afternoon Rawlinson was aware of the scale of the disaster.[31] On the Allied right, the British and French had more success, but Rawlinson would not allow the corps commander, General Walter Congreve, to advance beyond his set objectives: a decision for which he was later criticised.[32]

The principal cause of the defeat, however, was the Army's misplaced belief that the long and heavy preliminary artillery barrage had destroyed the German barbed wire and trenches. In fact, the German trenches were largely intact, and heavily laden British infantry were required to advance at a slow walk, across a maze of shell holes, into concentrated German machine-gun fire.[33] After the war Rawlinson was held responsible for the tactics followed on 1 July 1916. The historian Martin Middlebrook wrote: "What is certain is that those divisions, Regular or otherwise, which most closely followed Rawlinson's advice, suffered the heaviest casualties and achieved the least success."[34] As the disaster unfolded, however, it was too late for either Haig or Rawlinson to change the set plan.

The full extent of British casualties on the Somme were not known to the public until after the war: even Haig and Rawlinson were not fully aware of them.[35] The blame for the defeat was directed mainly at divisional and corps commanders: but only two, Major-General Edward Stuart-Wortley and Major-General Thomas Pilcher, were dismissed. Both were dismissed for not driving their units hard enough - that is for not creating more casualties, rather than for causing too many.[36] To dismiss Rawlinson would have been to admit that the Somme offensive had been defeated, and that it had been incompetently planned and executed, which neither Haig nor the British government was willing to do. Middlebrook writes: "Haig and Rawlinson were protected by the sheer enormity of the disaster."[35]

Middlebrook holds Rawlinson principally responsible for the heavy British casualties on the Somme: "Rawlinson was not to blame for the shortage of heavy artillery, but he had failed to recognise the depth and strength of the German dug-outs it was supposed to destroy. He ignored the doubts of infantry officers on this score... By insisting on his own rigid attack plan he robbed his men of any opportunity to use the intelligence and initiative which they surely possessed. Rawlinson must take full responsibility for this, the worst mistake of the day and the one which had caused most of the casualties."[37]

In January 1917, Rawlinson was promoted to permanent General "for distinguished service in the field".[38] For a period in 1917–18, he also commanded the Second Army. In February 1918 he was appointed British Permanent Military Representative to the inter-Allied Supreme War Council at Versailles.[39]

Battles of 1918[edit]

Henry Rawlinson, second from the left, with King George V and senior officers in 1918

Rawlinson returned to the Fourth Army in July 1918 for the Allied counter-offensive.[40] By this time the German Army's great spring offensive, Operation Michael, had been checked, and the Allies were preparing a counter-offensive. Following the success of the Australian attack at Le Hamel on 4 July, Haig entrusted Rawlinson with planning a larger attack, designed to force the Germans back from the city of Amiens, and also further to damage the German Army's weakening morale. Rawlinson had learned from his experiences on the Somme. "The immeasurable superiority of the planning for 8 August 1918 over that for 1 July 1916 testified to the distance the BEF had travelled in the interim."[41] The attack was to be on a relatively narrow front, with no prior bombardment and limited objectives. To ensure a breakthrough, Haig gave Rawlinson command of virtually the whole British armoured forces. By this stage of the war British manpower was severely depleted, and to achieve the breakthrough, the 4th Army comprised four Canadian, five Australian, five British and one American division.[42]

The Allies achieved complete surprise, and the Battle of Amiens proved a striking success. On 8 August, described by General Erich Ludendorff as "the black day of the German Army", the Allies took 12,000 prisoners and captured 450 guns. Both the German and Allied commands were struck by the collapse in German morale and the high number of Germans surrendering without a fight.[43] Nevertheless, the Allies were still cautious about pressing their advantage too far: on 11 August Rawlinson advised Haig to halt the offensive.[44]

In September, again commanding a mixed force of British, Canadian, Australian and American divisions, Rawlinson led his Army in the Hundred Days Offensive, the successful Allied effort to break through the Hindenburg Line of German defences. Rawlinson daringly ordered the Canadian commander, General Arthur Currie, to cross the Canal du Nord, a key part of the German defences. The resulting Battle of Canal du Nord saw the Germans decisively defeated. By 30 September, a 50 kilometre stretch of the Hindenburg Line had been taken, and the Germans were in full retreat.[45]

Later life[edit]

Rawlinson was bestowed with many honours in reward for his role in World War 1. He was made GCVO in 1917 and KCMG 1918. In August 1919 the Houses of Parliament passed a vote of thanks to him for his military service, and awarded him the financial sum from the Exchequer of £30,000.[46] In 1919, he was raised to the peerage as Baron Rawlinson of Trent in the County of Dorset,[47] and appointed a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath (GCB).[48]

He was again called on to organise an evacuation, this time of the Allied forces that had been sent to Russia to intervene in the Russian Civil War.[5] In November 1919 he became General Officer Commanding-in-Chief for Aldershot Command.[5]

In 1920, Rawlinson was made Commander-in-Chief, India, a post he held until his death.[5] When Gandhi launched the movement of non-cooperation with the British on 1 August 1920, he was determined to avoid popular violence, and after Amristar the British too tried to avoid provocation. However, the military were not happy with this approach. On 15 July, Rawlinson, complained that:

Unless we, as a government, are prepared to act vigourously and take strong measures to combat the insidious propaganda of the extremists we are bound to have something very like rebellion in India before long... You say what you like about not holding India by the sword, but you have held it by the sword for 100 years and when you give up the sword you will be turned out. You must keep the sword ready to hand and in case of trouble or rebellion use it relentlessly. Montagu calls it terrorism, so it is and in dealing with natives of all classes you have to use terrorism whether you like it or not.[49]

John Newsinger argues that "there is no doubt that the great majority of the British in India, soldiers, officials, civilians, agreed with Rawlinson on this. A few months later he noted in his journal that he "was determined to fight for the white community against any black sedition or rebellion", and, if necessary, "be the next Dyer". [50]

In 1924, Rawlinson was appointed a Knight Grand Commander of the Order of the Star of India (GCSI). He died on 28 March 1925 at the age of 61 at Delhi in India, after being taken ill whilst playing polo and cricket. His body was returned to England and buried in St. Andrew's Churchyard, in the village of Trent, in the county of Dorset.[51]

Personal life[edit]

Rawlinson married Meredith Sophia Francis Kennard (1861-1931) at St Paul's Church, Knightsbridge, London on 5 November 1890, the marriage producing no children. On Henry Rawlinson's death the Baronetcy passed to his brother Alfred Rawlinson.[46][52]



  • Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order (GCVO) - 14 July 1917[53] (KCVO: 15 August 1916;[54] CVO: 30 June 1905[55])
  • Knight Commander of the Order of St. Michael and St. George (KCMG) - 1 January 1918[56]
  • Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath (GCB) - 1 January 1919[48] (KCB: 18 February 1915;[57] CB: 1902)
  • Baron Rawlinson, of Trent in the County of Dorset - 31 October 1919[58]



  1. ^ Free BMD
  2. ^ "General Henry Seymour Rawlinson, 1st and last Baron Rawlinson". The Peerage. Retrieved 15 January 2019.
  3. ^ "No. 25315". The London Gazette. 5 February 1884. p. 535.
  4. ^ Atwood, Rodney (2018). General Lord Rawlinson: from Tragedy to Triumph. London: Bloomsbury Academic. p. 102. ISBN 978-1-4742-4698-9.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives
  6. ^ "No. 26226". The London Gazette. 24 November 1891. p. 6231.
  7. ^ "No. 27048". The London Gazette. 3 February 1899. p. 720.
  8. ^ "No. 27048". The London Gazette. 3 February 1899. p. 722.
  9. ^ "No. 27325". The London Gazette. 21 June 1901. p. 4187.
  10. ^ "No. 27455". The London Gazette. 18 July 1902. p. 4589.
  11. ^ "The Army in South Africa - Troops returning home". The Times (36804). London. 26 June 1902. p. 10.
  12. ^ "Lord Kitchener′s return". The Times (36819). London. 14 July 1902. p. 6.
  13. ^ "No. 27459". The London Gazette. 29 July 1902. pp. 4835–4837.
  14. ^ "No. 27448". The London Gazette (Supplement). 26 June 1902. pp. 4191–4193.
  15. ^ "No. 27549". The London Gazette. 5 May 1903. p. 2843.
  16. ^ Brevet-Major A.R. Godwin-Austen, The Staff and the Staff College. London, Constable, 1927, p. 235;
  17. ^ Brian Bond, The Victorian Army and the Staff College, 1854-1914. London, Eyre Methuen, 1972, pp. 196-199.
  18. ^ "No. 28002". The London Gazette. 8 March 1907. p. 1740.
  19. ^ "No. 28252". The London Gazette. 18 May 1909. p. 3763.
  20. ^ Beckett, Ian; Corvi, Steven (2006). Haig's Generals. Casemate Publishers. p. 166. ISBN 9781844151691.
  21. ^ "No. 28935". The London Gazette. 13 October 1914. p. 8135.
  22. ^ Jeffery 2006, p139
  23. ^ Robin Prior & Trevor Wilson, Command on the Western Front: the Military Career of Sir Henry Rawlinson 1914-1918 (Pen & Sword Books, Barnsley, 2004), P.56.
  24. ^ Atwood, General Lord Rawlinson, pp. 117-118
  25. ^ "No. 29433". The London Gazette (Supplement). 10 January 1916. p. 437.
  26. ^ "No. 29438". The London Gazette (Supplement). 14 January 1916. p. 568.
  27. ^ Prior & Wilson 2003, p. 137.
  28. ^ Martin Middlebrook, The First Day on the Somme, Allen Lane, 1971, p78
  29. ^ Middlebrook, 70
  30. ^ Middlebrook, 90
  31. ^ Middlebrook, 226
  32. ^ Middlebrook, 213, 226, 291
  33. ^ Middlebrook, 279 et seq
  34. ^ Middlebrook, 279
  35. ^ a b Middlebrook, 258
  36. ^ Middlebrook, 259
  37. ^ Middlebrook, 291
  38. ^ "No. 29886". The London Gazette (Supplement). 29 December 1916. p. 15.
  39. ^ "Sir Henry Rawlinson". First World War. Retrieved 15 January 2019.
  40. ^ National Archives
  41. ^ David Stevenson, With Our Backs to the Wall: Victory and Defeat in 1918, Allen Lane 2011, 119
  42. ^ Stevenson, 120
  43. ^ Stevenson, 123
  44. ^ Stevenson, 125
  45. ^ Stevenson, 140
  46. ^ a b "Biographical entry for Baron Henry Seymour Rawlinson". Holmes A-Court family history. 2018.
  47. ^ "No. 31624". The London Gazette. 31 October 1919. p. 13255.
  48. ^ a b "No. 31092". The London Gazette (Supplement). 1 January 1919. p. 1.
  49. ^ Newsinger, John (2006). The Blood Never Dried: A People's History of the British Empire. Bookmarks Publications. pp. 113–114. ISBN 978-1905192120.
  50. ^ Jacobsen, M (2002). Rawlinson in India. Stroud. pp. 12, 16. ISBN 978-0750931410.
  51. ^ "St. Andrew's Church, Trent". Dorset Churches. 2018.
  52. ^ Atwood, Rodney (2018). General Lord Rawlinson: From Tragedy to Triumph. London: Bloomsbury Academic. p. 14. ISBN 978-1-4742-4698-9.
  53. ^ "No. 30216". The London Gazette. 3 August 1917. p. 7912.
  54. ^ "No. 29711". The London Gazette. 18 August 1916. p. 8149.
  55. ^ "No. 27811". The London Gazette (Supplement). 30 June 1905. p. 4550.
  56. ^ "No. 13186". The Edinburgh Gazette. 1 January 1918. p. 9.
  57. ^ "No. 29074". The London Gazette (Supplement). 18 February 1915. p. 1686.
  58. ^ "No. 31624". The London Gazette. 31 October 1919. p. 13255.
  59. ^ "No. 29486". The London Gazette (Supplement). 24 February 1916. p. 2065.
  60. ^ "No. 29977". The London Gazette (Supplement). 9 March 1917. p. 2448.
  61. ^ "No. 30030". The London Gazette (Supplement). 21 April 1917. p. 3826.
  62. ^ "No. 30108". The London Gazette (Supplement). 1 June 1917. p. 5433.
  63. ^ "No. 30202". The London Gazette (Supplement). 26 July 1917. p. 7590.
  64. ^ "No. 30568". The London Gazette (Supplement). 11 March 1918. p. 3097.
  65. ^ "No. 13420". The Edinburgh Gazette. 18 March 1919. p. 1232.
  66. ^ "No. 13475". The Edinburgh Gazette. 18 July 1919. p. 2428.

Further reading[edit]

  • Atwood, Rodney, (2018) 'General Lord Rawlinson. From Tragedy to Triumph'. Bloomsbury Academic, ISBN 978-1-4742-4698-9
  • Jacobsen, Mark, (2002) 'Rawlinson in India'. Publications of the Army Records Society Vol 19.Sutton Publishing, Stroud, Glos.
  • Jeffery, Keith (2006). Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson: A Political Soldier. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-820358-2.
  • Maurice, Major-General Sir Frederick (1928), The Life of General Lord Rawlinson of Trent G.C.B., G.C.V.O., G.C.S.I., K.C.M.G.: From His Journals and Letters Cassell, OCLC 924000844
  • Prior, Robin (2004) Command on the Western Front: The Military Career of Sir Henry Rawlinson 1914–1918 Leo Cooper, ISBN 1-84415-103-4
  • Yockelson, Mitchell A. (2008). Borrowed Soldiers: Americans under British Command, 1918. Foreword by John S. D. Eisenhower. University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 978-0-8061-3919-7.
  • Rawlinson, A. (1923) Adventures in the Near East, 1918–1922 Andrew Melrose, OCLC 369625881

External links[edit]

Military offices
Preceded by
Herbert Miles
Commandant of the Staff College, Camberley
Succeeded by
Henry Wilson
Preceded by
William Franklyn
GOC 3rd Division
Succeeded by
Hubert Hamilton
Preceded by
Thomas Snow
GOC 4th Division
September–October 1914
Succeeded by
Henry Wilson
Preceded by
New post
GOC IV Corps
Succeeded by
Charles Woollcombe
Preceded by
Sir Douglas Haig
GOC First Army
Succeeded by
Sir Charles Monro
Preceded by
New post
GOC Fourth Army
February–November 1916
Succeeded by
Post disbanded
Preceded by
Sir Herbert Plumer
GOC Second Army
Succeeded by
Post disbanded
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New post
GOC Fourth Army
July–November 1918
Succeeded by
Post disbanded
Preceded by
Sir Archibald Murray
GOC-in-C Aldershot Command
Succeeded by
The Earl of Cavan
Preceded by
Sir Charles Monro
C-in-C India
Succeeded by
Sir Claud Jacob
Baronetage of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Henry Rawlinson
(of North Walsham)
Succeeded by
Alfred Rawlinson
Peerage of the United Kingdom
New creation Baron Rawlinson