James Marshall-Cornwall

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Sir James Marshall-Cornwall
Born 27 May 1887
Died 1985
Allegiance United Kingdom United Kingdom
Service/branch Flag of the British Army.svg British Army
Years of service 1907 - 1943
Rank General
Unit Royal Artillery
Commands held III Corps
British troops in Egypt
Western Command
Battles/wars World War I
World War II
Awards Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath
Commander of the Order of the British Empire
Distinguished Service Order
Military Cross

General Sir James Handyside Marshall-Cornwall KCB, CBE, DSO, MC (27 May 1887 – 1985) was a British Army officer and linguist.

Early life[edit]

James Cornwall was born in India, only son of James Cornwall, the Postmaster General of United Provinces and his wife, Agnes Hunter.[citation needed]


Cornwall went to Rugby School and the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich. Commissioned into the Royal Field Artillery in 1907, during his first spell of annual leave he travelled to Germany to study German. He later passed the Civil Service Commission examination as a first-class German interpreter, the first of the eleven interpreterships he was to gain. He passed as first-class interpreter in French, Norwegian, Swedish, Hollander Dutch, and Italian.


On the outbreak of World War I Cornwall joined the Intelligence Corps at Le Havre. In 1915 he was appointed to the rank of Captain at 2nd corps headquarters in the Second Army. In 1916 he was promoted to temporary major at the general headquarters of the British expeditionary force, under Sir Douglas Haig. In 1918, Cornwall was posted to the War Office as head of the MI3 section of the military intelligence directorate, where he remained until the armistice.

He was decorated with the Military Cross in 1915,[1] the Distinguished Service Order and the French Legion d'Honneur, both in 1917,[2] the Belgian Ordre de la Couronne and Croix de Guerre in 1918[3] and the American Distinguished Service Medal in 1919.[4]

In 1919, Cornwall was sent to the peace conference in Paris, where he worked with Reginald Leeper and Harold Nicolson on the new boundaries of Europe. Several jobs in the Middle East in the 1920s gave him the opportunity to study Turkish and modern Greek.

In 1927, Cornwall was sent to China with the Royal Artillery (Shanghai Defence Force), to protect British life and property in the Shanghai International Settlement. This enabled him to learn Chinese and to travel extensively in the Far East with his wife.

From 1928 to 1932 he held the post of military attaché in Berlin.[5] In 1934, after two years as commander of the 51st Highland division,[5] Royal Artillery, based at Perth, Scotland, Marshall-Cornwall was promoted major-general. He spent the next four years travelling in Europe, India, and the United States, then two years in Cairo as head of the British military mission to Egypt.[5] Here he qualified as an interpreter in colloquial Arabic.

In 1938, he was promoted to lieutenant-general, in charge of the air defence of Great Britain.[5] In May 1940 he went to France to help evacuate British troops from Cherbourg, boarding the last ship to leave the port. He took over command of III Corps in England in June 1940 holding the post until November 1940.[5]

In April 1941 Marshall-Cornwall became General Officer Commanding the British troops in Egypt.[5] Later that year he was sent by Winston Churchill to Turkey in an attempt to persuade the Turks to join the war, a mission which failed.[5]

Marshall-Cornwall took over Western Command in November 1941,[5] but was dismissed in the autumn of 1942 for going outside the proper channels to secure the safety of the Liverpool docks. He spent the rest of the war with the Special Operations Executive and MI6, attempting to promote better relations between them.[6] He retired from the army in 1943.[5]

Between 1948 and 1951, he was editor-in-chief of captured German archives at the Foreign Office, and wrote military history. He was president of the Royal Geographical Society (1954–8).[7]

Personal life[edit]

Cornwall met Marjorie Coralie Scott Owen, who was driving an ambulance for a Red Cross mission to White Russian refugees, while encamped in the Izmit peninsula. They were married in Wales in April 1921. In 1927 he inherited a small estate in Scotland from his uncle William Marshall, on condition that he should assume the surname of Marshall. As Marshall was one of his forenames, this was achieved by the insertion of a hyphen. The Marshall-Cornwalls had a son and two daughters. Their elder daughter died aged fourteen in 1938 after an operation for appendicitis in Switzerland. Their son was killed in France in 1944. He is buried on the spot where he fell, in an orchard near Cahaignes, Normandy. After the war, the landowner presented the site of the grave to the casualty's father, who in turn, requested that the grave remain undisturbed. His other daughter Janet married Michael Willoughby, 12th Baron Middleton on 14 October 1947.[8]


  1. ^ The Edinburgh Gazette (23 February 1915), p. 307.
  2. ^ The Edinburgh Gazette (4 June 1917), p. 1061 and (5 June 1917), p. 1093.
  3. ^ The Edinburgh Gazette (15 March 1918), p. 1022.
  4. ^ The Edinburgh Gazette (18 July 1919), p. 2427.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i Generals.dk
  6. ^ "General Sir James Marshall-Cornwall". The Times. 31 December 1985. 
  7. ^ Leo Cooper and T. R. Hartman (2004). "Cornwall, Sir James Handyside Marshall- (1887–1985)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 2 Aug 2009. 
  8. ^ "Person Page - 4655". thePeerage.com. Retrieved 2 August 2009. 
Military offices
Preceded by
Ronald Adam
GOC, III Corps
June 1940–November 1940
Succeeded by
Desmond Anderson
Preceded by
Sir Richard O'Connor
GOC the British Troops in Egypt
April 1941–November 1941
Succeeded by
William Holmes
Preceded by
Sir Robert Gordon-Finlayson
GOC-in-C Western Command
Succeeded by
Sir Edmond Schreiber

External links[edit]