Lionel Charlton

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Lionel Evelyn Oswald Charlton
Brig Gen L E O Charlton.jpg
Brigadier-General L E O Charlton as Air Attaché in Washington
Born (1879-07-07)7 July 1879
Piccadilly, London
Died 18 April 1958(1958-04-18) (aged 78)
Hexham, Northumberland
Allegiance United Kingdom
Service/branch British Army (1897–1918)
Royal Air Force (1918–1928)
Years of service 1897–1928
Rank Air Commodore
Commands held No. 3 Group RAF (1924)
No. 7 Group RAF (1922)
V Brigade RAF (1917–18)
No. 8 Squadron RFC (1915)
Battles/wars Second Boer War
First World War
Awards Companion of the Order of the Bath
Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George
Distinguished Service Order
Mentioned in Despatches (3)
Officer of the Legion of Honour (France)

Air Commodore Lionel Evelyn Oswald Charlton, CB, CMG, DSO (7 July 1879 – 18 April 1958) was a British infantry officer who served in the Second Boer War. During the First World War, Charlton held several command and staff posts in the Royal Flying Corps, finishing the war as a brigadier general. Transferring to the Royal Air Force on its creation, Charlton served in several air officer posts until his retirement from the air force in 1928. Most notably, Charlton resigned his position as the RAF's Chief Staff Officer in Iraq as he objected to the bombing of Iraqi villages.

Early life[edit]

Lionel Charlton was born on 7 July 1879 at Piccadilly in London. He was educated at Brighton College and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Lancashire Fusiliers on 28 September 1898, followed by promotion to lieutenant on 1 September 1899.[1]

He served with the 2nd Battalion of his regiment in the Second Boer War 1899–1901, including as part of the Ladysmith Relief Force, and was severely wounded at the battle of Spion Kop, for which he received the Distinguished Service Order (DSO).[2] He was promoted captain on 5 October 1901.[3]

First World War[edit]

Shortly before the First World War he transferred to the Royal Flying Corps, becoming one of its first brigadier generals in 1917.

During the First World War, Charlton served in the Royal Flying Corps, initially as a flight commander on No. 3 Squadron and later as the first Officer Commanding of No. 8 Squadron.[4] On 15 April 1915 when No. 8 Squadron was grouped with No. 13 Squadron to form the new 5th Wing of the RFC, Charlton temporarily took command until he travelled to France.[5]

Iraq[edit]

On 2 February 1923, Air Commodore Charlton took up the post of Chief Staff Officer at the headquarters of the RAF's Iraq Command. It was at this time that the RAF employed the bombing of Iraqi villages with the intent of pacifying tribal opposition. Charlton opposed this policy and he went on to openly criticize such bombing action. Within a year of his arrival, Charlton resigned from his post in Iraq. His opposition to the bombing policy is said to have started with a visit to the local hospital in Diwaniya, where he witnessed horribly mangled civilians, including women and children, who were among the victims of a British air raid.[6]

On his return to Great Britain, Charlton expected to be summoned to see the Chief of the Air Staff, Hugh Trenchard. When the summons did not come, Charlton requested an interview with Trenchard. Trenchard asked Charlton why he has requested the interview and the following exchange took place:

  • Charlton: "About my reasons for resigning."
  • Trenchard: "Look here, Charlton. You resigned, and I accept your resignation. There's nothing more to be said."
  • Charlton: "Won't there be an official enquiry, then?"
  • Trenchard: "An inquiry into what? Your conscience? Certainly not."

Although Charlton was barred from further postings in Iraq, he went on to serve as Air Officer Commanding No 3 Group. Charlton requested early retirement, which he was granted.

Later life[edit]

In retirement, he became a successful author of adventure fiction for children. At this time he also wrote Charlton, an autobiography, published by Penguin Books (no. 163, 1938); this work was rather candid, and was written in the third person singular.

In 1938, he published The Air Defence of Britain, a reasoned analysis and prediction of the then-impending Second World War, correctly emphasizing the crucial importance which bombing civilian populations would have.

Charlton was a homosexual, and lived with an old RAF friend, Tom Wichelo. He belonged to a circle including Edward Morgan Forster, Joe Ackerley, Raymond Mortimer and John Gielgud.[7]

Legacy[edit]

In recent years, the memory of Charlton was taken up by opponents of the present war in Iraq, and specifically by British opponents of their country's involvement in that war, who hold him up as an example to be emulated by present-day officers.[8]

Commentator Mike Marqusee in The Guardian expressed the opinion that Charlton should have had a monument erected in his honour at London, rather than his fellow RAF commander Arthur "Bomber" Harris who conducted the bombings of Iraq without compunction and went on to bomb the German cities in World War II.[9]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "No. 27165". The London Gazette. 16 February 1900. p. 1077. 
  2. ^ Hart's Army list, 1901
  3. ^ "No. 27370". The London Gazette. 1 November 1901. p. 7047. 
  4. ^ Barass, Malcolm (6 June 2007). "Air Commodore L E O Charlton". Air of Authority – A History of RAF Organisation. Retrieved 3 November 2007. 
  5. ^ "Early Days – World War I – 1915–1920". No. 8 Squadron Web Site. 4 September 2006. Retrieved 3 November 2007. 
  6. ^ Sven Lindqvist, "A History of Bombing" (Nu dog du: bombernas århundrade), 1999, relevant quotation at [1]
  7. ^ Tamagne, Florence. History of Homosexuality in Europe, 1919 – 1939. Algora Publishing, 2004, p. 203
  8. ^ "Merciless Savagery From The Sky". Richard Neville. Retrieved 14 February 2014. 
  9. ^ Mike Marqusee, "Imperial whitewash – feelgood versions of British history are blinding us to the ways in which we are even now repeating it" The Guardian, 31 July 2006 [2]

External links[edit]

Military offices
New title
Squadron established
Officer Commanding No. 8 Squadron RFC
1915
Succeeded by
Archibald MacLean
New title
Wing established
Officer Commanding Fifth Wing RFC
Temporary appointment

1915
Succeeded by
Unknown
Preceded by
Sefton Brancker
Director of Air Organization
February – October 1917
Succeeded by
Guy Livingston
Preceded by
Thomas Higgins
Air Officer Commanding No. 7 Group
1922
Succeeded by
Edward Masterman
Preceded by
Tom Webb-Bowen
Air Officer Commanding No. 3 Group
March – December 1924
Succeeded by
Robert Gordon