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World War I: Field Marshal Edmund Allenby


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General Sir Edmund Allenby

Edmund Allenby - Early Life:

Born April 23, 1861, Edmund Allenby was from Brackenhurst, Nottinghamshire. Educated at Haileybury, Allenby's initial goal was to seek a position in the Indian Civil Service. After twice failing the entrance exam, he elected to pursue a military career and sat the exam for Sandhurst in 1880. Placing fifth in his testing group, he entered the military college and graduated the following year. Commissioned into the 6th (Inniskilling) Dragoons, Allenby joined the regiment in South Africa in 1882. There he participated in the Bechuanaland Expedition of 1884-1885 and the 1888 campaigns in Zululand.

Allenby Returns to Britain:

Promoted to captain in 1889, Allenby was made the regimental adjutant. Earning a reputation for strict discipline, he returned to Britain with the regiment in 1890. After failing the entrance exam to the Staff College in 1893, he passed the following year. The only cavalryman in his class, Allenby met and began a rivalry with Captain Douglas Haig which would persist through World War I. Graduating in 1897, Allenby was well-liked by his fellow officers and described as possessing "much practical common sense" as well as being an "active and good soldier."

The Boer War:

With the outbreak of the Second Boer War in late 1899, Allenby returned to South Africa with the 6th Dragoons. Possessing the rank of major, he landed on December 11 and was made second-in-command of the regiment. Quickly gaining a reputation as a bold field commander, Allenby conducted a brilliant demonstration near Colesberg on January 14 before taking part in the relief of Kimberley and the Battle of Paardeberg. Following the capture of Bloemfontein and Pretoria, Allenby was given command of one of the Cavalry Division's columns and tasked with protecting convoys and battling insurgents.

Highly effective in this role, Allenby's column never lost a convoy or battle during his time in command. Increasingly worn down by constant campaigning, Allenby contracted influenza in late 1901 and spent time on leave in Durban. Recovering, he was joined by his wife Mabel (m.1894) shortly before the end of the war in May 1902. By the conclusion of the conflict, Allenby had been brevetted colonel and received praise from Lord Kitchener. Returning home, he commanded the 5th Irish Lancers before being promoted to brigadier general in 1905.

World War I on the Western Front:

After a four-year stint as commander of the 4th Cavalry Brigade, Allenby was promoted to major general and made Inspector-General of Cavalry. As his responsibilities mounted, he soon earned a reputation as a strict taskmaster whose increasingly abrupt temperament led him to be disliked by many of his men. While in this post, Allenby advocated the use of cavalry as mounted infantry that was capable of shock action if necessary. With the outbreak of World War I in August 1914, Allenby was given command of the British Expeditionary Force's Cavalry Division.

Crossing the Channel, his men covered the BEF's retreat after the Battle of Mons on August 23. As the BEF rapidly grew, Allenby was elevated to command the newly formed Cavalry Corps in late 1914. With the beginning of the Second Battle of Ypres in late April 1915, Allenby entered the fighting leading V Corps. This command eventually grew into the Third Army. Allenby led Third Army the following year during the bloody Battle of the Somme, though his men did not bear the brunt of the fighting. In April 1917, Allenby's troops played a key role in the Battle of Arras.

Allenby in the Middle East:

During the fighting around Arras, Allenby failed to fully exploit a key breakthrough. This coupled with frequent clashes with Haig, now the overall British commander, led to Allenby being removed from Third Army on June 9. Assigned to be the commander-in-chief of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force, he traveled to Egypt to relieve General Sir Archibald Murray whose campaign had stalled at Gaza. Taking command on June 27, Allenby quickly gained his men's respect through frequent visits to the front and moving his headquarters forward from Cairo to Rafah.

Bringing discipline to the EEF, he promptly reorganized its disparate units into three corps and began active support of Captain T.E. Lawrence's activities with the Arab Revolt. With his command restructured, Allenby opened the Third Battle of Gaza on October 31 with a flank attack at Beersheba. Shattering the Turkish line, the victory opened the way to Jerusalem which was taken on December 9. Arriving at the Holy City, Allenby and his staff paid homage by entering the city on foot through the Jaffa Gate. Pushing his forces, he failed to take Amman in March 1918 and called a temporary halt to his offensive.

With the launch of the German Spring Offensives on the Western Front, Allenby was forced to await the arrival of new troops from around the British Empire. Finally reinforced, he resumed operations in August 1918. After employing a number of intelligence tricks and deceptions, Allenby attacked the Turks at Megiddo on September 19. In three days of fighting, his troops routed the Turks and began exploiting the victory. Swiftly advancing, British forces took Damascus on October 1 and Aleppo on October 25. Five days later, the Ottoman Empire surrendered.

Later Life:

With the war's end in November 1918, Allenby remained in the Middle East. Promoted to field marshal in 1919, he was elevated to Viscount Allenby of Megiddo on October 7. Made High Commissioner for Egypt and the Sudan, he played a key role in the formation of a sovereign Egypt. Retiring in 1925, Allenby died suddenly on May 14, 1936, from a ruptured cerebral aneurysm. Cremated, his ashes were buried in Westminster Abbey. Though often viewed a strict taskmaster, many of his former subordinates, including Field Marshal Archibald Wavell, have stated that he was a consummate soldier who cared about his men.

Selected Sources

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