Jump to content


Remembered Today:

Photo

Aymer Hunter-Weston


34 replies to this topic

#1 bmac

bmac

    Major-General

  • Old Sweats
  • 3,033 posts
  • Gender:Male

Posted 13 July 2012 - 01:17 PM

One specific question: does anyone know by whom and when Hunter Weston was dubbed 'The Butcher of Helles'?

General question: views on the man? Generally seems to have been thought of as pretty dreadful and unpopular with his men1, esp. at Gallipoli, but, perhaps I shouldn't be surprised, thought of by Gordon Corrigan as 'competent' at Gallipoli after a rough start and rather unfairly treated overall.

1 For example, described by Aubrey Herbert during Gallipoli as ‘more hated than most of the generals’. Aubrey Nigel Henry Molyneux Herbert, Irish Guards, diplomat, linguist, orientalist and Conservative and Unionist MP, was, at this time, a liaison officer on the staff of General Birdwood’s ANZAC Corps.

#2 centurion

centurion

    General

  • Old Sweats
  • 24,764 posts
  • Gender:Male
  • Location:The Marches
  • Interests:Military history, science fiction

Posted 13 July 2012 - 02:55 PM

Hunter Bunter has been said to be the model for the general in Sassoon's poem

'Good-morning; good-morning!' the General said
When we met him last week on our way to the line.
Now the soldiers he smiled at are most of 'em dead,
And we're cursing his staff for incompetent swine.
'He's a cheery old card,' grunted Harry and Jack
As they slogged up to Arras with rifle and pack.
But he did for them both by his plan of attack.

He certainly seems to have been more than usually incompetent and his plan of attack at the Somme did for a lot more than Harry and Jack. The phrase "Casualties, what do I care about casualties?" has been attributed to him.

If this example from a letter from Cuthbert Headlam to his wife is typical he was not respected by his officers
"I am a wee bit below par today as last night I felt it my duty to go to see the Serjeants' Mess after dinner - which of course meant drinking a lot of filth and smoking a lot of muck. . . so this morning I let myself off Hunter-Weston's farcical parade. He inspected everyone and made an oration standing on a chair. . . The whole thing would have been ludicrous, but this morning was bitterly cold and I did not fancy standing about for nearly an hour watching this madman and listening to his feeble remarks. My masterly manoeuvre of remaining in bed until the show was over has been much admired."
He does seem to have been fond of spit and polish
"Feb 23rd.1918 A dud day. Under pressure from Christopher I went to pay an official call on Hunter Western (Hunter Bunter) commanding the 8th. Corps. The H.Q. was magnificent, gleaming with polished buttons and boots." Edward Packe's diary of World War I

However "The Butcher of Helles" does appear to have been a comparatively recent appellation and I suspect from a single place (as all the references to this seem to be quoting a common but unamed source). The soldiers of his time do not seem to have been fond of such histrionic phrases and if they were derogatory probably used a more down to earth but unprintable set of words.

#3 skipman

skipman

    Lieut-General

  • Old Sweats
  • 11,913 posts
  • Gender:Male
  • Location:aberfeldy

Posted 13 July 2012 - 03:11 PM

I came across a letter written by Hunter-Weston, posted it on this thread http://1914-1918.inv...3

Might help build a picture of the man?

Letter from Lt-Gen Sir Aylmer Hunter-Weston K.C.B., D.S.O., to the sister of Lt-Col Boyd-Wilson


Hunterston
West Kilbride
Ayrshire

2/9/1915

Dear Miss Wilson

Your brother, Wilson , commanding 7th Scottish Rifles, led an attack in a big fight we had on the left of our line, south of Achi Baba. During this heavy fighting, the 7th Scottish Rifles did well under your brother's excellent leadership. A portion of the attack which was pushed far forward was driven back by the Turks, and it was here that your brother fell. When they got back into the position which they afterwards continuously held, your brother was missing. No one had actually seen him lying dead, and therefore he was officially reported missing. I fear, however, that the chance of his being alive is very remote. In the fierce close fighting at the Turkish trenches, it was to my mind certain that he was killed. His body will have been buried by the Turks, for he fell in their lines. There is of course, a possibility, but a very very remote possibility, that he may be wounded, and a prisoner in Turkish hands. If this be so, he will be well treated, for the Turks of the new school, are good to their prisoners. If he had been alive though, I think it is certain that we should have heard this from Constantinople. In such fierce fighting as that, in which your brother fell, there is very little chance of anyone, who did not get back to our lines being left alive.
Your brother was a fine soldier, and you may well be proud of being sister to such a man.
Yours Truly

Aylmer Hunter-Weston

To Miss M L Wilson
Listollard Castle Park Belfast

From Lt-Gen Sir Aylmer Hunter-Weston K.C.B., D.S.O.
For Hunterston
Late Commanding 8th Army Corps
Gallipoli Peninsula


Mike

#4 bmac

bmac

    Major-General

  • Old Sweats
  • 3,033 posts
  • Gender:Male

Posted 13 July 2012 - 03:33 PM

Interesting. Oozes sympathy.

I've found a quote which perhaps suggests the derivation of the 'Butcher' nickname. Comes from the Gallipoli Diary of Maj John Churchill: "The 29th Div is down to small numbers now … These continual frontal attacks are terrible, and I fear the Generals will be called butchers by the troops. H[unter] W[eston] already has that name with the 29th"

#5 centurion

centurion

    General

  • Old Sweats
  • 24,764 posts
  • Gender:Male
  • Location:The Marches
  • Interests:Military history, science fiction

Posted 13 July 2012 - 03:57 PM

Interesting. Oozes sympathy.


Unfortunately sympathy and competence are not the same

#6 Chris_Baker

Chris_Baker

    General

  • Old Sweat
  • 14,080 posts
  • Gender:Male
  • Location:Warwickshire UK

Posted 13 July 2012 - 05:00 PM

Facebook users may find this page on Hunter-Weston to be handy. https://www.facebook...237007103034813 It may even answer the original question regarding a nickname.

#7 David Filsell

David Filsell

    Brigadier-General

  • Old Sweats
  • 2,054 posts
  • Gender:Male

Posted 13 July 2012 - 05:09 PM

We are greatly in need of a detailed evaluation of Hunter Weston. He is a figure much defamed and joked about but no real analysis of his performance overall.

#8 simonharley

simonharley

    Lieut-Colonel

  • Old Sweats
  • 594 posts
  • Gender:Male
  • Location:Cumbria
  • Interests:British Admirals, 1889-1919. Royal Navy, 1854-1919.

Posted 13 July 2012 - 05:45 PM

Presumably Headlam's report of the parade was second-hand if he was in bed with what sounds to be a hangover/case of bone idleness.

Simon

#9 MartinBennitt

MartinBennitt

    Brigadier-General

  • Old Sweats
  • 2,682 posts
  • Gender:Male
  • Location:France
  • Interests:military history, esp WWI, current affairs, cinema, playing golf badly

Posted 13 July 2012 - 06:41 PM

Hunter Bunter has been said to be the model for the general in Sassoon's poem

'Good-morning; good-morning!' the General said
When we met him last week on our way to the line.
Now the soldiers he smiled at are most of 'em dead,
And we're cursing his staff for incompetent swine.
'He's a cheery old card,' grunted Harry and Jack
As they slogged up to Arras with rifle and pack.
But he did for them both by his plan of attack.

He certainly seems to have been more than usually incompetent and his plan of attack at the Somme did for a lot more than Harry and Jack. The phrase "Casualties, what do I care about casualties?" has been attributed to him.

If this example from a letter from Cuthbert Headlam to his wife is typical he was not respected by his officers
"I am a wee bit below par today as last night I felt it my duty to go to see the Serjeants' Mess after dinner - which of course meant drinking a lot of filth and smoking a lot of muck. . . so this morning I let myself off Hunter-Weston's farcical parade. He inspected everyone and made an oration standing on a chair. . . The whole thing would have been ludicrous, but this morning was bitterly cold and I did not fancy standing about for nearly an hour watching this madman and listening to his feeble remarks. My masterly manoeuvre of remaining in bed until the show was over has been much admired."
He does seem to have been fond of spit and polish
"Feb 23rd.1918 A dud day. Under pressure from Christopher I went to pay an official call on Hunter Western (Hunter Bunter) commanding the 8th. Corps. The H.Q. was magnificent, gleaming with polished buttons and boots." Edward Packe's diary of World War I

However "The Butcher of Helles" does appear to have been a comparatively recent appellation and I suspect from a single place (as all the references to this seem to be quoting a common but unamed source). The soldiers of his time do not seem to have been fond of such histrionic phrases and if they were derogatory probably used a more down to earth but unprintable set of words.


He appears to have disappeared off the scene by the time of Arras. It's also been suggested that Sassoon's poem was targeting Sir Ivor Maxse.

Hunter-Bunter seems to have been another example of the Peter Principle, having been promoted to above his level of competence. His Wikipedia entry says he did well as a brigadier at Le Cateau.

cheers Martin B

#10 bmac

bmac

    Major-General

  • Old Sweats
  • 3,033 posts
  • Gender:Male

Posted 13 July 2012 - 08:32 PM

Facebook users may find this page on Hunter-Weston to be handy. https://www.facebook...237007103034813 It may even answer the original question regarding a nickname.


Interesting page but, beyond an attempt a rehabbing his personality, I don't immediately see anything about his performance as a commander either at Gallipoli or on the Somme. The Balmer article is interesting and HW seems to have appreciated the inherent weaknesses in the strategy from which Gallipoli evolved but there is no rebuttal of the many criticisms of his performance at the three Krithia battles nor what happened at Gully Ravine. Clearly he has also suffered because of the Hawthorn Ridge mine timing but to suggest that is the only error that occurred on the VIII Corps' front on 1st July is pushing it a bit. Reading the diaries Haig clearly had major doubts about HW and the fact that he was not put in charge of anything much afterwards suggests a clear lack of confidence by the CinC. On the other hand both French and Hamilton are complimentary about his performance in 14 and 15.

If Mr Hart passes by, perhaps he might give us his views in the light of the extensive research he must have done for his Gallipoli book.

BTW, 'Hunter-Bunter' I believe was a name given to him at Staff College in the late 90s.

#11 PMHart

PMHart

    Lieut-Colonel

  • Old Sweats
  • 688 posts
  • Gender:Male
  • Location:East Finchley

Posted 13 July 2012 - 08:41 PM

Hi,

I find Hunter Weston a fascinating figure. He was clearly highly intelligent, but his performance at Gallipoli was very mixed. The landings weren't his fault but Second Krithia was a disaster for which he has to bear a great deal of responsibility. Third Krithia and the bite and hold battles are better, but flawed - but then it was 1915. Haig seems to have used him partially as a political conduit and also as a 'trainer' of units.

I think there is a great deal of work to be done before we can make a proper assessment of HW, certainly he is a fascinating figure throughout his whole life - even his death was interesting!

Liar Pete

#12 bmac

bmac

    Major-General

  • Old Sweats
  • 3,033 posts
  • Gender:Male

Posted 13 July 2012 - 09:01 PM

Given his character I am surprised he made so little impact in the House of Commons. He seemed quite fond of making speeches to his troops.

#13 jon_armstrong

jon_armstrong

    Major

  • Old Sweats
  • 368 posts
  • Gender:Male
  • Location:Wilmslow

Posted 13 July 2012 - 09:45 PM

The phrase "Casualties, what do I care about casualties?" has been attributed to him.


In "Gallipoli", Les Carlyon gives the source of this to be Compton Mackenzie's "Gallipoli Memories", also specifically mentioning Mackenzie using the word "butcher". I don't remember that specific part, but I tried to read Mackenzie once and it rings true. Having been put off by his thoroughly melodramatic and exaggerating tone, by the time I gave up on it I wouldn't have trusted Mackenzie if he told me the sky was blue.

I did enjoy Carlyon's acount of Hunter-Weston, although I don't know how fair it is. On Krithia he writes...

Hunter-Weston was against an advance in the dark. He had lost too many company commanders, he said. The men might get lost. Throughout his time at Gallipoli, Hunter-Weston always wanted to do things within bankers' hours. Ten o'clock was a good time to start and eleven even better; six in the evening was a good time to finish. Hamilton deferred to him again. According to Hamilton, Hunter-Weston thought it best to blaze away freely with artillery and to "trust to our bayonets when we get in". Hamilton and Hunter-Weston ended up planning an old-fashioned battle. The Greeks outside Troy in 1184 BC might have thought it guileless.

[...]

Hunter-Weston pushed on the next day. Plan A having failed the day before, he did the logical thing and used it again.

[...]

Plan A having failed twice, Hunter-Weston naturally gave it a third chance.



#14 bluedog

bluedog

    Lieut-Colonel

  • R.I.P.
  • 555 posts
  • Gender:Male
  • Location:port kembla nsw

Posted 13 July 2012 - 09:51 PM

Pals
With regard to Centurions words attributed to Hunter-Weston "Casualties , What Do I Care For Casualties",
I have always thought that those words were spoken by Hunter-Weston to General Paris , Commander of the
Royal Naval Division .

Peter

#15 skipman

skipman

    Lieut-General

  • Old Sweats
  • 11,913 posts
  • Gender:Male
  • Location:aberfeldy

Posted 13 July 2012 - 10:16 PM

I haven't bought the whole article, but might be worth a read? Jan 17, 1922

http://pqasb.pqarchi...CT&pqatl=google

" GLASGOW, Scotland--Lieut.-Gen. Sir Aylmer Hunter-Weston, one of Britain's successful commanders in the war, gave an address recently at Stevenston. "

Mike

#16 centurion

centurion

    General

  • Old Sweats
  • 24,764 posts
  • Gender:Male
  • Location:The Marches
  • Interests:Military history, science fiction

Posted 13 July 2012 - 10:42 PM

The following extracts from an appendix to a WF tour organised for Wellington College may give an idea of the over optimism and general obtuseness that the man has been accused of.
It describes the assumptions "Hunter Bunter" made in the plan for the attack at Serre on the first day of the Somme

"The planned attack allowed for twenty minutes to capture four lines of trenches, twenty minutes to consolidate and re-group, twenty minutes to take the village itself and a final ten minutes to capture the orchards and wood on the far edge of the village. 94th Brigade was tasked to take main responsibility for village itself. Brigadier-General Hubert Rees had only been appointed to command the brigade two weeks before the battle, and thus had little time to know the ground or his men, but he did know what could and could not be done. He argued fiercely, one of the few officers of any rank prepared to do so, with his corps commander that such a timetable was utterly impractical. Furthermore, as the northernmost brigade was next to the sector between Serre and Gommecourt that was not being attacked, the assault forces were even more than usually vulnerable to be fired at from their left, northern side, by German forces under no sort of bombardment or attack. Rees’s misfortune was that his corps commander, Hunter-Weston, known throughout the army officer corps as ‘Hunter-Bunter’, fits in every detail the common perception of the ignorant, stupid and stubborn general of the First World War; even his tall, upright stance and enormous moustache, fitted the picture."

"Hunter-Weston reluctantly allowed a compromise, an extra ten minutes, for the capture of the orchard at the extreme end of the brigade’s s objectives. Thus, in eighty minutes, by ten minutes to nine on the morning of the first day, Rees and his men were to overrun four lines of trenches, capture a fortified village 800 metres deep, and capture a wood and some orchards 300 metres beyond. No thought appears to have been given to the German menace from the left."

Anthony Seldon and Philip Stevens

In fact this was compounded by Hunter Weston ordering the firing of two mines ahead of schedule which alerted the unshelled German troops on the left that the attack was beginning and allowed them to bring up machine guns from their bunkers in time to enfilade the assault. The attack sustained the highest propotion of casualties of the day and failed to achieve any of its objectives.

#17 PMHart

PMHart

    Lieut-Colonel

  • Old Sweats
  • 688 posts
  • Gender:Male
  • Location:East Finchley

Posted 14 July 2012 - 01:11 AM

Now Centurion are you willing to allow your reputaton for ever more to be defined by the above summary culled from a minor public school tour briefing? Is this the height of academic rigour that we can expect from you? Are their no nuances in the decisions taken? No external influences? Were the Germans in any way involved in the fighting that followed? Was crater fighting in any way a problem?

Tom Tulloch Marshall's Liar Pete

#18 David Filsell

David Filsell

    Brigadier-General

  • Old Sweats
  • 2,054 posts
  • Gender:Male

Posted 14 July 2012 - 09:47 AM

The continuing comments only underline the fact that much of the criticism of HB is oft repeated and largely anecdotal. That is not to say that it is necessarily innacurate, but he has never been subject to rigorous study.
The mention about the lack of his impact in the House of Commons should be balance against his first speech in which he underlined the work of the army in France to great effect and aclaim - its well worth finding and reading.. Whilst an MP he continued to maintain command in France. Not least It seems possible that his decision to stand for parliament was at least with Haig's full approval and possible conivance. A man in London at the center of things was very important to the FM at that stage in the wear and his war with the Welsh Weasel.
I am no simple apologist for HB, but I believe judgement should at least be considered, rather than simply parroted from early works,
Was he any good? Was he very bad? Was he somewhere about the middle. Without detailed research and access to his papers - which are said to exist with the family - its all mainly speculation.

#19 michaeldr

michaeldr

    Lieut-General

  • Old Sweats
  • 8,229 posts
  • Gender:Male

Posted 14 July 2012 - 10:53 AM

Defeat at Gallipoli by Steel & Hart (1994) offers an interesting insight into HW's ideas on leadership and command, when they quote his letter of 11 August 1915 written to Ian Hamilton
“I pray to God that the new leaders of these new formations may know how to get hold of their men and lead them, and yet on occasion drive them unceasingly without any regard to losses or fatigue, without any regard to the yelping of subordinate commanders for reinforcements or to their cry that their men are dead with fatigue. In the enterprise in which you are engaged push unrelenting, push without ceasing, push without mercy by a commander in whom the men have confidence is all important.”

The letter was a written a couple of weeks after HW had departed Gallipoli, suffering from sun stroke.

Peter (bluedog) is correct in saying that HW addressed his remark about not caring for casualties to Gen. Paris. As has also been pointed out, the quote appears in Compton Makenzie's book 'Gallipoli Memories'. However, the book does not suggest that CM thought any the less of Hunter Weston because of that.
On the same page CM continues thus
'Now, it would be easy to deduce from this brief exchange of words that General Hunter-Weston was a mere butcher, and there is no doubt that, because he never did hesitate to talk in this ruthless strain, he did achieve such a reputation on the Peninsula. Actually no man I have met brimmed over more richly with human sympathy. He was a logician of war, and as a logician he believed and was always ready to contend in open debate that, provided the objective was gained, casualties were of no importance.'

But the objectives were not gained

#20 PMHart

PMHart

    Lieut-Colonel

  • Old Sweats
  • 688 posts
  • Gender:Male
  • Location:East Finchley

Posted 14 July 2012 - 11:52 AM

Well spotted Michael, I'd forgotten that quote from Hunter-Weston I put in Defeat at Gallipoli. Again it is fascinating because - given the situation that developed in the Suvla August landings - you cannot really say he was wrong!

As with David I hope I am not just an apologist for Hunter Weston and I think that 'on the face of it' he made some shocking errors. But I do think he is intensely interesting and there is much work to be done to give context and understanding to what was going on. His papers are at the British Library and the family home at Hunterston I think. There will be other material scattered about that needs ferreting out.

And remember - before we throw casual brickbats at Hunter Weston - it is certainly the case that he was far more intellectually gifted, courageous and charismatic than anyone contributing on the GWF!

Tom Tulloch Marshall's Liar Pete...

#21 centurion

centurion

    General

  • Old Sweats
  • 24,764 posts
  • Gender:Male
  • Location:The Marches
  • Interests:Military history, science fiction

Posted 14 July 2012 - 12:07 PM

Now Centurion are you willing to allow your reputaton for ever more to be defined by the above summary culled from a minor public school tour briefing? Is this the height of academic rigour that we can expect from you? Are their no nuances in the decisions taken? No external influences? Were the Germans in any way involved in the fighting that followed? Was crater fighting in any way a problem?

Tom Tulloch Marshall's Liar Pete

I'd find this ............ more relevant if you actually addressed the points made rather than attacking me in person. I'd point out that Dr Anthony Francis Seldon MA, PhD, FRSA, MBA, FRHistS who wrote the piece as well as being Head Master of Wellington is in addition a well respected historian.



Post edited - lack of courtesy.

Keith Roberts

#22 PMHart

PMHart

    Lieut-Colonel

  • Old Sweats
  • 688 posts
  • Gender:Male
  • Location:East Finchley

Posted 14 July 2012 - 12:39 PM

............ Could you just answer one simple point?

Do you think Hunter Weston deserves further study? Or has Seldon defined for ever the sum total of human knowledge on Hunter Weston?

Over to you old boy!

Tom Tulloch Marshall's Liar Pete

P.S. Please could you detail the academic qualifications of Philip Stevens. I find it appallingly rude of you to omit his doubtless impressive credentials. He is a human being too as well you know!


Post edited. Courtesy. Keith Roberts

#23 Keith Roberts

Keith Roberts

    Lieut-General

  • Admin
  • 6,145 posts
  • Gender:Male
  • Location:Portsmouth Hants
  • Interests:Researching the war of Greengates, those who served, and the community behind them. Yorkshire regiments, Belgian and other beers.

Posted 14 July 2012 - 12:49 PM

gentlemen

You don't have to agree - I would be unhappy if you always did, but can we keep differences civil please.

Keith Roberts

#24 skipman

skipman

    Lieut-General

  • Old Sweats
  • 11,913 posts
  • Gender:Male
  • Location:aberfeldy

Posted 14 July 2012 - 12:52 PM

An interesting point from the OH

" The naming of trenches and posts, begun by the GOC, 11th Brigade, Br-Gen A. Hunter-Weston, on the Aisne became a general custom. " OH 1915 Vol 1 page 5 or 55 of 532

Regarding the early detonation of the Hawthorn Ridge mine, from Andrew Green's Writing the Great War http://books.google....-Weston&f=false

" Edmonds wrote to the GOC VIII Corps, Lt-Gen. Hunter-Weston, requesting information on the reason for the change. Hunter-Weston confirmed that the mine was originally to be blown at zero but, in consequence of representation of the Divisional Commander and of the Brigadier of the assaulting Brigade it was changed to zero-10; their strongly urged view being that falling debris would do as much damage to the assaulting troops as to the Germans. Hunter-Weston stressed that this was merely his recollection and requested that Edmonds did not state it officially. "

Mike

#25 PMHart

PMHart

    Lieut-Colonel

  • Old Sweats
  • 688 posts
  • Gender:Male
  • Location:East Finchley

Posted 14 July 2012 - 01:04 PM

Sorry Keith,

I shouldn't bite back!

The timing of the detonation of the mine is indeed a complex issue! I'm not sure any one man is to blame - or indeed that it was necessarily wrong. The consequences seem obvious, but there were reasons why it was done!

All I know is that there is much left to explore and learn about Hunter Weston for those who have the time and inclination! For instance I find it amusing that he used a motorcycle to get about while a brigade commander in 1914! Before the Gallipoli landings after reviewing the reports of Turkish defensive preparations and the MEF weakness in artillery resources he considered that there was every prospect of ending up struck in an extended line across the Peninsula in front of the Kilid Bahr trenches, at which point they would be in his delightful phrase, “Up a tree!” Again he was right! All in all a strange mixture of a man: intelligent, obdurate, sympathetic, insightful and brutally insensitive - sometimes all at the same time!

His pre-war life was pretty Boy's Own stuff as well. And what a great death....

Tom Tulloch Marshall's Liar Pete