• Field Marshal Lord Ironside (1880 - 1959)

  • Monday 01 June 2015
  • William Edmund Ironside entered Tonbridge as a day boy in 1893 after an earlier upbringing in Scotland. He left as a sixteen year old in 1896 to cram for the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich from which he passed out into the Royal Horse and Field Artillery. At six foot four inches, he was an imposing figure which earned him the nickname ‘Tiny’. He served in the Boer War, being three times wounded, and undertook intelligence work in SW Africa, which supposedly made him the inspiration for John Buchan’s character Richard Hannay.

    He started the Great War in France as a Major and finished it as a Brigadier-General. He was awarded the DSO and mentioned in dispatches six times during a wartime career in ever more senior staff positions. In 1918 he was sent to Archangel in northern Russia to command British forces against German and/or Russian revolutionary forces in what had become a chaotic situation. For a year until November 1919 Ironside tried to co-ordinate the British intervention in the Russian Civil War, a doomed intervention strongly pushed by Churchill whose intent was to strangle Bolshevism at birth.

    During the inter-war years Ironside held a succession of staff appointments in England and India. In April 1936 he returned to England to become GOC Eastern Command at a time when the army was deprived of funds by an appeasement-minded government. After a short spell as Governor of Gibraltar he came home in July 1939 with the strong hope of being given the command of the BEF in France. Disappointed that this was given to Gort, he was pleased to accept the most senior job in the Army as CIGS on 4 September 1939.

    This was a very difficult period as the under-strength army prepared itself for action in France. Frustrated by what he saw as the dithering of Chamberlain’s government, Ironside tried to galvanise the country into action. But the disaster in Norway brought the fall of Chamberlain, and Churchill was keen to find new men at the top. Moving from CIGS to become C-in-C Home Forces on 27 May 1940, Ironside was promoted Field Marshal and threw himself into the task of preparing our defences against German invasion. In this role he was also asked to advise the Tonbridge Headmaster about the possible evacuation of the school as the threat of invasion loomed. Supposedly he warned him to be ready to move at twenty-four hours notice but the need never came. In July 1940 Churchill replaced him with Alanbrooke and he found no other military appointments.


    In retirement he lived in Norfolk, writing his diary and publishing it in two volumes covering 1920-22 and 1937-40. He died in 1959.

    Field Marshal Lord Ironside (1880 - 1959)