Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Thursday, May 25, 2023

Who Was General Ivor Maxse?

General Sir Frederick IvorMaxse,
K.C.B., C.V.O., D.S.O. (1862–1958)

General Sir Frederick Ivor Maxse was born 22 December 1862 in London, educated at Rugby, and, after passing through Sandhurst,  was commissioned into the Royal Fusiliers on 9 September 1882.  He joined his regiment in India—despite being a short man—soon made a mark with his energy, intelligence and pugnaciousness.

On 23 May 1891 Maxse exchanged into the Coldstream Guards. After short service in Scotland, Ireland, and Malta he was selected in 1896 by Colonel Kitchener to serve as a Bembashi (Major) in the Egyptian Army. Shortly afterward, he was given command of the 13th Sudanese Battalion and led them through the battles of Atbara and Omdurman and on to Fashoda with Kitchener.

At the outbreak of the Boer War and through the intervention of Kitchener he was assigned to transport duty under Lord Roberts and remained through the occupation of Pretoria. There he was named Commissioner of Police.

In November 1900, he was posted to the War Office in the Department of Mobilization. In 1903, he took command of the 2nd Battalion of the Coldstream Guards. In August 1910, he took command of the 1st Guards Brigade at Aldershot.

Maxse Decorating Men of the 51st Highland Division, 1917

In August 1914, Maxse took the 1st Guards Brigade to France. He was promoted to Major-General in October 1914 and later took command of the 18th Division. The 18th Division took part in the Battle of the Somme and later captured Thiepval and the Schwaben Redoubt.  His innovative training methods, in which the inculcation of of independence and initiative in junior officers and NCOs was paramount, contributed to these successes.

At the beginning of 1917, Maxse took command of the XVIII Army Corps and was promoted to the rank of lieutenant-general. After performing well throughout the 1917 campaign,  the XVIII Corps fared poorly in the Fifth Army's retreat in March 1918. In April 1918, Maxse was relieved and named Inspector-General of Training in France. He considered this reassignment as a badge of failure even though he was widely considered the best troop trainer of the war.

In May 1919, Maxse was given command of the Northern Command and remained at York until his final promotion to general, in 1923. He retired in 1926 and died at a Midhurst nursing home on 28 January 1958. An open-minded man, full of ideas and appreciative of others, it's somewhat ironic that this outstanding officer was—apparently—the inspiration for "the cheery old card" of Siegfried Sassoon's poem "The General."

Sources: WWI Document Archive; Who's Who in World War One

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