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

Sunday, December 31, 2023

The Vital Town of Bar-le-Duc

An American Soldier at Notre Dame Bridge, Bar-le-Duc

Bar-le-Duc is a somewhat rambling town (classified as a commune in France) on the Ornain River in northeastern France that played a critical role in the First World War, most memorably during the 1916 Battle of Verdun. Its wartime population was about 16,000 and hundreds of thousands of French and, later, American troops would move through the town to the battlefields north.

Starting Point for the Voie Sacrée 

The name Bar-le-Duc is of Gallo-Roman origin. The name of Bar is very probably derived from the bar which the Ornain forms at the spot where the Notre Dame Bridge now stands. At first, a few dwellings were erected at the edge of the river. At a later date, on the east bank of the Ornain, rose a fortified township. In the middle of the tenth century, Frederick I, Count of Bar, built a castle on the hill overlooking the Ornain, to the west, and the Upper Town was created. For much of its history, Bar-le-Duc was a prosperous fortified town which served as the capital of the region, today for the Department of the Meuse. It suffered three years of occupation following the Franco-Prussian war, which was probably bitterly remembered by the older citizens during the Great War.

Bar-le-Duc's Enormous Rail Yard

By the early 20th century Bar-le-Duc had become a major transportation center for the region. It was a key station for one of France's east-west mainlines. For its wartime challenges it fortuitously also had a connecting station for the regional narrow-gauge rail service known informally as the Petit Meusien.  Similarly, it was also a road hub, the most important of which was the 38-mile paved road to Verdun, which would gain immortality as the Voie Sacrée during the war. In a 1916 article, Scientific American described the initial limitations of this roadway: "This road, at first, like the other average roads of France, fairly narrow, though with a good foundation, would not have been sufficient to prevent congestion and delays, costly if not fatal, when several thousand motor trucks had to run over it in both directions at the same time."

Although the Battle of the Marne is remembered as a French victory, as Wellington said of Waterloo, "It was a near-run thing." Before he was ordered to retreat, Crown Prince Wilhelm's offensive operations brought his army to within a few miles of Bar-le-Duc, and even after the German retreat north, Verdun—utterly essential to France's defenses in the northeast—was  in a salient, threatened on a permanent basis from two sides.

Petit Meusien Carrying Wine Casks

This new configuration of the front effectively cut the two main rail lines supplying Verdun.  The Verdun-Commercy rail line paralleling the Meuse River, which served Verdun from the south, was severed at St. Mihiel, while the line from Reims in the west was under direct observation and artillery range of the Germans camped out in Champagne and the Argonne Forest.

The crisis for supplying and, therefore, holding Verdun did not begin in 1916 with the massive German attack. There was an ongoing tactical threat to the city from September 1914. Before anyone beyond the immediate battlefield read the name Bar-le-Duc in their newspapers, the town on the Ormain River was challenged to play an essential role in defending Verdun. The only communication between Verdun and the rear was by the Verdun-Bar-le-Duc road and the adjacent  Petit Meusien narrow-gauge railway, which was requisitioned by the army in 1914. Both had their southern, and secure, terminus in Bar-le-Duc. Improvements were begun almost immediately on both the road and rail line. However, the demands on the two assets in supporting the forts and garrison of Verdun under constant threat were of a different magnitude than for a Verdun under all-out attack.  The story of the stupendous logistic system the grew under General Pétain's command in 1916 is told elsewhere on Roads HERE  by Christina Holstein and by Robert B. Bruce HERE.

French Troops at Bar-le-Duc Station

I came across some interesting facts about Bar-le-Duc,  the Voie Sacrée, and the Petit Meusien while putting together this article, so I thought I would conclude with them. For instance, there were four airfields dedicated to defending the route. One of these—the closest to Bar-le-Duc—was the base from which the Lafayette Escadrille won the world's attention in 1916. While much information is available about the road and its maintenance throughout the war, there's not much on the light rail line that, in a twisty way—sometimes crossing back and forth over it—parallels  the Voie Sacrée. The two systems were somewhat specialized in their missions, with the rail line carrying food and wine ration for the troops, fodder for the animals, and—on the return trip from Verdun—specially equipped wagons carrying 150-200 wounded Poilus and 200 ambulatory each trip. Later in the 1916 fighting, some of the trains were equipped with long-distance artillery. Meanwhile, on the road, most of the trucks carried troops or ordnance. Bar-le-Duc inevitably became a hospital center and the site of a large military cemetery.

One of the Infrequent Spots Where the Road and Rail
Were Immediately Adjacent

What was life like in Bar-le-Duc during the war? I've found no written accounts of the experience, but we can surmise a few things. The war mission was round-the-clock, 24/7, so people were up and active all the time. The banging and crashing noise from trucks, trains, and, especially, from the huge rail yard must have been loud and constant. With everyone, whether military or civilian, working long hours, the pressures and the persistent fatigue must have taken a tremendous toll. At the end, however, there was victory, and I'm sure the locals felt great pride. Bar-le-Duc, for a small town, had punched far above its weight during the war.

Saturday, December 30, 2023

Visit Five American Battlefields of the Great War—Video

There are a number of videos on this subject to be found online but this British production stands out for me because it:

1. Provides a good, varied selection of U.S. battlefields.

2. High-quality filming, including helpful drone footage.

3. Knowledgeable narrator with accurate French pronunciations.

Friday, December 29, 2023

Documentarian of the Soldier's Life: Lance Corporal George Hackney, 36th Ulster Division

Lance Corporal George Hackney

In 2014, a major discovery of World War One photographs was made in Northern Ireland.  Nearly 300 photos taken surreptitiously by Lance Corporal George Hackney of the 36th Ulster Division were found almost by accident. A documentary producer uncovered the images in the archives of the Ulster Museum. Hackney had contributed them just before his death in 1977.  He survived wounds received during the Battle of the Somme and served through the remainder of the war.

Standing Inspection During Training

Shipping Over

Sgt. Scott, a Friend Who Would Not Survive the War

The video The Man Who Shot the Great War, which was originally presented on BBC-Northern Ireland, is today only available in the U.S.—as far as I can tell—to subscribers of Acorn TV. We watched the documentary on Christmas Day and found it fascinating. Current ads for the video, tout the collection as "capturing the brutal realities of the front." I disagree with that characterization. First,  the original collection contains a minimal number of combat images, although three photos taken during the midst of the first day of the Somme are striking. Second, a major emphasis of the video is Hackney's life-long spiritual quest.  

A Lighthearted Introduction to the Gas Mask

Weapons at the Ready

Officer with "Plum Pudding" Mortar

Relaxing in the Trenches

Another Trench Scene

From the samples I've viewed, the collections greatest strength/value is that it  wonderfully captures the day-to-day existence of a Tommy at war. Here's a selection of the photos I've been able to find online. I've included one picture of the three Corporal Hackney took on 1 July 1916, when his division had a grim time of it on Thiepval Ridge.

German Prisoner Column, 1 July 1916

Queue of Soldiers with Facial Wounds

Winter Trench Scene

Thursday, December 28, 2023

Remembering a Veteran: Pvt. Marciano Valenzuela, 364th Infantry, 91st Division, KIA

Every headstone of the American soldiers buried overseas has a story behind it. The facts behind Marciano Valenzuela's death are well documented. He was killed by enemy fire just north of the Montfaucon-Cheppy road on 26 September 1918, the opening day of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. His family back in El Monte, California, chose to have him buried overseas, so he rests today near where he fell, in Grave 15, Row 2, Plot B of the Meuse-Argonne Cemetery.

What has never been told before, though, is the remarkable story of Marciano's earlier life which led him to his fate on the Western Front. His great nephew, retired U.S. Army Major General Alfred Valenzuela, who is also a member of  the National World War One Centennial Commission, has tracked this down and shared the story with us.

91st Division Field Kitchen Near Where Marciano Fell

In the early 20th century, the Valenzuela family was based in Presidio, Texas, just across the Rio Grande from Pancho Villa's northern base, and Marciano's brother had made it to El Monte, CA.  Marciano, however, had remained in Presidio but had joined the band of supporters of  Pancho Villa, who were  known as Villistas.  General Valenzuela has told me his research shows he fought with Pancho Villa’s Army for several years with very little pay and that it appears he was around Columbus, New Mexico, at the time of the raid against U.S. forces there in March 1916.

Apparently though,  in early 1916, Marciano decided he had enough of the low pay and made his way to California to work in the fields. Then, he enlisted in the California National Guard, which was soon—probably to his great surprise—deployed to the border to guard against his old Villista compadres. That deployment lasted until just before President Wilson asked Congress to declare war.

Group of Unidentified Villistas

There's no documentation about how Marciano was subsequently assigned from the National Guard (the California Guard was nationalized as the 40th Division) to the 91st Division (the West Coast draftee division). In any case, somewhere between California and the Meuse-Argonne, he was assigned to the 91st. [The 40th did not serve as a unit in France. It was broken up and used for replacements, so that seems like the likeliest reason to me.]

Nevertheless, Marciano's story is one that sounds worthy of a Hollywood movie. A one-time member of Pancho Villa's band ends up serving under General Pershing's command and dies fighting for his country in the Great War. 

As a postscript:  Marciano Valenzuela would not be the only member of his family to make the ultimate sacrifice for America. His nephew Claudio would be killed in action later on Okinawa while serving with the 27th Division, so there were two generations of Gold Star Mothers in the family. No wonder the latest member to serve our country, Major General Valenzuela, is so proud of  his heritage.

Thanks of course to General Valenzuela for passing on  this story, and to Bruce Malone, Superintendent of the Meuse-Argonne Cemetery, for sharing his files with us and providing the photo of Marciano's cross.

Wednesday, December 27, 2023

Eyewitnesses: The Australian Corps at the Battle of Amiens

Lt. Rupert Downes, MC, Addresses His Platoon
Prior to the Attack

A mighty battle began in France at 

4.20 am on 8 August 1918

On 1 June 1918 Lieutenant General John Monash took up command of the Australian Corps from General Sir William Birdwood. It was intended that he would have under him five Australian Divisions; but for the moment four were with him on the Somme and the other, the 1st Australian Division, was in Flanders. On 4 July, Monash mounted an attack against the German line at Le Hamel. Using a composite division-strength Australian force, with four companies of Americans attached and with heavy artillery and tank support, he struck a limited but decisive blow which signaled that the enemy had not only been held but was now being forced back. Monash established his reputation as an outstanding corps commander at Le Hamel, and confirmed it in the larger battles that followed. The first of these battles was the Battle of Amiens, launched on 8 August 1918.

It was an exciting moment for the Aussies in these exciting moments of finally being on the offensive, and successfully so, at that. The day before the battle, Monash sent a message to all of his troops. It said, in part:

For the first time in the history of our Corps, all five Australian Divisions will to-morrow engage in the largest and most important battle operation ever undertaken by the Corps. Because of the completeness of our plans and dispositions, of the magnitude of the operations, of the number of troops employed, and of the depth to which we intend to over-run the enemy’s positions, this battle will be one of the most memorable of the whole war. The work to be done to-morrow will perhaps make heavy demands upon the endurance and the staying powers of many of you; but I am confident that, in spite of excitement, fatigue, and physical strain, every man will carry on to the utmost of his powers until his goal is won; for the sake of AUSTRALIA, the empire and our cause.

Men of the 8th Brigade at the First Day's Objective

Meanwhile the divisions moved into place. Included among their number were some men who had been in action since the Gallipoli days. Sergeant Dave Roberts, MM, of the 17th Battalion was one. He wrote in his diary:

I am just about sick of this game now. I’ve been at it too long … God grant it may be a great success and I pull through alright. In his pocket he stuck a note that said: To the finder. In the event of my being killed in this hop over will you kindly send all of my personal (sic) to my mother. 

Roberts did survive the day, declaring it ‘a glorious victory’, but the following day, while resting in a captured village, he was killed by an enemy shell. He was twenty-one.

German Field Gun Captured on the First Day

Corporal Edgar Morrow of the 28th Battalion described the hours leading up to the battle:

After a day of drizzly rain, we had moved up to the front line. A broad white tape was stretched along the ground … and we stayed on that, lying flat on the ground without removing any equipment. As the time approached I found myself trembling with nervous excitement and the cold. There was a strange silence over all the line. Not a gun was firing. My teeth began to chatter and I clamped them on my unlighted pipe. Word passed along that there was half a minute to go.

Private John Smith of the 31st Battalion, later to die of pneumonia in October, wrote to his mother:

Our battalion hopped the top on the 8th at 4.20 in the morning. It was very foggy and we could hardly see twenty yards on account of the smoke of the barrage. The row the guns kicked up was terrific and the whole earth was shaking. As soon as our guns started Fritz started his but his gunfire was nothing compared to ours. We were accompanied by tanks—evidently Fritz was taken by surprise and we swept forward in great style.

5th Brigade with Supporting Tanks

On one part of the battlefield, a scene occurred that [correspondent and future historian] Charles Bean said could never be forgotten by anyone who saw it: 

At 8 o’clock … like elephants accompanying an Oriental army, were processions of the tanks, sixty machines in all … many having the colours of their infantry painted on their sides or on plaques hanging by chains from their fronts. Further back in the gully about forty other tanks, which had already taken part in the first phase, were assembling to follow and assist in the second. Behind these … came battery after battery of field and horse artillery, chains jingling, horses’ heads and manes tossing. A great shout went up as some of the field batteries … arrived at a gallop and in a few minutes their guns were banging, to the delight of the troops. In the opposite direction moved a few lame tanks, and, along the roads droves of prisoners moved wide-eyed through the throng, astonishment evident on their faces. The attacking troops were in grand spirit—the casualties were obviously few.

Meanwhile, surviving German artillery posed the most serious threat to the tanks. Captain Daniel Aarons of the 16th Battalion wrote:

The most thrilling thing I saw was our artillery galloping into action, unhitching the guns and the drivers galloping the horses away again and almost within a few seconds … the guns were in action. I saw quite a few instances of very brave action on the part of the Fritz guns, where they stuck to them to the last ditch and fired point blank at our troops. The same thing was done by their machine guns.

Victorious Diggers with Captured Equipment

After further advances, with declining numbers of tanks, more ground was taken. Lieutenant William Carne, recorded the feeling within his company when it was sent off for a well-earned rest:

After eleven days of memorable line duty, everyone felt weary—for even victories become exhausting—and glad of a respite; one which was sweetened by the knowledge of participation in what was probably the greatest most successful blow of the A.I.F

Source: Amiens to the Hindenburg Line: Australians on the Western Front—1918; Australian Department of Veterans Affairs

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

Otto Dix: "The War" — A Roads Classic

"The War" (German: "Der Krieg"), sometimes known as the Dresden War Triptych, is a large oil painting by Otto Dix on four wooden panels, a triptych with predella. The format of the work and its composition are based on religious triptychs of the Renaissance. It was begun in 1929 and completed in 1932, and has been held by the Galerie Neue Meister in Dresden since 1968. It is one of several antiwar works by Dix in the 1920s, inspired by his experience of trench warfare in the First World War.

Click on Image to Enlarge

The triptych has three main panels, with a fourth as a supporting panel or predella below the main central panel. The large central panel is a 204 cm (80 in) square; the flanking panels to either side the same height but half the width, 102 cm (40 in) each; and the predella below the central panel has the same width but is only 60 cm (24 in) high.

From left to right, the left wing depicts a column of German soldiers marching away from the viewer through the fog of war towards the battle in the central scene. The central panel shows a devastated urban landscape scattered with war paraphernalia and body parts, reworking the themes in his 1923 work "The Trench," and divided like the 16th century Isenheim Altarpiece of Mathias Grünewald with a living side to the lower left and a dead side to the upper right. A skeletal figure floats above the scene, pointing to the right, with a solder in gas mask below, and scabrous legs upended to the right, recalling the legs of Christ in Grünewald's crucifixion scene. The right wing shows several figures withdrawing from the fight. A dominant greyish figure, helping a wounded comrade, is a self-portrait of Dix himself, in a composition similar to a descent from the cross or a pietà. In the predella, several soldiers are lying next to each other, possibly sleeping under an awning, or perhaps the dead in a tomb. This fourth panel is based on "The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb" by Hans Holbein the Younger.

Source: Wikipedia

Monday, December 25, 2023

A Jolly Letter Home from Private Frederick James Davies, Royal Welch Fusiliers—He Was at the Christmas Truce

Private Fred Davies

A World War One soldier's account of sharing "cigs, jam, and corn beef" with Germans during the Christmas truce has been revealed in a collection of letters. Frederick James Davies, of Lampeter, Ceredigion, described meeting enemy soldiers across No-Man's-Land on 25 December 1914.

The details were in a letter written to his mother from the front line. He said they had a "good chat with the Germans on Xmas day." Soldiers serving in northern France left their trenches along some parts of the Western Front on the first Christmas Day of the conflict to meet the enemy and exchange gifts. 

A private in the 2nd Battalion Royal Welch Fusiliers, Davies described the brief armistice in correspondence among the collection found by his granddaughter, Jane Oliver.

"They (the German soldiers) were only 50 yards (45m) away from us in the trenches. They came out and we went to meet them," he wrote.

"We shook hands with them. We gave them cigs, jam, and corn beef."

"They also gave us cigars but they didn't have much food. I think they are hard up for it. They were fed up with the war." 


In the same letter, he described how they had come out of trenches for a few days of rest, commenting that it was nice to sleep away from the wet, although they were still sleeping in their clothes.

"I am happy through it all. It's no use being otherwise," he said.

Fred Davies, Veteran

Private Davies, who was born in 1886 and joined the army in 1908, also sent home pressed flowers to his mother. He left the army in 1915 after a trench caved in on him, shattering his spine and leaving him unable to work properly. He married in 1919 and had three children. His youngest daughter, Audrey Trenchard, now 86, said he never spoke about his war experiences before his death, aged 61, and "it was so interesting" to read the letters.

Source: BBC

Sunday, December 24, 2023

Then and Now: Chateau de Péronne

Haven't presented one of these in a while, but I thought found this period photo of the Péronne chateau, which was badly damaged in the First World War. It is now the site of the  Historial de la Grande Guerre Museum.  


Chateau de Péronne is a medieval building dating from the 13th century. It was built in the Philippien Style by Philippe Auguste. Protector and guardian of a strategic crossing, Péronne and its castle evolved as alliances changed. Over the course of the centuries, the castle was besieged several times and left particularly damaged; during the First World War it was almost completely destroyed. Red brick, most certainly less expensive than stone, was used to rebuild the castle at the end of the war, and today, despite the towers not being fully rebuilt, it has managed to conserve its original design.


Friday, December 22, 2023

Remembering a Veteran: John Standish Surtees Prendergast Vereker, 6th Viscount Gort - WWI Hero and WWII Field Marshal

December 1918: The Hero Returns from War

By James Patton

Several Britons who have advanced to the rank of field marshal have been granted peerages, but it is rare to find one who was a hereditary peer. It is also rare that a future field marshal was a Victoria Cross (VC) holder. In fact, John Vereker (1886–1946) VC GCB CBE DSO MVO MC, 6th Viscount Gort (familiarly known as "Lord Gort" or just "Gort") is probably the only one.

His family’s Irish peerage is named after Gort, in County Galway, but he was born in London and grew up entirely in England. He was educated at Harrow, where at the age of sixteen he became the 6th Viscount. Subsequently he attended Trinity College, Cambridge and the Royal Military Academy Woolwich. Although "the shop" produced artillery or engineer officers (Sandhurst was for infantry or cavalry), as a peer young Gort went to the foot guards. As a lieutenant he commanded the Grenadier Guards catafalque party at the funeral of King Edward VII in May 1910. On 22 February 1911, Gort married his second cousin, Corinna Vereker. They had two sons and a daughter before they divorced in 1925. Gort never remarried.  

On 5 August 1914, Gort was promoted to captain. He promptly went to France with the 2nd Grenadier Guards in the 4th (Guards) Brigade and was engaged in the Battle of Mons, the First Battle of the Marne, the First Battle of the Aisne, the First Battle of Ypres and the Battle of Festubert, acting as the Brigade Major in the latter days. In June 1915 he was awarded the brand-new Military Cross (sometimes colloquially called the "George V" Cross). Breveted to major in June 1916, he joined General Haig’s staff. In April 1917 be became an acting lieutenant colonel and  took over the 4th Grenadier Guards. In June 1917 he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) and in September 1917 at the Battle of Passchendaele he earned a bar to his DSO. This citation reads:

For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. Although hit in two places in the shoulder by the bursting of a shell early in the day and in great pain, he refused to leave his battalion, and personally superintended the consolidation subsequent to a successful attack. He remained with them until 5 p.m. on the following day, when he was ordered to come out and have his wounds dressed. His conduct set a very fine example of self-sacrifice, and was of great value in maintaining the high morale and offensive spirit of his battalion. 

Subsequently Gort took command of 1st Grenadier Guards. On 27 November 1918, Gort was awarded the VC. This citation reads:

For most conspicuous bravery, skillful leading and devotion to duty during the attack of the Guards Division on 27th September 1918, across the Canal du Nord, near Flesquieres, when in command of the 1st Battalion, Grenadier Guards, the leading battalion of the 3rd Guards Brigade. Under heavy artillery and machine-gun fire he led his battalion with great skill and determination to the "forming-up" ground, where very severe fire from artillery and machine guns was again encountered. Although wounded, he quickly grasped the situation, directed a platoon to proceed down a sunken road to make a flanking attack, and, under terrific fire, went across open ground to obtain the assistance of a Tank, which he personally led and directed to the best possible advantage. While thus fearlessly exposing himself, he was again severely wounded by a shell. Notwithstanding considerable loss of blood, after lying on a stretcher for awhile [sic], he insisted on getting up and personally directing the further attack. By his magnificent example of devotion to duty and utter disregard of personal safety all ranks were inspired to exert themselves to the utmost, and the attack resulted in the capture of over 200 prisoners, two batteries of field guns and numerous machine guns. Lt.-Col. Viscount Gort then proceeded to organise the defence of the captured position until he collapsed; even then he refused to leave the field until he had seen the "success signal" go up on the final objective. The successful advance of the battalion was mainly due to the valour, devotion and leadership of this very gallant officer. 

He was also mentioned in despatches eight times during the Great War. As a result of these exploits he gained the sobriquet of "Tiger Gort.”

1939: In Command in France

In 1919, Gort attended the Staff College, Camberley. Then he served in various staff and training appointments, eventually becoming a brigadier in 1930 and CO of the Guards Brigade. He made major general in 1935 and returned to the Staff College, Camberley as CO. Between 1928 and 1938 Gort was appointed to the civil honours, the CBE and the KCB (later upgraded to GCB).

In September 1937, in a surprise move, he was appointed the Military Secretary to the War Minister, Leslie Hore-Belisha (1893–1957) 1st Baron Belisha, which carried a promotion to temporary lieutenant-general. On 6 December 1937, in a major shake-up, Gort was made a general and appointed the Chief of the Imperial General Staff (CIGS). 

As the CIGS, on 2 December 1938 Gort submitted his annual report on the readiness of the army. As a result of the decision in 1937 to create a "general purpose" army, he found that Britain didn’t have the forces needed for the defense of Holland, Belgium, and France. He recommended that Britain urgently needed complete equipment for four Regular infantry divisions, two Regular armored divisions, and four Territorial divisions. Gort bitterly complained that the army was only getting £277 million out of a total £2,000 million spent on defense.

At the outbreak of war, Gort assumed command of the new British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in France, arriving on 19 September 1939. Gort was criticized for not building defensive positions. When the German breakthrough in the Ardennes split the Allied forces and communications between the BEF and the French broke down, Gort’s position was untenable—he was subordinate to French high command but also responsible to Whitehall. On 25 May 1940 he made a unilateral decision to ignore his French orders to move the BEF southward. Instead he ordered a withdrawal to the north which ended at the beaches of Dunkirk. He is credited by most as reacting correctly to the situation and saving the BEF, although at the time some criticized his decision not to join the French in their plan to attempt a First Marne-like counterattack and the subsequent pull-out as dooming the French and defeatist. Due to this controversy Gort, became persona non grata in Whitehall.

1943: Awarding George Cross to Malta

Upon his return to England from Dunkirk he was made an ADC General to the King, and sent on a futile mission to meet with refugee French leaders in Morocco. He was then parked in a training role and sent to inspect facilities on Iceland, Shetland, and the Orkneys. During this time his only son, 2nd Lieut. Charles “Sandy” Vereker, committed suicide. In 1941 Gort was appointed Governor of Gibraltar and then Governor of Malta (1942–44). Gort's leadership during the siege of Malta was exemplary, and the Maltese awarded him their Sword of Honour. Contrary to his instructions he extended the airfield runways and was later commended for this when the airfield became a vital link between the UK and Egypt. The King visited Malta on 20 June 1943 and gave Gort his field marshal's baton. 

On 29 September 1943 Gort and Generals Eisenhower and Alexander were present when Italian Prime Minister Marshal Pietro Badoglio signed the formal surrender document on the battleship HMS Nelson anchored at Valletta. Gort was also present in Italy on 3 March 1944 when his son-in-law, Major William P. Sidney (1909–1991) 6th Baron de L’Isle, also a Grenadier Guard, received the VC for leading the defense of the Anzio bridgehead against a determined counterattack. 

1945: In Palestine

Leaving Malta, Gort was appointed the High Commissioner for Palestine and Transjordan. Under his authority the Fitzgerald Report was prepared, which proposed to divide Jerusalem into separate Jewish and Arab Sectors. Due to illness Gort resigned in November 1945 and traveled to London where he was diagnosed with incurable cancer. He died on 31 March 1946 and was interred in the de L’Isle family vault at Penshurst, Kent. The title passed to his brother Standish Vereker (1888–1975) MC, K.St.J.

Sources include military-history and The Imperial War Museum.