Edwin Alderson
Lieutenant General
Lieutenant General
Lieutenant General is a military rank used in many countries. The rank traces its origins to the Middle Ages where the title of Lieutenant General was held by the second in command on the battlefield, who was normally subordinate to a Captain General....

 Sir Edwin Alfred Hervey Alderson KCB
Order of the Bath
The Most Honourable Order of the Bath is a British order of chivalry founded by George I on 18 May 1725. The name derives from the elaborate mediæval ceremony for creating a knight, which involved bathing as one of its elements. The knights so created were known as Knights of the Bath...

 (8 April 1859 – 14 December 1927) was a senior British Army
British Army
The British Army is the land warfare branch of Her Majesty's Armed Forces in the United Kingdom. It came into being with the unification of the Kingdom of England and Scotland into the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707. The new British Army incorporated Regiments that had already existed in England...

 officer who served in several campaigns of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. During the First World War he was placed in command of the Canadian Expeditionary Force
Canadian Expeditionary Force
The Canadian Expeditionary Force was the designation of the field force created by Canada for service overseas in the First World War. Units of the C.E.F. were divided into field formation in France, where they were organized first into separate divisions and later joined together into a single...

 during the first half of the war but made enemies amongst the Canadian political and military elite and suffered disastrous casualties during operations in 1915 which forced his sidelining and eventual retirement from service.

Despite the opposition he faced, Alderson transformed the ill-trained and poorly prepared Canadian recruits into tough, veteran soldiers and laid the foundations for later victories at Vimy Ridge
Battle of Vimy Ridge
The Battle of Vimy Ridge was a military engagement fought primarily as part of the Battle of Arras, in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of France, during the First World War. The main combatants were the Canadian Corps, of four divisions, against three divisions of the German Sixth Army...

 and in other operations. An accomplished sportsman, Alderson wrote several books and was a keen proponent of hunting
Fox hunting
Fox hunting is an activity involving the tracking, chase, and sometimes killing of a fox, traditionally a red fox, by trained foxhounds or other scent hounds, and a group of followers led by a master of foxhounds, who follow the hounds on foot or on horseback.Fox hunting originated in its current...

 and yachting
Yachting refers to recreational sailing or boating, the specific act of sailing or using other water vessels for sporting purposes.-Competitive sailing:...

, pastimes he believed to be at risk from developments in motor sports.

Early life

Born in 1859 in Capel St Mary, a village in Norfolk
Norfolk is a low-lying county in the East of England. It has borders with Lincolnshire to the west, Cambridgeshire to the west and southwest and Suffolk to the south. Its northern and eastern boundaries are the North Sea coast and to the north-west the county is bordered by The Wash. The county...

, Edwin Alderson was the son of Lieutenant-Colonel Edward Mott Alderson and his wife Catherine Harriett Swainson. At 17 Edwin gained a commission in the Norfolk Militia Artillery and at 19 transferred to his father's regiment, the 91st Foot (soon to become the Queen's Own Royal West Kent Regiment). Joining his regiment in Halifax, Nova Scotia
City of Halifax
Halifax is a city in Canada, which was the capital of the province of Nova Scotia and shire town of Halifax County. It was the largest city in Atlantic Canada until it was amalgamated into Halifax Regional Municipality in 1996...

, Alderson was soon transferred to Gibraltar
Gibraltar is a British overseas territory located on the southern end of the Iberian Peninsula at the entrance of the Mediterranean. A peninsula with an area of , it has a northern border with Andalusia, Spain. The Rock of Gibraltar is the major landmark of the region...

 and later South Africa, where he was detached to the Mounted Infantry Depot at Laing's Nek
Laing's Nek
Laing's Nek, or Lang's Nek is a pass through the Drakensberg, South Africa, immediately north of Majuba, at at an elevation of 5400 to . It is the lowest part of a ridge which slopes from Majuba to the Buffalo River, and before the opening of the railway in 1891 the road over the nek was the main...


Mounted Infantry

The Mounted Infantry Depot was a post where young officers could be stationed, forming a ready reserve of young, educated officers available as volunteers for staff or command positions in African colonial campaigns. It was whilst attached to this post that Alderson saw service in the First Boer War
First Boer War
The First Boer War also known as the First Anglo-Boer War or the Transvaal War, was fought from 16 December 1880 until 23 March 1881-1877 annexation:...

 in 1881 in the Transvaal
South African Republic
The South African Republic , often informally known as the Transvaal Republic, was an independent Boer-ruled country in Southern Africa during the second half of the 19th century. Not to be confused with the present-day Republic of South Africa, it occupied the area later known as the South African...

. The following year, Alderson served in the 1882 Anglo-Egyptian War, fighting at the battles of Kassassin
Kassassin is a village of Lower Egypt by rail, west of Ismailia on the Suez Canal. At this place, on 28 August and again on 9 September 1882 the British force operating against Urabi Pasha was attacked by the Egyptians. Both attacks were repulsed....

 and Tel-el-Kebir. Two years later, Alderson was attached to the Mounted Camel Regiment during the failed expedition to relieve Khartoum and rescue General Gordon
Charles George Gordon
Major-General Charles George Gordon, CB , known as "Chinese" Gordon, Gordon Pasha, and Gordon of Khartoum, was a British army officer and administrator....

. During this campaign, Alderson was presented with the Gold Medal of the Royal Humane Society
Royal Humane Society
The Royal Humane Society is a British charity which promotes lifesaving intervention. It was founded in England in 1774 as the Society for the Recovery of Persons Apparently Drowned, for the purpose of rendering first aid in cases of near drowning....

 after diving into the Nile
The Nile is a major north-flowing river in North Africa, generally regarded as the longest river in the world. It is long. It runs through the ten countries of Sudan, South Sudan, Burundi, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda and Egypt.The Nile has two major...

 to rescue a drowning soldier. For his service in these campaigns, Alderson was promoted to Captain
Captain (British Army and Royal Marines)
Captain is a junior officer rank of the British Army and Royal Marines. It ranks above Lieutenant and below Major and has a NATO ranking code of OF-2. The rank is equivalent to a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy and to a Flight Lieutenant in the Royal Air Force...

 and was stationed at Aldershot
Aldershot is a town in the English county of Hampshire, located on heathland about southwest of London. The town is administered by Rushmoor Borough Council...

 with the European Mounted Infantry Depot. The same year he married the daughter of the vicar of Cheriton
-England:*Cheriton, Hampshire, a village and parish near Winchester**The Battle of Cheriton, a battle in the English Civil War*Cheriton, Kent, a one-time village, now a part of the urban area of Folkestone**Cheriton Halt railway station closed in 1947...

, a Miss Alice Mary Sergeant.

The next ten years of Alderson's career were spent on staff duties and with his old regiment in England. He also undertook training at the Staff College, Camberley
Staff College, Camberley
Staff College, Camberley, Surrey, was a staff college for the British Army from 1802 to 1997, with periods of closure during major wars. In 1997 it was merged into the new Joint Services Command and Staff College.-Origins:...

 and in 1896 was sent to Mashonaland
Mashonaland is a region in northern Zimbabwe. It is the home of the Shona people.Currently, Mashonaland is divided into three provinces, with a total population of about 3 million:* Mashonaland West* Mashonaland Central* Mashonaland East...

 as a commander of a regiment of local troops during the Second Matabele War
Second Matabele War
The Second Matabele War, also known as the Matabeleland Rebellion and in Zimbabwe as the First Chimurenga, was fought in 1896–97 between the British troops and the Ndebele people....

. Following the campaign's successful conclusion, Alderson returned to Aldershot and wrote his first book, "With the Mounted Infantry and the Mashonaland Field Force, 1896", an account of the war and a thesis on the tactical uses of mounted infantry
Mounted infantry
Mounted infantry were soldiers who rode horses instead of marching, but actually fought on foot . The original dragoons were essentially mounted infantry...

. A second book on military tactics followed in 1898 called The Counter-attack. His third book, "Pink and scarlet" was published in 1900 and was another tactical treatise concerning the relationship between fox-hunting and the cavalry and the connection that these gentlemanly and military concerns had in training young officers and developing new innovations in cavalry tactics
Cavalry tactics
For much of history , humans have used some form of cavalry for war. Cavalry tactics have evolved over time...

. In 1908, he released a compilation of notes made on campaign entitled Lessons from 100 notes made in peace and war.

Second Boer War

In 1900, shortly after the outbreak of the Second Boer War
Second Boer War
The Second Boer War was fought from 11 October 1899 until 31 May 1902 between the British Empire and the Afrikaans-speaking Dutch settlers of two independent Boer republics, the South African Republic and the Orange Free State...

, Alderson returned to South Africa to command the Mounted Infantry Depot against the Boer forces. His experience with mounted infantry made him ideal for this role as in the Boer guerillas, the British were fighting against masters of mounted infantry tactics and suffered heavy losses from their hit and run
Hit-and-run tactics
Hit-and-run tactics is a tactical doctrine where the purpose of the combat involved is not to seize control of territory, but to inflict damage on a target and immediately exit the area to avoid the enemy's defense and/or retaliation.-History:...

 campaigns. Alderson was instrumental in forming British counter-tactics and used his brigade to great effect against the Boers, his elite troops being two regiments of Canadian soldiers. The force was under the overall command of experienced Canadian soldier Edward Hutton, who became a lifelong friend.

By 1901, Alderson's innovations had resulted in several successful operations, participating in the battles of Paardeberg
Battle of Paardeberg
The Battle of Paardeberg or Perdeberg was a major battle during the Second Anglo-Boer War. It was fought near Paardeberg Drift on the banks of the Modder River in the Orange Free State near Kimberley....

 and Driefontein as well as the relief of Kimberley
Siege of Kimberley
The Siege of Kimberley took place during the Second Boer War at Kimberley, Cape Colony , when Boer forces from the Orange Free State and the Transvaal besieged the diamond mining town. The Boers moved quickly to try to capture the British enclave when war broke out between the British and the two...

 and the capture of Bloemfontein
Bloemfontein is the capital city of the Free State Province of South Africa; and, as the judicial capital of the nation, one of South Africa's three national capitals – the other two being Cape Town, the legislative capital, and Pretoria, the administrative capital.Bloemfontein is popularly and...

 and Pretoria
Pretoria is a city located in the northern part of Gauteng Province, South Africa. It is one of the country's three capital cities, serving as the executive and de facto national capital; the others are Cape Town, the legislative capital, and Bloemfontein, the judicial capital.Pretoria is...

. The result of Alderson's contribution of these campaigns was to be rewarded with confirmation as a Brigadier-General, initiation as a Companion of the Order of the Bath and to receive the ceremonial post of Aide-de-Camp
An aide-de-camp is a personal assistant, secretary, or adjutant to a person of high rank, usually a senior military officer or a head of state...

 to Queen Victoria, who died the same year. In 1903 he was given command of the 2nd British Brigade at Aldershot and in 1906 was again promoted to Major-General. Two years later Alderson was posted to the 6th Infantry Division
Indian 6th Infantry Division
For the World War I formation see 6th DivisionThe 6th Infantry Division was an infantry division of the Indian Army during World War II, created on 1 March 1941 in Secunderabad. On 11 September 1941 it was shipped to the Iraq and later Iran. During 1942 and 1943 it was part of the Tenth Army...

 based in Poona, Southern India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

. In 1912 he returned to England in semi-retirement, becoming a hunt master in Shropshire
Shropshire is a county in the West Midlands region of England. For Eurostat purposes, the county is a NUTS 3 region and is one of four counties or unitary districts that comprise the "Shropshire and Staffordshire" NUTS 2 region. It borders Wales to the west...

 and developing an enthusiasm for yachting.

First World War

At the outbreak of the First World War in the summer of 1914, Alderson was placed in charge of the East Anglia
East Anglia
East Anglia is a traditional name for a region of eastern England, named after an ancient Anglo-Saxon kingdom, the Kingdom of the East Angles. The Angles took their name from their homeland Angeln, in northern Germany. East Anglia initially consisted of Norfolk and Suffolk, but upon the marriage of...

n yeomanry
Yeomanry is a designation used by a number of units or sub-units of the British Territorial Army, descended from volunteer cavalry regiments. Today, Yeomanry units may serve in a variety of different military roles.-History:...

 but was immediately requested by the newly formed Canadian Army due to his experience in South Africa commanding Canadian troops. Personally selected by Sir Sam Hughes
Sam Hughes
For other people of the same name see Sam Hughes Sir Samuel Hughes, KCB, PC was the Canadian Minister of Militia and Defence during World War I...

, Canadian Minister of Militia, Alderson meet the first shipments of Canadian troops in October and almost immediately came into conflict with his superior. Hughes had preceded his men and insisted that the Canadian contingent was not only fully trained and battle ready but also equipped with the best weaponry available. Alderson however saw his charges differently, commenting on the poor quality of the politically appointed officers, the low degree of training and the total ineffectiveness of the Ross rifle
Ross rifle
The Ross rifle was a straight-pull bolt-action 0.303 inch calibre rifle produced in Canada from 1903 until the middle of the First World War....

, a weapon personally approved by Hughes.

Training his new charges on Salisbury Plain
Salisbury Plain
Salisbury Plain is a chalk plateau in central southern England covering . It is part of the Southern England Chalk Formation and largely lies within the county of Wiltshire, with a little in Hampshire. The plain is famous for its rich archaeology, including Stonehenge, one of England's best known...

, Alderson made some headway in toughening his troops encamped in the wet, autumn weather and dismissing the officers appointed by Hughes who had proved ineffectual. When Hughes' representative in England, Colonel John Wallace Carson, secured preferential accommodation for the Canadian soldiers at the expense of a British brigade, Alderson refused the barracks and in doing so, made both Carson and Hughes into determined enemies. Carson wrote to the Canadian Prime Minister Robert Laird Borden that Alderson "does not treat our men with a firm iron hand covered with the velvet glove which their special temperaments require".

Dispatched to France in the spring of 1915, the Canadian Division was briefly initiated to trench warfare on the periphery of the Battle of Neuve Chapelle
Battle of Neuve Chapelle
The Battles of Neuve Chapelle and Artois was a battle in the First World War. It was a British offensive in the Artois region and broke through at Neuve-Chapelle but they were unable to exploit the advantage.The battle began on 10 March 1915...

 before being attached to the British 2nd Army under Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien
Horace Smith-Dorrien
General Sir Horace Lockwood Smith-Dorrien GCB, GCMG, DSO, ADC was a British soldier and commander of the British II Corps and Second Army of the BEF during World War I.-Early life and career:...

 in the Belgian town of Ypres
Ypres is a Belgian municipality located in the Flemish province of West Flanders. The municipality comprises the city of Ypres and the villages of Boezinge, Brielen, Dikkebus, Elverdinge, Hollebeke, Sint-Jan, Vlamertinge, Voormezele, Zillebeke, and Zuidschote...

. It was in front of Ypres on 22 April that the Canadians bore the brunt of the most furious German attack of the year. In the afternoon at 5.00 pm the Germans began heavy shelling of the French trenches and the Canadians and the French Algerian troops stationed next to them saw a fog traveling across no-mans land, covering the advance of German forces. The fog was chlorine gas, the first occasion
Poison gas in World War I
The use of chemical weapons in World War I ranged from disabling chemicals, such as tear gas and the severe mustard gas, to lethal agents like phosgene and chlorine. This chemical warfare was a major component of the first global war and first total war of the 20th century. The killing capacity of...

 in which this substance had been used in warfare. The Algerians broke and fled, suffering over 6,000 casualties in a matter of minutes and the Canadians were consequently forced to defend twice the length of their front line in the face of a new and deadly weapon. Although the Canadian Division held on for more than two days, much ground was lost and the Division had themselves suffered over 50% casualties, nearly 6,000 men.

For Alderson the battle had been a failure: Although his troops had held, he had found himself out of touch with the front line and unable to get accurate information about the situation. At one stage he had been commanding 33 divisions across several miles of front line with no central co-ordination and great confusion between his distant headquarters and the trenches. In addition to his personal failings however, the Ross rifles had proven almost useless in battle and Alderson's officer corps had performed poorly, in particular Brigadier-General Garnet Burk Hughes, Sam Hughes' son. Carson however, who reported personally to Hughes, downplayed the difficulties and blamed the heavy casualties on Alderson's leadership, indicating that the Corps had only been saved from annihilation by the actions of Richard Turner
Richard Ernest William Turner
Lieutenant General Sir Richard Ernest William Turner VC, KCB, KCMG, DSO was a Canadian army officer during the Boer War and World War I, and a recipient of the Victoria Cross...

 and Garnet Hughes.

Ross rifle controversy

Alderson's situation worsened at the Battle of Festubert
Battle of Festubert
The Battle of Festubert was an attack by the British army in the Artois region of France on the western front during World War I. It began on May 15, 1915 and continued until May 25.-Context:...

 in May 1915, when the Canadian Division failed to make any headway and suffered nearly 2,500 casualties. Another operation a month later cost 366 casualties for no appreciable gain. Again, Alderson was not solely at fault in these actions and he remained popular with British Army Headquarters, Prime Minister Borden and with his men, resulting in promotion to command the entire Canadian Expeditionary Force when a second Division arrived late in 1915. Despite this popularity, Sam Hughes continued to hold a grudge against Alderson and opposed him in political circles, taking offense at Alderson's refusal to accept promotions made by Hughes or Carson of untried Canadian officers and instead promoting veteran British officers in their place. The main area of argument between the two men however was again over the Ross rifle.

By early 1916 it had become clear to all serving on the front lines that the Ross was useless in the filthy conditions of the trenches and its incompatibility with the British Lee Enfield rifle meant that the Canadian troops were continually running out of ammunition. Hughes however had invested great political capital in the weapon and refused to countenance a switch to the British-made alternative. This issue reached a head when Alderson, newly knighted as a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath, circulated a document listing ten deficiencies with the rifle and claiming 85% of Canadian soldiers no longer wished to use it. Hughes was furious at Alderson's defiance and sent 281 letters to senior military figures backing the Ross and attacking Alderson's character. Alderson responded by ordering all subordinate commanders to prepare reports on the efficiency of the Ross rifle. Carson sent a copy of this order back to Hughes, along with a note from Turner that "action is being delayed too long as regards Alderson".

Turner had his own reasons for wanting Alderson gone, following the Battle of St-Eloi in April 1916. After British troops had taken a large crater near the ruins of the Belgian town of St Eloi, a brigade of Tuner's division was ordered to hold the gain against German counter attacks. Due to dreadful management of the Canadian forces by Turner and Brigadier-General Huntley Ketchen, German soldiers overran the crater, causing 1,400 Canadian casualties and retaking the land around the crater, negating the gains made at heavy cost just a few days before. Sir Herbert Plumer, the commander of British 2nd Army who had overall responsibility for the front, demanded Ketchen's immediate dismissal and when Turner claimed that if Ketchen was dismissed he would resign, Alderson dismissed him as well. Both officers were supporters of Sam Hughes, who made it clear in no uncertain terms to Commander in Chief Sir Douglas Haig
Douglas Haig
Douglas Haig, 1st Earl Haig was a British soldier and senior commander during World War I.Douglas Haig may also refer to:* Club Atlético Douglas Haig, a football club from Argentina* Douglas Haig , American actor...

 that if Turner went then Haig could no longer rely on Canadian support.

Haig's solution to this diplomatic crisis was a compromise. Alderson was transferred to the nominal post of Inspector-General of Canadian Forces and the highly effective Sir Julian Byng
Julian Byng, 1st Viscount Byng of Vimy
Field Marshal Julian Hedworth George Byng, 1st Viscount Byng of Vimy was a British Army officer who served as Governor General of Canada, the 12th since Canadian Confederation....

 replaced him in command of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, supported by Sir Arthur Currie, who had succeeded Alderson in command of the 1st Canadian Division. In exchange, Haig finally got rid of the Ross rifle, all Canadian troops being reissued Lee Enfields in preparation for the upcoming Battle of the Somme. Alderson was not made aware of the purely nominal nature of his position until later, when he requested a staff car and was informed that he was no longer entitled to one. In September 1916, Alderson became Inspector of Infantry in the British Army, a position he retained until 1920, when he retired from active service at the age of 61.


Alderson enjoyed an active retirement, becoming Colonel Commandant
Colonel Commandant
Colonel Commandant is a military title used in the armed forces of some English-speaking countries. The title, not a substantive rank, could denote a senior colonel with authority over fellow colonels...

 of the Royal West Kent Regiment and pursuing hunting and yachting with fervour, being an active member of the South Shropshire Hunt and Royal Norfolk and Suffolk Yacht Club. He was also very concerned that the growing popularity of motor sports would result in the demise of these traditional pastimes and expended much energy promoting them. He died in December 1927 of a sudden heart attack and was buried at Lowestoft
Lowestoft is a town in the English county of Suffolk. The town is on the North Sea coast and is the most easterly point of the United Kingdom. It is north-east of London, north-east of Ipswich and south-east of Norwich...

, survived by his wife. She later arranged for his private papers to be given to the nation and they are currently stored at British Library
British Library
The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom, and is the world's largest library in terms of total number of items. The library is a major research library, holding over 150 million items from every country in the world, in virtually all known languages and in many formats,...

 and the National Archives of Zimbabwe
National Archives of Zimbabwe
- External links :* http://www.moha.gov.zw...


Alderson retained strong feelings about his treatment at the hands of Hughes and his allies, commenting to a friend that "Canadian politics has been too strong for us". Nonetheless, he was well liked by the men he commanded and was remembered in The Times
The Times
The Times is a British daily national newspaper, first published in London in 1785 under the title The Daily Universal Register . The Times and its sister paper The Sunday Times are published by Times Newspapers Limited, a subsidiary since 1981 of News International...

on his death as "An Englishman of a fine type" and that "the affection which he inspired in all who knew him was great". The Dictionary of Canadian Biography
Dictionary of Canadian Biography
The Dictionary of Canadian Biography is a dictionary of biographical entries for individuals who have contributed to the history of Canada. The DCB, which was initiated in 1959, is a collaboration between the University of Toronto and Université Laval...

 recalls him as "A decent, honourable, unimaginative man, [who] had been more faithful to the interests of Canadian soldiers than their own minister".

Alan Clark's work "The Donkeys", detailing alleged British command incompetence in 1915, contains a photograph of Alderson decorating a Canadian soldier, labelled "Donkey Decorates Lion".


  • With the Mounted Infantry and the Mashonaland Field Force, 1896, 1898
  • The Counter-attack, 1898
  • Pink and Scarlet or Hunting as a School for Soldiering William Heinemann
    William Heinemann
    William Heinemann was the founder of the Heinemann publishing house in London.He was born in 1863, in Surbiton, Surrey. In his early life he wanted to be a musician, either as a performer or a composer, but, realising that he lacked the ability to be successful in that field, he took a job with...

    , 1900
  • Lessons from 100 notes made in peace and war, 1908
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