War Office
Overview
 
The War Office was a department of the British Government, responsible for the administration of the 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...

 between the 17th century and 1964, when its functions were transferred to the Ministry of Defence
Ministry of Defence (United Kingdom)
The Ministry of Defence is the United Kingdom government department responsible for implementation of government defence policy and is the headquarters of the British Armed Forces....

. The name "War Office" is also often given to the former home of the department, the Old War Office Building on Horse Guards Avenue
Horse Guards Avenue
Horse Guards Avenue is a road in the City of Westminster, London, linking the major thoroughfares of Whitehall and Victoria Embankment, to the east of the Horse Guards building and parade area. It is not to be confused with Horse Guards Road, which is on the opposite side of the Horse Guards...

, London
London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

.
The War Office developed from the Council of War
Council of war
A council of war is a term in military science that describes a meeting held to decide on a course of action, usually in the midst of a battle. Under normal circumstances, decisions are made by a commanding officer, optionally communicated and coordinated by staff officers, and then implemented by...

, an ad hoc grouping of the King and his senior military commanders which oversaw the Kingdom of England
Kingdom of England
The Kingdom of England was, from 927 to 1707, a sovereign state to the northwest of continental Europe. At its height, the Kingdom of England spanned the southern two-thirds of the island of Great Britain and several smaller outlying islands; what today comprises the legal jurisdiction of England...

's frequent wars and campaigns.
Encyclopedia
The War Office was a department of the British Government, responsible for the administration of the 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...

 between the 17th century and 1964, when its functions were transferred to the Ministry of Defence
Ministry of Defence (United Kingdom)
The Ministry of Defence is the United Kingdom government department responsible for implementation of government defence policy and is the headquarters of the British Armed Forces....

. The name "War Office" is also often given to the former home of the department, the Old War Office Building on Horse Guards Avenue
Horse Guards Avenue
Horse Guards Avenue is a road in the City of Westminster, London, linking the major thoroughfares of Whitehall and Victoria Embankment, to the east of the Horse Guards building and parade area. It is not to be confused with Horse Guards Road, which is on the opposite side of the Horse Guards...

, London
London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

.

History

The War Office developed from the Council of War
Council of war
A council of war is a term in military science that describes a meeting held to decide on a course of action, usually in the midst of a battle. Under normal circumstances, decisions are made by a commanding officer, optionally communicated and coordinated by staff officers, and then implemented by...

, an ad hoc grouping of the King and his senior military commanders which oversaw the Kingdom of England
Kingdom of England
The Kingdom of England was, from 927 to 1707, a sovereign state to the northwest of continental Europe. At its height, the Kingdom of England spanned the southern two-thirds of the island of Great Britain and several smaller outlying islands; what today comprises the legal jurisdiction of England...

's frequent wars and campaigns. A number of older institutions, notably the Board of Ordnance
Board of Ordnance
The Board of Ordnance was a British government body responsible for the supply of armaments and munitions to the Royal Navy and British Army. It was also responsible for providing artillery trains for armies and maintaining coastal fortresses and, later, management of the artillery and engineer...

 (which dates from the 15th century), were merged to form the War Office. It worked alongside the Admiralty
Admiralty
The Admiralty was formerly the authority in the Kingdom of England, and later in the United Kingdom, responsible for the command of the Royal Navy...

, responsible for the Royal Navy
Royal Navy
The Royal Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Founded in the 16th century, it is the oldest service branch and is known as the Senior Service...

, and the (much later) Air Ministry
Air Ministry
The Air Ministry was a department of the British Government with the responsibility of managing the affairs of the Royal Air Force, that existed from 1918 to 1964...

, which oversaw the Royal Air Force
Royal Air Force
The Royal Air Force is the aerial warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Formed on 1 April 1918, it is the oldest independent air force in the world...

. Its foundation has traditionally been ascribed to William Blathwayt
William Blathwayt
William Blathwayt was a civil servant and politician who established the War Office as a department of the British Government and played an important part in administering the Thirteen Colonies of North America....

, who on his appointment as Secretary at War
Secretary at War
The Secretary at War was a political position in the English and later British government, with some responsibility over the administration and organization of the Army, but not over military policy. The Secretary at War ran the War Office. It was occasionally a cabinet level position, although...

 in 1684 greatly expanded the remit of his office to cover general day-to-day administration of the Army.

The department had several London homes until it settled at Horse Guards
Horse Guards (building)
Horse Guards is a large grade I listed building in the Palladian style between Whitehall and Horse Guards Parade in London, England. It was built between 1751 and 1753 by John Vardy to a design by William Kent. The building was constructed on the site of the Guard House of the old Whitehall Palace,...

 in Whitehall
Whitehall
Whitehall is a road in Westminster, in London, England. It is the main artery running north from Parliament Square, towards Charing Cross at the southern end of Trafalgar Square...

 in 1722, where it was to remain until 1858. Horse Guards and the War Office became virtually synonymous (indeed, Horse Guards is still the official headquarters of the Army). The War Office moved to Cumberland House
Cumberland House
Cumberland House was a mansion on the south side of Pall Mall in London, England. It was built in the 1760s by Matthew Brettingham for Prince Edward, Duke of York and Albany and was originally called York House...

, Pall Mall
Pall Mall, London
Pall Mall is a street in the City of Westminster, London, and parallel to The Mall, from St. James's Street across Waterloo Place to the Haymarket; while Pall Mall East continues into Trafalgar Square. The street is a major thoroughfare in the St James's area of London, and a section of the...

 for the last half of the 19th century before finally moving to purpose-built accommodation in what is now known as the Old War Office Building.

The management of the War Office was initially headed by the Secretary at War
Secretary at War
The Secretary at War was a political position in the English and later British government, with some responsibility over the administration and organization of the Army, but not over military policy. The Secretary at War ran the War Office. It was occasionally a cabinet level position, although...

, whose role had originated under King Charles II of England
Charles II of England
Charles II was monarch of the three kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland.Charles II's father, King Charles I, was executed at Whitehall on 30 January 1649, at the climax of the English Civil War...

 as the secretary to the Commander-in-Chief of the British Army
Commander-in-Chief of the Forces
The Commander-in-Chief of the Forces, or just the Commander-in-Chief , was the professional head of the British Army from 1660 until 1904, when the office was replaced by the Chief of the General Staff, soon to become Chief of the Imperial General Staff . From 1870, the C-in-C was subordinate to...

. The first War Office Secretary at War is usually said to have been William Blathwayt, though he had two predecessors in the post. It was, however, a fairly minor government post which dealt with the minutiae of administration rather than grand strategy. Issues of strategic policy during wartime were managed by the Northern
Northern Department
The Northern Department was a department of the government of England and later the Kingdom of Great Britain, responsible for dealing with government business in the northern part of Europe. This included foreign affairs concerning such northern powers as Russia, Sweden and the Holy Roman Empire...

 and Southern Department
Southern Department
The Southern Department was a former department of the government of England and later the Kingdom of Great Britain. It had a variety of responsibilities, including domestic and Irish policy, colonial policy and foreign affairs concerning southern European powers such as France, Spain, Portugal,...

s (the predecessors of today's Foreign Office and Home Office
Home Office
The Home Office is the United Kingdom government department responsible for immigration control, security, and order. As such it is responsible for the police, UK Border Agency, and the Security Service . It is also in charge of government policy on security-related issues such as drugs,...

).

From 1704 to 1855, the post of Secretary was filled by a minister of the second rank, although he occasionally sat in the Cabinet. Many of the responsibilities were transferred to the Secretary of State for War
Secretary of State for War
The position of Secretary of State for War, commonly called War Secretary, was a British cabinet-level position, first held by Henry Dundas . In 1801 the post became that of Secretary of State for War and the Colonies. The position was re-instated in 1854...

 following the creation of that more senior post in 1794. The post of Secretary at War was merged with that of the Secretary of State for War in 1855 and was abolished altogether in 1863. The Secretary of State for War was also responsible, between 1801 and 1854, for Britain's colonies (when the post was known as the Secretary of State for War and Colonies). This responsibility ceased with the establishment of the Colonial Office
Colonial Office
Colonial Office is the government agency which serves to oversee and supervise their colony* Colonial Office - The British Government department* Office of Insular Affairs - the American government agency* Reichskolonialamt - the German Colonial Office...

.

The disastrous campaigns of the Crimean War
Crimean War
The Crimean War was a conflict fought between the Russian Empire and an alliance of the French Empire, the British Empire, the Ottoman Empire, and the Kingdom of Sardinia. The war was part of a long-running contest between the major European powers for influence over territories of the declining...

 led to the consolidation of all administrative duties in 1855 under the Secretary of State for War, a Cabinet
Cabinet (government)
A Cabinet is a body of high ranking government officials, typically representing the executive branch. It can also sometimes be referred to as the Council of Ministers, an Executive Council, or an Executive Committee.- Overview :...

 post. He was not, however, solely responsible for the Army; the Commander-in-Chief held a virtually equal level of responsibility. This was reduced in theory by the reforms
Cardwell Reforms
The Cardwell Reforms refer to a series of reforms of the British Army undertaken by Secretary of State for War Edward Cardwell between 1868 and 1874.-Background:...

 introduced by Edward Cardwell
Edward Cardwell, 1st Viscount Cardwell
Edward Cardwell, 1st Viscount Cardwell PC, PC , FRS was a prominent British politician in the Peelite and Liberal parties during the middle of the 19th century...

 in 1870, which subordinated the Commander-in-Chief to the Secretary for War. In practice, however, a huge amount of influence was retained by the exceedingly conservative Commander-in-Chief Field Marshal Prince George, 2nd Duke of Cambridge, who held the post between 1856–1895. His resistance to reform caused military efficiency to lag well behind Britain's rivals, a problem which became painfully obvious during 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...

.

The situation was only remedied in 1904 when the post of Commander-in-Chief was abolished and replaced with that of the Chief of the General Staff
Chief of the General Staff (United Kingdom)
Chief of the General Staff has been the title of the professional head of the British Army since 1964. The CGS is a member of both the Chiefs of Staff Committee and the Army Board...

 and in turn was replaced by the position of Chief of the Imperial General Staff in 1908. An Army Council
Army Council (1904)
The Army Council is a governing board for the British military organization. It was created in 1904 along with other institutional changes made in that year to the British Army....

 was created along similar lines to the Board of Admiralty, chaired by the Secretary of State for War, and an Imperial General Staff was established to coordinate Army administration.

The management of the War Office was undermined by persistent clashes between the civilian and military sides of the organisation. The government of Herbert Asquith attempted to resolve this during the First World War by appointing Lord Kitchener as Secretary for War, making him the first and only soldier to hold the post. This did not prove a happy experience; under his tenure, the Imperial General Staff was virtually dismantled. Its role was effectively replaced by the Committee of Imperial Defence, established in 1902 to discuss wider defence issues.

The War Office declined greatly in importance after the First World War, a fact illustrated by the drastic reductions in its staff numbers during the inter-war period. On 1 April 1920, it employed 7,434 civilian staff; this had shrunk to 3,872 by 1 April 1930. Its responsibilities and funding were also reduced. In 1936, the government of Stanley Baldwin
Stanley Baldwin
Stanley Baldwin, 1st Earl Baldwin of Bewdley, KG, PC was a British Conservative politician, who dominated the government in his country between the two world wars...

 appointed a Minister for Co-ordination of Defence, who worked outside of the War Office. When Winston Churchill
Winston Churchill
Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill, was a predominantly Conservative British politician and statesman known for his leadership of the United Kingdom during the Second World War. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest wartime leaders of the century and served as Prime Minister twice...

 became Prime Minister in 1940, he bypassed the War Office altogether and appointed himself Minister of Defence (though there was, curiously, no ministry of defence
Ministry of Defence (1947–1964)
The Ministry of Defence was a department of the British Government responsible for defence and the British Armed Forces.-History:Prior to the Second World War defence policy was co-ordinated by the Committee of Imperial Defence...

 until 1947).

Clement Attlee
Clement Attlee
Clement Richard Attlee, 1st Earl Attlee, KG, OM, CH, PC, FRS was a British Labour politician who served as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1945 to 1951, and as the Leader of the Labour Party from 1935 to 1955...

 continued this arrangement when he came to power in 1945 but appointed a separate Minister of Defence for the first time in 1947. In 1964, the present form of the Ministry of Defence was established, unifying the War Office, Admiralty, and Air Ministry.

The records of the War Office are kept by The National Archives under their code WO.

Old War Office Building

Between 1906 and its abolition in 1964, the War Office was based in a massive neo-Baroque
Baroque architecture
Baroque architecture is a term used to describe the building style of the Baroque era, begun in late sixteenth century Italy, that took the Roman vocabulary of Renaissance architecture and used it in a new rhetorical and theatrical fashion, often to express the triumph of the Catholic Church and...

 building, completed in 1906, located on Horse Guards Avenue in Whitehall
Whitehall
Whitehall is a road in Westminster, in London, England. It is the main artery running north from Parliament Square, towards Charing Cross at the southern end of Trafalgar Square...

, London
London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

. It contains about a thousand rooms across seven floors, linked by 2½ miles of corridors. The construction of the War Office building took five years to complete at what was then a huge cost of over £1.2 million.

The building is somewhat oddly shaped, forming a trapezium
Trapezium
The word trapezium has several meanings:* - a quadrilateral with one pair of parallel sides ....

 shape in order to maximise the usage of the irregularly shaped plot of land on which it was built. Its four distinctive domes were designed as a decorative means of disguising the building's shape.

The building is still used by the Ministry of Defence
Ministry of Defence (United Kingdom)
The Ministry of Defence is the United Kingdom government department responsible for implementation of government defence policy and is the headquarters of the British Armed Forces....

 and is not open to the public.

War Office departments

  • Office of the Secretary of State
    Secretary of State for War
    The position of Secretary of State for War, commonly called War Secretary, was a British cabinet-level position, first held by Henry Dundas . In 1801 the post became that of Secretary of State for War and the Colonies. The position was re-instated in 1854...

    • Military Secretary's Department (1870–1964)

  • Department of the Parliamentary Under-Secretary
    • Directorate-General of Lands (?–1923)
    • Directorate of Lands (1923– )
    • Directorate-General of the Territorial and Volunteer Forces (?–1921)
    • Directorate-General of the Territorial Army  (1921– )

  • Central Department (Department of the Secretary)
    • Department of the Chaplain-General
    • Department of the Judge Advocate-General
    • Publicity Section/Information Section

  • Department of the Financial and Parliamentary Secretary (Finance Department)
    • Directorate of Army Contracts (1924– )

  • Imperial General Staff
    • Directorate of Military Intelligence
      Directorate of Military Intelligence
      The Directorate of Military Intelligence was a department of the British War Office.Over its lifetime the Directorate underwent a number of organisational changes, absorbing and shedding sections over time.- History :...

       (?–1922)
    • Directorate of Military Operations (?–1922)
    • Directorate of Military Operations and Intelligence (1922– )
    • Directorate of Military Training (1922– )
    • Directorate of Army Staff Duties

  • Department of the Adjutant-General
    Adjutant-General to the Forces
    The Adjutant-General to the Forces, commonly just referred to as the Adjutant-General , is one of the most senior officers in the British Army. He is in charge of administration, personnel and organisational matters. The Adjutant-General usually holds the rank of General or Lieutenant-General...

    • Directorate-General of Graves Registration and Enquiries (?–1921)
    • Directorate-General of Army Medical Services
    • Directorate of Mobilisation
    • Directorate of Organisation
    • Directorate of Army Personal Services
    • Directorate of Prisoners of War (?–1921)
    • Directorate of Recruiting and Organisation

  • Department of the Quartermaster-General
    Quartermaster-General to the Forces
    In the United Kingdom, the Quartermaster-General to the Forces is a senior general in the British Army.From 1904 the Quartermaster-General to the Forces was the Third Military Member of the Army Board.-Responsibilities:...

    • Directorate of Equipment and Ordnance Stores (?–1927)
    • Directorate of Movements
    • Directorate of Quartering
    • Directorate of Remounts
    • Directorate of Supplies and Transport
    • Department of the Controller of Surplus Stores and Salvage
    • Department of the Surveyor-General of Supply (?–1921)
    • Directorate-General of Army Veterinary Services
    • Directorate of Works (1927– )

  • Department of the Master-General of the Ordnance
    Master-General of the Ordnance
    The Master-General of the Ordnance was a very senior British military position before 1855, when the Board of Ordnance was abolished.-Responsibilities:...

    • Directorate of Artillery
    • Directorate of Factories
    • Directorate of Fortifications and Works (?–1927)
    • Directorate of Ordnance Services (1927– )
    • Department of the Chief Technical Examiner for Works Services

External links

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