Oor Wullie

Field Marshal Sir William - 'Wullie' - Robertson, 1st Baronet, GCB, GCMG, GCVO, DSO was a remarkable man.

At a time when class and family (breeding) plus wealth was everything, Robertson rose from the very bottom of the ladder to the top - enlisting as a private soldier in November 1877 and rising to become Field Marshal (the only British soldier ever to have done so) and ultimately Head of the Armed Services as Chief of the Imperial General Staff.

He was born in Welbourn, Lincolnshire, on 29th January 1860. The house in the village still stands, and bears a plaque commemorating the event.

After leaving school in 1873 he became a garden boy at the local rectory before moving to Deene Park in Northamptonshire at a Footman. His military career almost never happened. When he went to enlist he was under-age and  - as would so often happen a few years later in the Great War - was told by the recruiting sergeant to 'come back in a few days' when he would be 'old enough'. The five months Robertson added to his age remained his official war record for the duration of his long and distinguished service.

But his military career - like almost all of those tainted by the Great War - did not end happily. He was effectively sacked by the Prime Minister, David Lloyd George in February 1918.

Disputes over tactics between the Generals and the politicians were nothing new. But Robertson resolutely refused to back the Prime Minister, who wanted to concentrate on campaigns away from the attritional Western Front until the US joined the war.

He was issued with an ultimatum: either to become British representative on the Supreme Allied War Council (on paper, a promotion) or stay at the CIGS and see its responsibilities transferred to to Versailles.

Robertson refused to do either. Deeply mistrustful of Lloyd George's plans to transfer power to the Supreme War Council and fearful that it would place British troops under French command, Robertson was forced to resign.

Although there was talk of an overseas post, Robertson was given the Eastern Command of Britain’s home defence forces, a post he retained until the end of the war.


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