Sir William Edmund “Tiny” Ironside

Sir William Edmund “Tiny” Ironside

Birth
Edinburgh, City of Edinburgh, Scotland
Death 22 Sep 1959 (aged 79)
Westminster, City of Westminster, Greater London, England
Burial Hingham, South Norfolk District, Norfolk, England
Memorial ID 122028029 · View Source
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British Army Field Marshal and Governor of Gibraltar, he served as Chief of the [British] Imperial General Staff (CIGS) during the first year of the Second World War, and was made a member of the British peerage when he was titled Baron Ironside of Archangel and Ironside in the County of Aberdeen (Scotland), and served in the House of Lords (Parliament).

Born the only child of Army Surgeon Major William Ironside of the Royal Horse Artillery and Emma Maria Richards Ironside, his father died shortly after he was born, and his mother raised the family on the small widow's pension. She would manage to travel extensively around Europe, where her son picked up several foreign languages, which would later become one of his defining abilities; he was fluent in seven languages and conversant in ten more. Initially educated in schools at St. Andrews and Tonbridge School in Kent, he was admitted to the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich, in which he flourished at both his studies and sports. Noted at both boxing and rugby, and tall at 6 feet, 4 inches, he earned the nickname "Tiny" from his fellow students, a nickname that he kept and used all of his life. On 25 June 1899, he was commissioned 2nd Lieutenant in the 44th Battery of the Royal Artillery, and sent to South Africa, where he would fight in the Second Boer War. There he was wounded three times and received promotion to [First] Lieutenant. Following the end of the war, he disguised himself as an Afrikaans-speaking Boer and took a job as a wagon driver for the German colonial forces in German Southwest Africa to spy on their activities. After being discovered, he was able to avoid capture and escaped back to South Africa, which later he would claim his adventures were used as the source of a spy character in novels by author John Buchan. Before World War I broke out, he served tours in India and South Africa, and attended Staff College in Camberley. On 5 August 1914, he was promoted to Staff Captain and attached to the 6th Division, to be further promoted to Major in October 1914. After working as a GSO3 (General Staff Officer for Operations and Training) and GSO2 (General Staff Officer for Intelligence and Security), he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and made GSO1 (General Staff Officer for Personnel and Manpower) in March 1916 with the 4th Canadian Division. There he participated in the Battle of the Somme, Vimy Ridge, and Passchendale, and in January 1918, he was made Commandant of the Small Arms School with the rank of Colonel. Two months later, he became the commanding general of the 99th Infantry Brigade with the temporary rank of Brigadier General. After six months, he was attached to the Allied Expeditionary Force fighting the Bolsheviks in Russia, and eventually became its commander, and with it, the permanent rank of Brigadier General. In November 1919, he turned over his command and returned to Britain where he was promoted to Major General and was made a Knight Commander of the Bath; an act which made him one of the youngest Major Generals in the Army.

Between the World Wars, he commanded a military mission that supervised the withdrawal of Romanian forces from Hungary following the Hungarian-Romanian War of 1919, and served in Persia (Iran). In 1921, he was injured in an aircraft accident and returned home to Britain. Recovered from his injuries, in May 1922, he was appointed the Commandant of the Staff College, spending four years there, where he argued for modernizing the Army with mechanization and rearmament. Critical of the "old men" in the upper ranks of the Army who he believed were clinging to methods of the previous war, he was reprimanded by the Chief of the [British] Imperial General Staff (CIGS), General Sir George Milne. Despite this, he was promoted to Lieutenant General in 1931 and posted to India to keep him from making further trouble for the senior Army staff. In 1936, he was promoted to full General (4 stars), and command of the Eastern Command, where he determined it was not prepared for a coming war with Japan. Losing out to Lord Gort for the position of CIGS, he was posted as Governor of Gibraltar, which many saw as a quiet place to put future soon-to-retire generals. Instead of relaxing in semi-retirement, he actively became involved in defense planning for the island and greatly strengthened the defenses of Gibraltar, making it ready for what many considered an inevitable European War. In a July 1939 fact-finding trip to Britains's ally Poland, he recognized that Poland was unable to stop Germany in a war, would fall to German attack within weeks, and warned the Army command. With the outbreak of war with Germany on 3 September 1939, he was appointed CIGS, and he adopted a policy of a strong defense in France, planning to send 20 British divisions there. He also planned to send 3 divisions to strategic Norway, but the German Army arrived first and occupied it before the British divisions were ready. During the May 1940 Battle for France, Ironside visited the BEF and French command several times, observing what he believed to be defeatism in the generals there, and returned to recommend preparing for an evacuation of the British Forces there. Upon his return in late May 1940, he briefed PM Winston Churchill on his findings and requested transfer to command of the Home Army in Britain, a posting he liked better than CIGS, and to which Churchill agreed to do. Ironside then began to build up the Home Army against a future German attack that he was certain would come once France fell. On 19 July 1940, he was relieved by the War Office and retired as a Field Marshal. Later, he was also raised to the peerage as the Baron Ironside of Archangel, although he was never given another military assignment. In his remaining years, he turned to lecturing and writing books, and farming his estate in Norfolk. Injured in a fall in his home, he was taken to the hospital in London, where he died on September 22, 1959, at the age of 79. After full military honors at Westminster Abbey, he was buried in Hingham, England. His many honors and awards include Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath, the Distinguished Service Order, Order of St. Michael and St. George, Knight of the Venerable Order of St. John, French Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor, and the French Croix de Guerre with Palm. (bio by Kit and Morgan Benson)


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  • Created by: Kit and Morgan Benson
  • Added: 22 Dec 2013
  • Find A Grave Memorial 122028029
  • Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed ), memorial page for Sir William Edmund “Tiny” Ironside (6 May 1880–22 Sep 1959), Find A Grave Memorial no. 122028029, citing St Andrew's Church Cemetery, Hingham, South Norfolk District, Norfolk, England ; Maintained by Kit and Morgan Benson (contributor 46483611) .