Guide The Power of the Pen: The Politics, Nationalism, and Influence of Sir John Willison

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See more details at Online Price Match. Email address. Please enter a valid email address. Walmart Services. Get to Know Us. Customer Service. In The Spotlight. Shop Our Brands. All Rights Reserved. Keith Jeffery argues that this is a misunderstanding by Bond: there is no evidence in Wilson's writings to confirm that he meant the phrase in that way, although his political views were shared by many officers. Although Wilson was less obsessed about the dangers of espionage than Edmonds then running MO5 — military intelligence , in March he had two German barbers removed as potential spies from Staff College.

In Wilson had his senior class prepare a scheme for the deployment of an Expeditionary Force to France, assuming Germany to have invaded Belgium. Questions were asked in the House of Commons when news of this leaked out, and the following year no assumption was made of a German invasion of Belgium, and students were sharply reminded that the exercise was "SECRET".

They struck up a good rapport, and both thought the Germans would attack between Verdun and Namur in the actual event they would attack much further west than that. Accompanied by Colonel Harper Wilson reconnoitred the likely future theatre of war. In August , along with Edward Percival "Perks" , they explored south of Namur by train and bicycle. In Spring , this time by motor car, they travelled from Rotterdam into Germany, then explored the German side of the frontier, noting the new railway lines and "many sidings" which had been built near St Vith and Bitburg to allow concentration of German troops near the Ardennes.

Wilson privately supported conscription at least as early as He thought Haldane's scheme to merge Militia , Yeomanry and Volunteers into a new Territorial Army of 16 divisions would not be enough to match German training and efficiency. He was summoned to see Haldane March after an article in the Liberal Westminster Gazette inspired by Repington, Wilson assumed claimed that he supported conscription.


In a lecture to students November he did not publicly oppose government policy but hinted that it might not be enough. His wife Cecil organised a National Service League meeting that month. Haldane agreed an expansion after an inspection in March During Wilson's tenure the number of instructors rose from 7 to 16 and the number of students from 64 to In total, Army and 22 Royal Navy officers studied under him.

Wilson voted for Parliament for the first time in January for the Unionists. Launcelot Kiggell wrote that he was a "spell-binding" lecturer as Commandant at Camberley.

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A number of students, of whom the most famous was Archibald Wavell , later contrasted Wilson's expansive lecturing, ranging widely and wittily over geopolitics, with the more practical focus of his successor Robertson. Many of these recollections are unreliable in their details, may well exaggerate the differences between the two men, and may have been influenced by Wilson's indiscreet diaries published in the s.

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He objected to Wilson's tactical views — Wilson was sceptical of claims that Japanese morale had enabled their infantry to overcome Russian defensive firepower — and his lecturing style: "a sort of witty buffoonery … a sort of English stage Irishman". In May and June Wilson had been tipped to succeed Haig as Director of Staff Duties, although he would have preferred command of a brigade. He may have felt that Robertson's lack of private means did not suit him for a position which required entertaining.

The Power of the Pen: The Politics, Nationalism, and Influence of Sir John Willison

Whatever the truth of the matter, relations between Wilson and Robertson deteriorated thereafter. Repington whom Wilson thought a "dirty brute" and "lying brute" attacked the current standards of British staff officers in The Times on 27 September , arguing that Wilson had educated staff officers to be "sucking Napoleons " and that Robertson was a "first rate man" who would sort it out.

He was initially impressed only by the mapping section and one of his first acts was to have a huge map of the Franco—German frontier hung on his office wall. Wilson believed his most important duty as DMO to be the drawing up of detailed plans for deployment of an expeditionary force to France, in accordance with the CID's decision of July Little progress had been made in this area since Grierson's plans during the First Moroccan Crisis. He hoped also to get conscription brought in, but this came to nothing. Wilson described the size of Haldane's planned Expeditionary Force six divisions of three brigades each and a cavalry division of four brigades as simply a "reshuffle" of the troops available in Britain, and often declared that "there was no military problem to which the answer was six divisions".

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  8. Foch is supposed to have told Wilson that he would be happy for Britain to send just a corporal and four men, provided it was right from the start of the war, and that he promised to get them killed, so that Britain would come into the war with all her strength. The house was a financial burden and the Wilsons often let it out. Wilson and his staff spent the winter of —11 conducting a "great strategical War Game" to predict what the great powers would do when war broke out. Wilson thought the existing plans for deployment of the BEF known as the "WF" scheme — this stood for "With France" but was sometimes wrongly thought to stand for "Wilson-Foch" "disgraceful.

    A pure academic, paper arrangement of no earthly value to anyone. He was given this after a lunch with Haldane, who had already consulted Foreign Secretary Grey 20 January. On the return journey he noted how many railway sidings were being built at Herstal on the Belgian frontier, and dined in Paris with Foch, whom he warned 26 February against listening to Repington, and the French Chief of Staff General Laffort de Ladibat.

    Spender 27 February was hostile to Wilson's plans to deploy forces to the continent. Wilson sat up till midnight on 4 July three days after the Panthe r arrived at Agadir in an attempt to overawe the French writing a long minute to the CIGS. The Wilson-Dubail memorandum, although making explicit that neither government was committed to action, promised that in the event of war the Royal Navy would transport six infantry and one cavalry divisions totaling , men to Rouen, Le Havre and Boulogne, and that the BEF would concentrate between Arras, Cambrai and St Quentin by the thirteenth day of mobilisation.

    In reality, the transport plans were nowhere near ready, although it is unclear that the French knew this. Wilson approved of Lloyd George 's Mansion House speech backing France , which he thought preferable to "the funk Edward Grey 's procrastinat ion ". Wilson was perhaps unappreciative that Grey was not only trying to find a peaceful resolution but also had to consider the domestic political crisis as the Parliament Act was being pushed through and troops were being deployed against strikers in London, [] Liverpool and South Wales.

    Hankey letter to McKenna 15 August complained of Wilson's "perfect obsession for military operations on the Continent", scoffing at his bicycling trips of recent years around the French and Belgian borders, and accusing him of filling the War Office with like-minded officers. He argued that British aid would be necessary to prevent Germany defeating France and achieving domination of the continent, and that this would have both a moral and a military effect on the outcome.

    He argued that by Day 13 of mobilisation France would have the upper hand, outnumbering the Germans by 63 divisions to 57 along the frontier, but by Day 17 Germany would outnumber France by 96 divisions to However, because of road bottlenecks in the passable parts of the war theatre, the Germans would at most be able to deploy 54 divisions in the opening phase, allowing the 6 infantry divisions of the BEF a disproportionate effect on the outcome.

    Wilson thought the Royal Navy plan "one of the most childish papers I ever read". Prime Minister H. Asquith ordered the Navy to fall in with the Army's plans, although he preferred to send only four divisions. Hankey also recorded that even by French and Haig were not fully aware of what had been decided, Morley and Burns resigned from the Cabinet as they were unable to accept the decision, and Churchill and Lloyd George never fully accepted the implications of committing a large military force to France.


    After the meeting Hankey began to draw up the War Book detailing mobilisation plans, and yet the exact deployment of the BEF was still undecided as late as 4 August Wilson had recommended deploying at Maubeuge. He thought wrongly, as it turned out that the Germans would only violate Belgian territory south of the Meuse, whereas to attack further north would mean attacking Liege, Huy and Namur, possibly violating Dutch neutrality by crossing the Maastricht appendix, and would be more likely to attract Belgian resistance.

    Over the next few weeks Wilson had several meetings with Churchill one of which lasted three hours , Grey and Lloyd George, who were keen to obtain an agreement with Belgium. This attracted the opposition of Haldane, who wrote to Churchill that Wilson was "a little impulsive. Throughout the Agadir Crisis Wilson was keen to pass on the latest intelligence to Churchill, e. Churchill and Grey came to Wilson's house 4 September to discuss the situation until after midnight.

    Wilson 18 September recorded four separate reports from spies of German troops massing opposite the Belgian frontier. Wilson was also responsible for Military Intelligence, then in its infancy. It is unclear from the surviving documents just how much of Wilson's time was taken up by these agencies, although he dined with Haldane, Kell and Cumming on 26 November In October Wilson went on another bicycle tour of Belgium south of the Meuse, also inspecting the French side of the frontier, also visiting Verdun, the battlefield of Mars-La-Tour , where he claimed to have laid 16 October a small map showing the planned concentration areas for the BEF at the foot of the statue of France, then Fort St Michel at Toul near Nancy.

    Radical members of the Cabinet Morley, McKenna, Crewe , Harcourt pushed for Wilson's removal, but he was staunchly defended by Haldane 16—18 November , who had the backing of the most influential ministers: Asquith, Grey and Lloyd George, as well as Churchill. After Agadir the MO1 section under Harper became a key branch in preparing for war.

    The Power of the Pen

    Churchill, newly appointed to the Admiralty , was more receptive to Army-Navy cooperation. Intelligence suggested 8 January that Germany was getting ready for war in April He was impressed by him and spent an hour and three quarters discussing Ireland and defence matters.

    That summer he began having regular talks with Long, who used Wilson as a conduit to try to establish cross-party defence agreement with Churchill. Wilson September thought Haldane a fool for thinking that Britain would have a time window of up to six months in which to deploy the BEF. Plans to visit Constantinople had to be shelved because of the First Balkan War , although Wilson recorded his concerns that the Bulgars had beaten the Turks a month after the declaration of war — evidence that the BEF must be committed to war at once, not within six months as Haldane hoped.

    By 14 November the railway timetables, drawn up by Harper's MO1, were ready, after two years of work. A joint Admiralty-War Office committee, including representatives of the merchant shipping industry, met fortnightly from February , and produced a workable scheme by spring In the event the transport of the BEF from just three ports Southampton for troops, Avonmouth for mechanical transport and Newhaven for stores would proceed smoothly. Repington and Wilson were still cutting one another dead whenever they met.

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    In November Repington, who wanted to use the Territorial Army as a basis for conscription, urged Haldane now Lord Chancellor to have Wilson sacked and replaced by Robertson. Wilson again gave evidence to the CID 12 November that the presence of the BEF on the continent would have a decisive effect in any future war. In the spring of Roberts, after previous urging by Lovat, arranged a reconciliation between Repington and Wilson.