Jump to content
The Education Forum

Military Conspiracy to Overthrow the British Government in 1918


John Simkin
 Share

Recommended Posts

According to the historian, Michael Kettle, a group of military leaders became involved in a plot to overthrow David Lloyd George, the British prime minister, in 1918. Those involved in the conspiracy included General William Robertson, Chief of Staff and the prime ministers main political adviser, Maurice Hankey, the secretary of the Committee of Imperial Defence (CID), General Frederick Maurice, director of military operations at the War Office and Colonel Charles Repington, the military correspondent of the Morning Post. Kettle argues that: "What Maurice had in mind was a small War Cabinet, dominated by Robertson, assisted by a brilliant British Ludendorff, and with a subservient Prime Minister. It is unclear who Maurice had in mind for this Ludendorff figure; but it is very clear that the intention was to get rid of Lloyd George - and quickly."

General William Robertson disagreed with Lloyd George's proposal to create an executive war board, chaired by Ferdinand Foch, with broad powers over allied reserves. Robertson expressed his opposition to General Herbert Plumer in a letter on 4th February, 1918: "It is impossible to have Chiefs of the General Staffs dealing with operations in all respects except reserves and to have people with no other responsibilities dealing with reserves and nothing else. In fact the decision is unsound, and neither do I see how it is to be worked either legally or constitutionally."

On 11th February, Charles Repington, revealed in the Morning Post details of the coming offensive on the Western Front. Lloyd George later recorded: "The conspirators decided to publish the war plans of the Allies for the coming German offensive. Repington's betrayal might and ought to have decided the war." Repington and his editor, Howell Arthur Gwynne, were fined £100 each, plus costs, for a breach of Defence of the Realm regulations when he disclosed secret information in the newspaper.

General Robertson wrote to Repington suggesting that he had been the one who had leaked him the information: "Like yourself, I did what I thought was best in the general interests of the country. I feel that your sacrifice has been great and that you have a difficult time in front of you. But the great thing is to keep on a straight course". General Frederick Maurice also sent a letter to Repington: "I have the greatest admiration for your courage and determination and am quite clear that you have been the victim of political persecution such as I did not think was possible in England."

Robertson put up a fight in the war cabinet against the proposed executive war board, but when it was clear that Lloyd George was unwilling to back down, he resigned his post. He was now replaced with General Henry Wilson. General Douglas Haig rejected the idea that Robertson should become one of his commanders in France and he was given the eastern command instead.

On 9th April, 1918, Lloyd George, told the House of Commons that despite heavy casualties in 1917, the British Army in France was considerably stronger than it had been on January 1917. He also gave details of the number of British troops in Mesopotamia, Egypt and Palestine. Frederick Maurice, whose job it was to keep accurate statistics of British military strength, knew that Lloyd George had been guilty of misleading Parliament about the number of men in the British Army. Maurice believed that Lloyd George was deliberately holding back men from the Western Front in an attempt to undermine the position of Sir Douglas Haig.

On 6th May, 1918, Frederick Maurice wrote a letter to the press stating that ministerial statements were false. The letter appeared on the following morning in the The Morning Post, The Times, The Daily Chronicle and The Daily News. The letter accused David Lloyd George of giving the House of Commons inaccurate information. The letter created a sensation. Maurice was immediately suspended from duty and supporters of Herbert Henry Asquith called for a debate on the issue.

Maurice's biographer, Trevor Wilson: "Despite containing some errors of detail, the charges contained in Maurice's letter were well founded. Haig had certainly been obliged against his wishes to take over from the French the area of front where his army suffered setback on 21 March. The numbers of infantrymen available to Haig were fewer, not greater, than a year before. And there were several more ‘white’ divisions stationed in Egypt and Palestine at the time of the German offensive than the government had claimed."

The debate took place on 9th May and the motion put forward amounted to a vote of censure. If the government lost the vote, the prime minister would have been forced to resign. As A.J.P. Taylor has pointed out: "Lloyd George developed an unexpectedly good case. With miraculous sleight of hand, he showed that the figures of manpower which Maurice impuhned, had been supplied from the war office by Maurice's department." Although many MPs suspected that Lloyd George had mislead Parliament, there was no desire to lose his dynamic leadership during this crucial stage of the war. The government won the vote with a clear majority.

Frederick Maurice, by writing the letter, had committed a grave breach of discipline. He was retired from the British Army and was refused a court martial or inquiry where he would have been able to show that David Lloyd George had mislead the House of Commons on both the 9th April and 7th May, 1918.

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/PRgeorge.htm

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/FWWrobertson.htm

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/FWWhankey.htm

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/FWWrepington.htm

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/FWWmaurice.htm

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Michael Kettle believes that David Lloyd George tried to set-up one of the plotters, Noel Pemberton Billing with Eileen Villiers-Stuart, the former mistress of a government cabinet minister. However, this backfired when Villers-Stuart became Billing's mistress. You can read more about this at:

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/FWWbilling.htm

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/FWWvilliersS.htm

http://educationforum.ipbhost.com/index.php?showtopic=18547

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Please sign in to comment

You will be able to leave a comment after signing in



Sign In Now
 Share

×
×
  • Create New...