Cecil Frederick Nevil Macready
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About General Sir Nevil Macready, 1st Baronet, GCMG, KCB, PC (Ire)
General Sir Cecil Frederick Nevil Macready, 1st Baronet, GCMG, KCB, PC (Ire) (7 May 1862–9 January 1946), known as Sir Nevil Macready and affectionately as Make-Ready (close to the correct pronunciation of his name), was a British Army officer. He served in senior staff appointments in the First World War and was the last British military commander in Ireland, and also served for two years as Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis in London.
Macready was the son of the prominent actor William Charles Macready. He was born in Cheltenham and was brought up in the bohemian circles frequented by his parents (his mother, Cecile, was the granddaughter of the painter, Sir William Beechey), and was educated at Marlborough College (for two years, before falling ill) and Cheltenham College. He later claimed that he was far too lazy to pursue an artistic career himself, and although he expressed an interest in a stage career, his father, who loathed his own profession, expressly forbade it (although he continued to be involved in amateur dramatics all his life and was also a talented singer). He therefore joined the Army, passing out from the Royal Military College, Sandhurst and being commissioned into the Gordon Highlanders in October 1881.
He joined the 1st Battalion at Malta, and in 1882 went with them to Egypt, fighting at the Battle of Tel el-Kebir. He stayed in Egypt, and in 1884 was appointed garrison adjutant and staff lieutenant of military police at Alexandria. In 1886, he married Sophia Geraldine Atkin (died 1931), an Irishwoman; they had two daughters and a son. Macready remained in Alexandria until early 1889, when he returned to England to rejoin his regiment, and then served in Ceylon and India. He was promoted Captain in 1891. He was transferred to Dublin in 1892, and in 1894 became adjutant of the regiment's 2nd Volunteer Battalion in Aberdeenshire. In 1899, he was promoted Major and returned to India to join the 2nd Battalion, which was sent to South Africa in September.
Boer War and South Africa
Macready saw active service in the Second Boer War, serving in the besieged garrison at Ladysmith from October 1899 to February 1900. He was mentioned in despatches twice and promoted Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel in 1900, and in June 1901 headed a commission investigating cattle-raiding in Zululand. He stayed in South Africa in a series of staff posts, including Assistant Provost Marshal at Port Elizabeth (1901), Deputy Assistant Adjutant-General of the district west of Johannesburg (December 1901–1902), Assistant Adjutant-General and Chief Staff Officer of Cape Colony (1902–1905), and Assistant Quartermaster-General of Cape Colony (1905–1906). He was promoted Colonel in November 1903. He was appointed Companion of the Bath (CB) in 1906 and returned to England in October 1906.
In 1907, Macready was appointed Assistant Adjutant-General in the Directorate of Personal Services at the War Office in London, and helped to form the Territorial Force. He commanded the 2nd Infantry Brigade at Aldershot from May 1909, being promoted to Brigadier-General, and in June 1910 returned to the War Office as Director of Personal Services, responsible for a variety of personnel matters. Also having responsibility for military aid to the civil power, he played a large part in a series of labour disputes and in deploying troops to Ireland in anticipation of disturbances there. Unusually for an army officer of the time, he had marked liberal tendencies, believed in the right to strike, and supported Irish home rule. He was contemptuous of politics, socialism, communism, pacifism and capitalism (unless the employers treated their employees very well).
He was promoted Major-General in October 1910, and in November he took direct command of troops deployed to deal with a possible miners' strike, in the Rhondda Valley in South Wales, insisting that his troops remained subordinate both to the police and to the Home Office and not answerable to the panicking local magistrates. This policy probably helped to avert serious unrest in 1910 and again in a similar situation in 1912. A civil CB was added to his military CB in 1911, and in 1912, he was knighted as a Knight Commander of the Bath (KCB). After the Curragh incident in Ireland in March 1914, Macready was made General Officer Commanding Belfast District and was nominated as military governor-designate of Belfast in the event of civil war breaking out, something averted by the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914.
First World War
Macready was immediately sent to France as Adjutant-General of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). In 1915, he was appointed Knight Commander of St Michael and St George (KCMG). In February 1916, having carried out this job efficiently, he was recalled to London as Adjutant-General to the Forces, one of the most senior staff appointments in the British Army. He was promoted Lieutenant-General in June 1916 (although he was already temporarily in that rank). He was an enthusiastic proponent of the employment of female labour to free men up to go to the front. He also abolished the compulsory wearing of moustaches by British soldiers, and immediately shaved off his own, which he had hated.
During the final stages of the Third Battle of Ypres, Macready warned (4 October 1917) that the BEF could be kept up to strength if it suffered no more than a further 50,000 casualties before the end of the year, but the total exceeded this. The BEF suffered an alarming rise in drunkenness, desertions and psychological disorders, and reports were gathered of soldiers returning from the front grumbling about "the waste of life" at Ypres.
In 1918, Macready was promoted full General and raised to Knight Grand Cross of St Michael and St George (GCMG). He had been mentioned in dispatches four times during the war, been made a Grand Officier of the Légion d'honneur of France (1915), and a member of the Order of the Crown of Belgium, the Order of the Crown of Italy, and the Order of the Sacred Treasures of Japan.
Commissioner of Police
In August 1918, Macready somewhat reluctantly took the post of Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, head of the London Metropolitan Police, to which Prime Minister Asquith had intended to appoint him before war broke out in 1914. Morale was low, and many men were currently on strike over pay and trade union recognition. Macready got them back to work by granting a pay rise and promising the introduction of machinery for collective bargaining. He was popular among the constables and sergeants, whom he got to know far more than his predecessors had done. He abolished the system of punishment by deducting fines from men's pay over a period of months or even years. He also abolished the shilling a day deduction made from the pay of men on sick leave. He had an intense dislike of trade unions, and never took the short-lived National Union of Police and Prison Officers seriously, which partly led to the strike of 1919. Only a small percentage of the men went out on strike, and they were all dismissed, although Macready wrote a good reference for every one who asked.
In April 1920, Macready was sent to command the troops in Ireland as General Officer Commanding-in-Chief (GOC-in-C) British forces operating in the counter-insurgency role against the Irish Republican Army in the Irish War of Independence (alongside Hamar Greenwood as Chief Secretary). He already had pre-existing racist views of the Irish, writing to Ian Macpherson on the latter's appointment as Chief Secretary of Ireland in January 1919: "I cannot say I envy you for I loathe the country you are going to and its people with a depth deeper than the sea and more violent than that which I feel against the Boche". He later claimed in his memoirs that only loyalty to his "old Chief" Lord French made him accept – he demanded a higher pension than his predecessor and an increase in "table money" (entertainment expenses) from £500 to £1,400 as well as £5,000 "disturbance allowance". He was unimpressed by the administrative chaos in Dublin and the "crass stupidity which is so often found among police officers who have not been carefully selected". Nevertheless, he was a good and dynamic commander, increasing morale, improving policy, and securing additional troops and equipment. He refused to also take command of the Royal Irish Constabulary, however, which reduced coordination between the police and Army. Major-General Hugh Tudor, a distinguished artilleryman, was appointed Police Advisor in May 1920, then Chief of Police in November 1920.
A month after taking up official duties, Macready came to London to demand eight extra battalions of infantry and 234 motor vehicles. Sir Henry Wilson only learned of the request the evening before the Cabinet meeting and thought Macready "a vain ass" for not seeking his advice first. The cabinet agreed on 11 May 1920 to supply the vehicles and as far as possible the extra technical personnel requested, but on Wilson’s advice agreed only to hold the extra battalions "in readiness".
With the army stretched very thinly by the deployment of two extra divisions to Iraq, and the threatened coal strike in September 1920, Macready warned that the planned withdrawal of ten battalions would make peacekeeping in Ireland impossible (unless the Army was given a free hand to conduct purely military operations, which the politicians did not want) and large portions of the RIC would probably change sides. The government pressed ahead with recruiting auxiliaries, whose numbers peaked at 1,500 in July 1921. A military committee of review appointed by the Cabinet, which he chaired, did oppose the recruitment of the Black and Tans and Auxiliary Division, and he continued to be a strident critic of these bodies.
Macready had been initially impressed by Tudor and thought he was getting rid of "incompetent idiots" from senior police positions. Macready and Wilson became increasingly concerned that Tudor, with the connivance of Lloyd George, who loved to drop hints to that effect, was operating an unofficial policy of killing IRA men in reprisal for the deaths of pro-Crown forces. However Macready also told Wilson that the Army was arranging "accidents" for suspected IRA men, but not telling the politicians as he did not want them "talked and joked about after dinner by Cabinet Ministers".
Macready had come to support martial law as he was worried that army and police discipline might otherwise collapse. He advised that ad hoc reprisals by the Black and Tans were not stopping the "murders". After the killing of sixteen Black and Tans in an ambush at Macroom, County Cork, martial law was declared on 10 December 1920 in the four Munster Counties of Cork, Tipperary, Kerry and Limerick. On 23 December, Irish Home Rule became law. Macready attended a special conference on 29 December along with Wilson, Tudor and Sir John Anderson, head of the Civil Service in Dublin, at which they all advised that no truce should be allowed for elections to the planned Dublin Parliament, and that at least four months months of martial law would be required to restore order. The date for the elections was therefore set for May 1921. In accordance with Wilson and Macready's wishes, martial law was extended over the rest of Munster (Counties Waterford and Clare) and part of Leinster (Counties Kilkenny and Wexford).
By 1921, Macready had lost confidence in Tudor and thought the RIC had become unreliable. The Irish War of Independence reached a climax in the first half of 1921, with deaths of pro-Crown forces running at approximately double the rate of those in the second half of 1920.
In April 1921, the cabinet decided to withdraw four of Macready's 51 battalions to meet the possible Triple Alliance strike. Macready believed Ireland could be suppressed in the summer of 1921 with the elections out of the way, not least as troops would otherwise need to be replaced after the strain of guerrilla war. An extra seventeen battalions were sent in June and July, bringing British strength up to 60,000, but the politicians drew back from the brink and opened secret talks with James Craig and Eamon de Valera (who had been born in New York of Spanish descent and whom Macready called Wilson's "Cuban Jew compatriot").
Macready was instrumental in negotiating the truce in July 1921, although he suggested, perhaps in jest, that the entire Irish Dail could be arrested whilst in session. Following the Anglo-Irish Treaty and creation of the Irish Free State in 1922, he withdrew the troops without great incident. He retired in 1923 and was created a baronet. He had been sworn of the Privy Council of Ireland in 1920.
In 1924, he published his two-volume memoirs, Annals of an Active Life. Macready destroyed his own diaries and private papers after completing his memoirs, but 400 letters between Wilson and Macready survive, only ten of which predate his Irish appointment.
He briefly returned to police service during the 1926 General Strike, when he served as a staff officer to the Chief Commandant of the Metropolitan Special Constabulary.
He died at his home in Knightsbridge in 1946, aged 83. His son, Lieutenant-General Sir Gordon Macready (1891–1956), was also a distinguished soldier and inherited the baronetcy on his father's death.
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