Chetwode, Sir Philip Walhouse, seventh baronet, and first Baron Chetwode 1869-1950, field-marshal, was born in London 21 September 1869, the elder son of (Sir) George Chetwode, who became sixth baronet, and his wife, Alice Jane, daughter of Michael Thomas Bass [qv.] and sister of M. A. Bass, first Baron Burton [qv.]. Educated at Eton, Chetwode gained athletic distinction by winning the hundred yards, the quarter mile, and the hurdles in 1887; he also played in the Oppidan Wall and Field elevens. He entered the army through the militia, receiving his first commission in the 3rd battalion the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, and in 1889 a regular commission in the 19th Hussars. This impregnation with two distinct traditions of mobility, of light infantry and of cavalry, was both an influence and an augury.
He was fortunate to have an early chance of active service, in the Chin Hills expedition, Burma, of 1892-3. He was promoted to captain in February 1897 after only seven years' service, when with his regiment in South Africa, and he was there when war broke out two years later. He took part in the defence of Ladysmith, and before the end of the war had been twice mentioned in dispatches and appointed to the D.S.O. Sir John French (later the Earl of Ypres) [qv.], who had been his first commanding officer in the 19th Hussars, was strongly impressed by Chetwode's potentialities and sought his appointment to the staff on receiving the Aldershot Command. Chetwode had not, however, passed through the Staff College and the War Office would not relax the rule. But in 1906 he became French's assistant military secretary. In the previous year he had succeeded his father in the baronetcy. In 1908 he was given command of his regiment in the cavalry brigade commanded by Edmund (later Viscount) Allenby [qv.] who, like French, was struck by Chetwode's quick grasp of a problem and keen eye for ground.
Soon after completing his four years' term of regimental command Chetwode was given the London Yeomanry brigade in the Territorial Force. During the Curragh incident of March 1914 he was chosen to replace (Sir) Hubert Gough in command of the 3rd Cavalry brigade when Gough and other senior officers tendered their resignations. The issue was settled and the resignations withdrawn, but Chetwode's provisional acceptance caused ill feeling which long persisted in some quarters. He was, however, given command of the 5th Cavalry brigade shortly afterwards and took it to France on the outbreak of war in August 1914. His brigade helped to cover the retreat from the frontier, and at Cérizy inflicted a valuable check on the pursuing Germans. In the subsequent advance from the Marne it joined with the 3rd under Gough's command, the two then being designated the 2nd Cavalry division. During this phase there was some criticism of Chetwode's caution in pursuit, although not of his general capacity as a commander. After the check on the Aisne, he moved up to Flanders with the rest of the cavalry and took part in the defensive battle of Ypres. In July 1915 he was promoted to command the 2nd Cavalry division on French's recommendation, but by that time the trench deadlock had turned the opportunity into a cul-de-sac.
More fortunate than most cavalrymen, Chetwode was provided with a wider scope by transfer to the Near East in December 1916 as commander of the Desert Column in the Egyptian Expeditionary Force under Sir Archibald Murray [qv.]. Here Chetwode showed striking ability in devising and planning bold maneuvres, although in execution these several times fell short of their prospect from a sense of caution fostered by his concern for the water supply of the horses.
In January 1917 Chetwode advanced against the Turkish fortified post at Rafah on the Palestine border. The post was surrounded soon after dawn, following a night approach through the desert, but the attack made such slow progress that in the afternoon Chetwode was instructing Sir Henry Chauvel [qv.] to prepare to withdraw when the key position was stormed. In March an advance was made on Gaza by a larger force under Sir Charles Dobell, with Chetwode commanding the Desert Column. Gaza was enveloped and the garrison on the verge of surrender when the attack was broken off at nightfall after consultation between Dobell and Chetwode who expected a Turkish counter-move and were anxious about water for the horses. A second attack in April failed at heavy cost, the enemy having been reinforced. Dobell was then replaced by Chetwode and in June Allenby took Murray's place. On Allenby's arrival in Egypt he received a plan of maneuvre finely conceived by Chetwode and his staff officer Brigadier-General Guy Payan Dawnay. When applied in the autumn this resulted in levering the Turks out of their defences. Chetwode was now in command of the newly formed XX Corps which was brought up in the subsequent advance on Jerusalem when the XXI Corps was checked. To him was due both the conception and direction of the stroke which turned the Turks' resistance in the hills and opened the way to the capture of the holy city.
In 1919 Chetwode became military secretary to the secretary of state; he was deputy chief of the imperial general staff, 1920-22, and for a short time adjutant-general: a notable series of appointments for an officer who was not a Staff College graduate. In 1923 he was given the highest command at home, Aldershot. It was a time of retrenchment but he exerted a helpful influence on the remodelling of the army by his constant insistence on the need to break loose from entrenchment and revive manoeuvre in warfare. While he still cherished the horse and was rather sceptical of the tank, his demand for a general quickening up all round of movement and leadership was encouraging to those younger men who were proclaiming the new vision of lightning strokes by armoured forces.
At the end of his four years' tenure Chetwode was only fifty-seven but the two posts senior to him had been filled within the previous two years. In 1928 he accepted a temporary step down and became chief of the general staff in India. The prospect of Chetwode eventually becoming chief of the imperial general staff disappeared when the holder, Sir George (later Lord) Milne [qv.], obtained an extension, but in 1930 Chetwode became commander-in-chief in India, a five years' appointment. It was a very difficult period: the military need for modernizing the army in India conflicted with the economic and political demands for reducing military costs, while there was growing pressure to indianize the army. Chetwode came through this ordeal with remarkable success, showing the qualities of statesmanship in the way he steered a course amid the rocks and swirling currents of British conservatism and Indian nationalism. His frankness of speech and downright manner both helped and hid his diplomacy. The proportion of entirely Indian-officered units was much increased, an Indian Sandhurst created, and also an Indian Air Force, while the Indian Marine became the Indian Navy. The slight progress made in modernizing the army and its equipment was not surprising. Chetwode had to work in a very conservative military environment, and within a limited military budget—in which he achieved considerable economies and an overall reduction.
Chetwode had greater natural gifts than most of the eminent soldiers of his time. Not intellectual, he was highly intelligent. His shrewd and incisive comments in conference, delivered in a racy Newmarket twang, made a lasting impression. He gripped an audience as few generals could—all the more because he looked and spoke like a leader. He was a big man both physically and in personality. His military testament delivered to the Quetta Staff College before leaving India was one of the most penetrating indictments of orthodoxy and of mental atrophy and stimulating calls for imagination ever delivered from the throne of military authority. To an unusual extent he practised what he preached. He shone even more in peace than in war since his unusual capacity for imagination, which may have caused an occasional hesitation in carrying through battle-plans which he had masterfully conceived, became an increasing asset, as did his flexibility, as he rose higher and entered the sphere of statecraft.
Chetwode was promoted to field-marshal in 1933 and on returning from India was appointed to the Order of Merit in 1936 and received the honorary degree of Doctor of Civil Laws, Oxford. Earlier honours were C.B. (1915), K.C.B. (1918), G.C.B. (1929), K.C.M.G. (1917), and G.C.S.I. (1934). He was constable of the Tower of London 1943-8 and rendered valuable service during the war of 1939-45 as chairman of the executive committee of the Red Cross and St. John joint war organization. He was colonel of the Royal Scots Greys, the 15th/19th Hussars, and the 8th Light Cavalry (Indian Army). He was created a baron in 1945 and died in London 6 July 1950.
He married in 1899 Hester Alice Camilla (died 1946), daughter of Colonel the Hon. Richard Southwell George Stapleton-Cotton and great-granddaughter of Sir Stapleton Cotton, first Viscount Combermere [qv.]. They had one son and one daughter. The son died in 1940 and the titles thus passed to Chetwode's grandson, Philip (born 1937). The daughter married Mr. John Betjeman who contributes to this Supplement. A portrait of Chetwode by Flora Lion is at the Ex-Services Victory Club, Seymour Street, London; another by (Sir) Oswald Birley is at the Cavalry Club.
Cyril Falls, (Official) History of the Great War. Military Operations, Egypt and Palestine, 1914-18, 3 vols., 1928-30
Contributor: B. H. Liddell Hart.