General John 'Galloper Jack' Seely (1868-1947), later 1st Baron Mottistone, was a man of many contradictions. A heroic politician and general who fought in the front line. A cavalryman who believed passionately in air power and whose horsemen defeated machine guns. A soldier who commanded a French prince in France. A man who claimed he had nominated his horse for the Victoria Cross. In later life, a soldier dedicated to peace at almost any cost. Seely was a man who earnestly believed that England expected every man to do his duty, and dedicated his life to that ideal.
Jack Seely was the youngest son of Sir Charles and Emily Seely, the seventh of their nine children. He enjoyed a privileged education at Harrow, becoming a close friend of a young Winston Churchill.
Jack grew up at Brooke House in the clifftop village of Brook on the Isle of Wight. There he earned his place in the 13-man lifeboat and in 1891 was awarded France's top civilian medal, La Médaille d'Or d'Honneur for his actions in rescuing the crew of the 450-ton vessel Henri et Léontine. In January 1894 he helped rescue seven men from the steamer Ossian, but contracted pneumonia and pleurisy. He was sent to Egypt to recover. While in Egypt a sheikh gave him advice that was to change, and save, his life:
Your people treat the dog as your friend and the horse as your slave. With us Arabs it is the other way round. Ours is the better plan. Every man should have one horse he cares for beyond anything else.
From that moment on, Seely was dedicated to his horses, particularly Warrior, one of the most famous war horses of all.
The Second Boer War (1899-1902)
Seely completed Yeomanry training, joining the band of volunteers ready to defend Britain in the event of an invasion. He also met and married Emily 'Nim' Crichton, daughter of shipping magnate Sir Harry Crichton of Netley Castle. By 1908 they had six children: Frank, John, Emily, Irene, Patrick and Kitty.
In October 1899 the South African Republic, also known as the Transvaal Republic, and the Orange Free State declared war on British forces in South Africa. The British army, requiring reinforcements, reluctantly requested aid from the Yeomanry, and Seely's Isle of Wight troops all volunteered.
Though told he was unable to take his horse Maharajah, a white Arab gelding, to South Africa because white horses were bad for camouflage reasons, Seely was unable to bear parting from him, dyed him brown and took him anyway. Two days before he left, Seely was invited to dinner at Osborne House with Queen Victoria and her youngest daughter Princess Beatrice, Governor of the Isle of Wight.
His experience of the war convinced him that the British army was run by what he called 'the incompetent and old-fashioned military mind'. When ordered to abandon his men he disobeyed the orders and stayed with his men, eventually managing to withdraw his troops. Promptly arrested, the court martial reprimanded him, but reinstated his command. Two weeks later he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) for his actions, one of the Commonwealth's highest military awards. During the war he was reported dead and was elected the Isle of Wight's Conservative MP. Seely and his men finally returned home in June 1901. When he had left in 1900, everyone had predicted the war would only last weeks. Wiser, the next time he heard that prediction, he did not believe it.
On his return home, Seely was also appointed the Isle of Wight's Deputy Lieutenant and entered Parliament as the Island's Conservative MP. He questioned the party's policies on most topics, especially challenging the Government's military strategy, structure and spending, opposing red tape and the proposals for compulsory military service. In January 1904 Seely applied for the Chiltern Hundreds, left the Tory party and was re-elected as a Liberal.
Passionate about improving army efficiency, he invited himself to the German army manoeuvres to see a comparison. He travelled to Frankfurt in September 1904, but got bored waiting for the manoeuvres to start, later saying,
There was a long wait of about an hour... I employed the interval of waiting in having a look at the Kaiser's [horse]... I induced the groom, who was in charge of this horse, to allow me to go for a ride on it... Unfortunately the Kaiser perceived me cantering him in and out of the trees... and expressed his displeasure in extremely unparliamentary language.
On his return after writing a report on German military procedure he spent much of his time as one of the Chairmen of the committee that culminated in the 1907 Territorial and Reserve Forces Act. This combined the mounted Yeomanry and infantry Volunteer Force into the Territorial Army, replacing and disbanding the Militia. He was an active member of the Committee of Imperial Defence and involved in the committee that founded the Royal Flying Corps (RFC). In 1911 he was the first Minister to fly in an aeroplane. He announced the creation of the RFC to the House of Commons in March 1912 following its Royal Approval.
In June 1912, Seely was appointed War Secretary. Despite him having fought in South Africa, his appointment was deeply resented by the British Army. Seely considered himself someone whose military experience allowed him to cut through the bureaucracy of outdated military thinking. The army saw him as an amateur who did not know the correct way things were done, and that his duties should be purely to get the armed forces as much money as possible. Though Seely considered himself first and foremost a soldier, the army believed him to be a meddling politician.
Seely continued predecessor Richard Haldane's belief that Britain should have a small but incredibly well trained and equipped army, the British Expeditionary Force. He appointed Sir John French as Field Marshal. Seely's personal experience in South Africa solved potential problems and ensured that the major shipping and railway companies were prepared, in the event of war, to transport any expeditionary force into France as swiftly as possible. As a result of that, in 1914, the British army arrived in France in force just five days after war was declared.
Seely worked hard to get funds for the RFC, which had 150 active planes. He liaised closely with Churchill who formed the Royal Naval Air Service in 1912 and used some of the Naval budget on aircraft. Seely also foresaw the need to develop anti-aircraft guns and searchlights.
Tragically in August 1913 Emily, Jack's wife, died in childbirth; his youngest daughter, Louisa, survived. Devastated by the loss of his key support, Jack plunged himself into his work at the War Office, only to face a grave constitutional crisis.
The Curragh Mutiny
The Liberal Party had promised Home Rule for Ireland but the heavily-armed Ulster Volunteer Force promised to rebel and fight if Irish Home Rule was introduced, even if Ulster was excluded. Many believed that a civil war was inevitable. By March 1914 British troops were being moved into positions around the north of Ireland in case violence erupted. The troops at Curragh Camp in County Kildare declared that if ordered to march to the north of Ireland they would resign, an open declaration of mutiny. Seely spent several days discussing the crisis with the King and Asquith, the Prime Minister.
Following a Cabinet meeting a statement was made to reassure the army that they would not be ordered to initiate attacks on the Ulster Volunteers, but were expected to obey orders. Seely felt that the original statement was too vague and added two sentences. The press took these sentences out of context and claimed they showed Seely colluding with the army to allow them to choose not to fight the Ulster Volunteers. Though the mutiny ended, he came under heavy pressure to resign as Secretary of State for War. Shortly after the situation in Ireland appeared to simmer down at least temporarily. Home Rule was put on hold, intended to be introduced at the end of World War I.
Following the loss of his wife and cabinet post, Seely spent more time with his six-year-old horse, Warrior. He remained on many defence committees and boards and remained in Parliament until the declaration of war in 1914.
1914: Great War Galloper
On 4 August, 1914, when Britain declared war, Seely felt he had to do his duty and fight in the conflict. He pulled every favour he could think of to become Special Envoy to Sir John French, Commander-in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Force. His knowledge of the political preparations made him the perfect 'Galloper', French's eyes and ears along the battlefield. On 5 August Seely became an honorary Colonel and Special Service Officer to the Commander-in-Chief.
Seely arrived in Le Havre on 11 August when Sir John French was still in London. A warm day, he went for a swim, but on his way out of the water he trod on a large piece of broken glass and had to use his towel to tourniquet his foot. He later said that a Frenchman 'ran down to me, and putting one hand on his heart, and holding the other outstretched, said "bravo, mon Colonel. Vous avez déjà versé votre sang Anglais pour la France."1'
On 12 August, Seely reported to General Grierson. The General, convinced the French lines were endangered by German forces threatening to reach Paris, died of a heart attack later that day. A clear picture of exactly where the Germans were was needed, so Seely decided to borrow the Duke of Westminster's Rolls Royce for a few days, head for the Meuse river and try to find out. The Germans' advance almost overtook Seely on more than one occasion before it was halted close to Paris at the Marne river.
As part of his galloper duties he frequently found himself on the front line of the trenches. At one point Seely was assigned to escort Labour Party founder Ramsay MacDonald2, then an anti-war protester, away from the front line. Seely had not realised that the front line had recently shifted, leaving them both trapped under machine gun fire close to the French front line. Both escaped unharmed despite being briefly arrested by the French as suspected spies.
When his duties permitted he spent time on the front line to see for himself how the measures and preparations he had made as Secretary of State for War fared under combat conditions, such as the use of periscopes. On one occasion he even went over the top with the men, only to become trapped in mud while a German machine gun turned in his direction,
When we got about halfway to the German front line... very heavy machine gun fire opened from a concealed German redoubt about fifty yards to my right. At that moment both my legs were stuck in the mud up to the knees. The machine gun fire was deadly; a man about six to my right fell riddled with bullets, then the next, then the next, and the next – I could hear the bullets thudding into their bodies – then it was my turn.
I was sure that my time had come at last and waited for the thud that had killed my comrades. But the bullets went humming by... I could see the flash of the machine-gun quite clearly. Then it dawned on me that the gun was in an embrasure, and the gunner could not traverse it far enough to reach me...
I looked to the right and left, and saw that the attack had failed. I wondered then and I wonder now what real purpose was served by sending the infantry over the top.
Christmas Day 1914 saw Seely in the front line when the famous Christmas Truce took place. He described the unofficial armistices of Christmas and New Year in a letter home with the words,
It lasted about three hours, during which time both sides fraternised. Some of our men went into their trenches, which were wetter than ours. The occasion was taken to bury the dead, service read by German officers in German and English. Invited to football match between Saxons and English on New Year's Day.
Walked across the road within 50 yards of the German trench. One German stood up to look. A voice from the Hampshire trench, 'It's all right sir, they won't shoot.' Wished everyone in trenches a Happy New Year from C-in-C.'
1915: Stop The Cavalry
As the Commander-in-Chief's Special Envoy, Seely's role was essentially a glorified errand boy and he longed for a command of his own. When Churchill learned that Lord Kitchener was considering combining two Canadian cavalry regiments and a yeomanry one to form a cavalry brigade, he encouraged Kitchener to appoint Seely in command. Seely grabbed the opportunity with full enthusiasm. Kitchener agreed as the post would sideline Seely's voice by putting him in charge of regiments considered by the British army to be poorly-trained cowboys and mounties, and it had the added bonus of annoying the Canadian Minister for Defence, who demanded that all Canadian forces should be commanded by Canadians.
The new Canadian Cavalry Brigade was formed from the Lord Strathcona's Horse regiment, the Royal Canadian Dragoons and initially boosted by the British 2nd King Edward's Horse regiment. Seely cared for the men under his command, but always maintained that the reason he gained the respect of the men was through his horse Warrior, saying:
This handsome, gay, thoroughbred... was my passport wherever I went... As I rode along, whether it were in rest billets, in reserve, approaching the line or in midst of battle, men would say not 'Here comes the General' but 'Here's old Warrior'.
Almost Ypered Out
Initially camped in Salisbury Plain, in May the Brigade headed to the front line as infantry reinforcements. Although Canadian Defence Minister Sam Hughes insisted that every Canadian should carry the Ross rifle3, Seely armed his men with the more robust and reliable Lee Enfield. Seely's brigade was stationed at Ypres and at one point was ordered over the top, only for the attack to be postponed at the last second.
Seely and his horseless cavalry served just south of Ypres, nicknamed 'Wipers', until January 1916. Seely had his own horse Warrior with him, who followed him around like a dog. Seely refused to wear his helmet and instead insisted on wearing his officer's hat at all times, as he believed it was his duty to appear fearless to improve his men's morale. He also spent £600, when his annual army wage was £500, on pumps, boots, periscopes and telephone wire to improve the lives of the men under his command in the trenches, although he later persuaded the War Office to refund him.
A Prince Among Men
Seely appointed as his second-in-command Prince Antoine d'Orléans-Bragance (1881-1918), the great-grandson of France's last monarch, Louis-Phillipe and grandson of the last emperor of Brazil. As he was descended from the French monarchy he was constitutionally forbidden from joining the French army. Wishing to fight to defend his country, Antoine joined the British army instead.
Sobering Slaughter of the Somme
In January 1916 the Canadian Cavalry Brigade was reformed, reunited with their horses and moved away from the front line. The Canadian Fort Garry Horse4 replaced the 2nd King Edward's as the brigade's third regiment, making it entirely comprised of Canadian troops.
In early 1916 Seely learned that one of his closest friends, his former Private Secretary George Nicholson, had been killed in an air crash. He wrote a long letter of condolence to Nicholson's widow, Evelyn. In June 1916 Seely's oldest son Frank informed him that he had enlisted. Seely pulled strings to ensure that he was assigned to his brigade as his Aide-de-camp or ADC, where he would be able to watch over him.
The cavalry detachment were being readied for the planned assault on the Somme. Seely's part in the campaign was simple. On 1 July the British army planned to send thousands of men over the top to weaken the German defences, creating a gap to allow the cavalry through to rout the Germans from behind.
On the preceding evening I flew in a reconnaissance aeroplane all over the front to be attacked and some way over the enemy territory beyond. My orders for the next day were to gallop right through... I tried to make myself believe that the operation were possible, though my reason told me it was not.
Though thousands of men were sent over the top, they were mown down by machine guns, with no chance of opening a gap. Seely's men were ordered to stay ready through that summer to gallop through the gap the instant it was created, but the thousands of men senselessly slaughtered over the top at the Somme died in vain.
In February 1917, Seely's 20-year-old son Frank left to join the Hampshire Regiment as a Lieutenant.
Charge of the Canadian Brigade
In March 1917, the cavalry returned to the Somme as the main German army fell back to the Hindenburg Line. This was a formidable defence system with many guarded outlying regions. On 24 March, the Fort Garry Horse became the first allied cavalry to recapture a village since October 1914, liberating Ytres. On 25 March, despite being ordered to be somewhere else, Seely liberated Equancourt, encouraging nearby infantrymen to support him. At 6.30 the following morning General Du Cane woke Seely up, demanding to know how he dare give his infantrymen orders, only to be mid-rant when a congratulating telegram arrived from the Commander-in-Chief. Du Cane immediately stopped his rant and merely enquired where his men were now located.
Seely's men were earning a reputation for bravery. Having proved that his men could perform the impossible - successful cavalry charges against German positions - Seely's Royal Canadian Dragoons were ordered to capture the hilltop hamlet of Guyencourt. This was defended by German machine guns behind thick barbed wire. A mounted Lieutenant Fred Harvey, after working out how long it took a machine-gunner to traverse his weapon across the line of fire as well as reload, charged out of a trench at the machine-gunner, leapt over the barbed wire and captured the machine gun, using it against the defending Germans. Seely, when he wrote his report, recommended that Harvey receive the Military Cross, Haig, reading the report, upgraded it to the DSO but when the King heard of how a cavalryman had successfully charged a machine gun, the Victoria Cross was awarded.
At the party organised to celebrate Harvey's success, Seely learned that his son Frank had died in action. When he heard the news he galloped straight to Arras to wander the battlefield, looking for his son. Members of the 1st Hampshire Regiment found him and told him how good a man Frank had been. Nicholson's widow Evelyn sent him a long letter of condolence that he found comforting.
Soon after, Seely's nephew Captain Charles Grant Seely of the Princess Beatrice's Own Isle of Wight Rifles (officially 8th (Territorial) Battalion, Hampshire Regiment) died at the 2nd Battle of Gaza on 19 April, 1917. Despite being severely injured and armed only with a walking stick, he refused to go to the Field Ambulance, with his last recorded words being 'A Seely never turns back.'
When the front line moved, No Man's Land became over a mile wide. Seely survived a skirmish and shell attack in June in which he was trampled by a horse pulling a heavy limber5. With a broken collarbone and both legs crushed, he was sent to Boulogne to get better, where the Queen visited him. While in hospital he sent a very brief telegram to Evelyn Nicholson:
Am coming home, and we are going to get married.
On 31 July, he and Evelyn 'Evie' Nicholson, a widow 18 years his junior, were married. After a short honeymoon in Brooke House, he felt it was his duty to return to his men. Although his legs hadn't healed and he couldn't use his left arm, he persuaded a doctor to certify that he was fit to return after only seven weeks away.
In November 1917, Seely and his men took part in the planned assault on Cambrai. Haig had assembled a quarter of a million men including a force of 374 tanks and 27,500 cavalry. The mass tank attack was intended to punch a hole through the Hindenburg Line, closely followed by the cavalry and infantry, and change the course of the war.
As soon as the Germans saw the tanks approaching, they destroyed a crucial bridge over a canal at Masnières. As the bridge was gone, the whole attack plan collapsed. Seely's men began making a replacement makeshift bridge out of timber they found and 140 men crossed over on this, before headquarters cancelled the whole attack, stranding the men in heavily-defended enemy-held territory without the expected support. One of the 23 survivors, Lieutenant Strachan, was awarded a Victoria Cross for his actions.
The following day the brigade were ordered to cross the canal and retake the nearby village of Rumilly-Cambrésis unsupported. Seely described these orders with the words,
I was certain in my own mind that few, if any of us, would survive... In a night attack it is always best for the commander to lead. So off I went... keeping close to the southern wall of the little main street so as to avoid the continual bullets which were splintering on the pavement in the centre of the road and on the north side… We had just got to a corner where an alleyway on the right led to our little bridge over the canal when I heard galloping hoofs coming from behind. This caused a redoubled burst of enemy rifle fire from the other side of the canal and a number of my men were hit. In a moment a staff officer came up to me, whispering breathlessly: 'Is that General Seely?' I replied 'Yes.' He then said, 'Your attack is cancelled. Here is the message.'
In December 1917, Seely managed to fully recover from his injuries in a rather bizarre fashion. After leading a cavalry charge that led to the capture of enemy-held territory, the following day the brigade was almost completely surrounded:
It was embarrassing to be so nearly surrounded, but it had great merit in that we were almost immune from shell fire; the Germans could not send over high explosives at us without the danger of hitting their own men too. After two days and a half in this extraordinary position... I got [in the saddle] to ride round and supervise the relief. When it was nearly complete a bullet struck poor St Quentin in the neck, and he fell stone dead. Incidentally he fell on to me, to my great advantage, for the smash, though painful, broke down all the adhesions in my left arm which, for the last four months, had prevented me lifting my left hand higher than my neck.
1918: Meeting Munnings
In early 1918 the war was losing favour in Canada. The Conscription Act was not received as well as had been hoped, and the fact that Seely, an Englishman, was still commanding Canada's cavalry was annoying. To raise morale and the profile of the Canadian contribution, Max Aitken, later Lord Beaverbrook, hired painters to make a pictorial record of the Canadian forces. In February 1918 the 38-year-old Alfred Munnings6 joined the Canadian Cavalry. Seely and Munnings shared a love of horses and quickly became firm friends. Munnings described painting Seely close to the front line by saying,
General Seely for some reason or other always made me think of the Peninsular War – he belonged to the Wellington period. Sitting [for a portrait] on his charger, in general's uniform, on a cold still day... Jack Seely was a picture. He sat on no wooden horse, as many of my sitters had done... he was on the patient Warrior, who as the minutes went on, sank deeper and deeper into the mud...
Taking the Michael
On Wednesday 20 March, 1918, Seely and General Currie, commander of all Canadian forces in France, were ordered back to London. Though under Seely's leadership the Canadian Cavalry had won substantial victories for minimal losses, he wasn't Canadian and the Canadian government wanted him replaced by someone who was.
Unfortunately, the British defences in France were weakened while, following Russia's withdrawal from the war and Italy's defeat, the Germans were able to heavily reinforce their front lines close to the Canadian cavalry's position. Seely was aware of this, having recently flown a reconnaissance mission behind enemy lines.
On 21 March Seely was informed he was being replaced with a Canadian commander when the largest artillery bombardment in the world to date was unleashed. The Germans prepared their massive counteroffensive. Seely rushed to Calais, one of the targets of one of the largest air raids of the war as part of the German Operation Michael, and hurried over 100 miles to be reunited with his men. There he learned that the German advance had crossed the Somme and Saint-Quentin Canal. The Canadian Cavalry Brigade covered the rout and were the last Allied force to cross the bridge at Dampcourt on 25 March.
The German army advanced 25 miles in five days and were within reach of Amiens. Should this town be taken, the British and French forces would be divided and German victory made possible; Kaiser Wilhelm was already celebrating having won the war in Berlin. General Rawlinson, newly appointed commander of the British troops, described the situation with the words, 'we have hardly anything between us and the enemy except utterly exhausted, disorganised troops.' What he did have was General Seely and the Canadian cavalry.
On Thursday 28 March, the German army broke through at Montdidier, dividing the French and British armies. The following day, the German army under Ludendorff headed for Amiens, intent on capturing the high ground at the Moreuil Ridge near the key strategic crossing over the river Avre. The only force in the immediate area left to stop them was the Canadian Cavalry Brigade and a small French infantry force preparing to retreat. Seely later said:
I saw at once that the position was desperate, if not fatal. If the enemy captured the ridge... the main line from Amiens to Paris would be definitely broken, and I knew already that when that happened the two armies, the French and the British, would be compelled to retire; the French to Paris, and our army to the Channel ports. All our sea power, even the great host of determined soldiers now crossing from the United States, would not avail to save the Allied cause. All that we had fought for, and bled for, for nearly four years, would be lost.
The Battle of Moreuil Woods
I knew that moment to be the supreme event of my life.
Seely knew the German-held wood on the ridge needed to be retaken, and quickly. There was only one way to achieve this; a cavalry charge. The way that a cavalry charge was conducted involved a signal troop first heading to the area that the cavalry was to charge to and placing a red pennant there, ensuring that the charge headed in the right direction. Naturally no general would ever dream of personally leading the signal troop and being the first to head into danger – unless, of course, that general was Jack Seely.
After ordering, 'We are going to re-take the ridge – fire on both sides. We are going up', Seely crossed the river riding Warrior, heading uphill. All but five of his men survived to plant the flag. The Royal Canadian Dragoons charged into the wood, dismounted, fixed bayonets and engaged in fierce, short-range combat.
The 75 men from Lord Strathcona's Horse's C Squadron, led by Captain Flowerdew, attacked the eastern side of the wood, expecting to meet a disordered, retreating enemy. However the Germans had a heavy artillery and machine gun position there, ready to defend against tank attacks. C Squadron went down fighting, with 25 men killed immediately, 15 dying soon after and most of the survivors injured. Though the charge failed to break the German position, it discouraged the Germans from bringing reinforcements to the wood as moving without cover would leave them vulnerable to the Canadian cavalry. This was key to the Canadian cavalry capturing the wood. Flowerdew was awarded a posthumous VC and Alfred Munnings later painted a rather splendid painting of the charge, downplaying the massacre. The charge was later immortalised in the play Mary's Wedding by Stephen Massicotte.
The Fort Garry Horse entered the wood with British reinforcements from the 16th Lancers. As sniper fire began to harry the German artillery position, the Germans retreated from most of the wood except the southern corner. As evening approached, Seely needed to send the message that he had held his ground to the Australians similarly holding the line five miles north at Villers-Bretonneux, but it was unlikely that a messenger would survive the journey. Prince Antoine volunteered, and though his horse was shot out from under him, he delivered the morale-boosting message to the Australian troops. He was later awarded the Chevalier Légion d'Honneur by Marshal Foch himself; decorated by the country that he was forbidden to serve.
The unstoppable German advance had been halted. The Canadian Cavalry Brigade had paid a terrible cost, but they had succeeded. Marshall Foch, Commander-in-Chief of the French and British armies, wrote,
On the 30th March the Battle was at the gates of Amiens, and at all hazards it was necessary to maintain the union of the armies. The Canadian Cavalry, by their magnificent attack, first held the enemy in check, and then definitely broke their forward march. In great degree, thanks to them, the situation, which was agonising at the beginning of the battle, was restored.
Still not out of the Woods
The following day Seely was ordered eight miles north and the Germans retook Moreuil Wood and the neighbouring Bois de Hourges or Rifle Wood and were now only seven miles from Amiens. On April Fool's Day, General Pitman ordered that Seely command not only his brigade, but also the remnants of the 4th and 5th brigades also, in order to retake the wood at any cost. Seely later insisted that the reason he was given overall command was because he was the only general still awake. However, the Germans had had time to strengthen their defences. Due to the terrain surrounding Rifle Wood, the cavalry was unable to ride to the attack. Instead headquarters' plan was for the men to walk towards the machine guns lying in wait for them. The men complied and, despite a very heavy toll, succeeded in recapturing the wood. General Pitman later wrote,
Our casualties were very heavy but when one considers the issue that was at stake, and the result gained, no price could have been called too high. The Germans had been advancing steadily at an average of about five miles a day since March 21, and were within 12 miles of Amiens. Our action at Moreuil Wood on the 30th had steadied them, but the action of April 1st settled them once and for all.
Cutting the Mustard
On that day, Seely saw one of his men injured and his natural instinct to help almost cost him his life:
I saw a sergeant... whom I knew well, lying in a fresh shell hole with much foam flecked with blood coming out of his mouth... I did an incredibly foolish thing for a man of my long experience. Instead of holding my breath and running on, I went up to the man... As I drew breath to speak I had an intense pain in my throat exactly as if someone had plunged a dagger down. Indeed, for a second I thought that a bullet had traversed my gut.
Seely had swallowed a mixture of chlorine, mustard and phosgene gas; his chest never recovered. With Warrior injured and his three other horses having been killed that day, the commander of the Canadian Cavalry left the final cavalry battlefield on a mule, unable to walk. He was soon sent to hospital back in Blighty. There he learned that, because of his accomplishments, the Canadian government was offering him overall command of the cavalry brigade after all. Yet the poison gas meant he could no longer be on the front line. Awarded the Croix de Guerre and Légion d'Honneur, Order of the Bath and Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG), he was forcibly retired from the army. Tragically, two days after peace was declared, Seely's close friend Prince Antoine died in a flying accident.
Peace In His Time?
Reluctantly, Seely returned to politics. He worked with Winston Churchill as Under-Secretary at the Ministry of Munitions before, in January 1919, becoming Under-Secretary of State for Air. Though Churchill and Seely had been friends since school, both were used to command. Seely passionately believed that the now fledgling RAF and air power was too important to be a minor government division and needed a separate Air Ministry. In November 1919 Seely demanded either the creation of a separate Air Ministry or he would resign. With air power's importance unappreciated, Seely resigned from his last government post. In 1923-4, Seely was Liberal MP for the Isle of Wight in Parliament for the last time.
In peace he became a committee member for the newly-founded Imperial War Museum. In 1926 he became the Chairman of the National Savings Movement, which led to his peerage in 1933, when he was appointed Lord Mottistone. However his own finances were such a mess that in 1924 he sold Brooke House to his brother Charles and instead lived in nearby Mottistone Manor, now held by the National Trust.
In order to generate some income, as he was always a man who enjoyed telling exaggerated tales of his life, he wrote about his experiences in peace and war. These autobiographical books, often serialised in newspapers, were:
- Adventure (1929)
- Fear and Be Slain (1931)
- Forever England (1932)
- Launch! A Lifeboat Book (1932)
- My Horse Warrior (1934)
- Paths of Happiness (1938)
Now in his 60s and determined to help prevent another war at any cost, his noble intentions led to his being misguided and easily duped regarding the rise of fascism in Europe. In the early 1930s he was a member of the Anglo-German Fellowship which aimed to improve relations between the two countries and had even briefly met both Hitler and Mussolini. In late 1939 he would publicly state, 'I am quite unrepentant. I am quite convinced that a conference is better than war at any time.'
Despite his understandable wish for appeasement, war came. At the age of 71 he felt it was his duty to volunteer for front line duty, even though he was past his prime. During the war he was involved in preparing defences against the expected invasion of the Isle of Wight. By the time the Second World War ended, he was increasingly dependent on an oxygen cylinder to assist his breathing. He died on 7 November, 1947 and his ashes were interred in the Cheke Chapel of St Peter and St Paul's Church, Mottistone.
To learn more information and further adventures of this fascinating man, why not read his grandson Brough Scott's biography, Galloper Jack?