Frederick Maurice

Frederick Maurice

Frederick Maurice, the eldest son of Major-General John Frederick Maurice (1841–1912) and his wife, Anne Frances Fitzgerald, was born in Dublin on 19th January 1871. His grandfather was Frederick Denison Maurice, a leading Christian Socialist and the founder of the Working Men's College. His father was professor of military art and history at the Camberley Staff College.

Maurice was educated at St. Paul's School and the Sandhurst Royal Military College. He was commissioned in 1892 in the Derbyshire Regiment (Sherwood Foresters) and saw service in the Boer War. By 1899 he had reached the rank of major. After the war he graduated from the Staff College and served under General Douglas Haig in the directorate of staff duties at the War Office. In 1913 Maurice was appointed an instructor at the Staff College under General William Robertson. A strong friendship developed between the two men that was to last for the rest of their lives.

On the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914 Maurice went to France as a staff officer with the 3rd division; he was soon promoted to head its general staff. He received praise for the way he dealt with the thirteen-day retreat from Mons to the Marne. In 1915 General Robertson became chief of staff to General John French, commander of the British Expeditionary Force. Soon afterwards Robertson selected Maurice to take charge of the operations section at general headquarters.

According to his biographer, Trevor Wilson: "They worked well together and Maurice was further promoted. Then in December Robertson was transferred to London to become chief of the Imperial General Staff and principal military adviser to the government. Maurice went with him, to become director of military operations at the War Office with the rank of major-general. At the War Office, Robertson and Maurice worked in agreement. They endorsed a strategy of concentrating Britain's military resources and operations on the western front against the armed might of Germany, and they resisted policies which would have directed Britain's endeavours towards lesser adversaries in more extraneous theatres."

General William Robertson became convinced that the war would be won on the Western Front. Robertson wrote on 8th February, 1915: "If the Germans are to be defeated they must be beaten by a process of slow attrition, by a slow and gradual advance on our part, each step being prepared by a predominant artillery fire and great expenditure of ammunition". His long-term friend, General Douglas Haig, the Commander-in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Force, agreed with this strategy. He wrote in his autobiography, From Private to Field-Marshal (1926): "There was never, so far as I know, any material difference of opinion between us in regard to the main principles to be observed in order to win the war."

Robertson's biographer, David R. Woodward, has argued: "Assisted by his handpicked director of military operations, Sir Frederick B. Maurice, Robertson in his new role as chief of general staff attempted to solve the riddle of static trench warfare which had replaced the war of movement of the first months of the war. The ever-expanding system of earthworks had the property of an elastic band. They bent rather than broke. Robertson concluded that a decisive battle was unlikely so long as Germany had reserves to bring forward. To prevent the Germans from gradually giving ground while inflicting heavy losses on the attacker, Robertson and Maurice hoped to nail the defenders to their trenches by choosing an objective which the enemy considered strategically vital."

Herbert Henry Asquith, the prime minister, did not challenge this approach to the war. However, he lost office after the failure of the Somme Offensive on the Western Front. His replacement, David Lloyd George, disagreed with this strategy and at various stages advocated a campaign on the Italian front and sought to divert military resources to the Turkish theatre.

According to the historian, Michael Kettle, Maurice became involved in a plot to overthrow David Lloyd George. Others 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) 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."

On 24th January, 1918, Repington wrote an article where he described what he called "the procrastination and cowardice of the Cabinet". Later that day Repington heard on good authority that Lloyd George had strongly urged the War Cabinet to imprison both him and his editor, Howell Arthur Gwynne. That evening Repington was invited to have dinner with Lord Chief Justice Charles Darling, where he received a polite judicial rebuke.

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.

Frederick Maurice
Frederick Maurice

General William 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". 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. 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.

Maurice wrote to Henry Wilson, the Chief of the Imperial General Staff pointing out these inaccuracies. He did not receive a reply and after consulting with his wife and mother, he took the decision to write a letter to the newspapers giving the true figures. Maurice knew that by taking this decision, his military career would be brought to an end. However, as he said in a letter to his daughter Nancy: "I am persuaded that I am doing what is right, and once that is so, nothing else matters to a man. That is I believe Christ meant when he told us to forsake father and mother and children for his sake."

On 6th May, 1916, 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, David Lloyd George 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.

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.

According to Trevor Wilson: "And although Lloyd George subsequently claimed that the government had been supplied with its figures concerning troop strengths on the western front by Maurice's own department (figures which happened to be inaccurate), these had only been provided after the statements by Lloyd George to which Maurice took exception, and had been corrected by the time Lloyd George made his rebuttal to Maurice in the parliamentary debate of 9 May. Whether, even so, a serving officer should have taken issue with his political masters in the public way Maurice did must remain a matter of opinion. Haig, for one, certainly thought not, as he recorded in his diary. Maurice himself took the view that, as a concerned citizen, he was obliged to rebut misleading statements by ministers which served to divert responsibility for setbacks on the battlefield from the political authorities, where it belonged, to the military. To this end he was prepared to sacrifice his career in the army."

After leaving the army Maurice became military correspondent of The Daily Chronicle. This was a surprising decision as Robert Donald, the editor, had been for a long time a close friend and loyal supporter of David Lloyd George. Donald had already rejected an offer of a knighthood from Lloyd George as he feared it might compromise his editorial freedom. It would seem that Donald was beginning to have doubts about the honesty of Lloyd George.

David Lloyd George was furious with Donald's decision to employ Maurice and on 5th October it was announced that a group of his friends led by Sir Henry Dalziel, had purchased the The Daily Chronicle. Both Robert Donald and Maurice were forced to resign from the paper.

After leaving the Daily Chronicle Maurice worked as the military correspondent of the Daily News, and later articles for the Westminster Gazette. He also wrote several books about the war including Intrigues of the War (1922), Governments and War (1926), British Strategy (1929) and The Armistices of 1918 (1943).

Edward Louis Spears, his future son-in-law, wrote: "As imperturbable as a fish, always unruffled, the sort of man who would eat porridge by gaslight on a foggy morning in winter… just as if he were eating a peach in a sunny garden in August. A very tall, very fair man, a little bent, with a boxer's flattened-out nose, and a rather abrupt manner. A little distrait owing to great inner concentration."

Maurice was also the principal of the Working Men's College (1922-1933) and East London College (1933-44). Highly valued as a lecturer, in 1926 he was also appointed professor of military studies at London University. He also taught for many years at Trinity College. He was also a leading figure in the British Legion.

Frederick Maurice died at his home, 62 Grange Road, Cambridge on 19th May 1951.

Primary Sources

(1) Frederick Maurice, The Daily Chronicle (7th September, 1918)

Why has our Government expressed no recognition of Sir Douglas Haig's leadership and the valour of our men? We are often accused of concealing the performances of our own troops, and of giving the credit to others. This time there has been no concealment, which makes it more remarkable that so conspicuous a success should have been allowed by the War Cabinet to pass unnoticed.

(2) Frederick Maurice, The Daily Chronicle (13th September, 1918)

He (David Lloyd George) did right in doing homage to Marshal Foch, but his omission to make any reference to the prominent part played by Sir Douglas Haig in the achievement of the recent victories was very marked. It is a small mind that petulantly refuses to acknowledge the services of a great soldier.

(3) Frederick Maurice, The Daily Chronicle (3rd October, 1918)

The British successes on the Western Front since 8th August are much the greatest in scale ever won by the British Army or a British General. Within the period under review General Pershing and General Allenby have received the official congratulations of the British Government, and Mr. Lloyd George has congratulated Marshal Foch. Various private organizations have sent congratulations to Sir Douglas Haig, including the Labour Party and the National Liberal Federation; but the War Cabinet has remained silent.

(4) The Star (17th October, 1918)

One thing we may be certain of there will be no repition of the leading article which complained that Sir Douglas Haig had never received the congratulations of the Prime Minister and the War Cabinet on his brilliant series of victories. The article appeared in the Daily Chronicle on Thursday morning. On Frday night the Prime Minister's representative had taken charge of the offices of the newspaper and Mr. Donald had resigned. Fleet Street knows the Prime Minister does not spare those who cross his path. General Maurice, who ceased to be a Director of Military Operations when he exposed the Prime Minister's speeches, is now the Military Correspondent of the Daily Chronicle, and it will be interesting to see how long he holds that post.