General Sir Charles Whitingham Horsley Douglas, GCB, ADC (1850-1914).







General 1910; Inspector-General, Home Forces 1912-1914; Chief of Imperial General Staff from 1914; Colonel, Gordon Highlanders; ADC to Queen Victoria 1898; ADC to King George V 1914.

Obituary, The Times Monday, Oct 26, 1914; pg. 5; Issue 40677

We announce with great regret that General Sir Charles Whittingham Horsley Douglas G.C.B., died early yesterday morning at his residence in Eaton-square. He was in his 65th year.

The death of Sir Charles Douglas is a serious blow to the Army and the nation. It is particularly grievous at the present moment, for the late General was First Military member of the Army Council, Chief of the Imperial General Staff, and the first lieutenant of Lord Kitchener. He succeeded Sir John French when the latter resigned, and has been a tower of strength at the War Office, and an invaluable assistant to the Secretary of State for War, who has not failed to realize and appreciate the knowledge, loyalty, and sterling good sense which have made Sir Charles Douglas deeply respected throughout the Army.

War and Staff Services

Sir Charles had seen much active service. He went through the Afghan War (including the march from Kabul to Kandahar) with his regiment, the Gordon Highlanders, served in the Boer War of 1881, in the Sudan campaign of 1884-85, and in South Africa on Sir Redvers Buller’s staff, and then in command of the 9th Brigade, and subsequently of a field column. He afterwards became Colonel of the Gordon Highlanders. In days of peace he performed admirable work as a staff officer in the Aldershot Command under the Duke of Connaught; commanded a brigade and then a division; was the first Adjutant-General [a type of head of personnel] when the Army Council was created; held the Southern Command from 1909 to 1912, and then became Inspector-General of the Home Forces until the Prime Minister selected him to fill Sir John French’s place.

No one had a more intimate knowledge of the Army of better administrative capacities. Sir Charles was a tremendous worker. He was always at work. A professional soldier of the best stamp, he expected others to come up to his own standard, and he exacted from all around him the same devotion to public duty that he invariably displayed in every appointment that he held. He was not, for a long time, appreciated as highly by the Army as he deserved to be.. He never courted popularity in any way. He never failed to speak his mind. He was hard on inefficient men, and superficially was a little stiff in his manner.


But the Army learnt to know him and to trust him. It felt that the traditions and the interests of the Service were safe in his hands, and that by no possibility would he truckle to any politician, or move an inch from the soldierly course, no matter what temptations and seductions might be thrown in his way. As Adjutant-General he had a difficult task to fulfil, but despite many vexations he stood to his guns, and did more for the Army than the Army may ever know. He was of the greatest value to Lord Haldane during the latter’s term of office, and in all the leading reforms of that day Sir Charles Played a leading part. It was, however, when he went back to troops, first in the Southern Command, and, then as Inspector-General of the Home Forces, that the officers of the Army began to understand best the qualities of the late General. His Staff tours were generally regarded as models. He was an excellent judge of operations, and admirable in his criticism upon them. He taugh t the Army much, and the higher he rose the wider became his views and the larger the circle of his admirers.

He killed more wild-cat schemes of Army reform in his day than can well be numbered, and his knowledge of detail and of regulations was encyclopaedic. He was a real good friend and very sure in all his relations. He has died as much on active service as any of his comrades in the war, for although suffering severely he refused to leave his office until a week ago. He worked splendidly and was at his office early and late. His sound judgment, excellent good sense, and great experience made him invaluable to Lord Kitchener, and his loss at this juncture will not only cause sorrow to a wide circle of friends, but will also be deeply regretted by all who had learnt to appreciate him as a soldier and a man.

Buried:  Kensall Green Cemetery


Sir Charles Whittingham Horsley Douglas(1850–1914), army officer, was born on 17 July 1850 at the Cape of Good Hope, the second son of William Douglas of Lansdown House, near Bath, and his second wife, Caroline, daughter of Captain Joseph Hare. Educated privately, he was commissioned (by purchase) into the 92nd highlanders in December 1869; he was made lieutenant (by purchase) in October 1871. He was adjutant of the 2nd Gordon Highlanders from 1881 to 1884, and first saw active service in the Second Anglo-Afghan War (1878–80), where he took part in Sir Frederick Sleigh (later Earl) Roberts's famous march from Kabul to Kandahar. After the action at Kandahar (1 September 1880), in which he had a horse shot from under him, Douglas was mentioned in dispatches. Promoted captain in July 1880 and brevet major in March 1881, he served with the Gordon Highlanders in the Anglo-Transvaal War (1880–81). Although he did not take part in the battle of Majuba Hill (27 February 1881) he wrote a detailed account of it from survivors' recollections, criticizing Major-General Sir George Pomeroy Colley and his staff, praising the Boers' marksmanship and skirmishing, and admitting that some of the British ‘should have behaved better’ (Douglas to Lieutenant-Colonel George White, 5 April 1881, BL OIOC, Sir George White MSS). In 1884 he was given a staff appointment (deputy assistant adjutant and quartermaster-general) for the Suakin expedition, where he was again mentioned in dispatches. In May 1885 he was promoted major, and in 1893 was appointed brigade major to the 1st infantry brigade. In 1895 he became lieutenant-colonel on appointment as deputy assistant adjutant-general, Aldershot. In 1898 he was promoted assistant adjutant-general, Aldershot, with the brevet rank of colonel, and later that year was appointed aide-de-camp to Queen Victoria and made full colonel. In the South African War (1899–1902) he served initially as an assistant adjutant-general on the headquarters staff of Sir Redvers Buller's field force, before serving as chief staff officer to Lord Methuen and later commanding the 9th brigade and, finally, in 1900, a column of all arms in the South Africa field force. He was mentioned in dispatches twice, and was promoted major-general for distinguished service in the field.

In 1901 Douglas was given command of the 1st infantry brigade at Aldershot, and, in 1902, of the 2nd division of the First Army corps. From 1904 to 1909 he was adjutant-general at the War Office and second military member on the first Army Council under the reforms introduced by Lord Esher's committee after the South African War. He advocated, without success, the restoration of corporal punishment in the army, and took part in protracted arguments with H. O. Arnold-Forster, the secretary of state for war, over the latter's opposition to the adoption of an 18½-pounder field gun and his wish to introduce simultaneous recruiting for long and short service enlistments. As adjutant-general, Douglas strongly opposed the creation of a separate list of officers for the general staff, coupled with accelerated promotion opportunities for the newly proposed general staff, and also participated in the planning to reduce the volunteers. However, he subsequently tried to dissociate himself from a highly contentious circular (issued 20 June 1905, requesting reports from general officers commanding on volunteer units that might be disbanded or amalgamated for inefficiency or lack of numbers) that he had approved which was sent to volunteer commanding officers; on account of the ‘considerable opposition’ provoked by the circular, he argued that the policy of reduction had to be abandoned (Douglas to Arnold-Forster, 26 Sept 1905, BL, Arnold-Forster MSS). After the Liberals' triumph in the 1906 general election, Douglas found the incoming secretary of state for war, R. B. Haldane, much more congenial and he loyally assisted him with his reforms, particularly in the conversion of the militia infantry into a special reserve for the regular army.

In 1909 Douglas was made general officer commanding-in-chief, southern command. Having been promoted lieutenant-general in 1905, he was made a full general in 1910. Created KCB in 1907, he was promoted GCB in 1911, and appointed colonel of the Gordon Highlanders in June 1912. Also in 1912 he was appointed inspector-general, home forces, and proved so conscientious that his staff tours were regarded as models of their kind. He had married Ida de Courcy, daughter of George Tomline Gordon JP, of Cuckney, Nottinghamshire, on 9 August 1887; they had no children, and she survived her husband.

Naturally shy and reserved, Douglas gave the impression of being ‘a hard man’ (Macready, 135) who could be abrupt and overbearing to subordinates. Yet he had a ‘unique knowledge of the details of all army matters’ (Robertson, 195), and so his appointment as chief of the Imperial General Staff after Sir John French's resignation in 1914 was widely acclaimed. When Lord Kitchener was appointed secretary of state for war on the outbreak of the First World War he concentrated authority in his own hands, and the Army Council and general staff were allowed to drift into abeyance. Douglas rendered him considerable assistance as Kitchener knew little about the administration of the home army. Douglas found Kitchener difficult to serve, but worked indefatigably under him; indeed, the combination of stress and long hours on duty may have contributed, after a few days' illness, to his death (certified as from renal colic, bronchitis, and pulmonary congestion) at his home, 68 Eaton Square, Belgravia, London, on 25 October 1914.



•  One of Charles siblings was General William.

This page was last updated on 16 December 2022

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