Gibraltar Governor Charles Monro (Sir Charles Carmichael Munro), Baronet (1860-1929), army officer, was born at sea on the Maid of Judah on 15 June 1860, the youngest son of Henry Monro (d. 1869), a businessman, and his wife, Catherine, daughter of Alexander Power, who was a direct descendant of the poet Edmund Spenser. Destined for the army, Charles attended Sherborne School (1871-8) before he was admitted to the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, on 1 September 1878.
There was little in Monro’s attitude and performance at Sandhurst to mark him as a future general. He was described in a report as somewhat below average, frequently unpunctual, and a bad rider. But he managed to pass out of Sandhurst, 120th on the list, and as a second lieutenant he was posted to the 2nd foot, later the 1st battalion the Queen’s Royal (West Surrey) regiment, on 13 August 1879. Slowly he pulled himself together and two years after joining his battalion was appointed adjutant, a post he held until July 1886. He studied at the Staff College, Camberley, in 1889-90, where he distinguished himself only as captain of the cricket eleven. After passing out of the Staff College he rejoined his battalion and accompanied it to Malta, serving first as aide-de-camp to the governor and then as brigade major.
From Malta, Monro moved with his battalion to India in 1897 and continued his duties as company commander. In quick succession he served with the Malakand field force, and in the Mohmand and Tirah field expeditions. Having been promoted major in February 1898, he received his first staff appointment when he went to Gibraltar as brigade major. He had barely settled in when he was appointed deputy assistant adjutant-general (DAAG) at Guernsey; and a few months later he was on the move again, taking up a similar appointment at Aldershot. Shortly after the outbreak of the South African War, Monro was appointed DAAG of the 6th division, which began to mobilize as soon as news of Lord Methuen’s reverse at Magersfontein (December 1899) became known.
Monro set sail for South Africa with his divisional commander, General Thomas Kelly-Kenny, and arrived on 10 January 1900, in time to participate in Lord Roberts’s march to Pretoria. Monro was on the scene when the British besieged and forced the surrender of a Boer convoy at Paardeberg. He was also present at the battles of Poplar Grove and Driefontein and, following the capture of Pretoria on 5 June, went with his division to Cape Colony; he remained there until the end of the year. For his services he was promoted brevet lieutenant-colonel.
Monro returned to England and became the chief instructor at the School of Musketry at Hythe in February 1901. He assumed command of the school eighteen months later. It was here that Monro first developed a reputation as an energetic and clear-thinking infantry officer. His experience in South Africa had convinced him that the teaching of musketry fire in the army was outdated. During his six years at Hythe he was the main force behind the evolution of a new system of infantry fire tactics which would be the salvation of the British army in the opening battles of the First World War.
Having been promoted substantive colonel in November 1903, Monro left Hythe in March 1907 to take command of the 13th infantry brigade at Dublin with the rank of brigadier-general. He showed the same hands-on approach to training as at Hythe and his brigade became renowned, particularly for its skill in fire tactics. The high standard of Monro’s work brought him a promotion to major-general in 1911 and to the command of the 2nd London division, Territorial Force, in the spring of 1912. Monro’s friendship with Mary Caroline Towneley-O’Hagan, daughter of the first Lord O’Hagan, whom he had met in Gibraltar, blossomed into a closer union and the two married on 1 October 1912.
War in Europe
On the outbreak of the First World War Monro was put in charge of the 2nd division which, along with the other three regular British divisions, proceeded to France during the second week in August 1914. The 2nd division formed part of Haig’s 1st corps, which was actively involved in all the early battles-Mons, the Marne, and the Aisne. In October the British expeditionary force (BEF) was transferred to Flanders to take up a position on the left of the French army. Monro played a key role in the first battle of Ypres, holding his own against a much larger enemy force. During desperate fighting on 31 October Monro and the commander of the 1st division, Major-General S. H. Lomax, and their staffs, were in conference when their building was demolished by four heavy shells. Lomax was fatally wounded and seven staff officers of the two divisions were killed. Monro was badly shaken but otherwise unhurt. After seeing the way Monro had dealt with the trials and stress of the early weeks, Haig could not have been more pleased by his steadiness and judgement. Monro was never hurried or flustered, and he invariably made the right decisions.
At the close of 1914 the expanded British contingent was divided into two armies with Haig as the obvious choice to command one of them. As a result, Monro was given command of the 1st corps with the temporary rank of lieutenant-general. His corps did not play a prominent role in the battles of Aubers Ridge and Festubert in the spring of 1915. In July he was placed in charge of the newly formed Third Army and promoted temporary general. His tenure of office in the Third Army was brief, however, and he took no part in the ill-fated battle of Loos in September. The following month he learned that he had been appointed commander-in-chief of the Mediterranean expeditionary force in succession to General Sir Ian Hamilton. As the new commander Monro was instructed to report on whether it would be better to evacuate the Gallipoli peninsula, or try again to carry it.
Evacuation of Gallipoli
Monro, like practically all the other senior British officers, had no use for side-shows, having become convinced that the war could only be won by defeating the main German army in France. That attitude invited Churchill’s often cited comment, ‘he came, he saw, he capitulated’ (Churchill, 2.516). While Monro was not the block-headed westerner that Churchill made him out to be, it would be idle to pretend that he approached his task with an unbiased mind.
Monro insisted on being briefed before leaving, spending several days at the War Office reading the available data and meeting Lord Kitchener, the secretary for war, on four occasions. Monro reached Gallipoli on 27 October 1915 and devoted the next three days to inspecting the battle zones on the Peninsula and conferring with the staff of his dismissed predecessor. Kitchener did not give Monro much time, telegraphing on 29 October that he wanted an early answer to the main question, namely ‘leaving or staying?’. Monro wired his report on 31 October, advising evacuation and estimating that in the process casualties could run as high as a third of the force. Monro half expected to be sacked, for he knew there was a powerful element in the cabinet that desperately wanted to keep the campaign alive. That he was willing to risk dismissal for giving an opinion as he saw it-and with no certainty that he would ever receive a comparable command-speaks volumes for his integrity and courage.
Kitchener, who had put so much effort in the operation, decided to go out and see for himself whether Monro was right in recommending withdrawal. On arrival Kitchener visited the Gallipoli fronts, spoke to the local commanders and, after some soul-searching, came to the same conclusion as Monro. The British cabinet accepted his recommendation. Under Monro’s general supervision a withdrawal plan was worked out and carried out with such skill that not a single man was lost. The retirement of so large a force without alerting the enemy, credit for which Monro generously gave to subordinates, was the only efficiently conducted phase of the operation.
Monro returned to France in January 1916, and took charge of the First Army, a post he held for eight months. During that period the First Army’s front was relatively quiet, except for a minor action involving the 4th corps under General Sir Henry Wilson. In the autumn of 1916 Monro was appointed commander-in-chief of the army in India, where he faced a colossal task. The Indian army was not prepared for a major war outside India in 1914. It was not only short of modern equipment, but also had no plans for a large-scale expansion of its establishment which stood at 155,000. Nevertheless Indian units were sent to fight in France, east Africa, Egypt, Gallipoli, and Mesopotamia. Initially there had been universal support in India for the British cause so that there was an ample flow of recruits for the regular army. But by 1916 the scale of casualties caused by modern weapons, together with a weakening of British prestige following setbacks on the western front, Gallipoli, and Mesopotamia, made finding new replacements difficult. It was left to Monro to raise new native formations, and find non-commissioned officers to train them and officers to lead them. The problem was magnified by necessary corresponding increases in the supply of munitions, accommodation, medical services, equipment, and mechanical transport.
Prior to Monro’s arrival the pattern of raising units had followed pre-war tradition. Recruiting officers were appointed for different classes and enlistments were confined to ‘martial areas’ and carried on independently of civil administration. Monro altered the old system, drawing in more recruits from non-martial areas, appointing officers to recruit by areas rather than by classes, and seeking the help of civil government. Monro felt that one of the most effective ways to stimulate recruiting would be to end the age-old custom by which men paid for their own rations. With the co-operation of the viceroy a measure was quickly passed, sanctioning free rations for the Indian army. In 1917 the Indian Defence Force Act was passed, making all British European subjects between the ages of 18 and 41 liable for military service. Lastly a central recruiting board, consisting of civil and army personnel, was set up to consider military requirements and how they could best be met, as well as co-ordinate recruiting so as to ensure that the men enlisted were not needed in essential war industries. The various steps taken by Monro resulted in a substantial expansion of the army, which was to rise to 573,000 by the armistice. Of the new units raised, most served and played important roles in the victorious campaigns in Mesopotamia and Palestine.
The end of the war did not ease Monro’s problems or anxiety. Amid the mounting agitation of Indian nationalists, Monro conducted two major campaigns, one against the Afghans and the other against the Wazirs. The Third Anglo-Afghan War, sparked by the aggressive action of the new amir of Afghanistan, Amanullah Khan, in May 1919, lasted less than a month. The war against the Wazirs, who were conducting frequent raids against defenceless villages along the border, was initiated at Monro’s insistence. An Indian force invaded Waziristan in November 1919, but because of the inexperience of the troops, the tenacity of the defenders, and the nature of the terrain, the campaign proved more arduous than anyone had expected. The fighting dragged on until May 1920 when the tribesmen accepted terms imposed by the British government. In both instances Monro had skilfully managed the campaigns, although at the end of the Third Anglo-Afghan War there was some criticism, mostly unjustified, that the wounded had been left on the battlefield for an extended period and that inadequate arrangements had been taken to cope with an outbreak of cholera.
In August 1920 Monro, worn down by the stress and sheer volume of work, resigned his post and returned to London to live on half pay. During the next few years his time was occupied in leisure pursuits, such as unveiling war memorials and speaking at gatherings of military organizations. In the autumn of 1923 he succeeded General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien as governor of Gibraltar. Here he showed his usual tact, good sense, and personal interest in dealing with various matters associated with his office. He was held in such high esteem that the chamber of commerce took the unusual step of petitioning the secretary of state for the colonies for an extension of his stay beyond the regular five-year term. To immense disappointment, the request was not granted and Monro returned to his home in London in August 1928. Troubled by internal disease, Monro underwent an operation on 30 November 1929, but the cancer had metastasized and, a week later, on 7 December, he died in his home, 54 Eaton Square, London. Following his funeral service at Westminster Abbey, he was buried in Brompton cemetery on 11 December.
Although Monro did not attract as much notice as some of his contemporaries, he was a fine soldier, typical of many relatively unknown career officers who served Britain faithfully and effectively during its imperial age. While he could not be described as brilliant or especially imaginative, he had a thorough knowledge of warfare, much common sense, and a retentive memory; he was bold and courageous without being reckless. By all accounts he was shy, shunned publicity, and was modest and kind, and quick to give credit to others for his successful ventures. During his career he received numerous honours and appointments: CB in 1906; KCB in 1915; GCMG in 1916; and GCSI and GCB in 1919. In addition he was aide-de-camp to the king (1918-22); appointed colonel to the Queen’s regiment in 1920; created baronet and appointed Bath king of arms in 1921; and finally selected as a trustee of the Imperial War Museum in 1928. Monro and his wife had no children and the baronetcy became extinct on his death.
George H. Cassar
Sources G. de S. Barrow, The life of General Sir Charles Carmichael Monro (1931) + The Times (9 Dec 1929) + DNB + C. F. Aspinall-Oglander, ed., Military operations: Gallipoli, 2, History of the Great War (1932) + R. R. James, Gallipoli (1965) + J. E. Edmonds, ed., Military operations, France and Belgium, 1914, 2, History of the Great War (1925) + M. Hickey, Gallipoli (1995) + C. C. Trench, The Indian army and the king’s enemies, 1900-1947 (1988) + J. Terraine, Douglas Haig: the educated soldier (1963) + The private papers of Douglas Haig, 1914-1919, ed. R. Blake (1952) + C. Miller, Khyber (1977) + V. Schofield, Every rock, every hill (1984) + W. S. Churchill, The world crisis, another edn, 6 vols. (1951-9), vol. 2 + CGPLA Eng. & Wales (1930)
Archives BL OIOC, corresp. and MSS, MSS Eur D 783 + NAM, notebooks | IWM, corresp. with Sir Henry Wilson FILM IWM FVA, actuality footage; documentary footage
Likenesses W. Stoneman, two photographs, 1917-21, NPG [see illus.]
Wealth at death £46,878 9s. 6d.: resworn probate, 5 April 1930, CGPLA Eng. & Wales