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Major General D N Wimberley CB DSO MC DL LLD


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Reference DNW
Covering dates 1958-1963, 1978-1981
Held by Imperial War Museum Department of Documents
Conditions of access Unrestricted
Copies information Microfilms
Creators Wimberley, Douglas Neil, 1896-1983, Major General

Administrative history:
PP/MCR/182
Douglas Neil Wimberley was born in 1896. He served with the Cameron Highlanders (1915) and the Machine Gun Corps (1915-19) in France, Britain and Russia and, returning to his regiment, in Ireland (1920-1), at Aldershot (1922-3), Cologne (1923-4, 1925) and in India (1928). After service as Brigade Major, 1st Indian Infantry Brigade (1929-33) he worked in the Adjutant General and Military Training Directorates, War Office (1934-7) and commanded the 1st Battalion, Cameron Highlanders at Aldershot and in France (1938-9). During the war he was Chief Instructor at the Senior Officers School at Sheerness and Erlestoke (December 1939 - July 1940); Officer Commanding 13th Brigade, 152nd Brigade and 46th Division in Britain (1940-1) and 51st Highland Division in North Africa (1941-3); Commandant, Staff College, Camberley (1943-4) and Director of Infantry, War Office (1944-6). He retired from the Army in 1946 and died in 1983.
The memoirs are a multi volume work, of which only the three volumes relating to his early life and his military career have been copied. These typescripts have the overall title Scottish Soldier, although individual parts have separate working titles. Volume I, compiled between 1960 and 1963, includes his First World War experiences written in 1918 while serving as a Major and recovering from a wound; volume II was compiled between 1958 and 1960 and is based on unit histories, war diaries and letters to his wife; volume VII comprises a series of essays written between 1978 and 1981. All the volumes contain critical assessments of his colleagues and the units with which he was associated, as well as informative descriptions of the events in which he participated and the circumstances he experienced.

Contents:
Interesting ts memoir (3 volumes) covering the period 1896-1946 describing in turn: his early life; OTC at Wellington and Cambridge University; his training at Sandhurst (December 1914 - May 1915) and military service in: the 3rd (Militia) Battalion Cameron Highlanders at Invergordon (1915); the 1st Battalion Cameron Highlanders (1st Brigade, 1st Division) at the Battle of Loos (October 1915); the 1st and 2nd Brigade Machine Gun Companies during the Battle of the Somme (July - October 1916); the MG Training Centre at Grantham; command of the 232nd MG Company (51st Division) at Third Ypres (July - September 1917), in the Somme sector (October 1917) and at Cambrai (November 1917); command of the 51st Battalion MGC including on 21 March 1918 when he was wounded; an RAF observer course (1918); the 8th MG Battalion in Russia (1919); the 1st and 2nd Battalions Cameron Highlanders in Ireland (1920 - 1921), at Aldershot (1922 - 1923), and Cologne (1923 - 1924), his return to Cambridge University (1924 - 1925) and then back to Cologne (1925); at the Staff College, Camberley (1926 - 1927); India (1928 - 1933) including his posting as Brigade Major, 1st Indian (Gurkha) Infantry Brigade (1929-1933); at the War Office in the Adjutant General and Military Training Directorates (1934 - 1937); in command of the 1st Battalion Cameron Highlanders (1938 - 1939) at Aldershot and following the outbreak of war at Tournai in Belgium; posting as Chief Instructor at the Senior Officers School, Sheerness and Erlestoke (December 1939-July 1940); command of a temporary Brigade earmarked to seize Stavanger (January 1940), of the 13th Brigade (5th Division) and finally the 152nd Brigade (51st Highland Division), before assuming command of the 46th Division in Britain (1940-1941) and the 51st Highland Division (June 1941-August 1943) in Britain and, after sailing in SS STRATHEDEN, in North Africa at the battles of Alamein, Medenine, the Mareth and Akarit Lines and the conquest of Sicily; as Commandant, Staff College Camberley (September 1943-1944), followed by a tour of the British Commanders around the world and an account of his reforms as Director of Infantry, War Office (December 1944-September 1946); together with appendices including essays on Montgomery and the two World Wars, a critical assessment of his colleagues and units and stressing the importance of Infantry morale.



Volume I  DNW/1  1960-1963

388pp (in total)

Contents:
Part I 'Early Life' paginated as pp1 - 24
Born and brought up in Inverness, it was thought that he would not pass the Army medical due to a heart murmur (pp1-10). Despite strong military connections with India and his success in the Officer Training Corps at Wellington College, he took the entrance exam for Cambridge University. Just after the war began he was asked to accept a commission with a battalion of the Devonshire Regiment in Kitchener's Army by the Wellington master who ran the OTC, but was found unfit for army service (p14).
In August he went up to Emmanuel College, Cambridge to train with the OTC and to start his degree alongside a number of other students nominated for a short war course and a regular commission, and was given a place at Sandhurst in December 1914 (pp15-19). Passing out (May 1915), he was gazetted a Second Lieutenant in his grandfather's regiment, the Cameron Highlanders, joining the 3rd Militia Battalion at Invergordon (pp19-23). In September 1915 he was posted to the Western Front (pp23-4).
Part II 'World War One' paginated as pp25-130
He joined (8 October) the 1st Battalion Cameron Highlanders (1st Brigade, 1st Division) at Mazingarbe during the German counter attack in the Battle of Loos. The trenches were mere ditches, as a further offensive was expected (pp25-7). After only a week's active service he became the Machine Gun Officer and was sent on brief machine gun courses at the Machine Gun School at Wisques and the Divisional School at Ferfay Chateau. He describes the conditions of the trenches in the Loos sector during winter (pp31-47) where at first he was foolhardy, but became more afraid as he saw the effects of shell and gunfire on the human body (p32). During January 1916 1st Brigade Machine Gun Company, the Machine Gun Corps was formed by the amalgamation of the Battalion Machine Gun Sections (p37).
In June and July 1916 there were many exercises designed to disguise the coming attacks on the Somme (pp44-5). Though still under 20 he was appointed Second in Command, 2nd MG Company (2nd Brigade) in July 1916 and when the division moved to the Somme he personally saw little action since he was based at his unit's headquarters (pp46-54). In October he had an attack of trench fever but avoided evacuation, since that would have meant returning to the Machine Gun Training Centre at Grantham as a section officer (p54).
Although scornful of Grantham, he was nevertheless ordered there in October to take command of 232nd Machine Gun Company, but the appointment did not materialise until February 1917, as relations were poor between Machine Gun HQ at General Headquarters, France and the Machine Gun Training Centre. The latter liked to make its own appointments and objected to his nomination due to his youth (p55). After five and a half months training at Grantham his Machine Gun Company became a divisional unit of the 51st Highland Division (XVIII Corps, 5th Army) in July 1917 (p59).
Wimberley gives an interesting account of their preparation for and initial attack (20 September 1917) during the Third Battle of Ypres, and admits that the Salient was too hot even for the 'thrusters' of the Highland Division, one of the best formations in the Army, which was glad to return to the Somme (pp60-80). This sector being very quiet showed him how a good division could be spoiled for the offensive by months of peaceful trench warfare (p82).
In contrast to the heavy build up at Ypres, which could not be disguised, the preparations for the offensive at Cambrai on 20 November were kept secret and 'open warfare' was planned. Surprise was complete with tanks penetrating the Hindenburg Line, but the advance broke down and he is critical of the planning, especially by the Quartermaster's Department (pp84-97).
His two short periods as acting Divisional Machine Gun Officer (during December 1917 and February 1918) give an interesting insight into army administration at Divisional level (pp99-103, 106-8). He admired his Divisional Commander 'Uncle' Harper, comments on Brigadier Pelham Burn (152nd Brigade) treating his Battalion Commanders 'like a Company Commander dismissing his platoon commanders on parade' (p99) and is scathing about the Brigadier General Staff De Pree (p107).
In early 1918 the four Machine Gun Companies of each division were combined into the new Machine Gun Battalions and as a result his independent company became 'D' Company 51st Highland Battalion MGC (pp105, 109). With rumours at Divisional HQ of a great German offensive, its defences were organised in depth, but even so, helped by mist and gas, the Germans managed to penetrate the front line. On 21 March while firing a machine gun in the Corps line, Wimberley was wounded in the leg and subsequently evacuated to England (pp106-7, 110-21).
Having been passed fit for Home Service by a Medical Board in June 1918, he attended a Machine Gun refresher course at Grantham (July) and was posted as a company commander to 9th Reserve Battalion (Training), Machine Gun Corps at Grantham (August) where he had to deal with insubordination over pay by a draft of soldiers (pp123-6). Depressed and turned down for staff work, he went in October/November on a RAF co-operation course which trained infantry officers to be air observers. He did not enjoy his Canadian pilot's 'stunting' and, when the Armistice came, the Army officers refused to fly any more and returned to their regiments (pp126-8).
Appendices paginated as pp130A-130D
X Order of Battle of 51st Highland Division in 1917
Y 'Some Notes on Machine Guns in the Infantry of the British Army in World War I'
Z 'Notes on the Use of Gas by the Germans as they affected British Troops with whom I served in World War I'.
Part III 'Between the Two Great Wars' paginated as pp131-337
In January 1919 Wimberley was appointed a company commander in the 8th Machine Gun Battalion, composed mainly of volunteers and destined for Russia after training in Folkestone. After passage to Archangel in the transport Czaritza (May) he served on the Dvina and Railway fronts where the mosquitoes, horseflies and bed bugs were dreadful. He also claims that the Bolshevik forces were so feeble that, in his opinion, Moscow could have been taken with one British division (p135). The main problem in achieving this was a mutiny among some companies of Dyer's Battalion, ex Bolshevik prisoners who killed some of their British officers, and other units (pp137-9). As the White Russians were unreliable and the British press were agitating for a withdrawal, it was decided to hand over to the former and he returned home (6 October) on the SS Minomene.
Although urged to transfer to the Machine Gun Corps (which was disbanded within a few years), he returned to his regiment joining the 2nd Battalion at Aldershot where he found a great gulf between those who had not been on active service and those who had (p143). The Battalion was due to supervise the plebiscite at Memel, East Prussia, but instead in May 1920 was quickly embarked in the transport Czaritsa and sent to Queenstown, County Cork, where he found the work frustrating and unpleasant. Surrounded by Sinn Feiners, with the Civil and Police authorities breaking down, suspects being let off and Police co-operation affected by retaliatory murders, the troops of the Battalion vented their frustration on the windows of local shops (p147). The situation was made worse by the arrival of the 'Black and Tans' who, totally undisciplined, committed atrocities which were emulated by some in the Army. Wimberley admired some Sinn Feiners as brave and patriotic, if ruthless (p149) and realised that the British government was right to treat with them, since, although the Army could have crushed them, they would only have been driven underground (p155).
The Battalion returned to successful peacetime soldiering in Aldershot (1922-23, pp156-195) and Cologne (1923-24, pp196-213) with Wimberley heavily involved as Adjutant for 3½ years from October 1921, though he admits that 'a regiment is judged in peace time on its "Spit and Polish" and Athletics abilities, not on the Field Training' (p175). He also began his lifelong defence of Highland traditions against English interference and his great efforts on behalf of his battalion, as well as his endeavours to further his own career are reflected in his only diary (quoted in full) for the period January 1923-February 1924 (pp160-207).
After his period of service as Adjutant he returned (November 1924) at his own expense to Emmanuel College, Cambridge in order to complete his degree and to work for the Staff College exams which he passed. However, having married in the interim, he could no longer afford to complete his degree and he rejoined the 2nd Battalion in Cologne in July 1925 (pp 214-21).
In 1926 he started a two year course at the Staff College, Camberley where most of the future commanders and staff officers of the Second World War were fellow students or instructors. He gives very interesting criticisms and sketches of them and of the pressures and uncertainty when working with the finest officers of his generation (pp220-36). Having passed in the top twenty, he went to India in the troopship Devonshire to do his foreign tour (six years) with the 1st Battalion (p237).
After a year commanding the garrison (one company) at the Indian convict station on the Andaman Islands (pp 239-251) he was given one of the plum postings for his rank, Brigade Major of the 1st Indian (Gurkha) Infantry Brigade on the North West Frontier (1929), where there was widespread unrest in the Peshawar area. A mutiny of a Garwhal Rifle Battalion, incursions from Afghanistan and riots by Red Shirt Pathans at Haripur gaol all required his attention (pp252-94). During a three day visit to Kabul, Wimberley was arrested by the Afghan police following tension after a coup (pp287-90).
From the Gurkhas he returned to the 1st Battalion at Fyzabad as Machine Gun Officer for a year having taken a refresher course at the Machine Gun School at Netheravon (pp295-364). During this year he was granted the Bertrand Stewart Award by The Army Quarterly for an essay which he wrote on the subject of military training (p299) and it was at Netheravon that he came across his first example of a peace-time unit commander, Robin Money of the Cameronians, training for an actual war situation, by means of sand table exercises, discussions, essays and monthly exercises and demonstrating advanced ideas of tactics and the theory of a possible European war. Wimberley adds, however, that Money's efforts were not appreciated by the Indian Army generals (pp298-99).
Having finished his foreign tour Wimberley went to the War Office at a crucial time (1934-37), first as Deputy Assistant Adjutant General under the Director of Recruiting and Organisation, with responsibility for Infantry Officer postings (pp305-14), and more importantly, as General Staff Officer II in charge of infantry training under the Director of Military Training (Alan Brooke) with whom he worked very closely. The work was hard as war with Germany was coming to be seen as a real possibility: among other tasks the Infantry Training Manual had to be revised and ranges provided to train the infantry on the new anti-tank guns and mortars (pp315-25).
In 1939 he was given command of the 1st Battalion, Cameron Highlanders, at that time based at Aldershot where he was responsible for short training courses for conscripted 'Militia men', but he was obliged to take a month's leave (pp326-328) because of nervous strain and ill health brought on by his years at the War Office.
Indexes and Glossary paginated as pp338-384

Volume II  DNW/2  1958-1960

280pp (in total)

Contents:
Part IV 'World War II' paginated as pp1-237
With the outbreak of war Aldershot, the mobilisation centre for the only two British Corps, expected heavy bombing and gas attacks for which preparations were made (pl). Following established mobilisation procedures, the Battalion quickly crossed to Cherbourg in the troopship Daffodil on 25 September and moved to the Belgian border near Tournai. Since the Maginot Line did not cover this area, a strong defensive line had to be created and the months from October to December were spent digging in, wiring and training, the 'Phoney War', he notes, being in marked contrast to the early months of the First World War (pp5-8,11). During this period he fought hard for the retention of the kilt as part of the regulation battle dress in order to maintain morale (pp2-4,9-10).
At the end of the year he was appointed GSOI and Chief Instructor at the Senior Officer's School at Sheerness (later Erlestoke near Devizes). On 6 January 1940 he was recalled to the War Office and promoted Brigadier, having been hand picked by the CIGS (Field Marshal Ironside) to lead a scratch brigade without artillery to seize Stavanger airfield in Norway. The Cabinet, however, decided not to violate Norwegian territorial waters and on 13 January he returned to Sheerness and reverted to his original rank (pp12-14).
Although his appointment to the Senior Officer's School meant that he missed the fighting in Belgium and France, it taught him a lot about training a Brigade and a Division. In quick succession he commanded the 13th Brigade (5th Division) at Crieff, Scotland (July 1940); 152nd Brigade (51st Highland Division) at Caithness (September 1940); 46th Division in Norfolk (May 1941) and 51st Highland Division (June 1941) which were training and preparing for a German invasion (pp16-23). During training Wimberley refused to accept "Blood and Hate" methods, but instead (ensuring that his units and reinforcements were Scottish) relied on a Divisional Battle School, "Spit and Polish" and Highland tradition, in the firm belief that infantry success was built on regimental spirit, discipline and ésprit de corps (pp26-27).
In March 1942 the 51st Division moved to Aldershot to train with tanks (there being none in Scotland) and in June he sailed in SS Stratheden to Durban whence he flew ahead to meet Auchinleck, arriving in Cairo on 25 July. He was unimpressed by the 8th Army and was warned by Stanley Morshead (9th Australian Division) not to allow his division to be broken up. While in Palestine waiting for his troops, he served alongside several Major-Generals, as a member of the Court of Inquiry into the causes of the retreat to El Alamein which was under the chairmanship of General 'Jumbo' Wilson. Wimberley had problems keeping his Division together and getting permission to use his divisional signs to foster ésprit de corps. However, everything changed when Montgomery and Alexander took over in early August.
On arrival in Egypt, 51st Highland Division were sent to Quassassin Camp, where a GHQ Training Team instructed the officers in desert warfare, and were put in charge of Cairo's defences. It was moved into 8th Army area on 9 September to learn from the veteran Australians and to prepare for the offensive at Alamein through conferences and exercises on replica enemy defences and a sand model (pp34-40).
Wimberley gives a full and frank account of the Battle of El Alamein in October/November 1942, including the poor relations with armoured formations (pp40-52), the subsequent pursuit of the Germans along the coast to Tripoli (pp54-88), repelling the German counter attack at Medenine in March 1943 (pp89-97), storming the Mareth and Akarit Lines and the heavy casualties incurred in these operations (pp97-119). After this the Division was earmarked for the Sicily operations and underwent Combined Operations training at Bougie, Algeria (pp126-141). Montgomery gave him permission to trawl the reinforcement camps and convalescent centres for Scots, since the Division was short of men (p120). The high praise given to his Division gave him great satisfaction, since he had stressed the importance of the tartan, the kilt and tradition for fostering morale (p135).
After landing in Sicily and meeting little Italian resistance the Division drove rapidly inland, handicapped by a lack of transport, but catching the Germans by surprise, until at Vizzini they were held up by paratroopers (pp142-157). From this point onwards the Division faced a succession of water obstacles on the Catanian plains and a series of set piece battles before being able to secure bridgeheads and advance to the slopes of Mount Etna, until they reached Gerbini (21 July) where the Division for the first time failed to make any progress in an attack (pp158-197).
In September, at the end of the campaign in Sicily, he was appointed Commandant of the Staff College, Camberley (pp203-14) which brought two typical responses from Montgomery: he invited Wimberley to stay his last night with him, his thoughtfulness and kindness a striking contrast to his ruthlessness, and later he sent him a copy of his booklet 'Some Notes on High Command in War', aimed at ensuring that Camberley would teach along what he regarded as the right lines (pp201-2, 205).
In early 1944 Wimberley appealed on behalf of some "Jocks" and "Geordies" who had refused to fight after being sent to an English Division at Salerno, having been promised that they would be allowed to return to their own Divisions. In his opinion the incident would not have occurred if the Scots had been understood and briefed by an officer they trusted (pp208-9).
After Camberley he hoped for command of an Infantry Corps in Burma, but in December 1944 was appointed the second Director of Infantry at the War Office and resolved to fight for and retain better men for his arm. In his opinion most administrative and staff officers in both world wars tended to see the infantry as 'mere cannon fodder', but he believed its morale should be nourished and that personnel were more important in the stress of infantry fighting than materiel. In order to achieve this he toured all the theatres of war to enlist support for his ideas and publicised in the 'Infantry Bulletin' the views of generals, especially Montgomery, on the importance of infantry (pp216-226). He also introduced a system for the return of casualties to their own or kindred regiments (p223).
With the end of the war he began to tackle post-war questions and, with the arrival of Montgomery as Chief of the Imperial General Staff in June 1946, obtained the support which he needed to reorganise the Infantry into groupings of regiments, resisting the concept of a single corps of Infantry and the pre-war local regimental system (pp228-34). After seeing through the reforms he retired from the Army (pp235-7).
Appendices paginated as pp238-249
A 'Farewell Order of the Day' to 1st Battalion Cameron Highlanders p238 27 December 1939
B Letter to his mother after staying at Balmoral pp239-42 1 September 1941
C 51st Highland Division Order of Battle North African Campaign p243 1942/43
D 51st Highland Division Order of Battle Sicilian Campaign p244 1943
E Main Authorities and Published Sources p245 ND
F 'Some Random Thoughts on the Two World Wars' pp246-9 ND
In this essay he makes comparisons between the two world wars and makes some particularly interesting comments on the 1914-18 War. For instance, the failure of senior commanders in that war to visit their troops is often criticised, but he explains that they had to keep close to their telephone exchanges since battlefield wireless was still primitive. He endeavours to explain how the troops managed to endure the terrible conditions of the trenches and gives his views on the mistakes made.
Indexes paginated as pp250-80
List of Battles and Commanders of the Highland Division not paginated
A record of the 51st Division during the Second World War.

Volume VII  DNW/3  1978-1981

63pp (in total)

Contents:
Only parts A B D F and G of a longer series of essays written between 1979 and 1981 were copied.
Part A: '"Monty" A personal memoir by Douglas Wimberley' paginated as pp1-35 1980
Essentially a shortened version of his post First World War memoirs emphasising his association with Montgomery, including their post-1945 contacts. Also included are transcripts of letters and notes from Montgomery from 1942 until 1970 (pp23-33) and a full index (pp34-5).
Part B: 'The Kilt in Modern War' paginated as pp36-48 1979
This was written for a BBC programme broadcast on 28 August 1980 to which are added letters of congratulation to Wimberley (pp44-6) and some extracts from press comments (pp47-8). The main theme is the importance of the kilt in fostering morale and ésprit de corps.
Part D: Annual Army Confidential Reports 1915-1946 paginated as pp56-61 ND
An essay describing the system of reports and commenting on his own reports.
Part F: "HD" paginated as pp75-78 ND
An article by Wimberley on the Highland Division written for the Eighth Army Old Comrades Magazine.
Part G: 'The Differences Between English and Scottish Soldiers in the British Army' paginated as pp79-82 1981
Wimberley believed that the Scottish soldier showed more elan and exuberance in attack than his English counterpart, although the latter were more solid in defence. He points out also that the Scottish soldier needs more careful handling; unpleasant orders must be carefully explained to him, though strict discipline must be maintained, a spirit of friendship throughout all ranks should be encouraged and, above all, promises made to him must be kept.
Appendix
'The Distribution of typed and bound copies of "Scottish Soldier" by 1981' paginated as p132

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