Letter from Major General C. H. Powell on the Formation of the 36th Ulster Division

Herbert Kitchener (1850-1916) 1st Earl Kitchener. was the British Field Marshal associated with the Boer War but he also played a central role in the early part of World War I. This is a fascinating letter of fourteen pages by Major General C. H. Powell,  Wickham, Hampshire, 7th May 1939, to Major A. F. Becke. Major General Sir Charles Herbert Powell (1857-1943) served in several campaigns and raised and commanded the Ulster Division of the New Army 1914-15.  Powell informs his correspondent about the Field Marshal’s role in the formation of the 36th Ulster Division.

‘As you are already aware I raised the Division, & Commanded it till the eve of its embarkation for France, when Oliver Nugent succeeded me’ and continues ‘To my everlasting regret I was informed by the Chief of Staff that I was too old to command it in the field!’ He further reflects ‘While I was raising it the Division was my “child”: never in the whole of my 30 odd years service did I have such an interesting experience. Never, till the Great War, did officers have the unique experience of actually raising either a Division or a Brigade….It was a unique experience, and the interest of it all increased from week to week, from month to month, as the Battalions, the Brigades, the Divisional Engineers…..& other units took shape’ and also refers to Earl Kitchener, ‘Kitchener wanted Ulster to raise our own Artillery, but Carson, for some reason I never knew, told him Ulster couldn’t.

About March 1915 the W.O. informed me that certain Territorial Artillery was earmarked for the Ulster Division. When, however, the Division was mobilised and equipped (at Seaford) in July 1915, I was informed that Kitchener had “stolen” our Artillery for some other Division of the New Armies. This took me to the W.O. at once to protest. I pointed out that the Division was ready to take to the field but it would now have to be held back till the other artillery was trained! My protests were unavailing: “K’s word was inexorable said the Insp. Genl. Artillery! We were told this “other” artillery was now being raised in East Ham & another part of the City of London.’ Powell also recounts inspecting the ‘other’ artillery (‘we found men being taught to mount & dismount on wooden horses!!’) and urging General Archibald Murray to inspect the 36th Division, ‘Murray, however, wrote me that he had only orders (from K) to inspect the 16th Division and the 10th.

Two months later he inspected us at Seaford and on learning from him that our Artillery had been “stolen”, & that we wd. consequently be held back I urged on Murray to get K. to send us to Gallipoli, because I was told that Divisions, sent there, did not require their own Artillery as was the case with Divisions sent to France. Murray said that was quite a good idea, & he would mention it to K. However, my suggestion was not taken up; and in due course, the Division embarked for France; and, with a sore heart, I was torn away from my beloved Division. Kitchener & Carson were reported to have had “high words” over Carson’s wish to raise an Ulster Division for the Great Cause. Kitchener would not give his consent, and it was some 3 weeks before the order went forth! This delay proved fatal to the Division, because these gallant Ulster Volunteers were straining at the leash to join up in an Ulster Division…’

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