The Aristocrat

Major General Jack Seely, M.P.
Canadian Cavalry Brigade Seely

It was at that time, when carrying out a smaller raid, that my horse got shell-shocked, though not myself, I hope, and fell on me and smashed up five bones in my poor old body. However, I managed to get back all right.

(Seely Speech, Empire Club of Canada, 4 Oct 1920)

John Edward Bernard Seely, 1st Baron Mottistone, was a British soldier and politician. Born on 31 May 1868 in Brookhill Hall, Derbyshire, he was the son of Sir Charles Seely (1833—1915), a long-serving Liberal Unionist MP. During the Boer War, Seely joined the Imperial Yeomanry and won the Distinguished Service Order. In 1900, he was elected to the House of Commons as a Conservative. In 1904, he switched to the Liberal Party and later became a cabinet minister in Prime Minister Herbert Henry Asquith’s Government.

Seely, who had been forced to resign from Cabinet after the Curragh incident in March 1914, volunteered his services at the outbreak of the Great War in August. The forty-six year old MP later stated, “I went to the war as everyone of my age naturally would.” After distinguishing himself in the field, he was promoted in February 1915 to take command of the Canadian Cavalry Brigade composed of the Royal Canadian Dragoons, Lord Strathcona’s Horse and the Royal Canadian Horse Artillery. Seely led the brigade atop his “precious horse,” Warrior, “who always brought me good luck, though I had many others, many of whom were killed.”

Although Seely recognized the future possibility of tanks, he still believed that cavalry could play an important role in modern warfare. Unable to organize a cavalry charge at the battle of the Somme, Seely got his chance at the battle of Moreuil Wood on 30 March 1918. Seely and Warrior raced forward with a dozen riders to plant a red flag for the Canadian cavalry to target.

GenSeelySustaining heavy causalities, the cavalry brigade charged up the hill against German machine gun fire. The attack descended into hand-to-hand combat with bayonets and swords. At a speech to the Empire Club of Canada in 1920, Seely cited a letter from French General Foch that credited the Canadian Cavalry Brigade’s effort at Moreuil Wood with halting the German Spring Offensive.

After recounting the battle for his audience, Seely explained:

For my own part, you can imagine what feelings stirred in my breast when I met again those valiant souls whom I commanded so long, and reflected that by degrees they fitted themselves for the supreme ordeal, and that when the moment came they were not wanting. Indeed you might say to Canada and of all her sons that in valor and self-sacrifice, it has been “Canada first.”

Seely was defeated for re-election in the 1924 British election. He was raised to the peerage of Baron Mottistone in 1933 and died at Westminster on 7 November 1947.

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