Major General Louis Lipsett †
8th (90th Winnipeg Rifles) Battalion
General Lipsett is not only a fine soldier but a sympathetic Irishman, with the power of inspiring personal affection and devotion among those under him to a very unusual degree.
He inspires such confidence that I cannot imagine any man showing fear in his presence. To have Lipsett by your side would be enough to give a coward courage. “He never asks anyone to do a thing that he is not ready to do himself,” his men say. “He never forgets a man. He knows everybody’s name and all about us.”
(F. A. McKenzie, Through the Hindenburg Line, 1918, 9)
Born on 14 June 1874 in Ballyshannon, Ireland, Louis James Lipsett was a professional soldier with the Royal Irish Regiment. He served for five years in India on the Northwest Frontier. A veteran of the Tirah Campaign and the Boer War, he participated in an officer exchange program with the Canadian militia in 1911 and relocated to western Canada. After the outbreak of the Great War, he secured British Columbia coastal defences and assumed command of the 8th (Little Black Devils) Battalion, based in Winnipeg.
In April 1915, he distinguished himself during the second battle of Ypres and led his men through the first German gas attack. After Arthur Currie was promoted to take over the 1st Canadian Division in September 1915, Lipsett succeeded him in command of the 2nd Brigade.
He was promoted to command the 3rd Division in June 1916 after Major General Maclolm Mercer was killed at the battle of Mont Sorrel. According to war correspondent F. A. McKenzie, Lipsett addressed new junior officers: “Gentlemen, there is a tradition in the Third Division that no officer in it shows, under any circumstances, any sign of fear. Should he do so, he would cease at that moment to be an officer of the Third Division.” McKenzie admitted “Whether this story is true or not I cannot tell, but the General certainly practices what he is said to preach.”
Determined that the Canadian Corps would be officered by Canadians, in September 1918, Currie arranged Lipsett’s transfer to the Imperial Army. Field Marshal Douglas Haig placed him in command of the 4th British Infantry Division. Unaware of the political maneuvering behind the lines, ordinary officers and soldiers regretted the departure of their beloved general. Lieutenant Charles Henry Savage wrote:
Why he was transferred back to the Imperials at this time none of us knew. He was most popular, and everyone in the Division had complete faith in him. I never knew of any other officer of high rank who was more universally liked and respected. We felt that it was a personal loss when he left and he must have felt somewhat the same.
While performing a reconnaissance mission on 14 October 1918, Lipsett was shot in the head by a German machine gun bullet. Killed less than one month before the end of the war, he was the last British general killed in action.
One thought on “The Irishman”
One of the tragedies of Canadian historical writing is that so little has been written about the men that commanded at battalion/brigade level. Most writing about the men of the CEF seems to focus on the PBI or Arthur Currie, both of wwhom are adeqately covered in my opinion. Louis Lipsett is one of the Great War commanders that easily deserves his biography to be written.