Lieutenant General Edwin Alderson
A great deal of my time is taken up in preventing men being appointed to command Brigades, Battalions, etc., who are not in the least fit, but who have influence. In most cases I have succeeded, and in others I have told them after they have been here a short time ‘I am very sorry, but it is my duty to tell you that you have not the experience, capacity, and above all, the personality to successful command men on active service,’ – and they have gone!
(Alderson to Robert Borden, 13 March 1916)
Sir Edwin Alfred Hervey Alderson was a professional British Army officer and first commander of the Canadian Corps. Born on 8 April 1859 in Capel St Mary, England, Alderson received his commission at seventeen and served in several African campaigns. He came out of semi-retirement after the outbreak of the First World War and was appointed to command the 1st Canadian Division in September 1914. Due to disagreements about training, discipline, and officer selection, Alderson soon found himself subject to the vitriol and opposition of Canada’s bombastic militia minister Sam Hughes.
After the second battle of Ypres in April and May 1915, Alderson recognized deficiencies in several Canadian officers, including Hughes’s son Garnet. The general also deemed Hughes’s favoured weapon, the Ross rifle, useless in combat. The militia minister and his allies responded with political criticism designed to remove Alderson, who had become commander of the newly formed Canadian Corps in September 1915.
Heavy losses at St. Eloi craters in April 1916 provided Alderson’s opponents with an opportunity to secure his removal. For the failure to hold the line, Alderson had sought to replace Richard Turner of the 2nd Canadian Division and Huntly Ketchen of the 6th Infantry Brigade. Due to the intervention of Hughes ally, Lord Beaverbrook, Turner and Ketchen kept their positions while Alderson lost his.
On 28 May 1916, Julian Byng became the new Corps commander while Alderson was relegated to the largely meaningless post of Inspector-General of Canadian Forces. In a final letter to Borden, he resented the implication that he had voluntarily left his duties:
The incidents which brought about this I think I need not go into in this letter, but I should be grateful to you if you would kindly inform me by whom and how it was represented to you that I resigned the Command I was so proud to hold.
Alderson died in England on 14 December 1927.