Cyril Newall, 1st Baron Newall

Cyril Newall, 1st Baron Newall
Marshal of the Royal Air Force The Right Honourable
The Lord Newall
Air Chief Marshal Sir Cyril Newall
6th Governor-General of New Zealand
In office
22 February 1941 – 19 April 1946
Monarch George VI
Preceded by The Viscount Galway
Succeeded by The Lord Freyberg
Personal details
Born 15 February 1886
Mussoorie, North-Western
Indian Empire
Died 30 November 1963(1963-11-30) (aged 77)
Military service
Allegiance  United Kingdom
Service/branch  Royal Air Force
Years of service 1905–1940
Rank Marshal of the Royal Air Force
Commands 41st Wing RFC
VIII Brigade RAF
Wessex Bombing Area
Middle East Command
Battles/wars World War I
World War II
Awards Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath
Order of Merit
Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George
Commander of the Order of the British Empire
Albert Medal

Marshal of the Royal Air Force Cyril Louis Norton Newall, 1st Baron Newall GCB OM GCMG CBE AM (15 February 1886 – 30 November 1963), was a British soldier and airman, who headed the Royal Air Force as the Chief of the Air Staff during the early part of the Second World War before serving as the sixth Governor-General of New Zealand from 1941 to 1946.

Born in India in 1886, Newall joined the Army in 1905, and after training at Royal Military Academy Sandhurst he was commissioned as a junior officer in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment. He saw active service in the North West Frontier before transferring to the 2nd Gurkha Rifles. He learnt to fly in 1911 whilst on leave. He gained his Royal Flying Corps 'wings' at the Central Flying School, Upavon, in 1913, just before the outbreak of the First World War. Initially he was on No. 1 Squadron before being appointed to command No. 12 Squadron in 1915 and No. 9 Wing in 1916 and No. 41 Wing the following year, then served in staff positions in the RAF through the 1920s. From 1931 to 1934 he was Air Officer Commanding the RAF's Middle East Command before returning to the Air Force Board as the Air Member for Supply and Organisation. Newall was appointed Chief of the Air Staff (CAS) in 1937.

As CAS, he originally supported the conventional pre-war views that a strong strategic bomber force was essential to the war against Germany, that only limited fighter defence against heavy bombers was possible, and that close air support of ground forces was a waste of the RAF's resources. He did, however, support the rapid expansion of the RAF's fighter forces, and during the Battle of France supported RAF Fighter Command's requests to retain fighter squadrons in Britain for home defence rather than send them across the Channel. By the late summer of 1940, he had recognised that strategic bombing was, for the time being, ineffective, and was encouraging the use of bomber forces in a tactical role against German invasion preparations.

Widely criticised for his leadership and having lost the support of Winston Churchill, however, Newall was replaced as CAS in late October 1940, with Charles Portal taking his place. The following year he was appointed Governor-General of New Zealand, holding office until 1946. On his retirement he was raised to the peerage as Baron Newall, and on his death in 1963 was succeeded in the title by his son Francis.


Early life

Newall was born at Mussoorie in India on 15 February 1886, the only son of a British army officer and his wife. After being educated at Bedford School, he attended the Royal Military College, Sandhurst.[1] His fellow students there included Lord Gort, who would later serve as Chief of the Imperial General Staff opposite Newall as Chief of the Air Staff. After leaving Sandhurst, he was commissioned into the Royal Warwickshire Regiment on 16 August 1905.[2] He was promoted to Lieutenant on 18 November 1908,[3] and transferred to the 2nd King Edward VII's Own Gurkha Rifles in September 1909.[4] He then served on the North-West Frontier, where he first encountered his future colleague Hugh Dowding; at an exercise in 1909, Dowding's artillery section ambushed Newall's Gurkhas whilst they were still breakfasting.[5]

Newall began to turn towards a career in aviation in 1911, when he learned to fly in a Bristol Biplane at Larkhill whilst on leave in England.[6] This made him one of the first qualified pilots in England, holding the 144th certificate issued by the Royal Aero Club. He trained at the Central Flying School in 1913, then instructed there, and had been preparing to set up a training establishment in India when the First World War broke out.[7]

World War I

"On the 3rd January, 1916, at about 3 pm, a fire broke out inside a large bomb store belonging to the Royal Flying Corps, which contained nearly 2,000 high explosive bombs, some of which had very large charges, and a number of incendiary bombs which were burning freely. Major Newall at once took all necessary precautions, and then, assisted by Air Mechanic Simms, poured water into the shed through a hole made by the flames. He sent for the key of the store, and with Corporal Hearne, Harwood and Simms entered the building and succeeded in putting out the flames. The wooden cases containing the bombs were burnt, and some of them were charred to a cinder."

– Citation for the Albert Medal, published in the London Gazette.[8]

On the outbreak of war, Newall was in England. On 12 September, he was given the temporary rank of Captain, and attached to the Royal Flying Corps as a flight commander, to serve with No. 1 Squadron.[9][10] On 24 March 1915 he was promoted to Major and appointed to command No. 12 Squadron, which served in France from September onwards.[11]

On taking command of the squadron, he chose to stop flying personally in order to concentrate on administration, a decision which was regarded dismissively by his men. Relations were strained until January 1916, when he demonstrated a remarkable degree of physical courage by walking into a burning bomb store to try and control the fire. He was awarded the Albert Medal for this act, on the personal recommendation of General Hugh Trenchard, and the following month was promoted to lieutenant-colonel and given command of a training wing in England.[12]

In December 1916 he took command of No. 9 Wing in France, a long-range bomber and reconnaissance formation, and in October 1917 took command of the newly formed No. 41 Wing. This was upgraded as the 8th Brigade in December, with Newall promoted accordingly to Brigadier-General. During 1918, it joined the Independent Bombing Force, which was the main strategic bombing arm of the newly formed Royal Air Force.[13] In June 1918 Newall was appointed the Deputy Commander of the Independent Bombing Force, serving under Trenchard.

Between the wars

After the war, Newall joined the RAF permanently as a group captain, and returned to administrative duties. Between 1919 and 1925 he held the posts of deputy director of personnel, and the Deputy Commandant of the apprentices' technical training school. He married May Weddell in 1922; she died in September 1924, and he remarried the following year to Olive Foster, an American woman. He had three children with Foster, a son and two daughters.[14]

He was promoted to Air Commodore on 1 January 1925,[15] and that year took command of the newly-formed Auxiliary Air Force. In December, he was appointed to a League of Nations disarmament committee.[16] On 12 April 1926, he was appointed Deputy Chief of the Air Staff and Director of Operations and Intelligence.[17] He stood down at the start of February 1931.[18]

Following his service on the Air Staff, he was given his first operational command posting in fifteen years, as Air Officer Commanding in the Middle East. He then returned to the Air Ministry at the start of 1935, where he was responsible for overseeing the supply and organisation of the RAF during the beginnings of the pre-war expansion and rearmament.[19]

Philosophically, Newall remained a close follower of Trenchard during the interwar period; his time in the Independent Bombing Force had left him convinced that strategic bombing was an exceptionally powerful weapon, and one that could not effectively be defended against. In this, he was a supporter of the standard doctrine of the day, which suggested that the destructive power of a bomber force was sufficiently great that it could cripple an industrial economy in short order, and that so merely its presence could potentially serve as an effective deterrent.[20]

Chief of the Air Staff

In late 1937, Newall was appointed as Chief of the Air Staff (CAS), the military head of the RAF, in succession to Sir Edward Ellington. The promotion was unexpected; of the prospective candidates mooted for the job, Newall has been widely seen by historians as the least gifted.[21] The most prominent candidate was Hugh Dowding, the head of RAF Fighter Command and senior in rank to Newall by three months, who had been informally told by Ellington in 1936 that he was expected to be appointed as the new CAS. The decision was taken by the Air Minister, Viscount Swinton, without consulting Ellington;[22] it has been suggested he was heavily influenced by the views of the still-influential Trenchard, who had a long-standing personal dislike of Dowding, and who objected to his opposition to the strategic bombing doctrine in favour of fighter defence.[23]

During 1936 and 1937, the Air Staff had been fighting with the Cabinet over the rearmament plans; the Staff wanted a substantial bomber force and only minor increases in fighters, whilst the Minister for Defence Co-ordination, Sir Thomas Inskip, successfully pushed for a greater role for the fighter force.[24] Newall was promoted during the middle of this debate, and proved perhaps more flexible than might have been expected. In 1938, he supported sharp increases in aircraft production, including double-shift working and duplication of factories, and pushed for the creation of a dedicated organisation to repair and refit damaged aircraft. He supported expenditure on the new, heavily-armed, Hurricane and Spitfire fighters, essential to re-equip Fighter Command.[25]

He even began to distance himself from the more absolute forms of the bomber philosophy, noting to the Minister for Air that "no one can say with absolute certainty that a nation can be knocked out from the air, because no-one has yet attempted it".[26] Discussing plans for reacting to a war with Italy, in early 1939, he opposed a French proposal to force them to surrender by the use of heavy bombing raids against the north, arguing that it would be unlikely to force the country out of the war without the need for ground combat.[27]

Newall was still CAS at the outbreak of the Second World War on 1 September 1939. His main contribution to the war effort was his sometimes-successful resistance to the transfer of fighter squadrons to aid the collapsing French. While he was able to prevent ten squadrons being redeployed to France during June 1940, thus preserving a large portion of the fighter forces that would become crucial during the Battle of Britain, his opposition was seen as intransigence by his superiors. He was promoted to Marshal of the Royal Air Force on 4 October 1940, ironically not three weeks before he stepped down on 24 October; he was, however, able to effectively nominate his successor, choosing Air Chief Marshal Sir Charles Portal.

Later life

Newall (shown centre) as Governor-General of New Zealand.

In February 1941, Newall was appointed Governor-General of New Zealand, a post he would hold for the remainder of the war. His time there was mostly quiet – described by one biographer as "a nice long rest"[28] – but some tensions did flare up; shortly after his arrival, Newall became the last Governor-General to refuse to follow the advice of his cabinet.[29] At the time, New Zealand courts still retained the power to pass sentences of capital and corporal punishment, though this had been effectively suspended by the Labour government since the 1935 general election.[citation needed] Newell was presented with a government recommendation to remit four prisoners sentenced to be flogged, but refused to do so. He argued that it was not constitutionally proper for the government to ignore Parliament's decision to set punishments for crimes; if the government did not intend convicts to be flogged, then they should repeal the legislation allowing it.[30] The Prime Minister, Peter Fraser, refused to accept this response, but avoided pressing the point; in the end, a compromise was reached where Newall remitted the sentences but the government undertook to repeal the legislation.[31]

Following his return from New Zealand in 1946, he was raised to the peerage as Baron Newall, of Clifton upon Dunsmoor, in the county of Warwick. Lord Newall received numerous other honours between then and his death in 1963, at which time his son Francis inherited his title.

Honours and awards

  • Baron – 13 Jun 1946 (Conferred 19 Jul 1946)
  • Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath – 9 Jun 1938 (KCB – 4 Jun 1935, CB – 3 Jun 1929)
  • Order of Merit – 1 Nov 1940
  • Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George – 4 Feb 1941 (CMG – 1 Jan 1919)
  • Commander of the Order of the British Empire – 3 Jun 1919
  • Knight of the Order of St John – 3 Jan 1941
  • Albert Medal (1st) – 19 May 1916
  • Mentioned in Despatches – 15 Jun 1916, 11 Dec 1917, 1 Jan 1919
  • Officer of the Legion of Honour (France) – 10 Oct 1918
  • Officer of the Order of the Crown (Italy) – 8 Nov 1918
  • Officer of the Order of Leopold (Belgium) – 15 Apr 1921
  • Croix de Guerre (Belgium) – 15 Apr 1921



  1. ^ Orange (2008)
  2. ^ London Gazette: no. 27827. p. 5620. 15 August 1905. Retrieved 2010-12-19.
  3. ^ London Gazette: no. 28209. p. 9945. 29 December 1908. Retrieved 2010-12-19.
  4. ^ London Gazette: no. 28338. p. 1047. 11 February 1910. Retrieved 2010-12-19.
  5. ^ Wright, p. 25
  6. ^ Orange (2008)
  7. ^ RAF Web
  8. ^ London Gazette: no. 29588. p. 4970. 19 May 1916. Retrieved 2010-12-19.
  9. ^ Orange (2008)
  10. ^ London Gazette: no. 28910. p. 7479. 22 September 1914. Retrieved 2010-12-19.
  11. ^ London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 29120. p. 3413. 6 April 1915. Retrieved 2010-12-19.
  12. ^ Orange (2008)
  13. ^ Orange (2008)
  14. ^ Orange (2008)
  15. ^ London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 33007. p. 8. 30 December 1924. Retrieved 2010-12-19.
  16. ^ RAF Web
  17. ^ London Gazette: no. 33152. p. 2705. 20 April 1926. Retrieved 2010-12-19.
  18. ^ London Gazette: no. 33688. p. 932. 10 February 1931. Retrieved 2010-12-19.
  19. ^ Orange (2008)
  20. ^ Orange (2008); Allen, pp. 24–26
  21. ^ Orange (2008)
  22. ^ Wright, pp. 60–63
  23. ^ Allen, p. 50
  24. ^ Allen, pp. 65–66
  25. ^ Orange (2008)
  26. ^ Allen, p. 66
  27. ^ Salerno, p. 91
  28. ^ Orange (2008)
  29. ^ "Splendid ornamentals – the Governor-General". Ministry for Culture and Heritage. 2010. Retrieved 11 May 2011. 
  30. ^
  31. ^ Quentin-Baxter (1979), p. 312


Military offices
New title
Wing established
Officer Commanding 41st Wing RFC
11 October – 28 December 1917
Succeeded by
J E A Baldwin
Preceded by
H P Smyth-Osbourne
Deputy Director of Personnel
Succeeded by
A G Board
Preceded by
J M Steel
Deputy Chief of the Air Staff
and Director of Operations and Intelligence

12 April 1926 – 6 February 1931
Succeeded by
Charles Burnett
Preceded by
J M Steel
Air Officer Commanding Wessex Bombing Area
Succeeded by
Sir Tom Webb-Bowen
Preceded by
Francis Scarlett
Air Officer Commanding Middle East Command
Succeeded by
Cuthbert MacLean
Preceded by
Hugh Dowding
As Air Member for Supply and Research
Air Member for Supply and Organisation
Succeeded by
William Welsh
Preceded by
Sir Edward Ellington
Chief of the Air Staff
Succeeded by
Sir Charles Portal
Awards and achievements
Preceded by
Kaufman T. Keller
Cover of Time Magazine
23 October 1939
Succeeded by
King Gustav V
Government offices
Preceded by
Viscount Galway
Governor-General of New Zealand
Succeeded by
Bernard Freyberg
Peerage of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
New Creation
Baron Newall
Succeeded by
Francis Newall

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