Lashmer Whistler

Lashmer Whistler

Infobox Military Person
name=Sir Lashmer Gordon Whistler
lived= 3 September 18984 July 1963

allegiance=flagicon|United Kingdom United Kingdom
commands=4th bn Royal Sussex Regiment
133rd (Sussex and Kent) Infantry Brigade
131st (Surrey) Lorried Infantry Brigade
160th (South Wales) Infantry Brigade
3rd Infantry Division
British Troops in India
Troops Sudan
Northumbrian District and 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division TA
West Africa Command
Western Command
battles=World War I
World War II
*Battle of France

*Western Desert Campaign

*Tunisia Campaign

*Italian Campaign

*Battle of Normandy

*Operation Market Garden

*Operation Veritable

awards=Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath
Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire
Distinguished Service Order & Two Bars
Mentioned in Despatches (3)
laterwork= Chairman, Committee on the New Army 1957

General Sir Lashmer Gordon Whistler GCB, KBE, DSO & Two Bars (3 September 18984 July 1963) was a British army officer who served in the First and Second World Wars. In the Second World War he achieved senior ranks serving with Field Marshal Montgomery in North Africa and Europe, and became a full general after the war. Montgomery considered that "He was about the best infantry brigade Commander I knew".

Early Life and career

Whistler was the son of Colonel A.E. Whistler of the British Indian Army and his wife Florence Annie Gordon Rivett­-Carnac, daughter of Charles Forbes Rivett­-Carnac. He was educated at St Cyprian's School where he was an outstanding sportsman, and on the recommendation of the headmaster was awarded a sporting scholarship at Harrow School. He played cricket for Harrow, [Smyth (1967), p.35] and was to remain a redoubtable batsman throughout his career. [The Times "Gen. Sir Lashmer Whistler- G. D. M. (G. D. Martineau) writes -" Wednesday 17th July 1963] He then went to Royal Military College Sandhurst and was commissioned into The Royal Sussex Regiment in 1917 and served in France and Belgium during World War I. He was wounded twice, and on the second occasion he was captured before he had recovered. Later, he managed to escape from a prison train, but was re-captured within 20 yards of the Dutch border. He was then held at Ulrich Gasse in Cologne where he lost five stone and could hardly walk by the end of the war [Smyth (1967), pp. 40-41]

Inter-war years

After the World War I in 1919 he was promoted lieutenant. [LondonGazette |issue=31347|linkeddate=1919-05-16 |startpage=6230|endpage= |supp= |accessdate=2008-08-11] He also volunteered to join the Relief Force being sent to support the British Garrison at Archangel. He was posted to the 45th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers and saw some action on the River Dvina until its withdrawal when the White Russian army was defeated elsewhere. [Smyth (1967), pp. 42-47] It was his recounting of many anecdotes about the Bolsheviks that gave rise to his nickname "Bolo". He was posted to the 1st Battalion, Royal Sussex Regiment on October 24 1919. Serving with the British Army of the Rhine, he found his company quartered in the same Ulrich Gasse barracks where he had been a prisoner of war in the previous year. However on the last day of the year he was sent to Ireland as one of the replacements for fourteen British officers who had been murdered the previous November. He remained in Ireland for four years and then went as Acting Adjutant to the Regimental Depot at Chichester. Shortly afterwards, he was sent to Hong Kong to protect British interests during civil war in China. He qualified as Italian interpreter in 1928. He was appointed Adjutant of the 5th (Cinque Ports) TA Battalion as a temporary captain on May 1, 1929, [LondonGazette |issue=33490|linkeddate=1929-04-29 |startpage=2852|endpage= |supp= |accessdate=2008-08-13] this becoming a permanent rank on September 30, 1932. [LondonGazette |issue=33938|linkeddate=1933-05-09 |startpage=3099|endpage= |supp= |accessdate=2008-08-13] In 1933 he was posted to Karachi and then to Egypt at the time of Mussolini's Italian invasion of Ethiopia. [ Smyth (1967), pp. 49-59] It took Whistler twenty one years after being commissioned to achieve the rank of majorMead (2007), p. 481] [LondonGazette |issue=34538|linkeddate=1938-08-05 |startpage=5024|endpage= |supp=y |accessdate=2008-08-13] when in 1938 he became Adjutant of the Royal Sussex Regiment and served in Palestine until World War II. He had not qualified for Staff College, and confided in his old Harrow and Sandhurst friend Reginald Dorman-Smith that he would end his military career in command of a battalion at most. [Smyth (1967) pp. 64-64] With little prospect for advancement to higher command Whistler had been seriously considering leaving the army for civilian life when World War II started.

World War II

When the war broke out, Whistler was commanding the regimental depot at Chichester. On February 5, 1940 he became an acting lieutenant-colonel and was appointed Commanding Officer, 4th (Territorial) Battalion The Royal Sussex Regiment. The battalion was on stand-by to go to Finland, but this did not happen. Whistler worked hard to transform the TA battalion into fighting shape and on 8 April they embarked at Southampton for Cherbourg where it became part of 44th (Home Counties) Infantry Division's 133rd Infantry Brigade. They moved to the Belgian border and to Courtrai. Under constant bombardment, Whistler had sent a famous message to Brigade Headquarters "Please may I have half a Hurricane for half an hour". [Smyth (1976) p.71] As the Germans advanced, the 4th Royal Sussex took up a defensive position at Caestre. An officer reported finding Whistler "standing in the middle of the street with a positive hail of explosives coming down all around". While his subordinates crouched by the side of the road, he "stood there with his hands in his pockets, laughing at us". [Peter Hadley, quoted in Smyth (1967) p.76] Although attacked by tanks planes and heavy artillery, the stand at Caestre was so strong that the Germans decided to by-pass this pocket of resistance. [ Smyth (1967), pp. 64-74] Whistler was awarded his first DSO [LondonGazette |issue=34893|linkeddate=1940-07-09 |startpage=4261|endpage= |supp=y |accessdate=2008-08-12] for his leadership of the battalion in France. [Mead (2007), pp. 481–482] Orders were issued to withdraw to Dunkirk and the 4th Battalion evacuated from there on 30 May. Whistler became known as "The Man who went Back to Dunkirk". Although secrecy surrounds this operation, Whistler's Adjutant was convinced he returned to look for any missing men, and the records show that he came back separately to the UK with a battalion of the Manchester Regiment on 1 June. [ Smyth (1967), p. 80]

For the next two years 44th Division served as part of XII Corps, defending South-East England. For part of this time the division was commanded by Brian Horrocks and the corps by Bernard Montgomery, both of whom recognised Whistler's leadership potential.Mead (2007), p. 482] When Montgomery inspected Whistler's battalion, he "quickly realised that he was well above the ordinary run of battalion commanders" and "decided not to lose sight of him" [Bernard Montgomery Foreward to Smyth (1967) p.15] After the war Montgomery was to record that he had thought Whistler was the best infantry brigade commander in the army and that he had done well at divisional level as well.Mead (2007), p. 484]

In the summer of 1942 44th Division arrived in Egypt to join Montgomery's Eighth Army as part of Horrock's XIII Corps. After the Battle of Alam el Halfa (in which his battalion played a passive role) Whistler was appointed acting Commander 133rd (Sussex and Kent) Infantry Brigade (also in 44th Division) which he led during the Second Battle of El Alamein.

In November 1942 Whistler was transferred to command the 131st (Surrey) Lorried Infantry Brigade which had originally arrived in Egypt as part of 44th Division but by this time was the mobile infantry element of 7th Armoured Division. He led the brigade, which because of its role with armour was often in the forefront of events, through the rest of the fighting in North Africa until the surrender of the Axis forces in Tunisia in May 1943. In the later stages of the Tunisia Campaign 7th Armoured Division was transferred to the First Army, joining IX Corps which by that time was commanded by Horrocks. He was awarded the first Bar to his DSO in April 1943 for "gallant and distinguished services in the Middle East". [LondonGazette |issue=35987|linkeddate=1943-04-20 |startpage=1845|endpage= |supp=y |accessdate=2008-08-12]

7th Armoured Division was rested for the Allied invasion of Sicily but joined X Corps for the Salerno landings in September 1943. 131st Brigade was in action in the Italian Campaign with X Corps until late 1943 when it was withdrawn to the UK. [Mead (2007), pp. 482–483] For his services in Italy Whistler was awarded a second Bar to his DSO. [LondonGazette |issue=36327 |linkeddate=1944-01-11 |startpage=255 |endpage= |supp=y |accessdate=2008-08-12]

In January 1944 Whistler was transferred to command the 160th (South Wales) Infantry Brigade, part of 53rd (Welsh) Infantry Division ahead of the Normandy Campaign. When one week after D-Day the commander of 3rd Infantry Division was wounded, Montgomery called for Whistler and gave him the command of the division as an acting major-general. [LondonGazette |issue=36829|linkeddate=1944-12-05 |startpage=5619|endpage= |supp=y |accessdate=2008-08-12] [Although as commonly happened during the war, his permanent rank was still only major / war substantive lieutenant-colonel. He was only promoted lieutenant-colonel in January 1945 (see LondonGazette |issue=36897|linkeddate=1945-01-16 |startpage=451|endpage= |supp=y |accessdate=2008-08-12) and full colonel in February 1946 with seniority as of June 1945 (see LondonGazette |issue=37635|linkeddate=1946-06-28 |startpage=3361|endpage= |supp=y |accessdate=2008-08-12)] Whistler commanded the division throughout the campaign in north-west Europe and was made CB [LondonGazette |issue=37004|linkeddate=1945-03-27 |startpage=1703|endpage= |supp=y |accessdate=2008-08-12] in March 1945 and Mentioned in despatches in March 1945, [LondonGazette |issue=36994|linkeddate=1945-03-20 |startpage=1557|endpage= |supp=y |accessdate=2008-08-11] August 1945 [LondonGazette |issue=37213|linkeddate=1945-08-07 |startpage=4053|endpage= |supp=y |accessdate=2008-08-11] and April 1946 [LondonGazette |issue=37521|linkeddate=1946-04-02 |startpage=1672|endpage= |supp=y |accessdate=2008-08-11] for his services during the campaign. The division ended the war having reached Bremen.

Post World War II

As he had not attended Staff College, Whistler was not qualified for high positions in the War Office. However, his outstanding success as a leader of troops during the war led him to a succession of increasingly senior command positions after the war, particularly in the challenging environment of decolonisation. The 3rd Infantry Division became the Imperial Strategic Reserve, on five days notice to fly to any part of the world. Whistler took the Division to Egypt in November 1945 and was sent almost immediately to northern Palestine to police troubles between Israelis and Arabs. In December he became General Officer Commanding British Troops in Egypt and shortly after ceased to be a member of 3rd Division. His major-general rank was made substantive in February 1947, with seniority backdated to April 1946. [LondonGazette |issue=37880|linkeddate=1947-02-11 |startpage=750|endpage= |supp=y |accessdate=2008-08-11]

In January 1947 Montgomery selected him to become General Officer Commanding British Troops in India. There was considerable communal violence prior to the grant of independence that required careful policing, but Whistler's main concern was the extraction of British units from the Indian Army. After final meetings with Lord Mountbatten and Nehru, and a parade at the Gateway of India, Whistler left Bombay with the last British battalion on February 28 1948. [Smyth (1967) pp. 170-184]

Whistler's next appointment on June 1, 1948 was Commander-in-Chief in the Sudan which also gave him the title of "Kaid" Sudan Defence Force. He was also amused to find himself on the governing body of the country (the Governor General's Council), and also Minister of Defence answerable to the Legislative Assembly. He worked on Sudanising the Defence Force and within a year felt he had achieved what he had set out to do. [Smyth (1967) pp. 185-195] In January 1950 he was appointed District Officer Commanding, Northumbrian District and General Officer Commanding, 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division TA to take effect in June 1950 and he left Sudan on May 9. [LondonGazette |issue=38962|linkeddate=1950-07-07 |startpage=3502|endpage= |supp=y |accessdate=2008-08-11] . His period of command was very short as on January 5, 1951 he was told he was to be appointed General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, West Africa Command, to take effect on May 10, 1951. [LondonGazette |issue=39238|linkeddate=1951-05-25 |startpage=2929|endpage= |supp=y |accessdate=2008-08-11] He was also promoted lieutenant-general from that date. [LondonGazette |issue=39224|linkeddate=1951-05-08 |startpage=2639|endpage= |supp=y |accessdate=2008-08-11]

Whistler's headquarters were at Accra where he commanded the troops in Nigeria. Sierra Leone, Gold Coast and Gambia. As these countries were heading towards independence, Whistler's main concern was the Africanisation of the armed forces. [Smyth (1967) pp. 196-202] He was knighted in the Order of the British Empire (KBE) in the New Year Honours in 1952. Sir John Macpherson, Governor General of Nigeria warned Whistler of the resistance to his speed of change, receiving the reply "Well I'm old enough and ugly enough to look after them. And I want to get rid of British NCOs at once and hurry up with the commissioned officers." [Sir John Macpherson interview in Smyth (1967) pp. 198-200] Young African soldiers were sent to Sandhurst and other colleges and Macpherson noted that one of his second lieutenants was John Ironsi. In September 1953 Whistler was offered Western Command in England from December 1953.

On December 1, 1953 Whistler became the Colonel of the Royal Sussex Regiment [LondonGazette |issue=40030|linkeddate=1953-11-27 |startpage=6516|endpage= |supp=y |accessdate=2008-08-11] (a ceremonial title) and also became General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Western Command. [LondonGazette |issue=40067|linkeddate=1954-01-05 |startpage=207|endpage= |supp=y |accessdate=2008-08-11] His main interests were to build rapport with the civil authorities, bolster the Territorial Army and encourage recruitment and training of officers. In 1954 he was ear-marked as Army Commander designate in the event of an East-West war in continental Europe and in this role he played a leading part in the training exercise "Battle-Royal". [Smyth (1967) pp.203-211] He was made KCB in the New Years Honours of 1955 [LondonGazette |issue=40970|linkeddate=1957-01-04 |startpage=215|endpage= |supp=y |accessdate=2008-08-11] and was promoted to full general in July 1955 [LondonGazette |issue=40596|linkeddate=1955-09-27 |startpage=5483|endpage= |supp=y |accessdate=2008-08-11] He held the post of GOC Western Command until his retirement in February 1957 [LondonGazette |issue=40992 |linkeddate=1957-02-01 |startpage=799 |endpage= |supp=y |accessdate=2008-08-11] following his promotion to GCB in January 1957 [LondonGazette |issue=40960|linkeddate=1956-12-28 |startpage=3|endpage= |supp=y |accessdate=2008-08-11] .


In April 1957, just before Whistler's retirement, Field Marshal Sir Gerald Templer asked him to become Chairman of the Committee on the Reorganisation of British Infantry. [LondonGazette |issue=41318|linkeddate=1958-02-18 |startpage=1187|endpage= |supp=y |accessdate=2008-08-11] Other members of the Committee included Lieutenant-General Sir James Cassels. When this work was completed Templar sent for him in January 1958 to chair another committee "to investigate and report on all aspects of discipline, training and economy in units". [Smyth (1967) pp216-224]

Whistler was appointed Deputy Lieutenant for the County of Sussex in 1957 [LondonGazette |issue=41246|linkeddate=1957-12-06 |startpage=7115|endpage= |supp= |accessdate=2008-08-11]

In 1958 Whistler was appointed Colonel Commandant of the Royal West African Frontier Force [LondonGazette |issue=41348|linkeddate=1958-03-28 |startpage=2083|endpage= |supp=y |accessdate=2008-08-11] being the last British officer to hold the post as it ceased to exist on August 1, 1960. In 1959, the governments of Nigeria and Sierra Leone also invited him to become Honorary Colonel of the Royal Nigerian Military Forces, and the Royal Sierra Leone Military Forces. Whistler was on very friendly terms with Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana who sought his advice and judgement. Whistler was very concerned about the future of the Nigerian army because it was split with the officers coming from the south of the country and the soldiers from the north. [Smyth (1967) pp.226-233]

Whistler's interest and ability in shooting led him to take an interest in small-bore rifle shooting. He became Vice­-President of the National Smallbore Rifle Association in 1958 and chairman in 1959 [ [ National Smallbore Rifle Association] ] . He was also vice president of the National Rifle Association as well as the Sussex S.B.R.A. and he also managed the N.R.A. overseas teams. He lead the British team which competed in the World Championships in Moscow, winning titles in the small-bore prone 40 shots. [Smyth (1967) p 235] He took great interest in the Chichester Rifle Club opening its new range in 1961 and presented it with some of his medals. The Whistler Inter club trophy in his memory is still shot annually on the first Friday of April.

Whistler was elected to the Council of the Army Cadet Force Association on October 21, 1959 as the representative of the NSRA. He was elected Chairman of the ACFA on October 18, 1961. [Smyth (1967) pp239-242]

Whistler's last battle was against lung cancer, an illness which he concealed until November 1962. He died eight months later aged 64 at the Cambridge Hospital, Aldershot. [Times Obituary 1963]

Personal life

Whistler married Esmé Keighley, the sister of a naval officer who died as the result of the Russian campaign. The wedding took place at Eastbourne in 1926, and the reception was held at his old school St Cyprians, one of the ushers being Rupert Lonsdale. [St Cyprian's Chronicle 1926] Whistler and his wife had two daughters.

Sir John Smyth V.C. wrote Whistler's biography and noted four traits in his character which were his humility, his humanity, his sense of humour and his devotion to his family. [Smyth (1967), pp. 23-24]


*"Small Bore Rifle Shooting"


*cite web|work=World War II unit histories and officers website|accessdate=2008-08-10 |last=Houterman |first=Hans| coauthors=Koppes, Jeroen| url=| title=British Army Officers: Whistler, Lashmer Gordon
*cite book | first=Richard| last=Mead| title=Churchill's Lions: A biographical guide to the key British generals of World War II| year=2007| publisher=Spellmount| location=Stroud (UK)| pages=544 pages| isbn=978-1-86227-431-0
*cite book| first=Sir John| last=Smyth| authorlink=Sir John Smyth, 1st Baronet | title=Bolo Whistler: the life of General Sir Lashmer Whistler: a study in leadership| location=London| publisher=Muller| year=1967| oclc=59031387
*The Times "Obituary - Gen. Sir Lashmer Whistler" Saturday July 6th 1963

External links

* [ British Army Officers]


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